The biggest city in the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga is the escape on the North Island you’ve been looking for. It’s almost completely surrounded by water which means endless coastline to explore and gorgeous views from every angle.
I love spending time in Tauranga, especially in the summer – one of the best times to visit New Zealand. You can’t go wrong with a beach day here, catching a wave while surfing, or trying an adventure like swimming with dolphins.
There are plenty of activities on land too – from incredible hikes, stunning beaches, exploring Lord of the Rings movie sets, or the surreal experience of seeing a forest lit up with thousands of glow worms.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor to Tauranga or you’ve been before, some of the most popular attractions in all of New Zealand are here.
But if you don’t know where to start, I can help! After spending quite some time in and around the city, I put together this list of the 21 best things to do in Tauranga.
- The BEST Things to do in Tauranga
- 1. Hike up Mount Maunganui
- 2. Swim with dolphins
- 3. Explore McLaren Falls Park
- 4. Relax at the Fernland Spa
- 5. Enjoy a beach day
- 6. Day trip to Hobbiton
- 7. Walk out to Moturiki Island (Leisure Island)
- 8. Check out the Thermal Explorer Highway
- 9. See glow worms
- 10. Go surfing
- 11. Walk the Matapihi Footbridge
- 12. Drink local craft beer
- 13. Go white water rafting
- 14. Check out Kaiate Falls
- 15. Go skydiving
- 16. Tauranga Art Gallery
- 17. Go for food and drinks along the Strand
- 18. Go on a cruise
- 19. Swim at the Pori Pori Water Hole
- 20. Maori experience
- 21. Te Puna Quarry Park
- Where to Eat in Tauranga, NZ
- Where to Stay in Tauranga, NZ
- Thanks for reading!
The BEST Things to do in Tauranga
1. Hike up Mount Maunganui
Easily one of the best hikes in New Zealand, the trek up Mount Maunganui, or Mauao as it’s called here, rewards you with epic 360° views of the entire bay. Plus, getting to hike on an extinct volcano is pretty cool!
Located about a 10-minute drive from Tauranga, it’s easy to get to, just be prepared for the hike. The Mauao Summit Walk should take you about 40 minutes and you can choose one of the many paths up. It is 232 meters (761 feet) to the top, so it’s a decently challenging climb – make sure to have water with you or take breaks under the shady trees along the way.
Lots of Tauranga locals and tourists make this trek because the views are just that spectacular!
If you want to try a different route or simply want to walk around the volcano (instead of climbing up), there are plenty of other trails to try in the area. You can always wander down the trails for as long as you feel comfortable and then head back to relax on the beautiful beach nearby (keep reading for more info on this incredible beach!).
Wear comfortable walking shoes and be mindful of any falling rocks or steep drop-offs around you.
2. Swim with dolphins
Getting up close to wild dolphins is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and you can do it here in Tauranga!
This dolphin cruise from Tauranga is five hours long and gets you out on the water to enjoy a boat ride while you search for dolphins. Once you find a pod of dolphins, you’ll hop in the water to swim and snorkel alongside them.
No need to worry about having the right gear because wetsuits and snorkeling gear are all provided. You’ll also get knowledgeable guides to tell you about the dolphins along with hot drinks and muffins on board. I know I’m always hungry after swimming!
The tour is only available during the summer months, so if you are visiting Tauranga between November and May, you’re in luck. The tour is around $150 NZD per person and meets at the Tauranga Bridge Marina at 9 am.
If you have always dreamed of being able to swim with dolphins, take this opportunity to meet the wild dolphins near Tauranga and enjoy a cruise in the beautiful New Zealand waters.
3. Explore McLaren Falls Park
Just outside of Tauranga, this huge park is perfect to explore if you’re looking for some fun outdoor activities to enjoy as a family or want a unique night walk to find glow worms.
McLaren Falls Park is located a 10-minute drive outside of Tauranga. Remember I said it was big? It’s 190 hectares and has so many different species of trees – it’s one of the best botanical tree collections in the entire country!
