MOUNT MAUNGANUI AND MAUAO
Mount Maunganui, commonly referred to as ‘The Mount’, is a small coastal town on New Zealand’s east coast. It sits on a narrow sandy peninsula, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and Pilot Bay on the other. Of course, never more than a head turn away, is Mauao itself, dominating the skyline, but in a rather friendly fashion. Friendly in that it doesn’t cast a shadow over Main Beach until you have already gone home. Yes, Main Beach. That is the name of the beach. No awards for originality here.
The Mount is easily one of my favourite places to visit in New Zealand and not only because I have friends living there who have a couch I can sleep on. I would recommend it to anyone who loves summer, beautiful ocean views, nice walks, the beach, sand, surfing, skateboarding, nice pubs, great coffee, fish and chips, hot pools, shopping and ice cream.
There are several tracks to the summit of Mauao, some more difficult than others. I won’t tell you which is which. I will only say that one side has a lot of stairs. That’s the steep side. You’ll know it when you’re halfway up. The views definitely make it worth the effort though. Keep an eye open for joggers on the way up, who use the mount as their daily routine, or for small children and the elderly rolling past you on the way down.
For those feeling less than enthused by the idea of climbing even a small mountain, there is a well maintained track around the circumference. Approximately three and a half kilometres long and wide enough for strollers, you’ll only have to avoid being run over by mothers out for morning walks. If you’re lucky you can spot the odd seal sunbathing on the rocks, or orca chasing stingrays in the harbour.
Main Beach runs down to Omanu Beach and Ocean Beach before becoming Papamoa Beach along a stretch of coast too long to walk down comfortably in a few hours. I’m not saying it is impossible to walk, I just wouldn’t do it myself. You will have no issues finding a spot to laze around. There are Surf Lifesaving Clubs dotted along the coast, so swim between the flags and be safe. Our family rule was, if you got hauled out by a lifeguard you had to make a donation to their club. It’s a good rule.
There are a number of surf breaks along the beach. Main Beach gets some nice waves. Under certain conditions, the semi-failed experimental artificial reef at Tay Street can yield some fun. If you’re keen, you can sort a ride over to Matakana Island. Ask the locals and they can show you plenty more spots as well.
When you’re tired of getting pounded by waves, you can hire stand up paddle boards. These, along with two-man sailboats can be rented on the sheltered side in Pilot Bay. A very short walk from Main Beach, Pilot Bay is also a good idea for those with small children. There’s a pier that’s great for jumping off, or you can sit on the grass and watch the massive cruise ships sail into the harbour.
There are bike and surfboard rentals in the town and there are several surf schools for beginners. You will see people riding and long-boarding along Marine Parade throughout summer. Over the weekends a few of the classic cars will always show up, cruising along the main roads. If you’re an avid fisherman, you can grab a rod, bait, and a mate and fish along the rocks of the mount. Just be careful not to get swept off.
If you’re into spending money in small towns, there are a number of boutique shops in the township for those who need a break from the beach and, rather conveniently, almost all are located on one road.
After all that, enjoy a soak in the hot pools, at the base of Mauao. Loosen any aching muscles, rid yourself of any stress, and prepare for night of drinking and watching rugby.
Mount Maunganui is a relaxed town to visit. There are a lot of options on places to stay from tents to holiday homes. Go there and fall in love with the place. Change all your plans and opt to stay for a week longer than you thought. You won’t regret it.
HOW MAUAO GOT HIS NAME
Three mountains once lived in the Hautere forest near the waters of Tauranga in New Zealand’s North Island. Chief among them, tallest and proudest, was Otanewainuku. Cloaked in the tallest trees and sung to by all the birds of the forest, Otanewainuku was lord over this domain.
Next was Puwhenua, a beautiful female mountain. Clothed in the trees and ferns of Tane Mahuta, the God of the Forests, and beloved of Otanewainuku. She was glorious and all admired her.
And lastly there lived an unnamed mountain. Smaller than the others, low in rank, and slave to Otanewainuku, he sat apart from the other two harbouring a secret love for Puwhenua.
Over centuries, the nameless one’s desire for Puwhenua grew. Finally, knowing her heart would always belong to Otanewainuku, and torn apart by his despair, the nameless one called on the patupaiarehe, the fairy people of the forests, imploring them to help him end his life and his suffering.
The patupaiarehe were night creatures with powerful magic, so the nameless one had them braid ropes to drag him down towards the ocean. As night fell, the patupaiarehe tied their magic ropes to the nameless one and, chanting their magic songs, dragged him towards the waters of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean. As they dragged him, he gouged out a valley down which the Waimapu River now runs. Past Hairini, Maungatapu and Matapihi and finally past Te Papa to the water’s edge.
As the patupaiarehe prepared to drag the nameless one down into the depths of the ocean, the sun rose above the horizon, freezing the mountain in place and sending the night dwelling patupaiarehe scattering back to the shelter of the forest.
The nameless one was left standing over the entrance to Tauranga harbour. The patupaiarehe named him Mauao meaning “caught by the morning sun”. He rose in rank and status, and stands guard at the mouth of the Tauranga Harbour to this day.