The population center of the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga is one of New Zealand's fastest-growing cities. Along with its neighbor, Whakatane, this seaside city claims to be one of the country's sunniest towns. Unlike most local towns, Tauranga doesn't grind to a halt in the off-season, because it has one of the busiest ports in the country, and the excellent waves at the neighboring beach resort of Mount Maunganui—just across Tauranga's harbor bridge—always draw surfers and holiday folk. To explore the town center, start at the Strand, where palm trees separate the shops from the sea. Bars, restaurants, and cafés line the Strand and nearby side streets. If you're interested in the beachier side of Tauranga, head 8 km (5 miles) east out of the city center and over the Harbor Bridge to Mount Maunganui. Here, you'll find one of the best surf spots in the country along the 20-km (12½-mile) shoreline, a sheltered, harborside swimming spot, as well as shopping, restaurants, and walking tracks up and around the prominent small volcano Mauao.
Mount Surf Museum
This quirky spot displays more than 500 surfboards, some from the beginning of surfing in New Zealand, and other surf memorabilia—reportedly the largest collection in New Zealand. There's some cool stories, too, about bad surfer dudes like Mickey Dora, convicted fraudster who hid (and surfed) in New Zealand for two years before the authorities caught up with him. The museum is housed in the outlet branch of the Mount Surf Shop, Mount Maunganui's surfing specialist store.
Elms Mission House
Built in 1847, this was the first Christian missionary station in the Bay of Plenty. The lovely late-Georgian house, named for the 50 elms that grew on the property, was home to descendants of pioneer missionaries until the mid-1990s. You can explore the lush grounds, but the real appeal lies in the main house, the small wooden chapel, and the collection of furniture, crockery, and other period items.
Mills Reef Winery
Owner–winemaker Paddy Preston of Mills Reef Winery used to make kiwifruit wine, but he hasn't looked back since he turned to the real thing. The lovely 20-acre complex includes the art-deco style Tasting Room and Restaurant. Alfresco dining is popular at the restaurant, which promises (and delivers) a menu of "Antipodean/Pacific Rim food blending the best of local produce and culinary innovations," matched of course with classy Mills Reef wines. It's open daily for brunch and lunch, reservations essential for dinner. The cellar door/tasting room is open daily 9 to 5.