Tauranga boasts a ‘smorgasbord’ of sporting and recreational activities that go well beyond the mainstream offerings of the majority of the country.
Whilst the region still follows a national culture that is entrenched with traditional summer and winter sports, it also provides a plethora of alternatives for locals, many of which revolve around the beautiful surrounding coastline.
The sub-region (including Tauranga City, Mount Maunganui, Papamoa and outlying towns) has the country’s second highest sunshine hours. Summer daytime temperatures average 24 degrees and in winter, about 16 degrees, making for ideal sporting and recreational conditions all year round.
White sandy beaches stretch for miles from Mt Maunganui to Maketu and combined with the region’s favourable climate, there’s no wonder the options for fun in the sun, in and around the water, are endless.
It’s the perfect region to own a vessel, whether you’re a fisherman, a recreational boaty or a sailor. There are over 3500 members of the Tauranga Game Fishing Club to reiterate the popularity of fishing in the area. If you don’t own a boat, there are always purpose-built kayaks, long lines, hand lines, rods and fishing charters which will all assist you in hooking various species including snapper, tarakihi, gunard, john dory and kingfish.
Surfing is another popular summer water sport in the area, with Mt Maunganui regarded as one of the top surfing destinations in New Zealand. It receives a regular supply of swell throughout the summer, courtesy of tropical cyclones out to sea which are also aided by afternoon sea breezes. Mount Reef, just off Tay Street, is one of only four artificial surf reefs in the world and attracts plenty of surfers. Other hot spots of the sub-region include Matakana Island, the main beach and Shark Alley. Outstanding conditions can also be found further east towards Maketu. If the afternoon on-shore breeze really starts to hit home, then kite-surfing tends to take precident, especially near Mount Reef. Its’ popularity struck new heights in late 2007.
Back onto dry land and Mauao (Mt Maunganui) is the focal point for a lot of exercise and recreation for locals and tourists alike. Rising to 232 metres above sea level, the extinct volcano dominates local scenery and provides visitors with a choice of walks. The 3.4 kilometre base track attracts hundreds of thousands of feet every year, while others challenge themselves further by walking or jogging to the summit.
At the base of Mauao is Mt Maunganui Lifeguard Service, one of three mainly voluntary surf lifesaving clubs in the sub-region (Omanu and Papamoa being the other two). The Mount hosts high profile surf lifesaving carnivals like Ocean Fest, a programme of events including the Lion Foundation Surf League and both regional and national championships. Disciplines involved in surf lifesaving include IRBs, surf skis, beach sprints, surf boats, swimming and paddle boards. All three local clubs run a popular ‘Nipper’ (junior) programme for kids aged 5-13.
The other major drawcard to Mt Maunganui’s main beach is the More FM Pro Tour International Beach Volleyball competition, showcasing the sport at its highest level. Sport Bay of Plenty, which is the main service provider benefiting the sporting and recreational interests of the sub-region, runs weekly social beach volleyball and football competitions on the main beach during the summer period.
A three minute walk from the main beach takes you to Pilot Bay, located at the northern end of Tauranga Harbour. This popular cruise ship viewing point, is also the starting point for the Tinman Triathlon and the region’s most prestigious multi-sport event – the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman. It is New Zealand’s premier Half Ironman event with over 1000 competitors from New Zealand and overseas.
Blake Park is also located at Mt Maunganui and caters for six of the more traditional sports in the area – netball, hockey, cricket, rugby, squash and rugby league, most of which are also played in Tauranga, Papamoa, Te Puke and Katikati. The Tauranga Hockey Centre has a water-based Astroturf as well as a sand turf and the Astroturf plays host to international fixtures. Mt Maunganui Cricket Club is the venue for several National Women’s Cricket State League fixtures as well.
The most prominent sporting facility in the sub-region is Baypark Stadium, with a crowd capacity of 20,000 people and parking for over 4000 vehicles. It is well known as the home of Bay of Plenty Speedway and showcases several of the Bay of Plenty Steamers’ Air NZ Cup rugby matches each year. Opened in 2001, the multi-purpose venue is also an entertainment hub for concerts, expos and business conferences.
