Cruising Guide: Coromandel & Bay of Plenty
Eastern Coromandel, Tauranga, Whakatane to East Cape
Nestled in the crook of Coromandel Peninsular to the West and East Cape to the East, the Bay of Plenty is one of those rare, unspoiled marine playgrounds that enjoy a warm climate and good shelter. The region was named by Captain Cook, who found everything he wanted here - plenty of food, good weather and good shelter. 500,000 modern day inhabitants feel much the same about it now as he did then.
Tauranga is a full blown going for it in the 90's city, but very people oriented and with it's own unique style. A cross between Australia's Gold Coast and a West Coast shanty town with the odd kiwi bach biffed in for balance. A perfect white beach stretches from Mt Maunganui to Papamoa. Thirteen miles of unbroken lying in the sun, splashing in the surf, watching the world go by perfection in sand.
There is water for every occasion here - salt or fresh, hot or cold, surf or calm. From whale and dolphin watching to game fishing. From white water rafting to trout fishing to just lying back in a natural hot pool relaxing away the stress of the day.
Imagine broad reaching back from Mayor Island on an ocean going yacht. The sun setting in a kaleidoscope of colour to the west. A blazing orange sky and the surrounding mountain ranges a deep blue. Dolphins at the bow and an eighteen knot westerly powering the boat over a flat blue sea. Schools of fish skittering across the surface and hundreds of diving gannets working them to a frenzy. Sometimes this area is so beautiful and full of life it's hard to believe - Diving the marine reserve at Mayor Island - Trolling for an Albacore and grilling fresh fillets on board - Friends old and new and tales tall and true over a fresh sea food dinner served on deck - A still night with the moreporks calling from the shore. This is the essence of the Bay of Plenty.
12 miles east of Tauranga is Motiti Island - known locally as Jurassic Park because of the huge fish caught there. The island has exquisite bays and beaches, excellent fishing and good shelter. Dolphins and whales are a common sight - Baleen whales are often seen around here with their calves. Nearby rocks and reefs, including the Astrolabe, Schooner Rocks and Plate Island offer diving which, under the guidance of a competent boat man, would be equal anywhere in the world.
Whakatane, 50 miles down the coast, is one of those handy but rare small ports where excellent cafes, restaurants, bars and services are accessible on foot from the wharf. In summer when the tuna are running, people travel from all over the world to fish these waters. Dolphin watching, ocean kayaking, diving and snorkelling are world class. Four miles off shore, Whale island is being regenerated and an endangered bird breeding program is under way there. Visits can be arranged by the Department of Conservation and several operators provide access.
There she boils! 26 miles off the coast, White Island is New Zealand's most active volcano. Noisy Nellie and the huge main crater blast steam and slush hundreds of feet into the air while the extraordinary landscape and remains of the old sulphur factory will have you wondering whether you are visiting mars or down town Beirut. White Island can be dangerous, so it pays to go with an experienced guide.
Between Whakatane and Opotiki, Ohiwa harbour is a large shallow estuary with extraordinary wetlands that is home to huge numbers of migrating sea birds. Opotiki is the centre of the Eastern Bay of Plenty with fishing, wind surfing, kayaking and sailing, on the ocean and the Motu river providing jet boating and white water rafting through a pristine primeval forest.
Beyond Opotiki lies the legendary township of Te Kaha. Famous just because it is, Te Kaha is a coastal icon, the place where snapper fishing was probably invented. The township does dive fills, dive trips, fishing trips and great beach parties. A fine pub and an excellent fish and chip shop have kept Te Kaha up there beside New York on any sophisticated traveller's itinerary.
Further around the coast from Cape Runaway around to Hicks Bay the coast is rocky and exposed. Road access to this coast is difficult, meaning that rock based game fishing and diving - especially in the Lottin Point area - are world class. Hicks Bay, New Zealand's most easterly settlement, is a loading point for charter boats working the Ranfurly Bank and during the season a number of charter boats board guests from Hicks Bay rather than their home ports of Tauranga or Whakatane. The mere mention of the Ranfurly will set any kiwi fisho drooling - its huge snapper, kingfish and hapuka are famous from North Cape to Bluff and if you are serious about fishing, this is the place to go.