My Mother-in-law was staying for the weekend recently and, always up for a challenge, I have been trying to lure her away from Auckland to live here in the Bay. She has already seen plenty of beach activity on previous stays but Auckland's got great beaches, so that will never tip the scales.

An outdoor sojourn was on the cards and this time I was going to bust out an ace: McLaren Falls.

McLaren Falls is our most spectacular waterfall by a country mile and even my mother-in-law (who has journeyed to many of the world's top spots) was impressed with their scale.

Happy snappers were everywhere the day we went - gathering on the pedestrian bridge, and even right down on the rocks, getting as close as possible to the white water.

Advertisement

Adrenalin junkies were also getting amongst it and had just starting rafting and kayaking adventures as we pulled up.

The river is a Grade 5-listed challenge and it's not the kind of thing to be throwing the mother-in-law into if cordial relations are to be maintained. A much less risky option is to head to another waterfall further into the park for a sedate walk.

An easy 10-minute meander through the bush leads you to a pretty waterfall spilling into the shallow pools beneath. Lots of other families were taking advantage of the cool water on a hot morning and kids were splashing in the water below. Another ace.

We headed back into the car and took a drive through the park. Next time we'll take mountain bikes as the place screams out for bike-riding adventures to be had.

Lake McLaren curls around one side of the park and this is where everyone wants to be - near the water.

Flat as a pancake, the lake is ideal for learning to kayak and young kids with their parents were around nearly every bend in the lake.

This fantastic public amenity would not be ours without the visionary action of the Tauranga Borough Council, which was among the first to pioneer electricity generation in the country. In 1923, it began construction of the McLaren Falls Power Station and later bought more surrounding land to form a large public park. This power station closed down once the nearby Ruahihi Power Station was built in 1981 and that led to an increase in the level of Lake McLaren by 1.2 metres.

The water, without a doubt, gives the park its serene beauty, but the planting of trees in 1965 was the masterstroke, softening and transforming the park into a seasonal kaleidoscope. Members of the Bay of Plenty Tree Society planted these trees and it is their work that gives the park soul. Ace.

We parked up at a picnic table overlooking the lake for morning tea and had an excellent view of the activities around us.

It was under the trees that another family had settled in for the entire day. They came equipped with all manner of balls and rackets, and three generations were playing games. I hoped my mother-in-law noticed the grey-haired nana playing badminton with her grandchildren. In another corner, beside another stand of trees, a dad was playing touch rugby with his kids, while fly fishermen were careful not to tangle their lines in the branches overhanging the lake.

There's plenty of magic among the trees, so it's not surprising the park is a popular summer-time campground.

If you're just a day-tripper though, and you have younger kids, a visit to Marshalls Park completes the set of aces. As we entered the park, the kune kune piglets snuffling freely among visitors was enough to crack the best poker face. Who knew fat and hairy could be cute?

There is a variety of animals to admire and feed, including turtles, horses, deer, goats, alpacas, and Texan longhorn cattle.

A couple of girls got busy bottle-feeding a young goat, while my kids headed straight for the guinea pigs and rabbits.

Marshalls Park is 14 hectares (35 acres) and getting to see all the animals is a good walk.
Complete the day by giving the kids a ride on the flying foxes and you'll have a winning hand with them. They will be tired out and compliant for the rest of the day. If only it was that easy with the mother-in-law.

Fact File:
- Get there: Take State Highway 29 out towards Matamata at Takitimu Drive roundabout. After 10.3km turn left into McLaren Falls Rd. Drive for 5.2km to the park.
- Opening hours: summer 7.30am-7.30pm, winter 7.30am-5.30pm
- BBQs: There is a small number of BBQs free to use.
- Marshalls Animal Park: Ph 07 543 1099
- Falls Cafe: Ph 07 543 4976
- Camping: Maximum stay three nights. First come, first serve basis. Bookings not required. 0-5 free, 5-16 $5 per night per person, 16+ $10 per night per person.
- A park rangeris on duty seven days a week, contact the Tauranga City Council, 07 577 7000.

Discover, explore and connect to more hidden gems by visiting www.sportbop.co.nz/virtuallyontrack