The city of Tauranga, on the east coast of the North Island, is a convenient place to add to a North Island travel itinerary: it's only about 2.5 hours' drive from Auckland, around an hour from Rotorua, and just south of the Coromandel Peninsula. Travelers especially love the Tauranga area for its beaches, especially Mount Maunganui. There are many other natural and cultural attractions in and around the city, including an active off-shore volcano, waterfalls and lakes, and beautiful hiking trails. And, it's one of the sunniest cities in New Zealand (although the top honor usually goes to Nelson, at the top of the South Island). Here are some top things to do in Tauranga.
Climb Mount Maunganui
Mount Maunganui is the name of a suburb, beach, and a 761-foot hill just north of central Tauranga. Hiking to the top of the hill, which is also called Mauao, is a great way to combine exercise with sightseeing. The hike requires a reasonable level of fitness, and takes between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on how fast you walk and how many photo stops you make. The views at the top are spectacular on a clear day, as you can see across the western Bay of Plenty area. Bring water, and in the summer it's better to do this walk early in the morning or later in the day.
Hike and Swim at Kaiate Falls
The Kaiate Falls, also called Te Rerekawau Falls, are considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country, and they're a short half-hour drive from Tauranga. From the parking lot, hiking trails lead to the falls. There are picnic areas, and you can swim in the plunge pools at the bottom, which is a great way to cool off on a hot Tauranga summer's day.
For more outdoor adventures and waterfalls, you can also visit the McLaren Falls Park, around 15 minutes' drive from Tauranga. There are many hiking trails here around the beautifully reflective Lake McLaren, and the McLaren Falls are near the entrance to the park. You can also see glowworms if you visit the park at dusk.
Soak in Hot Saltwater Pools at Mt. Maunganui
If you happen to be in Tauranga in the colder months and don't want to brave swimming in the sea, the Mount Hot Pools are a great alternative. While hot pools are a feature across New Zealand thanks to the country's geothermal geology, these pools are different because they contain heated saltwater. So, bathing here is like bathing in the hot sea! There are various outdoor pools of varying temperatures, as well as some spa baths (including some private ones that you can book). The pools also offer massage services.
Walk to Moturiki and Check Out the Blowhole
Moturiki (also called Leisure Island) is connected to the main beach at Mount Maunganui by a footbridge. It's a nature reserve, and a pleasant place to walk. Follow the walking trail to the northern end of the small island, and you'll find a blowhole. Wait for an ocean swell or high tide, and you'll see what the fuss is about as water shoots up into the sky.
Go On a Dolphin-Watching Cruise
Tauranga is protected by a sheltered harbor, but if you get out onto the open ocean beyond, there's a good chance you'll be able to spot dolphins and even whales at certain times of year. You're most likely to see common dolphins, but you may also see orcas, humpback whales, pilot whales, blue penguins, fur seals, and a variety of bird life. Several Tauranga-based tour operators run dolphin-watching boat tours and while seeing the creatures is never guaranteed, it's highly likely.
Find the Sculptures at Te Puna Quarry Park
Te Puna is an old, unused quarry that's been turned into a public park that's free to enter. As well as the beautiful plants and vegetation—including native trees, orchids, rhododendrons, and ferns—the main attraction is the sculptures dotted around the park. Walk around the beautiful grounds and find the giant animals, Maori-inspired carvings, abstract designs, and a large mosaic.
Step Back in Time at the Historic Village
Natural attractions surround Tauranga, but if you want to learn more about the history of the city, head to the Historic Village. The area includes both original and replica buildings from the early colonial days in Tauranga. Still, it's not just a museum—many of the buildings house boutique shops and art galleries. The village also hosts a market twice a month, on the first and third Sundays of the month, which is an excellent place to pick up locally produced crafts and souvenirs.
If you're intrigued by Tauranga's colonial history, also check out the Elms Mission House, one of the oldest heritage sites in New Zealand, as it dates back to 1847. Visitors can take a guided tour of the house and explore the gardens.