Backyard Escapes

Explore some of our less talked about yet spectacular nature spots.

Whether you want to stroll with the kids, have a relaxing picnic or summit a mountain for stunning vistas, here are some top (and lesser-known) nature jaunts that are right
on the Bay of Plenty's doorstep.

When you first arrive in Tauranga, you would be forgiven for thinking that all outdoor adventures revolve around beach, beach, climbing and circling the Mount for a ‘gram, seal spotting and more beach. But after living here for a while, you start to notice that some of our coolest outdoor activity spots don’t involve a single grain of sand. In celebration of these slightly lesser-known places that Mother Nature has blessed us with, we’ve created this list of some our personal favourite ways to get jumped up on that bush buzz.

Inner City Oasis

Picnics are one of the greatest inventions that humans have come up with so far. As the ultimate combination of food, friends and nature, they’re right up there on the ‘proof we have working brains’ list, alongside penicillin, beer and peanut butter. For an easy nature outing, you can’t go past Robbins Park at the northern end of The Strand, above Tauranga’s waterfront. Hidden in plain sight, it’s tucked right behind the straight-laced hedges on the harbour side of the gardens, where you’ll find a few seats and views that stretch for miles across the water. With the hedge shielding you from the road, you’ll feel like you’ve found a mini oasis of calm in the middle of town. It’s also within walking distance of the sculptures of Hairy Maclary and his buds — perfect for burning off children’s energy either before or after your picnic.

Insider tip → Pop by Folk Brewers (148 Durham St) for an easy picnic of Wellington-worthy coffee and “holy heck that’s good” doughnuts. Be early, or you’ll have a hefty dose of doughnut disappointment.

Uphill Mission

When you say ‘the Minden’, many people tend to think of the lookout at the top of the hill, where they used to make out in cars as teens with the ‘totes romantic’ city lights below them. Or is that just us? Fortunately for everyone, the Minden we’re talking about is the stair-climbing version — all 326 of them. These stairs make for the ideal short but tough mission, carrying you up and up and up through tall ferns and shady trees. The sweet feeling of being out of the city almost makes you forget the stair-induced calf burn. At the top, you pop out at an open reserve, high up on the Minden hill, where you can choose to stretch and admire the views out to Matakana and Mauao, or face plant onto the ground for a rest — we won’t judge.

Insider tip → If you’re a Mount summit regular, try these stairs for a new challenge. You’re less likely to end up circling the block three times only to have your park snaffled by a scooter. You don’t even have to forgo the post-climb coffee, as Nourish in Te Puna is on your way back into town.

Family Stroll

Sometimes you just want to bundle your family into the car and take an easy drive to greener pastures. (Anything to get them away from screens right?!) Puketoki Reserve in Whakamārama is close at hand, keeping sanity-draining car trips delightfully short. This privately cared for natural wonderland has everything a family outing needs, including the rare bush-walk commodity of real flushing toilets! There’s a short loop track and a longer option (about an hour), depending on the moods of your mini-mes. Both tracks are easy walking, winding their way through serene native bush and alongside a stream, and there is a lovely picnic area across the road. The four-legged members of your family are welcome to come along too, as long as they’re kept on a lead.

Insider tip → This is a place you and the kids will be happy to spend a whole morning exploring, especially if the native kaka come out to say hello. If you look really hard, you might also spot a kererū or two munching on berries.

All-terrain Adventure

The only disappointment you’ll face when you trek out to explore TECT Park’s Buffalo Girl Track, is
the lack of buffalo. This entry-level walking/running trail doubles as a mountain bike track. We’ve never seen it very busy but keep an ear out for one another as you run or ride, to avoid any unpleasant introductions. As you work your way around this 10km single track, you’ll find a mix of small river crossings, open gravel hills and enclosed forest segments where you run and slide along moss-covered clay. The variety of surfaces can make it a little slow on the old stopwatch at first, but
it keeps things interesting and is a great way to see if you like trails. Even better, as a dog-friendly track, your furbabies don’t have to stay at home.

Insider tip → Get there early, it gets pretty darn sweltering in the open gravel areas, especially for any four-legged running buddies.

Mother of a Climb

The Karangahake Gorge is a little further out of the way, but since Waihi is the proud little sister of Tauranga, we are totally claiming it as local for the purposes of this story. While everyone else is exploring the leftover mining caverns and pedalling along the river trail, you could be starting your climb up Mount Karangahake. Walking through beautiful bush, this four hours-ish hike (return) gets rather steep as you near the top — thankfully the 360-degree views of the surrounding Bay of Plenty and Waikato make it well worth it. Rumour has it, you can almost see as far as Mount Taranaki on a good day. It’s that stunning, we know of summit proposals where the four magic words weren’t “let’s take a selfie”. Although with a view like that, you’ll be saying it in no time.

Insider tip → Cool down on your way home with a well-earned dip at the base of Owharoa Falls.
This three-tiered waterfall is two to three minutes walk into the Karangahake Gorge forest from Waitawheta Rd.

Story by Megan Raynor
Photography by Erin Cave

First published in issue 4 of Our Place magazine.