Largest urban centre and city in Bay of Plenty, 216 km south-east of Auckland, 107 km east of Hamilton and 86 km north of Rotorua.
Tauranga dates from the establishment of a Church Missionary Society mission at Te Papa, as it was then known, in the 1830s. During the wars of the 1860s the government established two redoubts (fortifications) there. The original mission complex, The Elms, still stands, and the outline of the Monmouth redoubt is still visible.
With the promotion of colonisation in the 1870s, the settlement was made a borough in 1882. In the later 19th century its population declined.
From the 1910s, as dairying developed in neighbouring districts, the population grew, reaching 4,712 in 1945.
In 1950 Mt Maunganui was made a port for timber from the Volcanic Plateau. The 1978 Kaimai Tunnel improved connections between Tauranga and the Waikato region. Growth was further fostered by horticulture – in particular kiwifruit growing – in surrounding districts and by the lifestyle appeal of the town.
In 1976 Tauranga was one of a number of medium-sized urban areas, with a population of 48,000 – smaller than Napier or Invercargill. In 1996 Tauranga’s population was 82,092, and by 2013 it had reached 114,789, making it New Zealand's sixth-largest city.
The completion of a harbour bridge in 1988 brought Tauranga and ‘the Mount’ closer (they amalgamated in 1989) and has promoted growth in both parts of the enlarged city.
The city appeals to older people. In 2013, 19.3% of the population were 65 or over (compared to 14.3% nationally). But for every 100 arrivals into the western Bay there are 50 who leave, many in their teens and twenties. The city hosts only five major head offices – Port of Tauranga, Zespri International, Ballance Agri-Nutrients Ltd, Brother International and Trustpower. The phrase ‘ten-dollar Tauranga’ reflects the relatively low hourly wage rates and lack of professional employment.
Site of an important battle. After British and colonial forces landed at Te Papa in 1864, Tauranga Māori built a strong pā on the Pukehinahina ridge. British forces shelled the pā on 29 April but were repulsed with heavy losses, despite an overwhelming advantage in numbers (over 1,600 against about 200). Māori forces departed during the night, but two months later were overcome at a partly finished pā at Te Ranga, a short distance inland.