For most people, growing up in this region means a lot of time exploring the great outdoors. We have so many scenic adventures right on our doorstep. To help you make the most of your outings, we’ve compiled some of our current local favourites, covering water sports, trails and biking. Whether you’re more of an occasional explorer or an intrepid Harry Hardout, there’ll be something on our list you can try next time you’re in need of some nature. We’ll see you out there!
There’s nothing better than strolling through Mother Nature’s finest greenery. Even science agrees — getting outdoors has been linked to lower blood pressure and less stress hormones (cortisol) being released. Talk about a great excuse to go and check out these trails, stat!
Nga Tapuwae o Toi Walkway: the hardest but most beautiful.
Known as ‘The Toi’ by locals, this beach- and-bush combo in Whakatane is one of the most breathtaking walks we’ve been on, both literally and figuratively — it’s not easy but it’s very worthwhile. We recommend walking it clockwise, giving you ocean views with peeks of White Island and the option to tap out at Ohope knowing you’ve done the best part first. The second half of the trail is through forest, climbing up, tricking you with some downhills, before climbing back up again. It has the bonus of being nice and shaded in the second half.
Do stop in at Blueberry Corner (364 Thornton Rd, Whakatane, open October to April), on your way home. You’ll deserve a large real fruit ice cream after your trek.
Don’t go without checking the tides — there’s a beach crossing about a third of the way through.
Otanewainuku: for families and summit seekers alike.
Otanewainuku is a conservation area about 20-kilometres south of Tauranga, with walks for the young, old, mountain goats and everyone in-between. This hidden gem is looked after by Otanewainuku Kiwi Trust, whose volunteers work to protect kiwi and other native flora and fauna (visit kiwitrust.org if you’re interested in helping out). As you step into the forest you’ll feel like you’re in the New Zealand of a few hundred years ago — aside from the well-formed trail, it’s barely touched by man. There are three different options — the easy Rimu Loop track, a slightly trickier mission to Whataroa Waterfall and a climb to the summit.
Do look out for native birds — as well as kiwi there have been sightings of kokako, kereru, korimako, grey warbler, tui, popokatea, tomtit and the North Island robin enjoying the sanctuary.
Don’t take a pram — the Rimu Loop is well cleared and graded but not suitable for pushchairs. Front-pack it instead.
Homunga Bay: the ultimate picnic destination.
This secret trail starts at the northern end of Waihi Beach, giving you cool spy-like vibes as you sneak up into it. It’s not easily accessible at high tide so check the timings before you head out. The walk itself is the perfect combination of hills to get your appetite up, flat sections to cool you down, and views that make you want to stop and take photos every few seconds. It almost becomes an added bonus that you end on a beach with no-one else around.
If you’re bringing a family, you can avoid the harder slog by stopping your walk at Orokawa Bay, which is the first beach on the walk and about 45 minutes in. This beach is just as stunning and secluded as Homunga and ideal for a picnic. In summer it’s filled with flourishing pohutukawa trees, perfect for your family Christmas card photo, if you’re into that.
Do use being at Waihi Beach as an excuse to stop in at Flat White cafe.
The beachfront location is just idyllic.
Don’t forget there are no lifeguards at these bays so swimming isn’t as safe as Waihi.
For most Taurangians, being in or on the water is a regular part of life. If you feel like changing things up from your usual surf or swim, these activities should be next on your list.
McLaren Falls: make friends with glowworms.
Being surrounded by glowworms while you paddle under the moonlight sounds like the set-up for a cheesy romantic movie. For Bay locals it can be a casual evening activity — just grab your kayaks and get to the falls, where you’ll start your paddle at Bottom Flat. To find the glowworms, paddle into a canyon at the top end of the lake. These little guys cling to the sides of the canyon, making it feel as if you’re cruising through the night sky. The most important thing is to make sure you arrive before the gates close (7.30pm in summer, 5.30pm in winter) as after that, they let cars out but not in.
If you don’t have a kayak, there are plenty of local providers that take guided tours to the glowworms, just use the magic of Google and you’ll find a few to choose from.
Do take a picnic to enjoy while you wait for dusk. There’s plenty of scenic spots to stop and eat.
Don’t forget your head lamp for paddling back in the dark.
Wairoa River: stand-up paddle board through farmland.
Most of the time us beach-dwellers stick to paddle-boarding in the sea. Just sticking to what you know can get boring, so we have a less salty suggestion. The Wairoa River (on the Te Puna side of Bethlehem) is a good place to mix it up and make friends with a few bovines and ducks on your journey. Being more sheltered than the beach, you’re likely to be rewarded with glassy water and a smoother ride. If you’re feeling bendy, the lack of chop could make it the perfect time to give paddle-board yoga a go — or at least hold a pose long enough for a picture!
If you’ve not given into SUP ownership yet, there is often a paddle- boarding hire tent on the river edge from mid-morning and, if not, Waimarino has a few so you’ll be on the water in no time.
Do check out Tanners Point in Katikati and Omokoroa for some new SUP spots while you’re on that side of town (if you have your own board).
Don’t paddle without a lifejacket. We sound like your mum, but it’s always worth the reminder.
Oropi Grove Mountain Bike Park: from easy to extreme.
During daylight saving this is a popular place to shake off the day’s work. From gentle hills to knuckle-whitening downhill runs, Oropi has enough tracks to keep you entertained every visit. If you’re totally new to this mountain biking malarkey, it could be worth riding down the road access and starting with the grade 2s by the river, as the entry track can be a bit intense the first time.
If you’re short on time and want to give the tracks a good go, try the park loop. It takes you from one side to the other, linking you through different tracks from grades 2 to 4 (aka easy to advanced). Be warned, leaving the park is always an uphill slog so leave a little bit of power in your legs for the end.
Do pop across to Good Local (83 Pyes Pa Rd) for a post-ride bevvie. Nothing tastes more refreshing than a beer after a blat.
Don’t ride without a helmet. Obviously.
The Lakes to Kopurererua Valley: family friendly and flat.
For learners and nervous pedallers, the ride from The Lakes to 17th Ave, or vice versa, is just perfect. It’s about five kilometres one way and you’ll meander through estuary, ponds and farmland, on either boardwalk or graded gravel path. This trail is much- loved by weekly commuters and you’re even allowed to bring your four-legged friends along.
Do stop in at The Whipped Baker if you start or end by The Historic Village. Great doughnuts and other treats.
Don’t ride off the edge of the boardwalk. It sounds silly but this writer has done it.
Tauranga BMX Track: the best of both worlds.
Not only is this a chance to impress the kids with your jumps or comical bails, the track itself (280 Cambridge Rd, Te Reti) is actually surrounded by other small mountain bike tracks. These are all short, marked trails that can be found on maps by the toilets and at the bottom of the entrance hill. Bike through to the Birch Rd end of the Waikareao Estuary Loop if you wanted to add to your adventure.
Do check for local Tauranga BMX events (@taurangabmxclub), to make sure you go when the track is free.
Don’t go without sunblock as you won’t find much shade when you’re on the track.
(Content originally created for Our Place magazine and shared with love by Tourism Bay of Plenty)