Nestled on the Bay of Plenty, the port of Tauranga is a lovely harborside city on New Zealand’s North Island. It hosts some historic buildings like the Elms Mission Station, an 1847 Georgian-style home, and is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. A bridge over the harbor connects Tauranga to Mount Maunganui, a beach town with hot saltwater pools and an extinct namesake volcano with winding walking paths. Maunganui towers over the city, and is a great attraction for hikers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Offshore is the active volcano White Island, which most recently erupted on December 9, 2019 claiming the lives of 21 people. We obviously didn’t visit White Island.
This area , with its rolling hills, lush green pastures, sandy white beaches, as well as a sense of Maori magic, got the attention of Sir Peter Jackson’s scouting team who came here in 1998 to find the perfect location to film the movies based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s classic fantasy trilogy. Some of our fellow travelers enjoyed the world of The Lord of the Rings at the nearby Hobbiton movie set where Bilbo Baggins lived and where the quest for the Ring began. But after two very busy days in Auckland, we opted for a lazy day of simply enjoying the sparkling harbor and taking a stroll to a nearby beach. Unfortunately, we no sooner got settled on our beach towels when there was a cloud burst, sending everyone for cover.
We also visited the Historic Village, a collection of original and replica buildings from the city’s early days that have become home to cafes, art collectives, boutiques, galleries, and shops of local artists who offer their artwork, classes, and workshops. Some of the buildings are home to local community organizations and businesses.