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Surfing, swimming, kayaking, dolphin watching, fishing, big game fishing—yes, it’s mostly on the water that visitors (and locals) enjoy the outdoors around here. There are great short walks around estuaries to forested waterfalls and on historic Māori sites.
Blue Ocean Charters. Blue Ocean Charters operates three vessels and has half- and full-day trips, plus overnight excursions. Starting price for a half day of reef fishing is $90, and for a full day $100. Fishing equipment is available for hire.There are also longer trips seeking hapuka (groper) and big game expeditions. These guys can also take you saltwater fly-fishing, freshwater fishing for trout, and hunting for wild deer and pig. Phone ahead; they get busy. Tauranga Bridge Marina, Te Awanui Drive, Tauranga, 3141. 07/544–3072. www.blueoceancharters.co.nz..
Aerius Helicopters. Teaming up with local Māori as their guides, Aerius Helicopters run trips to the volcanic island Tuhua (Mayor Island). Tuhua is particularly significant to Māori in part because of the obsidian—a volcanic glass prized for its strength and sharpness—found in great streaks throughout the island. The helicopter ride to the island is an event in itself, providing aerial views of the Tuhua's unusual landscape and colored lakes. (Flight cost $605 per person). Another stunning flight offered is to and over the very active volcanic White Island ($680), while several shorter scenic tours over the hills, coastline, and lakes of the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua regions are on offer. Flights leave from Tauranga Airport, and Kiwi 360 (just south of Te Puke on SH2). Jean Batten Dr., Tauranga Airport, Tauranga, Tauranga, 3116. 0800/864–354. www.aerius.co.nz.
Waimarino Glowworm Kayaking. After you've had your fill of local wines, cheeses, and fresh fruit on the banks of Lake McLaren at dusk, plus a careful safety talk, the guides of Waimarino Glowworm Kayaking will help you into your kayak and take you on a gentle, two-hour, nighttime trip across the lake and into a narrow canyon, where the walls are lined with thousands of glowworms. Floating in the dark and the silence (everyone has to be quiet or the glowworms "turn off") is an amazing sensation. You don't need kayaking expertise; you will be well cared for. The whole tour takes about three and a half hours. Transport to the lake (about a 15 minute drive) is included, from Waimarino Adventure Park. Departure times change as the evenings draw out, check the website for exact times. These guys will also take you for genteel day time paddles on Lake McLaren, but you won't see any glowworms! 36 Taniwha Pl., Wairoa River, Bethlehem, Tauranga, Tauranga, 3172. 07/576–4233. www.waimarino.com. $120 (gourmet dinner trip $190).
New Zealand Surf School, Mount Maunganui. Mount Maunganui is one of New Zealand's premier surfing beaches, so where better to learn to surf? The New Zealand Surf School gives lessons here November through April at 10, noon, and 2 every day, starting at $80, which includes all the gear. They also rent surfboards and wet suits by the hour or day and have the experience to work with people with a range of special needs. During the peak of summer, look for their tent on the Marine Parade Beach, opposite Grove Avenue. Marine Parade opposite Grove Avenue., Mount Maunganui, 3116. 021/477–873. www.nzsurfschool.com.
Mt. Maunganui Hot Salt Water Pools. Heated salt water bathing is reputed to be a great healing process, and these pools offer just that, nestled beneath the towering Mauao, Mt. Maunganui. The complex includes a cool pool with marked lanes for anyone who wants some serious exercise, but most visitors prefer to soak in the hotter saltwater pools. If that's not enough, book a session with one of the in-house massage therapists. Adams Ave., Tauranga, 3116. 07/575–0868. www.tcal.co.nz. $NZ10. Mon.–Sat. 6 am–10 pm, Sun. 8 am–10 pm.
Swimming with dolphins is a big summer activity in the Bay of Plenty. Most cruises leave from the Tauranga Bridge Marina. Bookings are essential and should be arranged at least one day prior. The Department of Conservation licenses and regularly inspects operators and sets limits on the number of boats allowed around any pod of dolphins. Touching, handling, and provoking the dolphins are prohibited. Locals say that the dolphins call the shots; if they don't want anyone swimming with them, they'll take off, and no boat has yet managed to catch up with an anti-social dolphin.
Dolphin Blue. Aside from the dolphins, a highlight of this trip is the classic, 54-foot wooden launch you sail in. It makes a comfortable trip out to dolphin world (keeping in mind the cruise travels into open waters). Small groups, no more than 15, provide an intimate, boutique experience on the water. Trips ($140) leave Tauranga at 8:30 am and return at about 4 pm. Skipper Paul will give a talk first setting out clearly what you can expect during this long day on the water. The vessel is fitted with a "swim rope" for you to hold while the dolphins dart around you. They also have a couple of kayaks on board, and might pull into an island for guests to have a paddle, while waiting for dolphins to show. As with other such tours, if no dolphins or whales are spotted you can return for a free trip, with no time restriction on when you do. Sulphur Point Marina, Keith Allen Dr., Tauranga, 3110. 027/666–8047. www.dolphinblue.co.nz.
Dolphin Seafaris. Dolphin Seafaris will take you out for a dolphin encounter. Wet suits, dive gear, and towels are included in the NZ$140 price tag for a trip leaving at 8 am (from Tauranga, a bit later from Mt Maunganui) and back around 1 pm. Continental breakfast, fresh juice, and hot drinks are also included. All guides have a marine mammal/biology background. Donations from every booking goes towards prevention of the slaughter of dolphins and whales. Bookings are essential. Phone ahead for daily departure times from the Tauranga Bridge Marina. September to November is whale migration season. You'll likely see as many whales as dolphins. Berth D5, Tauranga Bridge Marina, Tauranga, 3141. 07/577–0105 or 0800/326–8747. www.nzdolphin.com.