When it comes to visitors to the Bay of Plenty, it’s fair to say Tauranga often sits in the shadow of Mount Maunganui’s glorious beach and thriving main drag that hums day and night. But Tauranga’s CBD and surrounds have plenty of gems to get you over the bridge, including elusive locals’ faves (we’re going to share) and key openings that have boosted the city’s excitement factor immeasurably.

DAY ONE

Just as the name infers, amazing fresh produce abounds in the Bay of Plenty and if you are here on a Saturday, the vibrant Tauranga Farmers’ Market (Arundel St;  taurangafarmersmarket.co.nz) is the place to find it. There’s a mini-stampede at the 7.45am opening, so perhaps turn up later, but not much later mind, as sell-outs are common at many stalls. It’s hard to pick favourites but check out Mount Eliza raw cheeses, Small Batch nut butters, The Hungarian Artisan Co. chorizos and salamis, Jersey Girl Organics milk, Flaveur Breads, and lush organic produce from the likes of Six-toed Fox Organics, Abundant Backyard and Belk Farm. Plus quality tomatoes, mushrooms, oranges, corn and berries (all in the right season, of course). Once you’re laden, grab a coffee and food, sit at one of the picnic tables (send the kids off to the playground!) and enjoy the music.

If you don’t breakfast at the markets, head to the always-bustling Love Rosie Bakery (50 9th Avenue), where you’ll find great coffee, sublime slabs of quiche, saussie rolls, moreish Portuguese tarts and their famous chocolatey Richie McCaw slice (a recipe from the owner’s time at Auckland’s Ripe Cafe). And the bread is now even better with their new bakery Breadhead (2a St John St), just around the corner. The excellent range includes seedy sourdough with no less than six types of seeds, and a fermented oat loaf, plus there are baguettes, pastries and bagels too. (It’s worth noting that the region has had a bit of a bread revolution in the past year – other great bakers include Better Bread, Pocket Bakery and Mount Sourdough – so the bar has been seriously lifted.)

Across the road from the café, peruse the lovely Florence & Co (florenceandco. com) home furnishings and design store. Next door is Ooplah, a French vintage store that’s packed with finds such as furniture, linen and unique toys, and in the same space Follow The White Rabbit (followthewhiterabbit.co.nz) features re-worked vintage frocks and handmade goods.

Post-retail, head back to the city centre where there are a couple of quick lunch options on offer. The first is Chidori (130 Devonport Rd) an unassuming joint that serves a hearty style of ramen. Their paitan broth (made from chicken, pork and vegetables) is simmered for nine hours to make it rich, almost creamy. The basic ramen (with a choice of soy, miso or salt base) is the best $10 you’ll spend all day, but the spicy tantan version is highly recommended, too. With top-notch chicken karaage on the side, you’re all set.

Alternatively, put yourself in the capable hands of Israeli couple Mali and Ariel Cottan at Falafel Metro (45 Grey St). It’s only open weekdays and it sells out, so look sharp. The menu offers just three falafels, including the very delicious Jerusalem with fresh tomatoes, Israeli pickles and white tahini sauce.

There are tables at Falafel Metro, but on a good day (of which there are plenty, of course), it’s a short stroll to the tidal steps at the waterfront where you can also potentially watch some action off the bombing platform. To your right, you’ll see the Matapihi Rail Bridge, which runs from the end of The Strand to the Matapihi Peninsula. After lunch, stroll across to enjoy water views. If you fancy biking, Flux e-bike rentals is right on the waterfront, and you could bike all the way to the Bayfair end of  Mount Maunganui (warning: your bike at the newly revamped Bayfair mall) or even right through to the beach.

Last year, the striking historic post office was transformed from offices into Clarence Hotel & Bistro (51 Willow St; clarencetauranga.co.nz) by owners Kim Smythe and Noel Cimadom of Alpino in Cambridge. The plush fit out and big-city vibe was a game changer for Tauranga. You enter through a large,  covered outdoor area, and ascend the stairs to find the Bistro on your left. Executive chef Ian Harrison serves up mod Euro-influenced food – think pan-roasted fish with saffron, mussel, sweetcorn purée, fennel and pancetta, or Te Mana lamb rump, shoulder and sweetbread with white beans, artichoke and salsa verde. (Worth noting: a great-value express lunch offers three courses for $45.) Iki bar, on the other side, has a southeast Asian street food menu, craft beer and cocktails. The duck leg bao is good, as is the Korean fried chicken with kimchi mayo. Once replete, you can wander up the grand stairway to one of the 10 stylishly designed rooms to rest your weary head.

DAY TWO

For an early morning caffeine fix, head to Hans Kraenzlin’s Folk Brewers (148 Durham St) – a tiny joint with a big following. Coffee is a serious business here; Ozone is their primary espresso blend but Hans has a rotating single-origin option from different roasters, too. Food is simple but good: Montfoort Stroopwafels, Breadhead grilled sammies and, on Fridays, the sensational Pure Bites doughnuts make a cameo. Hans also hosts intimate gigs in the space, called Folk Sessions.

For something more elaborate for brekkie, check out the new kid on the waterfront, Otto Eatery (51 The Strand, adjoining sister restaurant and wine bar, Oscar). There’s a smart fit-out with pale wood, sculptural chairs and cushion-strewn banquettes along with a crowd-pleasing menu. Great coffee too.

Mid-morning, head over to Our Place Tauranga container village (91 Willow St). Set up by Rachelle and Chris Duffy, an entrepreneurial couple who have created some of region’s greatest assets (such as The Big Little Markets), it has delivered some real buzz to the CBD with its retail, dining and community-focussed activities. Shops include vintage clothing and homewares, luxury skincare and design and regular artisan pop-ups. JS Ceramics  (jsceramics.nz) is a highlight – you’ll covet the handmade earthenware, including vases, bowls and coffee cups.

Food-wise, there’s local dumpling darling Johney’s Dumpling House, the creative flavours of East Coast Ice Cream, great coffee from Hello Espresso, and High Tide Bar with 40 craft beers on tap, among others. The village features a communal dining area, live music and an all-round fun vibe. Pick up a copy of the free local magazine Our Place here (or around town), as it has a useful monthly events listing for the region.

Taking in some of the art scene is as easy as a stroll across the road to the Tauranga Art Gallery (108 Willow St; artgallery.org.nz), which has free entry and great exhibitions to engage all ages. Also nearby, down a laneway, is the petite new Sumer Gallery (3 Waihirere Ln; sumer.co.nz), which showcases excellent contemporary art.

Time for one last meal? Of course there is! The pan-Asian sharing menu at Macau Bar Kitchen & Lounge (59 The Strand; dinemacau.co.nz) has dishes like Korean fried cauli and san choi bao lamb ribs. The moody interior features elegant tasselled lights and large curved booths but on a sunny day it’s lovely outdoors for lunch too. Upstairs, you’ll find their latest addition, the Lounge Bar. A late-night cocktail or digestif with water views is the perfect farewell to the Bay.

X