The Mount

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dolphin 5Mount 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.

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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.

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Four Seasons of New Zealand Weather

You often hear New Zealand weather described as “four seasons in one day” and I’m sick of it.

Not the weather, the saying.

Yes, it’s true the weather’s changeable – my jacket’s on and off like a Game of Thrones costume – but the prevailing conditions are usually sunny, and winter never seems to come, except in the south of the South Island.

Let me put it this way: in Britain, you can’t not have a big, warm coat; here, I didn’t even own one for years, and now I own one I don’t ever wear it, or my scarf, or gloves, or a fleecy hat. Most New Zealand houses don’t even have radiators.

You can’t go around quoting “four seasons in one day” when the weather merely switches from sun to rain, or windy to not windy. It’s three seasons in one day, tops.

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Honestly, kiwis have nothing to complain about.

Brits get so little sunshine they’re all miserable and Vitamin D-deficient. Something like seventy-five percent of days are overcast, whereas in New Zealand I find myself hoping for a bit of cloud cover so I don’t get fried on my way to the shops. (Summer’s only just ended here. It lasted well into autumn this year and, frankly, the rain came as a relief.)

New Zealand gets so much sunshine you have to be careful. My friend’s mum’s known exchange students from Africa with extremely dark skin, who’ve come to New Zealand and been sunburned for the first time in their lives! I’m sure you know all about the hole in the ozone layer, the legacy of mankind’s reckless use of CFCs, which New Zealand was rather unfairly burdened with. It means you absolutely have to wear sunscreen in summer (and on sunny days in spring and autumn, as this year reminded me,) and nothing less than factor thirty will do. Also, you need a hat, or you’ll get a headache and a burned parting that’ll hurt like hell in the shower and look like bad dandruff when it starts to peel.

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New Zealand’s got one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, about four times higher than Britain, thanks to all those nasty UV-B rays let in by the depleted ozone. But if you don’t let yourself get some sun exposure, you risk other diseases like rickets. You just can’t win!

All this to say New Zealand is hands down warmer than Britain, often at the same time, despite the seasons being the opposite way round. Yup, a New Zealand winter can be warmer than a British summer. My mum still marvels that she can sit on our deck in shorts and T-shirts in the middle of winter here.

Sometimes it does get “too” warm, which is why my favourite season is spring, but I can tell you that Australia is far worse. I went on holiday to Brisbane a few years ago. It was the middle of winter and you could have cooked bacon and eggs on the pavement. I don’t think I could live there. Living in New Zealand is just right.

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And this sunbathing seal seems to agree!

The weather in New Zealand means you can do so many more outdoor activities here than in Britain, such as barbecues. Before I moved to New Zealand, I’d attended a grand total of one barbecue in my life. I couldn’t tell you how many we’ve had since. Partying outside is just what you do here, and when it gets cooler you light a fire. But, as my dad learned, you do not want to throw a couple of giant candles onto that fire.

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It did look cool, though.

The mostly-quite-warm weather also means that camping in New Zealand is generally a much more pleasant experience than it is in Britain, though I still prefer to do it in the comfort of a campervan!

Yes, the weather makes for a perfect New Zealand holiday, but be warned if you wanted to come in the “off” season: in winter it still rains a lot. Doesn’t mean you can’t go out – my birthday’s in winter, (which is messed up because I was born in summer,) and my celebrations have never been disrupted by rain. Besides, more rain means fewer tourists, and one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had was swimming in a hot pool in the rain.

Wonderful as the New Zealand weather is, however, there’s one aspect that – even after eleven years – doesn’t sit right with me: the idea of Christmas on the beach.

Trade your turkey for barbecued prawns; your snowflake jumper for a bikini – actually that does sound nice, but, trust me, the novelty soon wears off.

Christmas is a time for tradition, and spraying water at my little sister in a sun-soaked garden with the water blaster I’d just unwrapped simply wasn’t part of my Christmas tradition. We should have been having a snowball fight, not a water fight! Better, we should have been indoors, all snug and cosy. The sky should have been dark, so the candles looked pretty. All our family should have been there, not twelve thousand miles away.

That first year was hard.

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We still make Mum do our traditional Christmas dinner every year, even though it’s much too hot and humid to eat such a meal. We still spend Christmas resolutely at home, not at the beach, even though the sun beckons.

My uncle’s coming this Christmas. It’ll be the first time since leaving England that a relative who doesn’t live with us will be with us actually on Christmas day. I’m excited, but the picture still won’t be entirely complete.

I miss snow. Not that we got proper snow all that often in Retford.

I miss “ice-skating” on the frozen puddles in the street.

I miss going for walks along the iced-over canal, all wrapped up and wearing wellies, laughing at the ducks skidding along and that big, white swan that came in to land, slid uncoordinatedly for a bit, and crashed through the ice with a plop.

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My family are so desperately nostalgic for snow that, one winter, when we were driving up Desert Road, one of the highest roads in the country, and came across some, we got out of the car and revelled in it. I’d forgotten how much I loved the soft crunch snow makes under your feet! Unfortunately, we weren’t dressed for snow and soon got very cold. I’d forgotten how snow makes your toes tingle painfully inside your shoes. I’d forgotten that even snow loses its novelty after a while. It’s pretty to look at, but I’d forgotten how uncomfortable it was to be in.

Maybe Christmas in New Zealand isn’t so bad, I thought.

But by the time Christmas came around again, I was back to dreaming of snow.

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