Image: Pilot Bay, Mount Maunganui
Tauranga is the retirement capitol of New Zealand, but don’t let that fool you. There’s so much to do, and Tauranga is the sunniest place in the country to do it. There’s stunning scenery, beautiful beaches, exquisite restaurants and a myriad of exciting activities. Take it from someone who lived there, you’ll never want to leave. With so much to choose from, you’ll be needing this list – the top 10 things to do in Tauranga:
Climb Mount Maunganui
Mount Maunganui is the distinctive landmark of Tauranga. It’s an impressive sight, dominating the head of a golden-beached peninsula. Getting to the top isn’t too strenuous; neither does it take too long. There are footpaths all way and the view over the sapphire waters of the Bay of Plenty is spectacular. You can walk around the base of the Mount too, and many fantastic cafes greet you on your return, not to mention a luxurious complex of saltwater hot pools. Right at the foot of the Mount, there’s an awesome campground if you’re travelling in a New Zealand campervan rental. Patrons get a discount for the hot pools.
Spend a day downtown
Shopping in downtown Tauranga is a wonderful way to spend a day. As well as an array of gorgeous clothes for older women, there’s lots of interesting knickknack shops – you’ll be sure to find a souvenir or two. The best thing about downtown Tauranga is its range of outstanding cafes, bars and restaurants. There’s nothing nicer than sipping a glass of crisp white wine on the Strand and sauntering along the harbourside.
Unwind at the Mount beach
The main beach at Mount Maunganui is a paradise. It’s everything a beach should be and more. It’s great for surfing, swimming and sunbathing, all within easy reach of ice-cream. Make sure you explore along Moturiki Island while you’re there. It’s that big cluster of rocks and trees you’ll see dividing the beach. It’s a good little walk and the place has a mildly fascinating history to boot.
Kayak at Pilot Bay
Pilot Bay is the beach opposite the main Mount beach, on the other side of the peninsula, about a minute’s walk from it at the base of the Mount. This is the sheltered side of the peninsula, so the water here is calmer. It’s lovely for swimming in if you’ve got small children, and even lovelier for kayaking on. You can hire kayaks on the beach itself. You can also hire jetskis if you’re wanting a thrill. Kayaking next to the Mount is a wonderfully serene experience, but you’re if lucky – extremely lucky – a pod of orca might grace the harbour.
Picnic at McLaren Falls
A little way out of Tauranga, McLaren Falls are simply beautiful. The whole McLaren Falls Park is, in fact. There’s a lake to kayak on, great fishing, walking tracks, glowworms, and barbecues you can use for free. Choosing a spot for your picnic will be quite difficult, as there are plenty of them, including the large, flat rocks at the top of the falls themselves. These rocks create natural pools that are fun to swim in, and, if you dare, there are places to jump off. The one downside of McLaren Falls is the mosquitoes – insect repellent is an absolute must!
Visit Te Puna Quarry Park
Te Puna Quarry Park is a little like Wonderland. Kids will love it, and adults will appreciate the gardening, the sculptures and the breathtaking views of the whole of Tauranga. The park, lovingly cultivated in an abandoned quarry, is a maze of fascinating features. There’s a bonsai garden, a herb garden, a New Zealand native garden and so much more. Oh and there’s a dragon. Just go there. Did I mention it’s free?
Take a scenic flight
There are plenty of scenic flights offered over the Mount and the surrounding bay. Some even go right out to the actively volcanic White Island, which, while amazing from above, really warrants a ground-level visit. (You can get there by ferry.) Modes of scenic flight transport range from helicopters, to gyroplanes, to open cockpit biplanes. If you fancy the latter, visit Classic Flyers at Tauranga Airport.
Go on a dolphin cruise
Swimming with dolphins is something most people want to experience at some point in their lives, and Tauranga offers the opportunity to do so. Cruising around Tauranga Harbour and into the Bay of Plenty beyond is fantastic anyway, but adding dolphins into the mix makes it magical. The dolphins will come up right alongside your boat and play in the bow wave. The water is wonderfully clear too, so you’ll see them speeding along beneath the surface. They may even have babies with them. Some of them perform tricks – of their own free will, of course. Show offs.
Step back in time
Tauranga has its very own historic village and it’s utterly charming. Take a stroll down the cobbled streets, between the colonial houses. Some are the original buildings of Tauranga’s earliest European settlement. Inside them, though, are modern shops, mostly of the arts and crafts variety. There’s also a café and a crystal shop. Make sure you explore all the little nooks and crannies, as enchanting surprises await you.
Play at Memorial Park
Memorial Park is in the centre of Tauranga and is well worth a visit. Not only does it have a beach that’s good swimming at high tide, it has a fantastic playground, mini golf, a fountain, picnic tables, pools and, best of all, a little working train. Kids and adults alike can ride the train, the tracks of which weave in and out of the playground. It’s a child’s paradise. There’s always an ice-cream van present. Also, you can park a New Zealand motorhome hire there overnight for free.
List compiled by Abigail Simpson