Port of Tauranga
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Cruise ships actually dock in the nearby town of Mount Maunganui, which is also worth visiting. There, visitors can embrace nature and the outdoors at the surfing hotspot of Mount Beach, with easy to strenuous hiking at Mount Maunganui, and in soothingly hot or warm saltwater pools at the mountain's base. Urbanites can also find lots of shopping and restaurants on busy Maunganui Road.
Finally, there's a third option that's also quite popular as a shore excursion: the town and region of Rotorua, about 75 minutes from the port. The area is a center for geothermal activity (including historic thermal baths) and Maori culture. Shore excursions to Rotorua will typically visit a geothermal park like Te Whakarewarea, Hells Gate or Waiotapu, which features the Lady Knox geyser, a natural phenomenon that erupts every day at 10:15 a.m. Other highlights may include bubbling mud pools, steaming springs, more geysers, spas, waterfalls, visits to one of the region's dozen pretty lakes, and the city of Rotorua proper. The trip is not for the nasally sensitive, as the hot springs and geysers are often accompanied by an ever-present sulphurous "rotten egg" smell.
Sadly, cruise travelers usually do not have enough time to visit all three destinations in one port call. Most choose to either stay in the neighboring Tauranga and Mount Maunganui or take the long shore excursion to the Rotorua area. Whichever way you go, you will not be disappointed.
Top Tauranga Itineraries
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Where You're Docked
Ships dock at Salisbury Wharf at the Port of Tauranga, which is actually in the town of Mount Maunganui.
There is a helpful i-SITE tourist office just 150 feet or so from the dock where visitors can pick up information, book tours or be directed to a nearby bus to Tauranga's center. Another 150 feet away is the center of Mount Maunganui, which also features shopping, dining, ATM's, post offices and a host of typical city amenities.
Good to Know
Uber-friendly locals will stop to ask anyone perusing a city map if they need help, so don't be afraid to take advantage of their assistance. Also, remember that New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road, an important safety note when crossing the street.
On Foot: All of Mount Maunganui's attractions are within a 10-minute walk of the port.
By Bus: Although some lines arrange for free buses, the only option on our visit was a city bus with direct service from Mount Maunganui to Tauranga. Leaving relatively frequently from the i-SITE office at the port, the bus costs a few New Zealand dollars per person one-way, and it takes 20 minutes to get to the middle of the commercial district of Tauranga. The bus drops passengers off at the convenient Tauranga i-SITE office and, from there, all of Tauranga's top attractions, shopping and dining options are within a 15-minute walk.
By Taxi: Taxis are available at the i-SITE office at the port, but if you are just heading into Tauranga, the city bus is the way to go. If you are going to Rotorua, a taxi or shore excursion would be your best bet.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the New Zealand dollar. For current currency conversion figures, visit XE.com. ATM's and banks are plentiful in both Tauranga and Mount Maunganui and are usually the cheapest way to get New Zealand dollars. Credit cards are widely accepted most everywhere.
English, with a distinct Kiwi accent, is the predominant language in Tauranga and all of New Zealand, although you may hear some Maori being spoken there.
Many British-isms have found their way into the language -- like "brilliant" or "loo." However, the most unusual is the local use of "sweet as" -- meaning good or cool. It's generally used when something pleases the speaker, such as a local responding, "It's sweet as," when asked about a particular hike, wine or local beer.
Food and Drink
Tauranga and Mount Maunganui both feature a variety of restaurants for those out and exploring during lunchtime. Seafood is, of course, a specialty. The revitalized waterfront area of Tauranga and nearby streets, as well as walking-friendly Mount Maunganui, make it easy to find the fresh catch. Most shore excursions to Rotorua or other full-day tours -- like those to Waitomo Caves -- will include lunch.
For a killer waterfront view, Slow Fish on the beach at Mount Beach focuses on organic, free-range and slow food. Its all-day BIG breakfast menu is to die for, or, for lunch, check out the Slowfish Cakes served with arugula and chili jam. (Shop 5 Twin Towers, Marine Parade, Mount Maunganui. Open daily, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Satori Lounge serves up sushi prepared to order. The warm sushi rolls are all the rage, and the cocktails are creative. (309 Maunganui Road, Mount Maunganui. It's open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 2:30 p.m., 5:30 to 9 p.m.)
For the fish & chips fanatic, Fresh Fish Market lives up to its name with just-off-the-dock fresh fish battered and fried right before your eyes. For something different, try the seafood kebabs. Come hungry, and be prepared to wait. It's well worth it! Enjoy your takeaway at a dozen picnic tables out front overlooking the dock. (Open 8 to 7 p.m. daily)
Genuine Maori arts and crafts -- including pottery, local paintings, jade jewelry or carvings -- make great souvenirs. The highly recommended Pohutukawa Gallery (138 Mounganui Road) in Mount Maunganui is within walking distance of the ship.
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