I highly recommend the short and easy waterfall track walk. It’s beautiful during the day as you’ll see one of New Zealand’s best waterfalls, but the real magic of this hike is at night. Once it gets dark, you can spot glow worms on both sides of the track lighting your way.
If spending a night under the stars sounds perfect, then grab a tent and set up camp in McLaren Falls Park. You need to book a campsite online first – it’s about $22 NZD per person for one night. Camping is one of my favorite ways to get away from technology and really soak up the outdoors. Plus, who doesn’t love s’mores?!
There are plenty of other activities in the park including fishing, kayaking, and even disc golf. The park has both 18-hole and 9-hole courses for you to test your skills. You may even see some sheep around here – there are about 300 roaming around. This means dogs aren’t allowed inside the park.
Depending on the time you are there, there may be a concert happening too – most likely in the summer months.
Definitely set aside at least half a day or a full day to spend here. The park is open from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm in the summer and closes at 5:30 pm in the winter. Campers, of course, get to stay past closing.
Related Read: Planning on camping? Consider renting a campervan from Auckland to make your camping road trip even more enjoyable!
4. Relax at the Fernland Spa
If you are ready to unwind and enjoy a spa day surrounded by the New Zealand bush, look no further than the Fernland Spa!
My favorite part is the relaxing hot pools with their clear, non-chlorinated mineral water. It feels amazing – especially if you’ve spent time walking or hiking around Tauranga.
There are three types of pools to choose from: the main large pool surrounded by towering ferns and birds; private indoor pools; or private bubbly pools. The private pools are nice if you want to hang out with a group of friends or are planning a romantic getaway in NZ.
Admission to the main pool is $17 NZD per adult. Private pools are $20 NZD per 30 minutes or $22 NZD per 30 minutes in a bubbly pool.
After enjoying the pools, you can get a massage, take a water exercise class or even go camping with cabins, tenting sites, or spots to park your camper.
Fernland Spa is open daily from 8:30 am to 10 pm.
5. Enjoy a beach day
Tauranga is home to some of the best beaches in New Zealand, so you absolutely need to plan a beach day while you’re here.
Maunganui Beach easily tops my list with its white-sand beaches, crystal clear water, and lush greenery. It has been rated among the top 25 beaches in the world, so I’m not alone in loving this spot.
You can surf the waves, swim in the warm waters, or grab a bite to eat at one of the beachside cafes and restaurants. And of course, you can always hike to the top of Mount Maunganui while you’re here!
Just a short walk from the main Maunganui Beach, you’ll find Pilot Bay Beach. It is typically quieter with calmer waves, so a better choice for families with little ones. The views of Mount Maunganui and the nearby port are amazing. I like watching the sailboats and the cargo ships come and go.
If you love a private and even more secluded beach spot, take the 40-minute drive to Newdicks Beach. You can relax on the sand and enjoy the views of the natural landscape of coastal cliffs and dune land. You’ll need to pay a $5 NZD entrance fee to use the private road here, but the small fee can be worth it to escape the crowds.
6. Day trip to Hobbiton
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan or love the Hobbit Trilogies, then you definitely will not want to miss checking out Hobbiton! It’s one of the most popular attractions around Tauranga and you could easily spend hours exploring the movie set here.
On this Hobbiton movie set tour, you’ll see the exact places where your favorite movie scenes played out – from enjoying a cold drink at the Green Dragon Inn or seeing hobbit houses, the double-arched bridge, and even the tree where Bilbo’s birthday party was held!
You can only explore Hobbiton on a tour, and this one is extra special because you’ll not only visit the set but get to dress up as your favorite Lord of the Rings character! Your tour takes you through McLaren Falls Park (in costume!) so you can really feel like you stepped into Middle-earth.
I love guided tours like this because the guides are so good at sharing stories about the making of the films or little facts you may never have heard of. Plus, with transportation included from this meeting point in Tauranga, it’s a hassle-free day. The 6-hour tour can be booked online for $179 NZD.
Alternatively, you can drive to Hobbiton yourself from Tauranga, which will take around 45 to 60 minutes. You can also catch a bus to the nearby town of Matamata and then take a taxi to Hobbiton. You’ll still need to book a tour once you arrive though, so I like having a tour arranged from the start to avoid trying to organize transportation separately.
