11 Best Things to Do in Tauranga Cruise Port | Port Overview

Bilbo Baggins'house in Hobbiton

Welcome to Tauranga cruise port, one of the most spectacular New Zealand ports and a frequent stop in the New Zealand cruise itineraries! New Zealand comprises two main islands, North Island (the ports of Wellington, Auckland, Napier, and Bay of Islands) and South Island.

The entire North Island includes twelve main urban areas, half of them officially cities. Tauranga city is part of the North Island, officially named Te-Ika-a Maui. In this Tauranga cruise travel guide, read about:

  • Tauranga cruise port (Tauranga cruise terminal, getting around)
  • 11 best things to do in Tauranga cruise port & Tauranga shore excursions

Visit also our cruise port guides to Milford Sound, Auckland, Bay of Islands, Napier, Wellington, Dunedin, Picton, Akaroa

Tauranga Cruise Port

Cruise ships dock at the port of Tauranga, located in the town of Mount Maunganui overlooking the vast Bay of Plenty. The city of Tauranga is located approximately 20 minutes’ drive from the cruise port but is easily accessible via shuttle buses often provided by the cruise lines.

The port of Tauranga is conveniently located within a short walking distance from Mount Maunganui town center where you can find several shops, eateries, beaches, and places of interest. There is a tourist information booth at the end of the pier where you can pick up some maps, brochures, and book excursions. Normally there are no more than two passenger cruise ships in port, so the place doesn’t get too busy.

Tauranga cruise port - the pier
Tauranga cruise dock
Tauranga downtown
Tauranga downtown is located a 20-minute drive from the port. There’s not much to do there except for shopping. 

Getting Around the Port of Tauranga

  • The main street is Maunganui Road situated a stone’s throw from the cruise port, featuring several cafes, restaurants, and shops.
  • Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach located a 10-minute walk from the cruise terminal ranks among the best beaches in New Zealand and is known for great surfing due to the high waves. This ocean beach is long and offers a variety of water sports activities ideal for adventure seekers and swimmers.
  • However, if you are looking for calmer waters, head over to Pilot Bay Beach which you’ll spot right in front of your ship, only a few minutes’ walk from the pier. This harbor beach is amazing for small kids and families as the waters are calm and there are no waves. There are no facilities on the beach except for the public toilets near the parking. Pilot Bay Beach offers unique views of Mount Maunganui and a picturesque bay filled with small fishing and recreational boats.
  • New Zealand’s official currency is the New Zealand dollar (NZD; or NZ$) and 1 NZ$ equals 0.62 US dollars. Foreign currency is mostly not accepted, so make sure you have a local currency. Credit cards are widely accepted.
  • Cruise lines or local tour operators normally offer shuttle bus transportation to Tauranga city center for an extra cost. The ride to Tauranga lasts approximately 20 minutes.
  • Taxis and public transportation that connects Mount Maunganui with Tauranga are available. The nearest bus station is Salisbury Avenue located a few minutes’ walk from the pier. Check the timetables and fares on the New Zealand public transportation official website: https://www.baybus.co.nz/
  • Book private transportation
  • Explore Tauranga tours and activities
  • Find hotels in Tauranga

11 Best Things to Do in Tauranga Cruise Port

1. Mount Maunganui

Just in front of the ship, you will spot Mount Maunganui, a gorgeous hill reachable within walking distance from the dock. Also known as Mauao (“The Mount” in the Maori language), Mount Maunganui is an extinct, 232-meter (761 ft) high volcano whose hiking trails lead you to the summit where you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the Bay of Plenty.

There are a couple of hiking trails, including the easy one which is flat and easily manageable, and the more strenuous one that takes you to the summit. You can reach the base of Mount Maunganui if you follow an oceanfront boardwalk in the direction of Pilot Bay Beach, or take a walk through the main street Maunganui Road to the base of the hill.

The entire hike to the summit and back takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes, depending on how many photo stops you make. Make sure you follow the signs along the trails for safety reasons. There are no facilities or shops available along the way.

Mount Maunganui - The View of the Bay of Plenty and Tauranga Cruise Port
The spectacular view of the Bay of Plenty from Mount Maunganui
Mount Maunganui walking trail
Mount Maunganui walking trail and the view of the main beach

At the foot of Mount Maunganui, there is another great attraction awaiting you – Mount Hot Pools, a heated saltwater pool area with natural pools and facilities including free wi-fi, changing room, showers, spa services, snacks and drinks.

Check out Mount Maunganui tours and activities

2. Hobbiton Movie Set

The absolute highlight of every Tauranga cruise is a visit to the enchanting village of Hobbiton Movie Set, where some major scenes from Tolkien’s iconic trilogies of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit were shot.

Back in 1998, Peter Jackson’s team was in search of the perfect setting for the legendary hobbit village of the Shire, a fictional Middle-earth village inhabited by hobbits, peaceful, brave halflings with hairy feet. A thorough aerial search let them to the Alexander farm, an idyllic area nestled in the heart of the Waikato region, boasting rolling hills, lush green pastures, a mirror lake, and untouched nature. 

