The Mount was summer. My grandparents lived in Mount Maunganui so my first 16 summers were spent there, from the beginning of the school holidays to the end, seemingly endless golden days defined by sunshine, sea, sand, seagulls and swimming.
With three siblings and four cousins around the same age, there was always someone to play with, sandcastles to build, warm pools left at low tide to lie in, shells to gather, and surf to dive under or ride on.
To the north, the Mount Hill, Mauao, was a constant full stop. The end. Whereas, to the south, the beach went on forever. Boxing Day always involved a family walk around Mauao, up it as we grew older, and during the slow, sunny amble of the holidays we went fishing off the rocks.
Now, during the summer months, Mount Maunganui is a victim to its beauty and popularity. The three roads that end at Mauao bottleneck and clog, there are cars everywhere, the cafes overflow, service becomes frazzled and scantily dressed people flip-flop along the beach boardwalk licking ice cream.
Fortunately, the beach is big enough to hold the thousands that flock to it. The lifeguards are on watch as hundreds bob about in between breakers; there is beach volleyball, surfers, board paddlers and the campground.
When the summer crowds have gone, that’s usually by the beginning of March, the locals heave a collective sigh, “Thank God that’s over,” and get back to enjoying their place.
Geographically, it’s extraordinary. Mauao, an extinct volcanic cone 232 metres high, is joined to the land by a thin, flat, sandy peninsular. It looks, from above, rather like a very large dot on top of an ‘i’.
On one side, the surf beach is a magnificent sweep of golden sand with waves rhythmically thundering in from the deep Pacific, and on the other side, just 200 metres away, calm Pilot Bay is a watery haven for little kids and kayakers.
Mauao is extraordinarily popular. It pulls people like a magnet and everyone who visits this town either climbs up it or walks around it. On the west side of Matakana, the tendrils of Tauranga Harbour curl up valleys and around headlands and on this still winter’s day, the land is mirror-reflected in silvery water.
Tauranga city sits in front the Kaimai Ranges and to the south, below me, suburban Mount Manuganui streets fan out as the peninsular gets wider and merges with the land.
I explore the main street and shopping strip. It edges the middle of the three roads that run parallel to the peninsular and end at the mountain. The ambience is stylish but also relaxed and beachy.
There is a pleasant mix of surf shops, upmarket clothing stores, and art and souvenir shops. A bunch of bars and cafes scatter through it.
Mt Maunganui Beachside Holiday Park is heaven in the off-season and fairly chaotic, due to its popularity, during the summer and holidays. It is situated at the base of the mountain and its eastern side runs along the beach. It is just a few minutes’ walk from the cafes and restaurants, a few minutes more to the main shopping street and next to the hot pools.
Off-peak (Easter to Labour Weekend) $37 per site for two people. There is a winter special until 30 September. If you pay for two nights or more, you get an extra night for free. 1 Adams Ave, phone (07) 575 4471.
Soak in hot pools
Mt Maunganui Salt Water Hot Pools, at the base of Mauao, are divine on cold nights and rainy days. They are situated in an enclave in the Holiday Park. Open 8am to 10pm. Phone (07) 577 8551
Walk the mountain
There are numerous tacks to choose from. The round-the-base track is 3.4 kilometres, takes about an hour and is suitable for strollers. There are three options to the summit and they vary in difficulty. The tracks are well signposted if you take the board walk from the Surf Club. The summit tracks are steep but, if you take your time, the views at the top are well worth the huff and puff. Take water and note that there are no rubbish bins on the mountain so, if you take a picnic, bring back the wrappings.
Check out the full article in issue #132 of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations magazine (on sale now!). Subscribe here.