Related read: Keep exploring Middle-earth and check out my recommendations for the best Lord of the Rings tours in Glenorchy.
7. Walk out to Moturiki Island (Leisure Island)
Moturiki Island, often called Leisure Island, is a tiny island just off the coast across from Maunganui Beach. It’s a protected nature reserve now and you can actually walk right out to it!
Now you may be wondering why it’s nicknamed Leisure Island (I sure was!) when there isn’t much on this island. There used to be a tourist attraction here with swimming pools, bumper boats, and slides and it was called … you guessed it, Leisure Island. While that park closed in 1990, the name stuck.
Now, the island feels wild and natural, with no tourist attractions in sight. Well, except for the show nature puts on! Make sure you take the path to the northern edge of the island to find a blowhole that dramatically shoots water into the air during high tide or big ocean swells.
The walk over is only 5-10 minutes from the main beach and gives you a great viewpoint to see the ocean, Mount Maunganui, and the coastline. You can also see some beautiful little rock pools that kids like to explore, or it’s also a popular spot to do some rock fishing.
8. Check out the Thermal Explorer Highway
Carving its way through the center of the North Island, the Thermal Explorer Highway is a route that you don’t want to miss!
You’ll find some of the most beautiful places in New Zealand in the geothermal heart of the island with bubbling mud pools, geysers, natural hot springs, and spots where you can immerse yourself in the Maori culture.
The best route from Tauranga to explore on the Thermal Explorer Highway is the section on the way to Rotorua.
Right along the Thermal Explorer Highway near Rotorua is the incredible Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. This is where Mother Nature really shows off! I’m talking the largest mud pool in New Zealand and the Lady Knox Geyser that shoots water 10-20 meters (33-65 feet) in the air! This natural landscape on the side of a collapsed volcano crater is full of sulfur lakes, hot springs, bubbling mud, and steaming ground. It’s unlike any other place I’ve been!
If you want to swim in a free natural hot spring, be sure to check out Kerosene Creek. Here, you can sit in the shallow waters and soak. Be aware though, the sulfur smell is a little stinky!
If you don’t mind traveling a little further, about an hour outside of Hamilton, stop off at the Te Waihou Walkway. This path follows the Waihou River as you make your way across pastures, wetlands, and past waterfalls to the famous Blue Springs. This is one of the purest water sources in the world and provides about 70% of the bottled water in New Zealand.
If driving and planning your Thermal Explorer Highway trip sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry, a tour is a great option. This highlights of Rotorua tour takes you from Tauranga to some of the best spots around the region. You’ll see the popular Pohutu Geyser, delve into Maori traditions at an authentic Maori village and see the Okere Waterfalls.
The tour is 7.5 hours and lets you focus on exploring and not worrying about navigation! It’s $149 NZD per person, which is a pretty good deal considering all that is packed into the day!
Related read: Looking for a shorter, but still scenic roadtrip? Try the drive from Auckland to Paihia (Bay of Islands)!
9. See glow worms
Seeing these tiny creatures light up the dark with twinkling blue lights that remind me of the night sky is one of the best Tauranga activities. The glow worms here are unique to New Zealand and Australia, and their natural bioluminescence is something to marvel at.
If you’ve never seen glow worms before, you’re most likely to find them in caves or forests around New Zealand, but to guarantee you’ll find them (and aren’t wandering aimlessly in the dark!), I recommend booking a tour.
This evening glow worm kayak tour takes you to the glow worm canyon at Lake McLaren. While you wait for nightfall, you’ll enjoy wine and cheese on the banks of the lake. Then once it’s dark enough, dip your paddle into the pitch black water and head to the canyon. You’ll find millions of glow worms lighting up the cliff sides!
The 3-hour tour is led by an experienced guide and you don’t need to be an expert paddler to join. It’s $155 NZD and a great way to guarantee you’ll see some of these amazing critters.