Hobbiton Movie Set - Shire
Hobbiton Movie Set – Shire

It took the movie crew nine months to transform the farm into the Shire… and it was well worth the effort! Nowadays, the Hobbiton Movie Set is one of the most visited attractions in New Zealand allowing visitors to stroll through the Shire and admire 44 permanently reconstructed Hobbit holes (exterior visit only, except for one hole that you can visit inside).

You can take a photo in front of Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbiton Hole, get a complimentary drink at The Green Dragon and admire the stunning views of the Kaimai Mountains that create movie magic and are impressive in reality.

You can visit the Hobbiton Movie Set on a 2-hour guided walking tour only, and all tours depart from the Shire’s Rest.

Hobbit's Hole in Hobbiton Movie Set, Tauranga port of call
Hobbit’s Hole

It takes approximately a 1h 15-minute drive to reach the Hobbiton Movie Set from the Tauranga cruise port. If you are coming from the city of Tauranga, it takes a 45-minute drive to get to the location. Hobbiton Movie Set is partially wheelchair friendly (for collapsible wheelchairs).

Hobbiton is a popular, busy, and crowded site, so make sure you plan your trip according to the cruise ship’s schedule. It is recommended to travel light and not carry valuables with you. Closed-toe shoes are suggested, and it’s not permitted to wear flip-flops at the site.

Facilities are available at the Shire’s Rest (toilets, gift shop, food/drinks). If you are coming with a cruise line-sponsored shore excursion, double-check if the toilets in the bus are available as the drive takes 1 hour 15 minutes each way.

Check out Hobbiton Movie Set tours and activities

3. Rotorua Geothermal Parks

Situated on the southern shores of Lake Rotorua, in the Bay of Plenty region, the city of Rotorua is known for its world-famous Geothermal Parks, featuring geysers and bubbling mud pools. It is located around a 1 hour 15 minutes drive from the port of Tauranga.

Rotorua offers a wide variety of things to do, from adventure activities such as zip lines, jungle bridges, jet boats, paragliding, off-road tours, cycling, and biking, to cultural tours where you get to discover the traditional customs, practices, and beliefs of indigenous Māori people. You can indulge in spa & wellness treatments and enjoy water sports and activities that take place around a few of 17 beautiful lakes and three major rivers in Rotorua (paddle boarding, swimming, fishing, secluded thermal hot water beaches, boat rides, and many more).

However, most of the activities take place at Rotorua Geothermal Parks, scattered in and around the city, boasting awe-inspiring natural wonders and surreal landscapes. The whole area sits within the Pacific Rim of Fire and is known as one of the most active New Zealand volcanic areas (Mount Tarawera volcano). Here you will find the world’s most active geothermal fields featuring spectacular hot mud pools, impressive geysers, steaming vents, and boiling lakes.

Rotorua Geothermal Park
Rotorua Geothermal Park

3.1. Te Puia

One of the best geothermal attractions to visit is the Geothermal Valley of Te Puia, located a 5-minute drive from the city center, featuring dramatic geysers including Pohutu Geyser, the largest active geyser in the Southern Hemisphere! It erupts up to 20 times per day and you can admire it from the viewing decks, allowing you to take some incredible shots!

Te Puia is part of the Whakarewarewa Valley and Thermal Reserve, where you can also experience a cultural immersion as you get to experience a warm Maori welcome, cultural show, folkloric dancing, and learn about the language and tradition of Maori people.

You can visit the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, see the works of Māori carvers and taste the traditional Hāngī meal.

Explore Rotorua and Te Puia shore excursions 

Whakarewarewa geothermal valley geysers
Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley
Maori cultural performance, Tauranga cruise port
Maori cultural performance

4. Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland 

Another impressive attraction is Wai-O-Tapu (in the Maori language, Wai-O-Tapu means “Sacred Waters”) geothermal wonderland, set approximately 30 km (18.5 mi) from Rotorua town, around 1 hour 45 minutes from the port of Tauranga.

Wai-O-Tapu is one of the most colorful and diverse geothermal sites boasting spectacular landscapes and geological formations, stunning vistas, surreal colors, and gigantic volcanic craters. This is the site where you get to see the world-famous Champagne Pool, the largest hot spring in New Zealand measuring 65m in diameter and 62m deep, with a surface temperature of 74°C. The Lady Knox Geyser and the largest Mud Pool in New Zealand are the other two locations not to be missed.

There is also a visitor center with a cafe, gift shop, and facilities. Some tours to Wai-O-Tapu include the Lakeland Queen cruise on Lake Rotorua and guided walking tours through the forest of Whakarewarewa nature reserve where you can visit Te Puia and see the local cultural performances.

