17 of the Best Things to Do In and Around Tauranga

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Fields form a mismatched checkerboard across a wide-open plain, surrounding mountain ranges thickly covered in dense bush. Wild sandy beaches stretch for miles with barely a person on them. Here, at the southern end of the Bay of Plenty, sits the city of Tauranga.

One of the fastest-growing cities in New Zealand, Tauranga and the surrounding area is a popular destination for overseas tourists and domestic travellers alike, especially during the long, dry summer months.

The Bay of Plenty lives up to its name: there’s no shortage of things to do! In reality, though, it was named by Captain Cook after he saw all of the produce being grown in the area, and that bounty continues to this day.

Full of avocado and kiwifruit orchards, hop fields and vineyards, any view from on high reveals a patchwork quilt of fields with neat rows of fruit trees and grapevines. 

It’s not just about the wine and craft beer, though. Surfers and sunbathers alike can enjoy reliable waves and beautiful beaches, thrill-seekers get to enjoy some great adventure activities, and fitness buffs have a multitude of scenic waterfalls and great hiking trails to discover, including the hump in the ground mountain they call Mt Maunganui.

Whether you’re looking for a place to relax and unwind, or want get the heart pumping hiking through New Zealand’s beautiful scenery, Tauranga has the nature, food, culture, and heart to charm every visitor.

How to Get There

Most visitors arrive in Tauranga via State Highway 2, whether coming from the north (Coromandel and Auckland) or southeast (Gisborne and the East Cape). 

If you’re coming from inland between Hamilton and Taupo, however, take State Highway 1 then choose either State Highway 28 or 29. Either way, you’ll end up on SH29 for the final stretch into Tauranga. Finally, if you are coming from Rotorua, State Highway 36 will get you where you need to go.

Wander the Waterfront in Downtown Tauranga

Statues of animals from Hairy Maclary books on the Tauranga waterfront

Head to central Tauranga and take a wander along the Strand, the street that runs parallel to the water along the estuary.

If you’ve got kids with you, make a beeline straight for the waterfront playground. The play equipment here has been upgraded from the standard you find at most parks, and they’ll love the slides and rope pirate ship in particular. 

The Hairy Maclary statue is also found here, a nod to Tauranga native Lynley Dodd who created this rascally mutt and his friends. Her clever children’s books are beautifully illustrated with catchy rhymes describing the antics of these neighbourhood animals, and are loved the world over by adults and children alike. I vividly remember reading them as a child myself.

Beyond the playground, you will find a couple of parks and manicured gardens, and a short waterfront walk to enjoy. This whole area also has several murals to admire and pose for a photo with, while the wharf is the starting point for a range of boat charters and tours. 

The city centre sprawls out in three directions from Herries Park, and it’s worth spending a bit of time (and money) on retail therapy along Devonport Road and Grey Street. Once you’ve swiped your credit card enough times to work up an appetite, there’s a good range of restaurants and cafes in the streets nearest the waterfront to replenish your energy.

Head Back in Time at the Historic Village

Once you’re done in the city centre, head up to 17th Avenue to find the Historic Village. History buffs will delight in this working street mall with both replica and original historic shopfronts. Wander along the cobbled streets and take plenty of photos of the old street frontages and replica streetlamps. 

Boutique shops abound, and it’s easy to lose an hour or two just wandering through the retail options: they’re a lot more interesting than the usual chain stores you find in every town. The Whipped Baker has some delicious treats on offer, so grab whatever takes your fancy and relax for a while on the lawns of the amphitheatre.

There’s a very active art scene in the Village as well. Head to the Jam Factory where you can watch live music, stop in at Record Roundabout to sift through boxes of records for that rare gem, then wander through the many art galleries and studios selling works by local artists.

The Incubator acts as a creative hub for all of the creative spaces, and the site has more details of what’s on offer at these funky venues. Check the What’s On tab for details of the current exhibitions and workshops — there may well be something worth checking out while you’re there.

Enjoy the Views From Mount Maunganui

View from the top of Mount Maunganui

Follow State Highway 2 from central Tauranga or Papamoa and you’ll end up in Mount Maunganui. This small summer holiday destination is pretty much part of Tauranga city, nestled on the other side of the estuary that separates them. 

On the way, you’ll pass one of New Zealand’s largest seaports. If you are interested in the industry that makes society work, drive up Totora Street to see the interesting industrial sights along the waterfront. Huge stacks of shipping containers, massive silo towers, vast piles of logs and if you watch out for it, even a humungous pile of salt! 

