Getting In, On & Under the Water

Getting In, On & Under the Water

The Western Bay is a perfect destination to watch or swim with dolphins with four licensed operators – each offering something a little different. There are two main types of dolphin spotted in the area —the common dolphin and the larger bottlenose. Dolphins are usually seen over an area that’s bounded by Motiti Island out to Mayor Island (Tuhua) and up to Bowentown—the northern entrance to Tauranga Harbour.

Choose your operator according to exactly what you’re after (just watching or swimming as well?), the time you want to spend on the water, and the type of trip – speedy or leisurely chugging.

The Operators:
South Sea Vagabond: Departs Merrilees Road, Sulphur Point, tel 579-6376 or 027-224-2266,  The 18-metre comfy sailing catamaran can carry up to 50 day passengers, and sleeps 14. Skipper (and the boat’s builder) Simon has a vast amount of local marine knowledge (including good snorkelling spots) and offers all-day dolphin trips billed as ‘total marine encounters’. Swim or kayak with dolphins. Cost: (lunch extra on request) adult $120, children under 12, $85, group concessions available.

Butler’s Swim With Dolphins: Departs Pier C, Tauranga Bridge Marina, or Salisbury Wharf, Mount Maunganui, tel toll free 0508-288537 or 578-3197, Maritime identity Graeme Butler (‘good natured sea dog’) offers a ‘magic and un-intrusive’ insight into the world of the marine mammals. His 60-foot yacht Gemini Galaxsea has plenty of deck space for relaxing. It is equipped with a ‘swim bar’ at the stern Cost: adult $135, child & seniors $110 (under 5’s free). Butler’s offer a second trip free, if you don’t see dolphins or whales.  
Dolphin Seafaris: Pier D5, Tauranga Bridge Marina, Harbour Bridge Causeway, Mount Maunganui, tel 575-4620 or 0800-326 8747, .This long-established eco-tour operator boasts an excellent ‘find rate’ and is Qualmark endorsed. The 50-foot catamaran Guardian (Ex America’s Cup), is a fast, modern boat with a high top deck that offers a great vantage point. Wetsuits, masks and other gear is provided, along with continental breakfast, juices and hot drinks. Trips take 4 hours, and depart Tauranga at 8am. Advance bookings essential. Cost: adult $120, child (5-12) $80. Includes continental breakfast, fruit juice and hot drinks on the voyage.

Dolphin Blue: Departs Tauranga Bridge Marina, Harbour Bridge Causeway, Mount Maunganui. Paul and Alison Aitken, tel 576 4303, .A family-run operation providing a ‘sit-back, more relaxed type experience.’ Passenger numbers are limited to 12 on board 54-foot Commander I, an elegant vessel built in the 60's. Skipper Paul Aitken is a seagoing veteran who has skippered private and large commercial vessels. Cost: adult $165, child $120 (3 and under free). The six hour trip includes morning tea, lunch and ‘going home’ refreshments, wetsuits and snorkelling gear, as part of the package.

Cruises, Fishing, Diving   
It’s almost a crime to visit the Bay of Plenty and not get on the water – there’s so many different experiences to be had. There are boats galore, to take you cruising, fishing, diving, sailing – or a combination - on the harbour or out to sea exploring offshore islands. Catch a big snapper at Motiti or Mayor Islands or dive for crayfish or scallops. Troll for sought-after game fish such as marlin and kingfish. 

One of the cheapest ways to get on the water and catch a fish – is via one of the ‘public reef fishing trips.’  But if you’ve got the readies, charter a luxury game fishing boat for several days and go after the big ‘uns.

There are plenty of reputable operators to choose from, but the following are all long-established  with hard-earned reputations.

MV Manutere: Tauranga Bridge Marina, berth D34, Tauranga, tel 552-6283 or mob 0274-351-353,
One of the best-known local charter boats is the Manutere, a common sight on the Tauranga city waterfront, heading out with boatload of fishos from The Marina and Salisbury wharf at Pilot bay, the Mount. The launch was built in 1975, and has a reputation for comfort and stability -and catching fish. Skipper Brett Keller, ex-commercial fisherman, says they head to spots like Astrolabe Reef: 'wherever we're getting the most fish'. Manutere takes 25 people comfortably, with rods and bait for hire if necessary, and is equipped with a toilet and shower. Cost: day trips from adults $80, Manutere is also available for group charter.

Blue Ocean Charters: Tauranga Bridge Marina, tel 0800-2 CHARTER (0800 224278),
Blue Ocean run three boats from the 60 foot Ohorere with full walk-around decks, to, the 16m Te Kuia and 15m Ratahi. This small fleet provides the flexibility to run anything from day reef fishing trips, to multi day game fishing jaunts, as far afield as the Coromandel and Great Barrier Island. Blue Ocean also offers eco, harbour and sightseeing cruises, and Mayor Island drop offs. The skippers each have over 20 years experience. Half day fishing trips cost from $70 a day, with discounts for seniors, children and family groups. They’ll even provide you with shore accommodation in the reasonably priced Captain’s Lodge.

