On New Zealand North Island lies a whimsical water wonderland in the beautiful Bay of Plenty region. With so many unique things to do in Tauranga, you won’t want to miss this town as you travel around New Zealand.
Protected by islands and reefs and set upon a backdrop of velvety green hills, Tauranga is a veritable natural adventure park. For anyone who loves being outside, visiting this Bay of Plenty town is a must.
Many of the top tourist attractions in Tauranga are free to the public. You’ll also find some of the best tours & adventures in the Bay of Plenty here.
Spike your adrenaline with thrilling activities like skydiving or white water rafting. There are also plenty of outdoor activities in Tauranga to enjoy. You can hit up the hiking trails or go sailing on the bay. End the day with relaxing at a blissful Polynesian spa or touring a historic village.
Not sure what to do in Tauranga? Read on to learn about some of the best places to visit in Tauranga…
What to see & do in Tauranga
Trek up magical Mount Maunganui (Mauao)
Mount Maunganui is one of the most popular travel destinations in the Bay of Plenty. It’s a surfers dream, a boaters paradise, and a hiker’s playground.
On your New Zealand North Island itinerary visiting Mount Maunganui is a must. It’s a great place to try something new and out of your comfort zone. Visiting, you’ll also learn more about the Maori culture. You can even relax on the white-sand beaches below.
Mount Maunganui, known as Mauao in Maori, stands tall and proud at the centre of town. It beckons everyone to scale to the top for some stunning views of Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.
The hike to the summit of Mt. Maunganui is easy. The trail wraps around the whole mountain. There’s a variety of paths to choose from as you trek to the peak.
Once you get back to the bottom, treat yourself to some ice cream. Mt. Maunganui has several brain-freeze-worthy parlours. Choose the boysenberry flavour for a local favourite.
The Mount Maunganui area is lovingly referred to as “The Mount.” It’s ideal for anyone who loves relaxing on the water to gentle sea breezes. The area is home to world-famous surf spots and popular Bay of Plenty boat tours. You can also embark on kayaking, fishing or scuba diving adventures from here.
Rather get your thrills in the air? There are plenty of options for that, too! Keep your head in the clouds by learning how to fly a gyrocopter. You can also go skydiving and/or take scenic flights over the Bay of Plenty. Through the clouds, you can see Tauranga and Mt Maunganui in all its glory from a unique perspective.
Fall in love with McLaren Falls Park
Looking for a family-friendly picnic spot? Or a day filled with easy, scenic hikes? McLaren Falls Park has got you covered.
True to its name, there’s a beautiful waterfall in the park. McLaren Falls is easy to get to. The trail is kid-friendly and even has wheelchair access.
McLaren Falls Park is one of New Zealand’s largest tree botanical gardens, adding to its charm. There are plenty of water activities in the park as well. Add to your adventure with activities like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, swimming, or fishing.
The real magic happens as the sun goes down though. As evening sets in, McLaren Falls Park glows with hundreds of glowworms.
The park stays open past dark and operates several tours to see the glow worms near the waterfall. Or you can take an evening glow worm kayak tour into the caves with a professional guide.
Lounge around Leisure Island (Moturiki Island)
Leisure Island, also known as Moturiki, lies off the coast of Mount Maunganui. It’s a sweet add-on to your Tauranga shore excursion.
At only 2.5 hectares, Leisure Island is small, but it’s led an exciting life. The island was first settled by the Maori. It switched hands in the early 1900s, turning into a stone quarry for 12 years.
Soon, the island transformed into Marineland Aquarium. The aquarium housed dolphins penguins and other local sea life. Its last life was as a tourist attraction called “Leisure Island.” The massive former dolphin pools became space for bummer boats, swimming, and water slides.
Today, the island is back to its original native state. It’s a protected reserve with curated trails for hiking. One trail even leads you to a blowhole. When there’s a higher tide (or large swells in the water) the blowhole is epic. Visiting, you’ll marvel as the water shoots straight into the sky.
The island is free to explore. You don’t need to book any tours to experience the magic of Moturiki Island.
There’s one main track with various sidetracks. Spend time exploring them and seeking out its lookout points. You’ll get indescribable views over the Bay of Plenty, Mount Maunganui, and Tauranga.
Tap into your creative side at the Tauranga Art Gallery
Perfect for a rainy day, the family-friendly Tauranga Art Gallery is open every day of the week. The gallery typically has several world-class exhibitions on display at a time. It’s also a great place to learn with its drop-in art classes, workshops, and lectures.
While the gallery is small, it packs a punch. The art collection here is highly-curated. The knowledgeable staff also add nuance to the rotating exhibitions & exhibits.
Launch into Lake McLaren
Lake McLaren is one of the top attractions around Tauranga. Exploring Lake McLaren on a kayak is one of the more popular day trips around Tauranga.
The lake’s calm, pristine waters make it ideal for photography. As you roam, dazzle at the striking sheer cliffs springing out of the water. Catch the streams flowing into the lake along with the wildlife along its shores.
