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SH2 Pacific Coastal Route- Ngatea to Tauranga
State Highway 2 leaves Auckland at the bottom of the Southern Motorway (SH1) heading south. This is a popular route that joins SH27 and by-passes Hamilton if you’re heading to Rotorua, Taupo and the southern areas of the North Island. If you have the time instead of carrying onto SH27 take the Pacific Coastal Route (SH2) through the Bay of Plenty. From Tauranga you can either carry on to the East Coast or travel across to Rotorua.
There are a number of small rural towns of interest along this road. The first town in the middle of the Hauraki Plains is Ngatea. Stop at one of the number of cafes for lunch or a coffee, or visit The Ngatea Water Gardens. Just north of Ngatea is Miranda on the coast of the Firth of Thames. This is a very popular spot for birdwatchers, migrating seabirds gather here before departing for the Northern Hemisphere. There are also hot mineral pools and a great camping ground. www.miranda-shorebird.org.nz
The next town is Paeroa-Town of the big bottle! Paeroa is famous for the drink Lemon & Paeroa, a fizzy soft drink that is very popular in NZ (try bourbon and L&P and you’ll see why). Traditionally made by combining lemon juice with carbonated mineral water from the town, it is now manufactured by Coca-Cola. World Famous in New Zealand! Paeroa also has many antique and brick’a’brack shops to browse through. www.lp.co.nz/home.htm
You will now be leaving the plains and passing through the Karangahake Gorge. Here you will find some spectacular scenery. Make sure you stop at one of the carparks for a picnic on the river bank or take a walk along the Historic Walkway which follows the river, over swing bridges and through an old 1km long rail tunnel (a torch is a good idea, although not totally necessary) Look out for the glow-worms on the ceiling. This area is at the bottom end of the Coromandel Peninsula and is surrounded by native bush. It was once a prosperous gold mining town and you can still see some of the old batteries and workings. http://www.karangahakegorge.co.nz/
Driving on you will come to Waihi, this is a gold mining town! Visit the huge open cast Martha’sMine. From the viewing platform you can see the monster trucks slowly spiraling down around the sides of themine on the single haul road. Check the aerial view of themine on this website www.marthamine.co.nz/ and here is the town website, www.waihi.org.nz
Next you’ll pass through the smaller Athenree Gorge before you come across the town of Katikati, known for its murals. From here through to Tauranga you will have lots of opportunities to see the Pacific Ocean and the inner harbour area behind Matakana Island, there are some wonderful photo opportunities along this part of the road. Keep an eye out for the bantam roosters and hens that populate the rest stops around this area. Katikati also has quite a few antique shops for you to visit as well. Roadside stalls are an opportunity to buy seasonal fruit, such as oranges, kiwifruit and avocados. Closer to Tauranga, roads on the left offer detours to the beach towns of Te Puna and Omokoroa.
You have now arrived in the prosperous city of Tauranga which sprawls along the edge of the inner harbour. There’s a well developed restaurant and café culture here. Boat charters are available to take you big game fishing, snorkeling or dolphin watching. Nearby Mt Maunganui is a destination for surfing and beach walking.