At the tip of the peninsula sits Mount Maunganui, standing alone beside the ocean. There are two tracks that will take you to the summit of this extinct volcano, and one that goes around the base of the mountain. Walking to the top will take about 40 minutes for the fit, but feel free to take your time and wander up more slowly.

The views from the top are spectacular, especially at sunrise or sunset, as you gaze out over the ocean and back towards the city. Keep an eye out for paragliders: it’s a popular launch spot for locals, and there’s a paragliding school that operates from the Mount (as it’s affectionately known) as well.

Soak up the Sun at the Local Beaches

Maunganui Beach

Starting at the base of the mountain, and running down the east cost is one of the longest stretches of sand in New Zealand. The top section between Mt Maunganui and Moturiki Island is called Maunganui Beach, a surfer’s paradise of golden sands and clear blue water.

Don’t worry if you don’t have surf gear with you, there’s a hire shop (House of Surf) right near the beach. You can also join in one of the many group lessons or experiences they have on offer, including for beginners, or book a private lesson to take your skills to the next level.

Papamoa Beach

Further along the same coast, Papamoa Beach stretches out seemingly forever, with 14km of beautiful sandy coast and wild ocean. Fish, swim, surf, or sunbathe at this popular family-friendly beach, and with so much length, you are bound to find a quiet spot to yourself. Be careful, though: when the water swells over a metre there are often rips, so stay safe and only swim in patrolled areas.

Experience Small-Town New Zealand

Katikati

About 20 minutes north of Tauranga along State Highway 2 sits the tiny town of Katikati. Calling itself the mural capital of New Zealand (I’m not sure there’s a lot of competition for that title), you’ll find over 80 murals and outdoor sculptures of various moments in history as you walk around. 

Time your visit with your hunger levels so you have an excuse to visit Waihi Pizza, on a bend in the main street. Surprisingly enough you’ll also find this pizza place in Waihi, and the concept has travelled the 25km distance well.

You’ll find unusual (yet delicious) flavour combinations such as Mint Lamb and Zesty Wedge among its extensive range, and there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options as well. Order your meal, then have a walk along the main street while you wait: there are several good second-hand goods stores to check out, along with the nearby river. 

Pick up the riverside trail on Beach Road, just across from the pizza restaurant. Around the back of the buildings is a path along the waterfront, where various wildlife statues, as well as real ducks and swans, will greet you as you wander. 

On the outskirts of town towards Tauranga, down Walker Road East, is the Katikati Bird Gardens. The extensive grounds are carefully cultivated with birds in mind, and the owners have created a beautiful eco-sanctuary full of international plantings. Adult entry is $11 dollars.

Te Puke

Giant kiwifruit sculpture in Te Puke, New Zealand

Eleven minutes out of Papamoa on the far side of Tauranga sits Te Puke, a small town and district best known for its kiwifruit production. Just in case you weren’t aware of that fact, there’s is a larger-than-life kiwifruit slice displayed on the main road as you go through the centre of town that’s ideal for taking silly photos in front of. See above.

If you just can’t get enough kiwifruit in your life, it’s also worth paying a visit to Kiwifruit Country, on SH33 as you enter/leave town. It’s a working farm that also runs tours on a “Kiwi Train” through the orchards, and there’s a small shop where you can sample and buy various kiwifruit-based products. 

Once you’re done with the kiwifruit, there are a bunch of lovely walks and waterfalls dotted around Te Puke. If you prefer a small-town feel to a city vibe, it’s a good place to base yourself for a few days as you explore the region.

Eat, Hike, Love at McLaren Falls Park

Cherry Bay, in McLaren Falls Park

Off State Highway 29, about 25 minutes from the city centre, sits McLaren Falls Park. An extensive and beautiful nature reserve, there’s an awful lot on offer within its leafy surrounds. You’ll likely end up spending a lot longer here than you might expect!

Just before the park entrance on McLaren Falls Road is the waterfall that gives the park its name. In reality it’s not just one waterfall, but a series of them that tumble through and over a rocky section of the Wairoa river. Parking here is extremely limited, but don’t worry: there’s plenty more around the corner in the park itself, and it’s just a short walk back. You won’t miss out!

