Tauranga and Mt Maunganui – Guide for Backpackers
A Kiwi holiday hotspot!
When Kiwis are looking for a holiday escape on the North Island, the harbourside city of Tauranga and its suburb Mt Maunganui are often considered. They sit on the western side of the Bay of Plenty and are recognised by long white sand beaches and the dormant volcano that sits isolated on the water’s edge known as The Mount or Mauao.
With surf, sand, sea and sealife, Tauranga and Mt Maunganui are one of those locations that showcase the coastline New Zealand is renowned for! Here, is where you will experience for yourself what New Zealanders do for fun. Plus, the area is a good hub for backpacker jobs. The hostels, and of course our job listings, are a great resource for finding work in the area, which you can learn more about in What is a Working Hostel in New Zealand.
Things You can’t miss in Tauranga and Mt Maunganui
- Explore The Strand and 17th Avenue in Tauranga city.
- Swim with dolphins.
- Get your waterfall fix at McLaren, Omanawa and Kaiate Falls.
- Climb The Mount for epic views!
- Surf, swim, eat ice cream and be a general beach bum at Mt Maunganui Beach.
- Driftkart at Papamoa.
The most populated and fastest-growing city in the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga, has been treating us with its glorious waterfront setting since the late 13th century when the first Maori settled here.
Backpackers and locals alike can’t resist having a beer or coffee along The Strand. For Tauranga’s nightlife and coffee house scene is found on this stretch along the waterfront. On the other hand, there’s 17th Avenue complete with historic wooden buildings and cobbled lined streets: a rare sight in New Zealand.
Street art dotted around the city and the Tauranga Art Gallery are also worth checking out for free! Plus, grab some Cheap Eats in Tauranga and Mt Maunganui.
Water activities in Tauranga
It’s all well and good gazing at the Pacific Ocean from the comfort of a city cafe, but it would almost be a crime to not get out onto the water while visiting Tauranga. The waters of the Bay of Plenty have been known to offer sights of humpback and pilot whales, orcas, seals, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and Hector’s dolphins. With that, there are opportunities to do dolphin swimming with a couple of activity providers in Tauranga, such as Dolphin Seafaris and Orca Wild Adventures.
There are also trips departing to some of the offshore islands like Matakana, Karewa Island, Motiti and Mayor Islands. Check out Bay Explorer for an island and wildlife cruise.
Like any other New Zealand coastal city, there is no lack of fishing charter tours in Tauranga. Take a deep-sea fishing charter to catch some whoppers.
OUtskirts of Tauranga
Waterfalls, treetop adventures and relaxing hot pools all surround the city of Tauranga. For a recreational stop when heading out of the city, visit the Te Puna Quarry Park along State Highway 2 to see the transformation of this disused quarry into gardens full of sculptures and, well, other garden necessities.
On State Highway 36 towards Rotorua, is the aerial obstacle course Adrenalin Forest, which reaches 20 metres high. When a day of hardcore adventuring ends, head to the Fernland Spa hot mineral pools for a soak surrounded by native trees.
There are some natural wonders to check out too within driving distance of Tauranga in the form of these waterfall parks:
McLaren Falls Park
A 10-minute drive south from the city on the State Highway 29 will lead you to McLaren Falls Park. Of course, the waterfall is the highlight but walking tracks around the lake make it worthwhile. By day, make use of the free BBQs in this stunning picnic area. By night, stay in the campgrounds or the McLaren Falls Park Hostel, so you can go see the glowworms lining the Waterfall Track.
[Update: these falls are currently closed to the public]. Nearby the McLaren Falls Park area, visit the plunging Omanawa waterfall, which is about 12km down the Omanawa Road. You can also see the first hydroelectric power station in the Southern Hemisphere.
More waterfall action lies southwest of Tauranga, a 25-minute drive which is signposted off Welcome Bay Rd. Take advantage of the detours off the main waterfall track to go to different lookouts.
The Mount at Mt Maunganui
It’s no surprise that this seaside town is named after the prominent mountain that sits at the end of the town. But to avoid confusion, the mountain is referred to as The Mount or Mauao.
This dormant volcano is sacred to the Tauranga iwi (tribe). It also simply has to be climbed when visiting Mt Maunganui! Find the walking track at the end of Mt Maunganui Beach. This fairly steep walk to the summit takes 20-30 minutes. After you have taken in the 360 views, take your time to head down the mountain, spotting sheep and wood pigeons along the way. At the base, you can treat yourself to a dip in the salt water hot pools.
Mt Maunganui town
Mt Maunganui has all the components for a holiday getaway in New Zealand: enormous beach, surf, ice cream and fish n’ chips. Check if your hostel hires out surfboard for free. Otherwise, surf lessons and hire are available on the bay.
Apart from the obvious long walks on the beach, it’s worth exploring the town for the shops and cafes along Mt Maunganui’s main street or at the Bayfair Shopping Centre. Chill out with some craft beer at Astrolabe beer garden or Mt Brew Co, or indulge in ice cream at Copenhagen Cones and fish n’ chips.
When the tide is low, walk out to Moturiki (Leisure) Island, which is just off the shore of Mt Maunganui Beach. You can watch the blowholes at the seaward end. Plus, get the best views of the mountain, the beach and waves!
Papamoa is a large suburb next to Mt Mangagui with yet more endless stretching beaches backed with sand dunes. It’s really the perfect spot for drift karting or three-wheeled land sailing. In fact, there’s a whole park dedicated to the unique sport at the Blokart Recreation Park.
Inland, don’t miss the Papamoa Hills – [Update: Papamoa Hills is currently closed, but access is still available at Summerhill]. What used to have 10 Maori pa (fortified) sites, now has walking tracks to viewpoints over the coastline. On a clear day, you can see as far as Maketu and Whakatane in the south to the Coromandel Peninsula in the north. The hills also have mountain biking at the Summerhill Recreational Trails through forest and hilly terrain.
If you have more time at Tauranga and Mt Maunganui…
- So many markets! Check out which market day coincides with your visit here.
- See the unusual Hairy Maclary Sculptures on the Tauranga waterfront.
- Take an obligatory photo of Elms Mission House, the oldest European building in Tauranga.
- See it all from the sky by doing the Tauranga Tandem Skydive at 12,000ft!
- Find more things to do in 10 Free and Cheap Things to do in Tauranga and Mt Maunganui.
Where to stay in Tauranga and Mt Maunganui?
- Tauranga Central Backpackers
- Arthouse Accommodation Boutique Backpackers, Tauranga
- Loft 109, Tauranga
- Bell Lodge, Tauranga
- Apple Tree Backpackers, Tauranga
- Just The Ducks Nuts, Tauranga
- Harbourside City Backpackers, Tauranga
- Pacific Coast Lodge and Backpackers, Mt Maunganui
- Mount Backpackers, Mt Maunganui
- Seagulls Guesthouse, Mt Maunganui
For more budget accommodation options, check out Accommodation Guide to Tauranga.
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