You can also explore Mangapapa Canyon and the native bush from the perspective of the water. The area is also home to several caves.
Even more spectacular than kayaking on Lake McLaren during the day is to embark on a kayaking tour at night.
On a night kayaking tour, you’ll get to marvel at the glowworms living in the caves and on cliffs. Don’t forget to stare upon the night sky for an extra dazzling show of nature.
Melt away stress at the Mount Hot Pools
The Mount Hot Pools in the Mount Maunganui area are the perfect addition to any holiday.
Splurge on self-love & relaxation in the private hot pools with a luxury, therapeutic massage. There are various massages to choose from. Options include a massage & mini facial, hot stones massage, or full-body massage.
Mount Hot Pools also offers exercise classes and free swims. There’s even a learner pool and children’s pool. Other pools include the Spa Pool, Relaxation Pool, and the Hydrotherapy Pool. The Mount Hot Pools facility is wheelchair-friendly and offers disability access features.
These saltwater pools offer rest & relaxation. You’ll also have the option to throw a workout in or zonk out with a plush massage and spa treatment.
Hit the water at Mount Maunganui Beach
Mount Maunganui Beach is a surfers’ mecca. But this alluring beach isn’t just for people in search of waves.
The white-sand Mount Maunganui Beach is ideal for beach bums. Whether you’re looking to soak up some rays or find a fun beach bar to grab a drink in, it’s a great place to visit.
You can also take a relaxing walk along the shoreline. Chill out as the waves crash against your ankles while you search for exotic seashells.
The ocean here is great for swimming, snorkelling, and, of course, surfing. Never surfed before? You can take a group or private lesson from one of the many surf schools in the area. It’ll be an unforgettable experience for your New Zealand trip itinerary.
If surfing isn’t your thing but you still want to spend time in the ocean, there’s plenty more to do here. You can go fishing, dolphin and whale watching, or rent a kayak or paddleboard. Spending a day in the salt water always refreshes the mind & body.
Enjoy a walk in Te Puna Quarry Park
Ran by a team of volunteers & donations, the Te Puna Quarry Park is amongst the more popular things to do in Tauranga.
This thriving & vibrant park is filled with native species of plants and trees. You’ll also stumble upon plants from Australia and South Asia. On top of the native bush, the park has gardens dedicated to roses, orchids, palms, cacti, and succulents.
Throughout Te Puna Quarry Park, permanent artwork is on display. There’s also an amphitheatre and a waterfall. The waterfall is referred to by its Maori name, ” Te Mimi O Tuanehe.” Funnily enough, the name translates into English as “a man having a pee.”
Marvel at Kaiate Falls
Tauranga has so many beautiful things to see, parks to explore, and activities to experience. Among the finest is the scenic Kaiate Falls.
Kaiate Falls is a glorious nine-tiered waterfall. The waterfalls empty into a basin where you can safely swim. There are various walking tracks that’ll take you to several lookout points. From the viewpoints, you can see Tauranga Harbour, Mt. Maunganui, and Pilot Bay.
Chill out in the laid-back suburb of Papamoa Beach
About a 10-minute drive from Mt Maunganui will get you to another New Zealand North Island coastal gem: Papamoa Beach.The beachfront suburb is one of Tauranga’s most popular neighbourhoods for locals. It sits upon 16 kilometres of sandy coastline that’s perfect for a day on the sea.
Besides the beach itself, there’s plenty more to keep you occupied around Papamoa. The town offers a stretch of boutique shops, cafés, restaurants & bars to while away the day.
Interested in more active pursuits? Head to the beautiful Papamoa Hills Regional Park. It’s less than 10 minutes from town by car, but will feel world’s away from the urban bustle. Trek along its main walking track to the summit of the hill. From the top, you’ll enjoy epic 360-degree views over the Bay of Plenty region.
Have family fun at Waimarino Adventure Park
Visiting Tauranga with kids? Be sure to add Waimarino Adventure Park into your Tauranga itinerary. This exciting family-friendly park is about 10 minutes from Tauranga. It’s home to a barrage of activities that the whole family will love.
Grab an adventure park pass and spend the day exploring Waimarino Water Adventure Park to its fullest. Visiting Tauranga in summer? Cool down with the park’s water activities.
For most, the highlight is The Hydro Slide. It’s New Zealand’s only kayak slide. (Kids can also zoom down on a mat.)
There’s plenty to do onshore, too. The Waimarino Adventure Park is home to The Blob, billed as New Zealand’s largest human catapult. Leap onto the pillow and watch your travel pals launch into the air. Elsewhere, you can test your will on the low ropes obstacle course or scale the rock climbing wall.
Getting there & away
Rotorua: From Rotorua, it’s about an hour’s drive north to Tauranga along State Hwy 36.
Matamata: Home to the Hobbiton Movie Set, Matamata is about 45 minutes by car from Tauranga. The most common route is via State Hwy 29 and 24.
Auckland: From Auckland, budget for a three-hour drive to Tauranga. The main route tracks along State Hwy 1 & 2. At Mangatarata, head south on Hwy 27 to Matamata.