Up the driveway on the right as you enter sits the information centre, with a carpark and a little cafe. Falls Cafe has lovely food that’s all prepared on-site with love (or so they told us), with views across the river to the sheep farm beyond. The service here was really friendly, and they also sell duck food so you can safely feed the local wildlife. 

Keep an eye on the signs as you’re driving through the park: many of the roads are one-way. There are hiking options for all fitness levels, from a heart-pumping walk around the entire park to short 5-10 minute tracks.

If you’re after something worthwhile yet relatively low-key, the Waterfall track is a 20 minute round trip to a (different) waterfall, taking you past a glowworm grotto. The small glowing larvae are common at night here, as well as several other places throughout the park. 

Lake McLaren covers the southern end of the park, and its largest bay (Cherry Bay) is a lovely, peaceful spot to relax. It’s also a good place to use some of that duck food you bought at the cafe earlier: ducks, swans, and other birdlife are regular visitors to its shores.

If the kids are with you, Marshall’s Animal Farm is worth a look: you’ll find the entrance near the top end of Cherry Bay. Walk around the loop track to meet, greet, and feed the furry friends (including alpacas!), and if you happen to visit during the whelping season, you may be able to bottle feed a lamb or cuddle a piglet!

There’s also a pretty impressive playground on offer, with decent-sized flying foxes for the more adventurous members of the family. I even saw a couple of dad’s “helping” the kids enjoy them! 

Soak Tired Muscles at Sapphire Springs

Does the idea of spending an hour or two hiking in native bush followed by another hour or two recovering in a hot bath sound appealing? About 10 minutes south of Katikati, and 25 minutes north of Tauranga, Sapphire Springs Holiday Park offers both.

The park has four walking tracks, which take anything from 20 minutes to an hour to complete and take you through bushland filled with native birdsong. Once you’re done, it’s time to soak in the naturally-heated onsite pools.

The pools are filled and heated from a natural hot spring — being a mineral pool, it’s wonderful not to smell like chlorine when you get out! Private spas are also available, costing $12/hour per person. Whichever option you go for, they provide a lovely relaxing soak for tired bones after a day of exploring.

The place is a little off the beaten track but well worth the trip, whether you stay here or just go for the pools (prices start at $12 for an adult). If you do want to stay onsite, there are several options available, from from camping to private cabins. Swimming in the pools is included in your accommodation cost.

Hiking and Waterfalls

If McLaren Falls (above) served only to whet your appetite for nature walks and pretty waterfalls, you’re in luck: the region is full of them!

Raparapahoe

Head to the small carpark on the imaginatively named No. 4 Road, about 10 minutes from Te Puke and 30 minutes from Tauranga, for the start of the walking track to Raparapahoe Falls. About half an hour each way through forest and bush, the track is very steep. Wear good shoes — it gets slippery after rain.

When you reach the river, the track forks. To the left is a small swimming hole, but if you’re heading to the waterfall, keep right and walk for another ten minutes. There’s a huge, deep swimming hole at the base of the falls, where many visitors swim or dive in from a high spot.

Take a bit of food and drink with you: sitting on the rocks at the edge of the pool listening to the sounds of tumbling water is a lovely way to relax after the walk, whether you choose to swim or not. 

Kaituna Wetland

While most of the walks mentioned here take you through native forest and bush, the Kaituna Wetland is something quite different. Located 15 minutes from Te Puke and or 20 minutes from Papamoa, this large, marshy area is home to a variety of New Zealand’s water birds.

A loop walk begins near the junction of Pah and Kaituna roads, through the swampland past cows and dilapidated farm sheds. The loop walk is 6km long, and takes about an hour and a half to meander along: it’s mostly flat easy walking.

There’s a viewing hide partway around where you can sit and watch the wildlife, although beware in May and June: it’s a favourite area for duck hunters during the shooting season.

Kaiate Falls

Head west from Te Puke or south from Tauranga/Papamoa to the winding Kaiate Falls Road, for a great short walk to the falls of the same name. The road gets pretty narrow and steep, so you’re best not to take larger recreational vehicles up there unless you’re confident. That said, there was a huge camper taking up half the carpark when we visited! 

A short fifteen-minute walk from that little carpark, complete with several flights of stairs, takes you to the waterfall. Keep an eye out for great views back toward Tauranga and Mt Maunganui at a few spots along the way.

The falls are magnificent, spilling out through a cliff face densely covered in ferns and moss, into a pool below. The fast-moving stream has several smaller waterfalls as well, although calling them that is a little generous: rapids might be a better term!

