Like Mount Fujiyama and the River Avon, New Zealand’s Mount Maunganui has a tautological name: it literally means Mount Big Mountain. Officially, it’s supposed to be called Mauao, but no one can say that, so everyone just calls it The Mount.
It’s not much of a mountain really, more a big hill. It’s quite pretty, sitting there at the end of the peninsula, overlooking Tauranga harbour on one side and the Bay of Plenty on the other. You can be up and down it in less than two hours, and there are different tracks for different levels of fitness. There’s even a track that goes around the base, which makes for a very nice walk indeed, as the waves crashing into the boulders are fascinating.
There are sheep roaming over the Mount, and lots of birds darting through the trees on either side of the paths, but what you go up (and around) it for are the views. On a sunny day, when the pohutukawa are in bloom, you get the green slopes, the red trees, the multicoloured rocks, the golden sand and the crystal-blue sea, not to mention the city stretching along the sandbank.
Two things you must have when walking up the Mount are a hat and a bottle of water. The track can get fairly dusty in summer. Oh, and a camera – the sight of Matakana Island from the top is something you’ll definitely want to take a picture of.
Mount Maunganui is also the name of the settlement at the foot of the Mount, adjacent to the city of Tauranga. It’s a rather posh place, full of penthouses. It’s pretty much the premiere beach resort of New Zealand. There’s some nice shopping to be done there, and nice eating, and there’s lots of adventurous activities you can book, such as paragliding, jet skiing, kayaking and swimming with dolphins.
What makes Mount Maunganui special is it’s two different types of beaches in one. The Mount is connected to Tauranga by a long, narrow piece of land. On one side is Pilot Bay, the entrance to Tauranga Harbour, where the water is calm and lake-like. It’s great to swim in with small children, or to kayak around in peace. On the other side is a surfing beach. That’s also great to swim in, but you do have to be careful. It’s a lot more lively on the surfing side. Come summer, it’s got heaps of sunbathing locals and tourists. At the base of the Mount, the two beaches are about a minutes’ walk apart from one another.
What’s great is there’s a holiday park right at the bottom of the Mount, with toilets, showers, laundries, kitchens and barbecues. You have book because it’s so popular. I know a family that lives in Tauranga and takes their secondhand campervan to the Mount every year, as if they didn’t live close enough already!
Right next to the campervan park is a collection of salt water hot pools. They’re the only sea water pools in New Zealand, naturally heated. I love going there with my mum. You can get massages there, but we never have. We get massaged enough by the huge jets in the middle pool, and by ‘massaged’ I mean ‘pummelled’. Good for the shoulders, apparently. It’s so nice in the warm water I never want to get out.
Before my family moved to Tauranga, we came on a holiday to Mount Maunganui, but we didn’t get to climb it. It was on fire. Still, we had a good time standing on the beach watching the helicopters scoop up gallons of sea water to throw on the flames.