Sunny, peaceful Tauranga is a seaside city in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to top-notch cafes, bars and restaurants, and there’s an abundance of adventurous activities to try. From swimming with dolphins, to kayaking beneath glowworms, to flying high above the harbour, you’ll find heaps of things to spend your money on. But what if you’re low on money, or simply fancy a change of pace? Here are ten things you can do around Tauranga for free:
1) Hang out at the Mount
Mount Maunganui, also known as Mauao or, simply, the Mount, is Tauranga’s most important landmark. It sits at the end of a peninsula, dominating the skyline, and makes for a great climb. The views are gorgeous, and at its foot you’ve got the choice of two awesome beaches. One is a lively surfing beach; the other is a calm, sheltered beach. There are some nice shops and restaurants around there too, as well as various pieces of water sporting equipment available for hire.
2) Stroll along the Strand
The Strand is a whole street of fashionable restaurants and bars directly on Tauranga’s harbour front. Strolling along it is lovely. There’s a wonderful playground, complete with fountains for children to splash around in, and a delightful set of Hairy Maclary sculptures. (The author of Hairy Maclary, Lynley Dodd, lives in Tauranga.) There’s other stuff there too – it’s getting better all the time.
3) Relax at Robbins Park
Just up from the Strand, Robbins Park has great views, a tropical plant house, an Italian Renaissance-style ivy colonnade, and a beautiful rose garden. It’s right next to Monmouth Redoubt, a hill that’s the site of an ancient pa, and was used as a colonial infantry station in the 1860s. You can still make out the various lumps and bumps below the grass and, at the bottom of the hill, you can see the Te Awanui Waka, a Maori canoe that’s on display.
4) Wander through the Art Gallery
The Tauranga Art Gallery is free to enter. It’s not very big, but there’s always something interesting on. It’s in the town centre, which you should also wander through. There’s some great shopping to be had in downtown Tauranga.
5) Visit the Historic Village
The Historic Village on 17th Avenue is cool little place. There are real shops in the buildings, but don’t expect anything much. The café’s okay. There’s often something on there – various markets and festivals, but it’s nice just to explore. It’s kind of like a model wild west town. If historic villages interest you, you can find more in this North Island historical places itinerary.
6) Play at Memorial Park
Memorial Park is an unexpectedly awesome place. As well as being on a beach, it’s got a fountain, swimming pools, crazy golf, a fantastic playground and, best of all, a miniature train you can ride. The tracks actually weave through the playground! Of course, there’s usually an ice-cream van there. Also, you can stay the night there for free if you hire a campervan in New Zealand. Just make sure it’s self-contained, as that’s a requirement for freedom camping in New Zealand.
7) Explore Te Puna Quarry Park
Just outside Tauranga, Te Puna Quarry Park is a place of wonder. It used to be an ugly abandoned quarry, but it’s been turned into a sort of fantasy garden. There’s so much to find; so many little side paths and interesting bits of tactile art. There’s even a dragon. What’s more, as you climb up the hillside the view just keeps getting better.
8) Picnic at Fergusson Park
Fergusson Park is a great place to swim, especially if you have small children, and looks directly across the bay at Mount Maunganui. There’re plenty of places to kick a ball around and spread a picnic blanket, but the best thing you can do is walk along the shore. The path stretches all the way around the bay and into town. Like Memorial Park, Fergusson Park allows overnight self-contained campervan stays, but spots are limited.
9) Swim at McLaren Falls
McLaren Falls Park is a short drive out of Tauranga. It contains the beautiful Lake McLaren and a spectacular waterfall. You can easily climb across the top of it, where the boulders create cute pools you can bathe in. You can swim in the river before the drop, as the boulders create a natural barrier, and, if you dare, you can jump into the water below. Make sure you take insect repellent, though.
10) Go tramping in the Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park
The Kaimai Range is a mountain range that separates the Bay of Plenty from the Waikato Region. Together with the Mamaku Range, it makes up the enormous Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park. There are heaps of walking tracks to choose from. My favourite walks are in the Karangahake Gorge area of the park, about an hour’s drive out of Tauranga. It’s got the natural beauty of a mighty river and towering walls of rock, and the historical interest of abandoned mining operations.