Challenge Yourself at Adrenalin Forest

Half an hour south of Tauranga, just off SH36, follow Pyes Road to Adrenalin Forest. With airborne activities appropriate for all abilities and adventure levels, you can push yourself juuust far enough out of your comfort zone. Adult entry is $46, which gives access to everything on the site for three hours.

Set on the edge of the forest, levels range anywhere from one to 20 metres off the ground. Start at the lowest level, and keep going as high as you can! Push yourself a little more, and then a little more again… and then maybe just a little bit more.

Don’t forget to check out the gorgeous natural surroundings whenever you stop to take a breath… but don’t look down! That said, the friendly staff are always on hand to help out or rescue you if you get stuck.

Get your adrenalin pumping high up in the canopy with flying foxes and mid-air nets, or just play it safe with the bridges and swings on the easier parts of the courses. No matter how far you get, you’ll come away absolutely buzzing with excitement.

Spend Time on (or in) the Water

Get Wet and Wild at Waimarino Adventure Park

Tucked into the shores of the Wairoa River, a ten minute drive from Tauranga just off SH2, Waimarino Adventure Park offers a bundle of water-based fun for all ages and ability levels. Everyone will find something to do here, from sedately riding pedallos to Tarzan swinging into the river!

All-access passes cost $49 for adults, $35 for children, or you can rent kayaks and standup paddleboards by the hour instead. Feel the thrill of human catapulting(!) on the Blob, scream your way down the hydro-slide or huge waterslide, or bounce straight from the ‘UFO’ floating trampoline into the river!

If you don’t want to get wet, you can still have fun on land. Complete the rope course or go rock climbing, with four difficulty levels available. Play some volleyball, or if you prefer a more sedated swim while the rest of the family get their thrills, relax in the small heated pool.

Cruise in a Kayak

Waimarino Kayak Tours offers several water-based trips in different destinations around Tauranga, including Lake Rotoiti, Lake McLaren, and the Wairoa river. Complimentary transport leaves from Waimarino Adventure Park, with tours available in kayaks or kanus (large multi-person canoes) starting from $155 per person, 

The evening tours are particularly popular, since they let you get up close and personal with glowworms in a couple of different locations, along with stargazing when the weather allows!

Get Your Pulse Racing on Wild White Water

If a relaxed scenic tour doesn’t do it for you, get your adrenaline pumping with Riverbug NZ instead. The company is named after the unique vessel it uses, a flexible inflatable raft that moves with the water, Invented by the owner/operators Don and Sabine in Austria, they’ve now brought the concept out to New Zealand.

There’s a range of white-water river kayak tours available around the Bay of Plenty area, including the “Bug Sunday” in the Wairoa Gorge near Tauranga, where you can ride the wild water created by the McLaren Dam water releases most Sundays during the warmer months.

If that sounds a bit much, their Fun Bug tour on the Waiora River might be more your thing, where the tour guides will teach you some fun tricks in your riverbug on some much gentler rapids. All of the company’s trips are rated from “mild” to “wild”, so it’s easy to pick one that suits your adventure levels.

Bookings are essential, and tours cost from $89 per person.

Explore Gardens and Art at Te Puna Quarry Park

Gardens and lawn at Te Puna Quarry Park

Drive west from Tauranga for 15 minutes on SH2 and you’ll come across Te Puna Quarry Park, a wonderful art gallery, garden, and bush reserve all in one. This old quarry was abandoned in the late 1970s, and lay dormant until the early 90’s when local iwi (Māori tribe) and conservationists formed the Te Puna Quarry Park Society and set about developing the place into the attraction it is today.

Get your heart pumping as you walk up the steep trails to the top: the climb and sweat will be well worth it when you see the panoramic views of Tauranga and Mt Maunganui. Wear decent walking shoes and bring plenty of water on a hot day: it was scorching when I visited, and there wasn’t always a lot of shade.

The mixture of cultivated garden and natural bush is beautifully integrated as you wander around the many well-formed paths, as is the abundant artwork. There’s a new sculpture seemingly around every corner, standing proudly out in the open or peeking out from under the ferns.

Don’t forget the check out the music and butterfly gardens, as well as the path created by local school children from fired clay tiles. A snapshot of the childlike mind, monsters and ghouls, advice on living happy, and the occasional declaration of everlasting love all vie for attention as you wander.


Main image via Photos BrianScantlebury/Shutterstock.com

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