10. Go surfing
If you are an avid surfer or are just a beginner, Maunganui Beach is the place to be! It’s one of the best surf spots in the area and it’s super easy to get to with pretty consistent waves.
You’ll find mostly beach breaks here, but there’s a good right point closer to the bay on the south side by Moturiki Island.
If you are keen on some surfing lessons while you’re here, head to Hibiscus Surf School. It’s located right on the beach and there are lessons for kids and adults. Expect to pay around $79 NZD for a group lesson or $159 NZD for a private lesson.
If you have some surfing experience, but just need a board, they rent boards for around $20 NZD an hour. I recommend taking a lesson and then renting a board the next day to practice your skills!
Related read: One of the best places to catch a wave on the North Island is the small town of Raglan!
11. Walk the Matapihi Footbridge
When you are exploring Tauranga city, be sure to check out the Matapihi Footbridge.
This walkway has some great views of the harbor as you walk over the water. It is of note that this is also a train bridge and if you’re walking on it at the same time as a train, it can get a bit noisy!
The rail bridge opened back in 1928 and this stretch of bridge connects downtown Tauranga with the Matapihi peninsula on the other side. The pedestrian walkway was added in 1950 and now is frequently used to walk or bike across.
You can access the Matapihi Footbridge via The Strand or Elizabeth Street from Tauranga and walk across the bridge to reach Matapihi. It is a short and easy walk and gives you a different perspective of the city.
12. Drink local craft beer
If you’ve looked through any of my other blogs, you’ll know I love local craft beer in NZ. There are some excellent breweries in Tauranga if you’re craving a cold brew.
For great local beers on tap and tasty bar food like pizza and burgers, The Hop House is my pick. They’re in a 100-year-old building that has been restored and the outdoor areas are perfect – sunny during the day and cozy with an open fire at night. There are beer tastings, board games, and even live shows. Try whatever’s on tap or ask for recommendations once you arrive!
In Mount Maunganui, my go-to brewhouse is The Rising Tide. They have 40 (yes 40!) beers on tap from their core favorites to seasonal beers that change constantly. This is a family-run place where beers are brewed and packaged on-site.
The best way to find out what you like at The Rising Tide is by grabbing a tasting paddle with five different sample-sized beers. You can choose your beers or leave it up to the brewers to pick! At only $13 NZD, it’s a good way to try just a bit of their massive selection.
Another way to get a taste for the craft beer scene and have a built-in designated driver is with a craft beer tour. You’ll visit three different places as you eat and drink away a leisurely afternoon. You’ll also get a behind-the-scenes look at the beer-making process.
The tour is 4.5 hours and your guide will recommend more spots to try if you want to continue the evening. It’s $170 NZD and includes all the beer tastings, lunch, and transportation.
13. Go white water rafting
Rafting over a waterfall? Yup, that’s a thing! The famous 7-meter (23-foot) drop over Tutea Falls is the highest commercially rafted drop in the world.
You’ll pass through a jungle canyon, navigate 14 different rapids, and the amazing drop all during your 1-hour tour. They pack a lot in!
This waterfall is well known among the rafting community around the world, so you’ll definitely earn some bragging rights after this tour. All the gear you need is included and no previous rafting experience is necessary. It’s also one of the most popular rafting tours in all of NZ!
Book your spot on the raft for $115 NZD. It’s definitely one of the most adventurous things to do in Tauranga, so if you’re brave enough, give it a go!
14. Check out Kaiate Falls
For a picturesque walk and view of waterfalls that look like they belong on a postcard, spend an hour or two at Kaiate Falls.
The main trail here should take about an hour to walk as you make your way through lush native bush to this pair of waterfalls. The first upper waterfall cascades over three tiers and the lower falls are an impressive 15 meters (50 feet) high.
The parking lot is located around 20 minutes from downtown Tauranga and you’ll need to follow the figure-8 loop track to the upper falls then follow the track downhill to the large lower waterfall.
Make sure you’re wearing good shoes as I’ve found this track can get slippery. While it is rated as a moderate hike, I consider it pretty easy.
Related read: Keep chasing waterfalls by seeing Huka Falls, one of the best places to visit in Taupo, NZ!