Check out Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland tours 

Champagne Pool - Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland
Champagne Pool

5. Highlights of Rotorua Town

Besides geothermal parks, the town of Rotorua boasts historic landmarks, botanical gardens, cultural institutions, and a variety of restaurants, cafes, and shops. If you would like to explore the town’s surroundings and history, make sure you visit some of these city highlights:

  • Government Gardens – Set in beautiful scenery close to Lake Rotorua, this public park features a former geothermal bathhouse housing the Rotorua Museum of Art and History built in Tudor architectural style. There are sports facilities within the park, including Blue Baths swimming pool housed in an elegant Art Deco building.
  • Rotorua Museum of Art and History (Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa) – Housed in the former bathhouse, the exterior of the timber-framed Rotorua Museum is eye-catching and remarkable. Both museum and art gallery, here you can learn about the history of the place and admire local fine arts, photography, and Taonga objects from the Māori culture. Guided tours are available.
  • Kiwi Conservation Center – Right by the Te Puia Geothermal site entrance, you can visit the new facility housing New Zealand’s national bird, a nocturnal flightless bird – kiwi! Get up close and personal with kiwi birds in the special nocturnal enclosure and learn how the sanctuary is working to protect them. The site has free wi-fi and a huge souvenir shop, facilities, and light snacks available for purchase (cash or credit card).

Explore Rotorua Town tours and activities

Rotorua Museum of Art and History
Rotorua Museum of Art and History

6. The Elms | Te Papa Tauranga Mission Station

Within a 10-15 minute drive from the port of Tauranga, you can visit The Elms | Te Papa Tauranga historic site where you can learn about the rich cultural and historical heritage of New Zealand. This site, established by the missionary Alfred Brown, played an important role in spreading Christianity to the Māori people in New Zealand in the early 19th century.

You can take a guided tour through the mission house and library which usually lasts around 30 minutes, and visit its wonderful gardens and impeccably maintained grounds.

To get to The Elms, take a bus from the port of Tauranga to Tauranga city center. The main bus stop in Tauranga is at the iSite Visitor Information Centre on Willow Street, and from there you can take a short walk to The Elms | Te Papa Tauranga.

7. Kiwifruit Country

If you want to learn about kiwi farming, you should visit Kiwifruit Country located in the Bay of Plenty, approximately 30 minutes’ driving distance from Tauranga port (31 km/19 miles). On this unique trip, you get to visit a working kiwifruit orchard and learn about ‘the story of kiwifruit’, considered one of the world’s healthiest fruits.

You get to see the different varieties of kiwi (Green Kiwi, Red Kiwi, Gold Kiwi, etc.), learn about their origin, and how they are grown, picked, and sold, mostly abroad. You also get to sample this delicious fruit and there is a store where you can buy the products manufactured from kiwi fruit including honey, jam, ice cream, and smoothies.

Check out Kiwifruit Country tours and activities

Kiwifruit Orchard - Kiwifruit Country in Tauranga cruise port
Kiwifruit Orchard. Source: Pixabay.com

8. Tamaki Maori Village

If you are a history buff and would like to learn more about the Maori culture that Rotorua has to offer, you can visit Rotorua Maori Village, located a 15-minute drive from Rotorua town and 1 hour 45 minutes from the port of Tauranga.

Tamaki Maori Village is an award-winning cultural attraction in New Zealand featuring a recreated Maori village where you can take part in cultural performances, ceremonies, interactive activities, taste authentic Maori cuisine, storytelling, and so much more!

Explore Tamaki Maori Village tours and activities

9. White-Water Rafting

Tauranga cruise port offers numerous adrenaline and adventure activities for nature lovers, and rafting is one of them! Wairoa River with Kaituna Cascades offers incredible white water action that you’ll remember for a lifetime! Experience three rapids, a 10-meter-high waterfall, and gorgeous natural sceneries on this unique adrenaline-pumped ride! The rafting itself lasts around 1 hour and it’s one of the most intense activities you’ll ever experience!

The starting point is located approximately a 1-hour drive from the pier, and numerous companies are offering the rafting experience (including the cruise lines).

Check out White Water Rafting tours and activities

White Water Rafting from Tauranga cruise port
White water rafting

10. Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Glowworms are native creatures that can be found all over New Zealand, and there are dozens of caves where you can spot them. Waitomo caves are a renowned natural attraction offering a wide variety of activities, including a boat ride through the Glowworm Grotto where you’ll see thousands of these tiny luminescent creatures.

The rock formations are incredible and you’ll enjoy its magnificent chambers and stream passages. Waitomo Caves are located around a 2-hour drive from Tauranga port each way.

There are other ways to see glowworms as well. You can book a kayak adventure trip to Lake Rotoiti which is located about 1 hour from the dock that will take you to remote caves where you can see these magical creatures.

If you opt for a kayak activity offered by your cruise line, check in advance if you need a single kayak or double to ensure availability as the tours are organized in small groups. Facilities are available and a change of clothes is optional. By the end of your trip, you will paddle to Manupirua Beach and get some time off to relax in thermal pools.

Explore Waitomo Glowworm Caves tours

11. Speedboat Ride to Rotorua

If you would like to experience the beauty of New Zealand by sea, you can embark on a jet boat ride to Rotorua that takes approximately 1h 30 minutes each way. You will travel to Hell’s Gate (Tikitere), Rotorua’s most active geothermal area where you will receive about 1 hour of free time. Here you will see bubbling mud pools, spectacular thermal basins formed by the area’s volcanic activity, steaming lakes, and other breathtaking formations.

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