Staying the night in Tauranga – what to do, where to go

Pilot Bay BBQSo you’re staying a couple of days in the Bay of Plenty – destination Tauranga (my home-town). Welcome.

I am about to recommend a few places to eat, to visit and to stay.

Tay St, BBQ, Mt Maunganui

I’ll quickly say what I love most about living in Tauranga is being so close to one of the most beautiful, longest and usually surf beaches in the world. With that in mind I’d definitely try and sleep and shop (if that’s your thing) at the Mount (Mt Maunganui) it’s more happening than Tauranga (which is about a 10 minute drive past the port and over the harbour bridge).

A bit of background about me.
I grew up in Tauranga but have lived in larger New Zealand cities (and abroad briefly) and returned to this sunshiny coastal city in 2010 the year our first born arrived.
I adore travel. I adore food. I love the ocean. I love nature. I hunt down arts and culture anywhere I go, so this colours my tastebuds in terms of what I look for in a destination.

Like many places in Aotearoa life is easier or options more abundant if you have a car. This post is written imagining you have access to one. There will be some locations mentioned that are central or on a busline but I’ll leave it up to you to decipher BayBus routes and timetables. I haven’t tried catching a taxi since being home (I don’t do a lot of drinking these days) but I do remember prices feeling more expensive than taxi rides in Auckland, last time I caught one. You could rent a bicycle because the central part of Tauranga and the Mount are both flat. Go here for a bike.

I’d choose to stay the night at Mt Maunganui. It’s got vibe. Tauranga’s ‘CBD’ lacks a buzz unfortunately and is a complex issue many of us ‘returned 30 somethings’ tumble about with conversation trying to unpuzzle.

BUT if you had to stay in Tauranga the YHA Tauranga Backpackers comes with a good reputation, and I’ve been in a couple of times and there are plenty of interesting and friendly looking people of all ages milling about. It is right beside Tauranga’s motorway (speed limit is 80 k/m per hour) – is that really a motorway? I think it’s called a speedway, no that’s not right. Mama brain. But you get the idea. It is also right next door to the Tauranga Yoga Centre. So if you have a dodgy night’s sleep for some reason you could pop next door and get ‘well’ again through moving your body with breath.

If you’ve got some money to spend on accommodation and a car you may like to try this B & B (Bed & Breakfast). Willowdene. It’s in suburban (but feels semi-rural for its manor-sized and charactered grounds) Bethlehem (which features Mills Reef Winery home of the award-winning Elspeth Cabernet Merlot. Sue and Colin are warm-hearted foodies who adore to offer their guests delicious home-cooked-looking-like-a-cafe (they used to own one) meals and a beautiful experience.

Pilot Bay BBQ

There are two other hotels people talk about with water views and exciting price tags (a Mama talking again now folks). Trinity Wharf. Hotel on Devonport.

Staying at the Mount or the beach (this includes Omanu, Arataki, Papamoa progressively more southern)? Don’t forget to check out bookabach or holiday homes. These websites advertise kiwi holiday homes (aka the kiwi’s bach) that people rent out when they’re not using them. Whilst not necessarily the cheapest option for 1 person, if there were a group of you, OR if you want a view or live orchestra of the ocean and the ability to cook, entertain…then this option could really appeal.

There are a couple of backpackers I’ve seen the outside of: 1) Mount Backpackers is downtown the Mount and if you didn’t have a car or you wanted to be within the up energy of the shops and restaurants/bars then check it out. 2) Seagulls Guest House is another backpackers I have heard people use. It’s away from the main shops although closer to New World (my favourite Bay supermarket). Shellrock Takeaways has been around the corner on Maunganui Road for years and does good fish and chips, which is a must kiwi experience sometime during your stay if you’re from distant shores. ‘Seagulls’ may be removed from the noise of the bars re: your sleep, but keep in mind the Port (which operates 24/7) is close by.

About a year ago I did a wee story on restaurants in the Bay. A curious thing has happened with two of the cafes – a dance of sorts. Freddy sold Le Chat Noir and bought Gold Mela and I haven’t been to either since this take over. ‘Mundos’ doesn’t exist any longer but Flying Burrito Brothers has a Mount ‘branch’ now too called The Barrio Brothers. I also went to Elizabeth Cafe on Friday night. I will report I’m not fussed on their food (although their banana smoothie is the best in town). Their ambience is a relief for Tauranga. If you’re a local and starving for a slight city buzz – then visit. Elizabeth cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and some evenings offer dinner too. There was a live musician the night I went too. I LIKE live music.

You MUST visit Love Rosie Bakery (on 9th Ave, off Cameron Road) round the corner from the Gluten Free shop. Closed on Sunday. Open for breakfast and lunch. The best Auckland cafe outside of Auckland. Rocking savoury scones (hinted with chilli). To commit crime for custard squares and rhubarb custard brioche. The mosit-est cheese, tomato and ham tart a patron would wish for. Though when someplace is this brilliant everyone wants to go, so it’s often full and takeaway becomes your only option. Their hakanoa ginger chai is a happy spin on the caffeine free option. PS I’ve caught the bus from Matua there with 2 kids which made for a fun outing for all the family. Did you know you only need 1 ticket if you get back on the bus within an hour from when you got on!

If you are cooking your own meals go to Nosh (Mt Maunganui) and you’ll find all the ingredients you need for that fancy cookbook recipe.

I’m not really into F & C (fish & chips), I have to be in a certain mood for the gluggy feeling I get upon finishing. But I know many who adore it and rave about Fresh Fish Market on Dive Crescent. What I love most about this place is the kiwi setting. Grab your kaimoana and sit on one of the picnic benches outside overlooking the wharf and beyond that the harbour OR walk a few hundred metres further toward town and pick a park bench with uninterrupted views of the water on the recently ‘refurbished’ waterfront which sports a new playground.