15. Go skydiving
If skydiving has been on your bucket list forever, check it off now! What better way to enjoy the epic views of Tauranga than freefalling above them?
I’ve done tandem jumps before and loved them! Once you get over the nerves, it’s actually quite peaceful and there’s nothing blocking your view of the coastline.
You have a couple of different options to choose from depending on how high you want to go. There’s the 10,000-foot tandem skydive or the 12,000-foot skydive tour. Both options give you a 20-minute scenic flight over the Bay of Plenty. You’ll freefall for a bit before your partner pulls the parachute and you glide to the ground.
Both jumps are around $400 NZD and a must for any thrill-seeker out there! Skydiving in NZ is one of the most popular activities, after all.
16. Tauranga Art Gallery
The Tauranga Art Gallery is a great place to visit to explore more of the local culture and artwork. There are around 500 pieces in their collection, with a focus on work by local artists.
It’s in the old Bank of New Zealand building, which was converted into the gallery, and opened in 2007. You’ll still see elements of the original building (including the bank vault) in place today as the art is spread out among different spaces.
There are regular events and exhibitions hosted here or you can pop into the gallery daily from 10 am to 4 pm.
Admission is $7 NZD for international visitors and free for New Zealand residents.
17. Go for food and drinks along the Strand
The Strand is a section of downtown Tauranga that runs along the water. It’s a place to do some shopping, walk along the riverfront, and of course, pick up something to eat or drink.
For a good quality pub meal, check out the Cornerstone Bar and Eatery. It’s a fun atmosphere with sports on TV (catch a rugby game), live music events, and competitive darts. If you can, try the banana split here for dessert – so good!
For a more fine dining restaurant experience with a stellar view, Harbourside Restaurant is my pick. It’s perfect for a romantic dinner – especially at sunset when you can watch the pastel colors fill the sky. The salmon and seafood chowder here is really good and the view can’t be beat.
For a quick option for breakfast, lunch, or just a coffee or muffin, stop into the Dry Dock Cafe. If it’s a nice day, make sure to grab a spot outside sitting under an umbrella with a view of the harbor.
18. Go on a cruise
Need an activity to fill part of a day? Get out on the water to see more of the amazing sea life that lives around here.
This half-day dolphin cruise takes you on an 18-meter (60-foot) boat to look for dolphins and other creatures, while also enjoying some beautiful scenery.
You’ll, of course, see dolphins, but you’ll also have the chance to spot orcas, turtles, sharks, penguins, or seals. It will be a different experience every time you go since animals are unpredictable.
What is guaranteed is the views of Mount Maunganui and Moturiki Island. You’ll have a front-row seat to sit back, relax and soak it all in.
The tour is 5-6 hours long and leaves from the Waterfront Jetty on The Strand. It’s $175 NZD per person.
Related read: Make sure you also get out on the water with a cruise in the ‘City of Sails’ – beautiful Auckland!
19. Swim at the Pori Pori Water Hole
The Pori Pori Water Hole is a popular spot for locals, especially in the summer. Jumping into a refreshing pool of cool water surrounded by a beautiful forest lets you cool off with a view!
The Pori Pori Water Hole is about a 15-minute drive from Tauranga and there is a gravel parking lot on Poripori Road. You’ll need to take a path from where you park to cross the river and make your way through a bit of bush. The path is really well used – so you shouldn’t have trouble finding it, or just follow someone walking there!
There are a few shallower rock pools to enjoy as well as the water hole which is actually quite deep. You’ll be able to jump off some of the high rocks nearby or just enjoy a swim.
It isn’t always safe to swim here though. The water level rises quite a bit when water is released from upstream. Check the water release dates before you go so you aren’t disappointed.
20. Maori experience
While you’re here, experiencing the Maori culture is a must. There are lots of interactive tours to immerse yourself in the culture like this Maori Village tour.
This full-day adventure includes a visit to the Living Maori Village. You’ll learn about Maori culture and traditions, watch the cooking of a hangi meal (and get to eat it!). If you’ve ever seen the Haka dance, often done by New Zealand sports team, you’ll get to see that here too!