Just a two minute drive from Baypark Stadium is the Baywave TECT Acquatic & Leisure Centre. Full membership here will give you access to the wave pool, a 25m length pool, hydroslide and sauna. Aqua aerobics, waterpolo and under-water hockey are all available here. Upstairs is the Leisure Centre which features weights and cardio, yoga and a host of Les Mills classes. Time to get a sweat up!
There are also a handful of indoor sports centres in the sub-region, including Queen Elizabeth Youth Centre which plays host to Waikato/BOP Magic National Championships netball games. Other indoor sporting facilities include Mt Action Centre, Aquinas Action Centre, Mt Maunganui Sports Centre and Merivale Action Centre – ideal for those hideous wet, winter days.
Another sporting event that catches local’s attention are the NZCT AIMS GAMES. This is an annual event in the region, involving over 2700 year 7 and 8 students from 65 schools throughout New Zealand, all competing in a variety of mainstream sports. One of the venues for the Games is Tauranga’s All Weather Athletics Track. Opened in April 2008, this eight lane track will also play host to the NZ Masters Games.
If you’d rather adopt a more relaxed sporting approach then golf might just be the answer. There are seven well-known 18 hole courses in the region, including Mount, Omanu, Tauranga, Te Puke, Western Bay Links in Omokoroa and Golf Pacifica, just south of Katikati.
One particular sport that stands alone when it comes to innovation and originality in the region is blokarting. Launched in 2000 by a Te Puke builder and his engineering son, blokarting is rapidly becoming the world’s no.1 land-based sail sport. This wind-powered product is Kiwi ingenuity at its best, to the extent that it has earned the Beckett family worldwide awards and recognition. The sport’s popularity surpassed expectations earlier than expected and in 2003 the business expanded to include a new factory and race track in Papamoa.
Walking is probably the most relaxing form of any exercise and one that is hugely popular with locals. Tauranga has 16 different walkways (ie.boardwalks) which are open to the public, around the coastal areas, estuary and inland reserves. Tauranga City Council is developing a network of walkways over the next 10 years for people to utilise for recreation and as a means of accessing the city more easily. All information you may require for current walkways can be found at www.tauranga.govt.nz . Tauranga’s ‘City On Its Feet’ (COIF) programme was introduced in 2005 and helps co-ordinate new and existing local walking groups, walking events and provides support systems for all participants. Over 45 ‘COIF’ walking groups exist within the greater Tauranga community. If you want to dig your toes into some larger walking challenges, there are 19 tramps/bush trails strewn across the higher grounds of the Western Bay of Plenty region. Go to www.wbopdc.govt.nz for a guide these tracks.
Right in the heart of these bush reserves is a unique, annual multi-sport event that attracts considerable interest, The Kaimai Classic incorporates some of the best scenery in the region and runs from McLaren Falls to Te Puna. The race includes cycling, kayaking and running 67km throughout the region.
Avid mountain bikers have also got it sorted with the Oropi Grove Mountain Bike Park located just 20 minutes from Tauranga City, It has plenty of challenging single tracks, all set in native bush.
Local’s mouths will be watering later this year with the opening of the TECT All Terrain Park. Set on 1260 hectares and situated 29km from Tauranga, this facility will eventually cater for a range of active and passive recreational pursuits over the next 20 years including firearm sports, mountain biking, archery, kayaking and rafting, 4x4, trial and trail bikes, motocross, quad bikes, drag racing, car rallying, equestrian, tramping, angling and orienteering. It will join a network of sub-regional parks that currently includes the Papamoa Hills Heritage Park and the Huharua Harbour Park at Plummers Point.
Other sports that are also well covered in the region are tennis, football, basketball, cycling, rowing, sky-diving, water skiing, wake boarding, white-water rafting and many more…
Overall, the Tauranga sub-region provides people with a wealth of opportunities to participate in outdoor sporting and recreational activities and to lead a healthy lifestyle. You’ll be struggling to find anywhere in NZ that offers as many different environments to pursue such a broad range of recreational sports as what the Tauranga sub-region does.
Researched and written by Dave Manville