Pilot Bay BBQ

Looking at playgrounds made me remember my obsession with FREE BBQs (barbecues) scattered around the Bay of Plenty which featured with wild & grace a summer ago.

You may feel like a walk now after your food. This is what I love about living in the Bay – the scenic and varied walks on offer.

Bunnykin tails

The one you must do is the much-loved-and-trodden ‘walk around the Mount’. If you’re feeling excited try ‘up’. I prefer leaving from the Surf Club and taking the stairs (initially) AND the stairs to the left when you come to a fork. The views of Matakana are nicer if you go to the right, but I get nervous about the ‘slippy’ loose metal/gravel on the 4wd track that continues after a while if you choose that way.  The views, and the small section of bush you get to walk through at the top are my favourite bits apart from feeling one’s heart PUMP. Walking onto Moturiki (Leisure Island) up to the blowhole is a thrilling jaunt too, popular among the teenage and local Brazilian fraternity. Over to one side (NOT the BLOWHOLE) there’s a spot where daredevils jump off the rocks into the swell of the ocean and then climb back (get washed back) onto the rocks only to do it again. I think I’ve done it once – or did I just imagine it?

There are a heap of walks in the whole area e.g. the Papamoa Hills. I love my local one (Otumoetai Foreshore) leaving from Fergusson Park (Matua) and going along to beyond Bureta. Makes for an easy bike ride too or a scooter ride with the kids.

If you’ve got a car and you love a good garden or a wistful meander this is a must. I wrote about the (Alice Through the)  Looking Glass Garden in Te Puke – here. If you have kids take them, but take the backpack NOT the BUGGY (pushchair) as there is a plentitude of steps.

The Tauranga Art Gallery opened in 2007 and is always worth a visit especially if it’s raining.

Brewers Bar (at the Mount in an industrial area) often hosts some good bands – one goes for the music if it’s playing NOT the ambience. Oh I may be sounding judgemental now. Mount Mellick’s jam night is popular with the locals. Every Tuesday night 9.30pm-12.30/1am.

Creative Tauranga’s What’s On is a handy site to scan if you’re looking for an arty activity.

wild & grace does monthly ‘what’s on’ too – for example, August things happening in Tauranga.

Otumoetai Foreshore Walkway

Tauranga Moana – it’s about the ocean. There are a number of charter fishing companies which run expeditions out to Mayor and Motiti Islands and further south down Ohope way where the fish are happy to jump on your line. But I’ve always fancied smashing along the ocean in a small launch spotting dolphins during a Dolphin Seafari. It’s also very fun and accessible in summer to either take a surf lesson on just hire a malibu and have a play in the whitewash. Tay Street, Moturiki (Leisure Island) and somewhere in between you’ll usually find a colourful trailer in a parking spot along Marine Parade advertising surf lessons and hireage e.g. Hibiscus Surf School. Tay Street often has a kite surfing school too.

You wanna keep active? The Rock House (climbing wall) is at the Mount. Waimarino does awesome river kayak trips and has a crazy fun and adventurous ‘river park’. TECT park is halfway between here and Rotorua and sports some regenerating bushwalks (again suitable for our 2.5 year old) and the Adrenaline Forest (high wire course) not suitable for our 2.5 year old and maybe not many year olds in fact. I actually love heights let it be known.

By now your body could be sore and you may need a hot swim. There are a heap of options in the Bay of Plenty depending on where you’re staying or what surrounds you feel like. My favourites are Mount Hotpools and Fernland Spa (Tauranga). They are very different. One has a very ‘open’ feel to it without fauna around it and sits beneath the base of the Mount. The other is nestled in ferns and bush. But there’s also: Oropi Spa Pools and Country Cafe, Welcome Bay Hot Pools and Holiday Park, Omokoroa Tourist Park and Hot Pools which can all be browsed through This site lists accommodation that offer thermal spas also.

Pilot Bay BBQPerhaps the hot pool is not enough and you need a massage. Go visit Tracy Pepper of Magic Hands at the Mount, Tracy massages the rugby sevens team so she’s gotta be good for you. If you prefer a man who is just as sensational (literally) and gives a strong-sports-type-massage-with-soul call Chris Borchardt, 8 Commons Ave, Mt Maunganui,  Ph: 021 1250258.

Seasonal Festivals & Markets:
Little Big Markets run once a month on a Saturday throughout the year in Mt Maunganui. Their venue is seasonal so check their website. They have a vintage market and night market too. They sell boutique crafts, clothes, arty stuff etc rather than being a fruit and vege market.

12 September – 2 October 2014 (and around the same sort of time each year) at Rialto Cinema (Tauranga) you can see films from the New Zealand International Film Festival.

24 October – 3 November 2014 Tauranga Arts Festival brings the city alive with dance, music, theatre, literature and visual arts. Artists come from around the world and throughout Aotearoa to perform. Festival producers get the luxury of choosing from works that have already had successful seasons, so as an audience member one knows one’s getting the creme de la creme.

The Arts Festival happens every second year and on each alternate year the Garden & ArtFest happens in early November.

In April (Easter) Tauranga hosts a Jazz Festival which sees International, National and Local musos play their thing. The next one is 17-21 April 2014.

If you are an International and you have a bit of time someone is sure to have already told you this, but, Rotorua is a tourist’s paradise and for all ages. Unless you know locals it’s the most accessible way for a Maori Cultural experience. Google it. It’s only about 1 hour’s drive from Tauranga.

There you have it. Longer than I expected. I’m sure many of you who visit could add your top ten things to do in Tauranga too. Feel free to leave a comment. ENJOY.


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