Sun, sea, and surf rule here. But before you take to the water, take a look at Kiwi360, 35 Young Rd., Te Puke (tel. 07/573-6340; www.kiwi360.com), 5km (3 miles) south of Te Puke. It's definitely different, and if you want insight into the multimillion-dollar kiwifruit industry, this is the place - and it's great for kids, too. There are daily kiwi cart tours every hour through orchards and theme parks (NZ$25 adults; NZ$10 children ages 5-15), a kiwifruit souvenir shop, and a restaurant. It's open daily 9am to 5pm, except December 25.
The mural town of Katikati is worth a brief stopover. Ask at the visitor center for the location of some of the town's many professionally painted street murals - there are over 40. And take a dip in the thermal Sapphire Springs, 274 Hot Springs Rd. (tel. 07/549-0768; www.sapphiresprings.net.nz), set on 31 hectares (78 acres) of native bush. They're open daily 8am to 7pm.
In Tauranga, the Elms Mission House, Mission and Chapel streets (tel. 07/577-9772; www.theelms.org.nz), is one of the finest examples of colonial architecture of its time (1847). The house is open Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays from 2 to 4pm and costs NZ$5. If you're interested in more of the town's history, pick up the excellent brochure Historic Tauranga from the information center.
Tauranga Art Gallery, corner of Wharf & Willow streets (tel. 07/578-7933; www.artgallery.org.nz), is well worth a look. It's a beautifully designed space showcasing historic and contemporary art, both local and national. It's across the road from the i-SITE Visitor Centre and open daily from 10am to 4:30pm; free admission.
Garden enthusiasts can pick up the Garden Trail brochure at the visitor center. McLaren Falls Park, McLaren Falls Road, Tauranga (tel. 07/577-7000), is another lovely stop. It consists of 170 hectares (420 acres) of lake-land park set amid pastoral farming and horticulture, containing one of the best botanical tree collections in the North Island. If you have a license you can fish for trout, or simply enjoy the arboretum and numerous walking tracks.
The most spectacular of Tauranga's attractions is nearby White Island, New Zealand's only active marine volcano. Known as Whakaari to Maori, this active volcano sits 48km (29 miles) off the Bay of Plenty coast. It is privately owned and was declared a scenic reserve in 1953. Visitors cannot land on the island without permission and its spectacular sights are best seen via a guided tour.
Given its easy accessibility, White Island is something of a mecca for the world's volcanologists and scientists, who come to study its lava flows and explosive ash eruptions. Attempts to mine sulfur on the island in 1914 ended when a lahar killed 10 workers; and a major eruption here from 1981 to 1983 completely altered the island's landscape and destroyed an entire pohutukawa forest. Another eruption in 2000 covered the island in mud and scoria.
Despite its fiery reputation, though, White Island remains a highlight for many visitors. If you're considering a visit, rest assured that the island's volcanic activity is constantly monitored by surveillance cameras, seismographic equipment, and sensors within the crater walls. You won't be allowed on the island if there is even the slightest risk of increased activity. Fishermen might like to know that the waters around White Island are home to an abundance of fish - everything from marlin to tuna. Fishing excursions operate out of both Whakatane and Tauranga.
Among the operators offering aerial excursions are Vulcan Helicopters (tel. 0800/804-354 in NZ, or 07/308-4188; www.vulcanheli.co.nz), which operates out of Whakatane and costs around NZ$550 per person. White Island Tours, 15 Strand St. E., Whakatane (tel. 0800/733-529 in NZ, or 07/308-9588; www.whiteisland.co.nz), will put you on a luxury launch and give you a 6-hour guided tour with lunch and safety gear included. This is an award-winning eco-experience that you won't forget in a hurry. It costs NZ$185 per person and you need to be reasonably agile to negotiate the inflatable boat that takes you ashore from the main launch. Tracks on the island can be uneven and you'll be on your feet for around 2 hours. No open-toed footwear or sandals are permitted, and it is not recommended for children 7 and under. They operate from 6:30am to 10pm in summer (9pm winter). Don't despair if you don't make it to White Island from here, as there are several Rotorua operators, which also offer great flights.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.