Then on your outing to Rotorua, you’ll get to see some of the highlights including Lake Rotorua and the Government Gardens.
The full day including pick-up, drop-off, and that yummy lunch is under $150 NZD.
21. Te Puna Quarry Park
The Te Puna Quarry Park in Tauranga is such a special place that has undergone quite a transformation.
You might not be able to tell, but this spot was actually a rock quarry from the early 1900s until 1979. It was left pretty bare after and the incredible transformation to the beautiful spot it is today is remarkable.
Make sure you walk around to see the butterfly garden, rose garden, palm grove, and gorgeous orchids and rhododendrons. There are also 50 artistic sculptures on display that local artists created from pottery or natural materials like tree trunks and stone.
It’s totally free to visit and is open daily, all year round. There are always flowers blooming – even in the winter!
Where to Eat in Tauranga, NZ
The Med Cafe – Your go-to cafe for a homely feel and yummy meal. I love the breakfast here (the eggs benedict is so good!), but come for lunch or a snack too. It’s only open until 3 p.m., so this isn’t an evening stop. The staff is super friendly and the prices are reasonable. I also like the vegetarian, vegan, keto, and gluten-free options to choose from.
Falafel Metro – In the heart of the city, Falafel Metro is very popular with the locals and they make the best falafels you will find in Tauranga! The food is fresh, tasty, and affordable. I highly recommend their falafels wrapped in pita bread.
The Phoenix – If you are keen on a classic pub meal, The Phoenix will not disappoint! Top quality and good-sized meals can be had here. Stop by for lunch, dinner, or a weekend brunch. If you want a stone-fried pizza – look no further!
The Nourished Eatery – A vegan cafe with a really cute and colorful interior, this is a nice spot to pop into. You can get a delicious $12 NZD smoothie or a simple breakfast, such as a bowl of granola, or choose from a range of yummy extras like vegan chocolate chunk cookies.
Dumpling Delight – If you are a lover of Chinese food, then you do not want to miss eating a meal here. You will be served a large, traditional meal at a super cheap price and the dumplings are to die for!
Where to Stay in Tauranga, NZ
Now that you know what Tauranga has to offer, you’re going to need a place to stay! Whether you’re a backpacker making your way across the North Island or looking for more upscale accommodations for a night or two, Tauranga has you covered.
These are my top picks that fit a variety of budgets.
Wanderlust NZ – $
This waterfront hostel has million-dollar views of the harbor but without breaking the bank! Wanderlust NZ has a huge balcony overlooking the harbor and the historic building has been recently renovated. There are two shared kitchens to cook in, a lounge area, and a wide variety of rooms.
You can opt for the typical bunk bed in a shared room for around $40 NZD or upgrade to a private room for $130 NZD. The location is perfect and fills up fast, so book your room on Booking.com or HostelWorld.com quickly!
ASURE Harbour View Motel – $$
Have the beach and water views right out your front door at ASURE Harbour View Motel. The property is beautiful with a cobbled courtyard and a BBQ area to enjoy. You’re close to the harbor and center of Tauranga.
The rooms here are elegantly decorated and more like mini-apartments with a full kitchen or kitchenette, flat-screen TV, and free Wi-Fi. The motel also offers free kayak rentals! Rooms here are $200 NZD a night, which is a great deal for the amount of space you get.
Trinity Wharf Tauranga – $$$
Treat yourself to a luxurious getaway with a room at the Trinity Wharf Tauranga. The panoramic views over the harbor and convenient location close to the center of Tauranga, mean you’re in a great spot to explore. The infinity edge swimming pool is spectacular and the rooms have fluffy robes and comfy beds to relax in after a busy day. Rooms here are on the higher end, starting at about $300 NZD per night.
Thanks for reading!
I hope your travel plans are set after reading this guide to Tauranga! It’s such a beautiful place right by the water with tons of things to do and so many great destinations to explore. If you go, make sure you let me know your favorite part!
While you’re planning your New Zealand adventure, check out my other blogs on the North Island. Or read one of my other in-depth guides including: