From Waihī Beach to Ōpōtiki, there’s plenty to do, see and delve into in the Bay of Plenty. Here’s our pick of 14 places and activities to enjoy on a summer’s day in the Bay.
1. Visit pā sites on terraced hills
Amazing views await you when you get to the top of Pāpāmoa Hills. On a clear day, you can see far in all directions, towards Whale Island and along the coastline from Tauranga Harbour and Mount Maunganui all the way to Whakatāne. The summit is 224m above sea level, and the main walking track from the carpark is 3.7km long. You can also make the trek from Summer Hill in Welcome Bay and explore all the pre-European archaeological features on your way but remember to leave the gates as you found them as this is a working sheep farm.
2. A tranquil kiwi sanctuary
For native birds, gigantic trees, easy walking tracks, stunning waterfalls and absolute peace and quiet, Ōtanewainuku Forest in Ōropi is a must-do. Ōtanewainuku means 'the many waters that spring forth from the domain of Tāne – overseer of the forest.' At about 20km south of Tauranga, this special place is off the beaten track and it’s a bit of a hidden gem. The unlogged forest is cared for by a community trust, which makes it a sanctuary where native birds and wildlife thrive.
3. Take your bike on the trails
One of the Great Rides of Nga Haerenga, The New Zealand Cycle Trail, the Motu Trails is a stunner. It can be tackled in a 91km loop or split up in three shorter sections that each have a unique character. You’ll see glorious beaches and pass through spectacular forest and farmlands on your way. The Motu Trails are best accessed from Ōpōtiki or Mātāwai, about 70km from Gisborne. Rides range from family-friendly to pretty challenging, so there’s something here for everyone.
4. A creative village hub
Just outside Tauranga’s CBD on 17th Avenue West, you’ll find the Historic Village. It has become quite the destination with arts, crafts, boutique shops, a funky barber and a cool vinyl shop, plus a cute little cinema. It’s also home to The Kollective, New Zealand's largest co-working space for not for profits which brings a great buzz to the place. People enjoy markets, outdoor theatre, and all sorts of festivals at the Village throughout summer and the coffee and treats from The Whipped Baker are the best.
5. Trip around with beer and kai
The concept of Brewbus Craft Beer Tours, which originates in Tauranga, is simple. It’s about pairing craft beer lovers with brilliant brewers. The Brewbus will take you to the best local breweries and brew bars, where you can meet the people behind the beer and, of course, taste some of their finest product right from the barrel where it was lovingly made. Pair all this with good company, delicious food, plus lots of beautiful scenery and good times are guaranteed.
6. Feathers and fun
In Katikati, there’s more to see than murals. On the edge of the inner Tauranga harbour, you’ll find a beautiful park where you can come up close to a whole lot of native and exotic birds. Many of these feathered friends wander around freely. They’ll literally sit on your shoulder and scurry around at your feet. Visiting the Katikati Bird Gardens is a fun and affordable thing to do on a summer’s day, and the Moa and wetland walks are a real highlight. It’s a unique experience and fun for all ages.
7. Famous for fish, chips and pies
Beautiful Maketū is best known for fish and chips, waka landings, MasterChef sisters Kasey and Karena, and of course the iconic local pie factory. It still is a sleepy little seaside settlement where the fishing is great, the beach is uncrowded, and the days are long and easy. Maketū is popular for picking pipi at low tide, and there are plenty of spots for safe swimming. Here, Kiwi life is like it used to be. No stress, and no rush to get anywhere. That’s pure bliss.
8. A secluded swimming spot in the bush
Loved by local thrill-seekers and largely undiscovered by out of towners, the Pori Pori waterhole in Lower Kaimāī is something special. Access is easy if you don’t mind a river crossing. Best suited to confident swimmers only, as the water is deep and you’ll have to jump off the rocks to get in, but there are some shallow rock pools for safe swimming and exploring, too. One of New Zealand’s best stretches of accessible white water can be found right here on the Wairoa River, above State Highway 29. Every Sunday during summer, the power company opens the dam at nearby at McLaren Falls which makes rafting and kayaking heaps of fun.
9. Have a picnic and a paddle
McLaren’s Falls Park just South of Tauranga has everything you need for a great day in the outdoors; walkways, waterfalls, amazing picnic spots and plenty of tranquil water to go for a paddle. There are trees, wildlife, glowworms and yes, more waterfalls. Pitch a tent and stay awhile of visit for the day, McLaren’s Falls never disappoints when the sun’s out. The Falls Café has a great all-day menu and the 35-acre Marshall Animal Farm onsite has feeding and play options with animals such as horses, rabbits, kunekune pigs and goats.
10. Explore an unspoiled island
Only accessible by boat or kayak, Matakana Island is a lovely little hideaway right across the water from bustling Mount Maunganui. The privately-owned island has secluded white-sand surf beaches and is home to a community of less than 300 people. The lifestyle here is laid-back, but the residents value their privacy so it is expected you don’t go wandering about too far and that you respect the heritage sites and flora and fauna on the island when you visit. That being said, you’re most welcome to relax on the sandy beach and enjoy the magical views.
11. Escape the crowded beaches
Beautiful Bowentown between Katiakati and Waihī Beach is blessed with two completely different but equally beautiful beaches. There’s the open ocean on one side and Tauranga’s harbour on the other. It’s the perfect place to escape the crowds when the other beaches of the Bay are packed with holidaymakers. At the end of the peninsula, you will find Bowentown Domain and Anzac Bay. There are coastal walks and bike rides to enjoy if you want a little more than swimming and playing in the golden sand.
12. Tauranga’s best hot pools
Fernland Spa on Cambridge Rd is the most peaceful place in Tauranga to enjoy a relaxing soak. It’s a little more tranquil than the others as you are surrounded by luscious fern trees and birdlife. At night, soft lighting adds a bit of magic to the experience. The geothermal mineral water that runs continuously through all pools is soft, pure and non-chlorinated. It’ll make you feel rejuvenated and relaxed. You can book a massage for even more relaxation, and there are private pools and barbecues. Cabins and campsites can be booked and RVs are welcome.
13. A sacred historical landmark
Although now largely hidden from view by the development of the town, Te Wairere Falls remain one of the most beautiful and historically significant sites in Whakatāne. They are a sacred landmark to all of Mātaatua. The fresh water first supplied the Ngāti Awa people and later the township, until 1924. You’ll find both locals and visitors at the falls, and they are lit in the evenings which adds something special to the experience of appreciating the mossy rock formations and restful waters.
14. A historic cave
Te Ana O Muriwai, or Muriwai's Cave, is historically significant for Whakatāne. It’s a landmark dedicated to the memory of Muriwai, a respected ancestor of the Mātaatua tribes, and the cave was Tapu until this was lifted in 1963. Just across the road near the water's edge, you’ll find a carved shelter holding a ceremonial replica of the Mātaatua waka. Muriwai was the sister of Toroa, captain of the Mātaatua canoe, and it is said she lived in the cave from the time they arrived from Hawaiki until her death. Look up the legends and mythology around it. It’s fascinating.