Out and about in Tauranga or the Western Bay of Plenty with the kids? Here are five things to do in the region for family fun all day long.
1. Waterfront + Hairy Maclary & Friends + TAG
Park up at Matapihi or take the nice wide cycleway from Bayfair, then head along the historic railway bridge to Tauranga city. The rail bridge, opened in 1928, crosses the Tauranga Harbour and takes you right to The Strand.
From there, the kids can run right to the playground to burn off some energy on lighthouse tower with slides, a pirate ship, and the huge flying saucer swings. The trains that drive past and honk their horns are also fun for the little ones.
The Hairy Maclary & Friends Sculpture stands next to the playground. Dame Lynley Dodd’s famous storybook characters were crafted by Brigitte Wuest, lead sculptor at Weta, and every child that interacts with them has a huge smile on their face.
If you’ve got your togs and towel and feel brave, take a jump from the floating pontoon. Or just watch the daredevils from the tidal stairs or a park bench and see who makes the biggest splash.
On the corner of Wharf and Willow Streets, you’ll find Tauranga Art Gallery. It’s free to visit, and most installations are suitable for all ages. If there’s an exhibition with challenging content, the lovely staff will point that out.
2. Mount Beach + Up and Around + Pilot Bay + Iconic Cones
Mount Maunganui’s main beach is simply the best. It’s long, white and sandy, swimming is usually safe, and there’s always a great buzz. For a more cruisy Mount experience, you can’t beat Pilot Bay. It’s safe and sheltered, with picnic areas and a wide boardwalk from where you can watch the paddle boarders and waka ama teams.
If you’re not one to just lie around or build sand castles all day, a walk around Mauao is highly recommended. It’ll take about 45 minutes to get around the 3.4km-long base track. The ocean views are fabulous, and the path is wide and suitable for strollers.
Of course, you’ll find the best views from the summit. There are different ways to go up, and some are harder than others. Anyone can do it, including children. Just take your time, and make sure to get out of the way of the athletes that run all the way to the top.
If the kids went up or around the Mount with you, it’d be only fair to treat them to Copenhagen Cones. Don’t be discouraged by the queue. It moves pretty fast, and the freshly made waffle cones with creamy contents are worth the wait. If you’re more of a gelato lover or prefer organic, pop around the other side to Marine Parade.
3. McLaren Falls Park + Marshalls Animal Park
A must-do day trip for the family near Tauranga is a visit to McLaren Falls Park. It can be found at a 20-minute drive from the city, into the Kaimāīs towards the Waikato. It’s a huge recreational area, 190 hectares in fact, with beautiful lakes, trees, plenty of wildlife and lots of waterfalls.
The biggest drawcard here is the waterfall track, where you can see glow worms if the time is right. You can spot them on either side of the track.
No less than 35 acres of McLaren Falls Park is home to Marshalls Animal Park, and this is an attraction not to miss if you’re in the area with young children. It’s reasonably priced, with family passes available, and there’s a huge range of animals to admire and interact with.
Children can go on pony rides, and feed and play with the farmyard animals. There are deer, kunekune pigs, goats, emus, alpacas, turtles, rabbits to get close-up and personal with, and you can watch the eels. Make sure to check out the Texas Longhorns and giant African ostriches, too. To add to the fun, you’ll find a flying fox, playground, a cafe here as well.
4. TECT All Terrain Park + Adrenaline Forest + Pop over to Rotorua
The TECT All Terrain Park can be found on State Highway 36, which is the main road between Tauranga and Rotorua. Its home to the Adrenaline Forest, a thrilling multi-level aerial obstacle course that reaches up to 20 metres high. The staff are highly skilled, and the activities are great fun and totally safe.
There are tracks for walking, mountain biking, equestrian as well as family focussed motorcycle tracks, and there’s a dedicated off-leash dog exercise area at the park, too. The local pistol shooting club, clay bird shooters and deerstalkers are based at the park as well, but hunting in the park is not allowed. There’s very limited cell phone coverage in the area so keep that in mind if you venture out.
Since you’re already halfway there, drive on to Rotorua where you’ll find all the geothermal delights with hot springs, mud pools, geysers, as well as the most amazing mountain biking tracks and all sorts of action activities and family fun.
The Redwoods Treewalk, an elevated trail through Whakarewarewa Forest, is an awesome eco-walk. It’s an amazing experience for people of all ages, and as long as your child can walk, it’s manageable. It’s perfectly safe, and you don’t need training or a safety harness to give it a go.
5. Waimarino + Te Puna Quarry + Katikati Bird Gardens
Along the road from Tauranga towards Katikati (State Highway 2), is where you’ll find Tauranga’s water fun park Waimarino. It’s all about kayaking here, and there are pedalos, gladiator poles, diving boards, trampolines, ropes courses and a climbing wall. But most fun will be had on a thing they call The Blob. The biggest blob ever recorded went 40ft into the air. See if your kids can beat that!
If you’re out that way and would like to squeeze in a nice family walk, you should head out to Te Puna Quarry Park. The paths are easy to manage, and the views of Tauranga and Mount Maunganui are just amazing from here. Fully managed by volunteers, the disused quarry has been transformed into a stunning park. Dotted around the area are sculptures created by local artists. A favourite is the massive dragon made from Hinuera Stone. Plenty of photo opportunities here.
Driving further towards Katikati bring more delights, including the Katikati Bird Gardens in Aongatete. It’s a tranquil spot on the edge of the inner Tauranga harbour with water-lily ponds, flower gardens and natural wetlands. But as the name suggests, what this place is famous for is the many varieties of birds that wander free or flutter about in spacious aviaries. The gardens are accessible for wheelchairs and are stroller-friendly.