Orchards producing citrus, passionfruit and tamarillos (tree tomatoes) were common in the Bay of Plenty in the first half of the 20th century. Later, kiwifruit became the new driver of the regional economy.
In the 1950s the Hayward cultivar was planted, especially around Te Puke, with an export trade getting under way from the 1970s. Volumes increased from 4 million trays in 1982 to 10 million in 1983 and 46 million in 1987. Bust followed this boom – low returns shook out those who had overborrowed.
Even so, the Bay of Plenty had 9,912 hectares in kiwifruit in 2012, 77.7% of the national total. They were mainly in Katikati, on the Rangitāiki Plains and around Ōpōtiki. As vines were pulled out around Tauranga for housing subdivisions, new ones were planted further east.
Avocados and timber
Avocados were another crop planted extensively from the 1970s, but without kiwifruit’s boom or bust. In 2012 the region’s avocado planting (2,081 hectares) accounted for half the national total (4,149 hectares).
The Volcanic Plateau timber industry has survived, but with a smaller labour force and more modest growth than in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the 2000s Tauranga port remained important, despite a less buoyant timber market. Port of Tauranga, the company which took over from the Bay of Plenty Harbour Board in 1988, has maintained the port’s viability by competing vigorously for business throughout the North Island. In 1999 it established a ‘dry port’ or ‘metroport’ in Manukau City (south Auckland). Here, cargo such as NZ Steel containers are stockpiled for transfer to the port at Tauranga, where businesses can take advantage of lower port fees. In the 2010s Tauranga took over from Auckland as New Zealand’s busiest port.
Challenges for smaller towns
Jobs were lost when milk processing was moved to a single plant in Edgecumbe. Kiwifruit reinvigorated some country districts, but smaller towns in both the western and eastern Bay shared a similar dilemma – how to thrive when it was easy for people to visit big retail outlets in Tauranga or Whakatāne. In Katikati and Te Puke a bypass for heavy traffic was the favoured solution. Ōpōtiki promoted attractions such as the Mōtū Challenge and the Fibre and Fleece Awards.
Tauranga – a new kind of city
For its part, Tauranga is a New Zealand example of the American sunbelt phenomenon. Climate and lifestyle, rather than employment, draw newcomers from all over the country. But more people mean more cars, more congestion, and more competition for land. The city also has fewer cultural amenities for its size than Whakatāne. Nonetheless, with over half of the population of the region, Tauranga now dominates the western Bay. Whakatāne plays a similar role, on a smaller scale, in the east.