Bay Fishing Charters: Tauranga Bridge Marina, tel 0800-22 93 47,
The company operates the Nimble II, a modern, tidy boat with a friendly and helpful crew. The boat can carry up to 20 people and they cater for individuals and groups, whether you're after snapper on a day trip or a game fish charter – to spots like Mayor Island or White Island. You can fish for as little as $65 a half day, with rods, bait and tackle supplied. Tea and coffee is provided and there’s a BBQ for customers to use.  Trips leave from Pier C, at the Tauranga Bridge Marina.

Sunfish Charters: This  gleaming white 12-metre sport fisher does it all – from sightseeing to sport fishing and serious big game safaris – with plenty of home comforts on board. Whatever your target, a big advantage is Sunfish 1’s big 110 square foot cockpit area. The boat can carry a dozen passengers in inshore waters or five on extended trips to spots like East Cape or Three Kings.   The skipper and his friendly crew are seasoned game fishers with years of experience and local knowledge. Sunfish is equipped the latest in navigation and fishing gear, safety and communication equipment. Prices on application. Phone Mike on 021- 047 6758 or visit

MV Deepstar:  Skipper Garth Lelievre, tel 575-8917 or mob 0274-731-523,
A charter boat with a long sea-going history that operates year-round, specialising in daily reef fishing and overnight trips targeting hapuka. Day reef fishing trips from $80 per adult. Built in 1979 she takes up to 20 passengers, catering for individuals or groups of up to ten people for longer voyages, as far away as East Cape. A barbecue is available for group bookings, along with rod hire and bait. Deepstar has shower facilities on board. Drop-offs and pick-ups for visitors to Mayor Island and Motiti Island.

Fat Boy Charters: Tel 575-5986 or mob 027-286-3638
A fast 7.2-metre alloy boat that can cruise at 20 knots, with room for five, catering for sport and game fishing, diving and sightseeing (to spots like Mayor and Motiti islands) Fat Boy’s skipper Russ Hawkins has clocked up 20,000 miles in the last 7 years alone, fishing local waters. The boat has a grunty diesel motor — which means more time to fish for anything from snapper and tarakihi, to hapuka, and even marlin. At the end of the day, they fillet your fish for you. Phone for details.

Surfing, Kite Surfing, Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)
If you want to try your hand at surfing, there are few better spots than the surfing mecca of Mount Maunganui – where the waves are a lot kinder than the wild West Coast.  

Mount surf spots are mainly beach breaks that offer two to four foot ‘fun surf’ on the average summer day. Apart from the odd week when a tropical cyclone pumps some big groundswell and brings the shortboarders out, it’s ‘mini-mal’ or longboard territory – the longer boards that best suit smaller surf.  Body boarders, or boogie boarders are in their element.

Sadly, the artificial reef is more a curiosity than anything else, as it seldom provides the sort of surfable waves its designers hoped for.  Body Boarders use it more than surfers. As with most sports, you’ll get an enormous head start in surfing if you get professional lessons. 

New Zealand Surf School:  Run by Jim Hoare and Erica Gilbert is nearly 10 years old and their instructors are NZ Surfing certified.  They charge $70 for 2 hours, or $40 for one hour, and use soft top boards, good for learners. You can also organise private lessons, and they specialise in lessons for disabled and those with special needs. The school is set up under branded marquees Main Beach and at Tay Street with group lessons held at 10am, 12 noon and 2 pm. Tel 021-477 873. Website:

Rebecca Taylor at Hibiscus Surf School is another professionally-qualified instructor with 7 years  teaching experience. The charge is $80 for 2 hour group lessons (8am, 10am and 2pm), and HSS also offers private lessons. (Free one hour board and wetsuit hire after every lesson). Hibiscus also offers two and five day intensive surf clinics, designed to get your surfing on a fast track. They also lead surf trips as far afield as Bali! The school can be found under a marquee at Main Beach Mount Maunganui, where they also rent all sorts of boards, including stand up paddle boards. Gift vouchers available. Tel 575-3792 or 027-2799 687,

Mount Surf Shop is the only surf store at the Mount that runs its own surf school with qualified instructors, and its lessons are the cheapest, at $60 for 2 hours. It’s close to the beach at the northern end of the downtown shops. You get a free lesson if you buy a board, and they also offer ‘buy back’ deals to suit backpackers and other travellers, who are going to be using their board for only a few weeks, or months. This well-run shop at 96 Maunganui Road (with a second outlet store in Tuatara Street – and Surf Museum!) will kit you out with everything you need, from long or short boards and stand-up paddle boards, to wax and wetsuits. Tel 575 9133,

Also close to Main Beach at the Mount is Backdoor (in the old Assault store) at 24 Pacific Ave. They hire surfboards, wetsuits, body boards and wakeboards. They also have demo boards.  Tel 575 7831,

Kite Surfing
Wind & Sea Kiteboarding Centre: tel 021-212 1152, .You want real thrills? The Centre provides lessons for beginners to advanced riders, with fully qualified, AKO (International Kite -rated instructors Jesse Tuck and Jasmin Alder, who have a combined 17 years of riding behind them. The Centre is a mobile van, and the pair provide all equipment and the ‘the best and safest’ instruction to get you up and riding in 4 to 5 hours. Beginner and intermediate courses cost from $400 per person. Tauranga is made for kiteboarding, with lots of safe spots – knee to waist deep water with sandy bottoms. 

Assault Kiteboarding Centre: tel 027- 245 7540, is a mobile bus providing specialist school equipment and qualified instructors (IKO rated). AKC is run by Glen and Wendy Bright, local kite surfing pioneers who owned the huge Assault surf shop. AKC charge $100 an hour, equipment included, with a four-session programme that begins on land with a first session focused on safety. The operation includes an inflatable boat to transport clients from to and from sand bar and beach locations to suit wind and tide conditions. The boat is always on hand for support if needed. 

Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Aloha Suping:  The only local operator providing lessons and board hire solely for stand up paddle boarding,  is based at Pilot Bay, tel 022-43 44 584. Olivia Novak has four years of SUP experience and provides the very user-friendly Starboard brand of paddle board, with a range of boards and paddles to cater for all ages and sizes. Boards are $15 a half hour, or $25 an hour, and they also hire by the day. The calm harbour waters are a great place to try the sport and get your balance, without waves coming at you.

If you’re keen to test drive a stand up board, try Quiver Boardshop at 37 Totara Street, tel 575-6070. They are the Western Bay’s only stockist of the superb, Hawaiian-designed C4 brand. The models you can test drive range from sleek, ocean-going 12 and 14 footers, to short wave models (they also serve excellent cheap coffees!).  Mount Surf Shop also have a range of well-known Naish, Surftech NSP and other SUP’s for hire. Demo boards are available for $40 an hour, the same price as a rental board.

If you’re an out of town paddler and fancy a run with very clued-up locals, get in touch with Brent Devcich at SUPTauranga ( The ‘Cruising Club’ hold regular harbour and river paddle-fests.  Photo courtesy Cruising Club

The Tauranga area has a huge number of dive sites that some say rival the Poor Knights Islands up north. From offshore islands, to submerged pinnacles that rise from the deep, the Bay of Plenty’s underwater terrain is heaven – drawing scuba divers, free divers, snorkelers and spear fishers from all over the country. Among the more well-known spots are Motiti Island and Mayor Island, but some smaller sites offer awesome visibility and fantastic terrain for aquatic sports people of all levels.

Two long-running dive businesses offer instruction and a range of trips.  

Earth2Ocean:  50 Cross Road, Sulphur Point, tel 571-5286,
One of the biggest, longest-running operators on the local dive scene. Earth2Ocean, the 'diver's choice,' offers SSI (Scuba Schools International) PADI (Professional Association of Dive Instructors) and NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) diver training, and also offers reliable, friendly dive trips. E2O operates the dive boat Aluminator from the centre, with custom charters seven days a week in summer. The centre is also a full retail store selling all the masks, fins, and other dive bits you'll ever need, and a service centre (including air and Nitrox fills). The centre is minutes from downtown Tauranga, and handily sited 200 metres from one of Tauranga’s biggest boat-launching ramps, just around the corner.

Dive HQ Tauranga: 213 Cameron Road, Tauranga, tel 578 4050,
This long-running diving store is also a training facility with its own 4.5 metre heated training pool, equipment hire, tank testing and air fills. Dive HQ is an approved training site and PADI Five Star Career Development Centre. Training is carried out at popular spots including Motiti Island, Mercury Islands, Lake Rotoma and Lake Taupo. Dive HQ also runs regular trips to local dive sites, guided by instructors if needed. The HQ is on Cameron Road near the downtown with off street parking for customers. The shop stocks Scubapro and Uwatec equipment.

Adventure Bay of Plenty: 0800-238 267,
ABP specialises in ‘unique outdoor adventure activities for small groups.’ Popular tours include Mount Manganui Marvel – a paddle out through the spectacular harbour entrance around Mauao (the peak) to Main Beach at Mount Maunganui. The $85 trip takes 2-3 hours. The Matakana Extravaganza aims to provide some insight into the lives of the locals who live on the island, a half hour’s paddle across the harbour entrance. Activities include a horse-drawn carriage ride or horse trek, and the 4-5 trip costs $180. 

Waimarino Adventure Park: tel 576 4233,  The park is based on the Wairoa River just north of Bethlehem, but their Sea Kayak Tour ($120 per person) takes paddlers to explore the wildlife surrounding the harbour. ‘Paddle past old Maori pa sites above the majestic white cliffs of Motuhoa Island. See the sights of Te Puna as you explore the waterways developed by the old Maori taniwha Te Pura and Poripori.’

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