Sunset, Mount Maunganui.jpg

Mount Maunganui, you’re kinda great

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The drive from Waitomo to Mount Maunganui only took a couple of hours, the road winding through rolling farmland that was already showing signs of the drought that soon enveloped the country.  Smudges on the map with names like Otorohanga and Te Awamutu barely stirred in the midday sun.  Even the cows looked hot.  After a couple of cold, wet summers in recent years, this was one for the record books.

Mount Maunganui view

While I’d briefly been to Tauranga in the past, for some reason I never drove the extra ten minutes to Mount Maunganui.  “The Mount”, as it’s known by pretty much everyone, sits on one arm of the harbour, long sandy beaches running up the narrow spit of land towards the hill that gives the town its name.

Bronzed surfers trailed sand from their boards as they crossed the main road.  A radio station was running some kind of competition on the beach, the announcer hyping up a large crowd of teenagers.  The bars were full, and salt spray hung in the air as the scent of roasting skin wafted from the nearby sunbathers.  It was a provincial holiday that weekend, and the locals were making the most of it.

The temperature hadn’t dropped at all by the time we arrived at Pacific Coast Backpackers, a few minutes from the centre of town.  Accommodation was at a premium due to the holiday, but I was impressed with the place.  Our double room was bright and airy, with little touches like a flower on the handtowels being a step up from most hostels.  Let’s face it, towels of any sort are a rarity, with or without the blooms.

The upstairs common room was big, comfortable and a great place for a few quiet drinks in the evening, and our bathroom was only shared with three other rooms.  The hostel was almost completely full yet never felt like it, and that was quite an achievement.

Room, Pacific Coast, Mount Maunganui

The only downside was the wifi pricing, at an eye-watering $18NZD for six hours.  It wasn’t the most expensive in the country – that joy was still to come – but it was still about $17 too much.  Strangely enough, we stuck with 3G for our entire stay as a result.

It seems that if you’re not on the beach, eating or drinking somewhere in Mount Maunganui, you’re up the hill somewhere.  Once the searing sun had abated a little, a friend and I wandered up for no better reason than the fact it was there.  A steady 45 minute climb later we hit the top, where it wasn’t hard to notice the two main activities that were taking place: sitting around in a group with a few beers, or paragliding.  The latter looked a little more interesting…

Up up and away, Mount Maunganui

We watched a relative newcomer to the sport go first, running off the cliff and circling for a couple of minutes before disappearing out of view below.  The woman that followed him, however, obviously had a little more experience.  Backwards and forwards she soared, catching the warm air as it rose up the cliff face, seemingly flying wherever she chose.  I’d never considered paragliding as a sport I’d be interested in before, but all of a sudden it looked a lot more appealing.

Paragliding, Mount Maunganui

The shadows were lengthening when we finally made our way down towards the town again, albeit slowly enough that there was plenty of time to stop for a hazy evening photo or two.

Hazy sunset, Mount Maunganui

The best photo of all, however, came once we returned back to the town.  Turning onto the road that ran alongside the harbour, I almost ran into the car in front of me as a bright orange glow erupted from across the water.  Quickly pulling over and grabbing my camera, I must have taken fifty photos of the sunset – much to the amusement of the people enjoying an evening picnic alongside.

“Why are you taking so many photos?” one of them asked.  “The sun goes down every day around here.”

Because, well, it looked like this.

Sunset, Mount Maunganui

The next day was a joyous mess of delicious food, good coffee and beach time, capped off by several drinks in an outdoor bar where the beer and the tunes were equally chilled.  My cousin had driven over from Hamilton that morning, and being able to spend all day with friends and family doing not much of anything was a rare, perfect delight.  The biggest downside of being a permanent traveller is the scarcity of moments like these, which makes them all the more precious when they do come to pass.

We rolled out the following morning, another short stay in a little New Zealand town.  It had been my first time at the Mount, but it won’t be my last.  There aren’t all that many spots in the country where I’d seriously consider spending several months any longer … but a summer on the beach there?  It wouldn’t take much to convince me at all.

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  1. I can happily say, “I was here.” We got the last beachfront spot at a campervan park a few minutes drive down the road and then came to The Mount for a quick climb at dusk. We didn’t get the glorious sunset you did (which, you must admit, would have been awesome from the top of the Mount), but we did run into a herd of sheep crossing the road near the top of the Mount. we apparently disturbed their nightly crossing. Got down in the dusk, had an ice cream, walked on the beach, then back to the camper park. I would love to go again. Awesome place. Your post brings back memories.