To Climb a Mountain

(18th Feb.)

Steaming south overnight brought us to Tauranga, the most populous city in the Bay of Plenty region. We docked as usual at breakfast time in the tourist suburb of Mount Maunganui, it was another cloudless day with a gentle refreshing breeze to keep us cool (at first!).

I had been here with Jamie on a previous road trip and was looking forward to visiting again as it left a lasting impression as a beautiful place with a gorgeous beach, according to the literature it is NZ’s number one stretch of sand. We had no trips booked, I wanted to show Sue the views from the top of Mauao, visible from the ship and is a long-time extinct volcano, I knew she would be impressed as we were. Straight after loading in the calories necessary to undertake such a climb we set off along the boardwalk separating the sheltered beach from the plush residential housing that stretched along the southwest side of the resort. At the base of Mauao, I gave Sue the option of climbing via the harder and more direct route that Jamie and I took or the easier route that we used on our descent. Thankfully she chose the latter.

Early morning is the best time to ascent this deceptive monster as much of the path at that time of the day is in the shade of the mountain. Considerately the town council have positioned benches for weary climbers to rest and enjoy the views at reasonable intervals and we took advantage of these when needed. Part of the way we were joined by a fellow cruiser who unfortunately had grossly misjudged the time needed to climb this rock. He had thought that one hour would be sufficient time to summit and return in time to catch one of the ship’s tours, he retraced his step after a third of the way up. As in my previous visit, this is proved to still be a popular Kiwi activity and many families were accompanying us upwards, most at a quicker pace.

The last quarter of the climb saw us in full sun and the fatigue started to set in so it was with relief that we were once again into a cooling breeze, unfortunately though, all the benches and suitable rocks were occupied by equally tired mountaineers. We stayed awhile looking at the views and read the sad epitaph of a lady who had recently lost her battle with cancer on a temporary board surrounded by beautifully painted pebbles, taped to the summit monolith, before selecting the faster route down. From memory I knew by the time we had reached the bottom, we would be heartily fed with steps, and this proved to be the case. The exertions of the previous two days’ port visits, had left both of us with sore feet and painful knees, this route did not help with either of these self-inflicted ailments.

Passing the RV site that Jamie and I had previously camped in, we found a bar and rested weary our bodies with appropriate limb numbing and refreshing beverages. As I went to pay for the bill I discovered that I had left my wallet back in the safe on board the Columbus, oooooops! However, confessing to the waiter I offered to return to the ship and return with the cash, he shrugged his shoulders and said there was no hurry. With no pressure to return to the ship we walked the boardwalk of Main Beach (N.Z.’s no. 1) watching the surfers and others enjoying the surf. Kiwis tend not to sunbathe, they are far too busy enjoying the various physical activities that the climate permits. In fact, you can tell the locals from the foreign visitors by how much they are wearing, if they have hats, t-shirts and long shorts, they will be Kiwis.

There is a small island connected by a thin ribbon of sand to the beach and we took some time walking through the cool of its trees to the rocks at the very end, we were not alone, as the heat began to build this activity was becoming popular. Returning to the beach we crossed the road intending to climb the much smaller Mount Drury situated in the centre of Maunganui, but were briefly halted by some intense activity on its seaward slope. Seemingly, hundreds of children and grown-ups were all dressed in shorts and bright orange shirts and involved in a strange ritual, incorporating music and intense actions. After asking a couple who had just completed their rites we discovered that it is called X Racing, families and groups have to complete a variety of physical and mental activities and we witnessed the final set which included frenetic popular dance steps before sprinting to the finish line. Why do we not have this in the UK? It looked like such great family fun.

After topping Mount Drury we passed through the shopping area on our way to the ship and a not-so-light lunch.

Returning to the bar to pay my bill of earlier that morning we returned to the town shopping area as the heat had really started to build up and Sue wanted to purchase a new hat that better protected her head and neck. Popping in and out of the various outlets, she eventually found one that suited and appropriately it was made in Nepal and some of the money would be returned there to help with the rebuilding of the country. It didn’t go unnoticed by the staff that I happened to be wearing my ‘Yay, Yak, Yak, Yak’ T-shirt bought in Kathmandu.

We headed to the beach so that I could have a swim, but we got waylaid by some excellent NZ ice cream that we had heard so much about by other passengers, they were not wrong. Afterwards, cooling off in the water didn’t seem so necessary, so we returned to the ship for a cold beer.

The Columbus left the port at 5.30pm. There was a stiff offshore breeze that up on the top deck felt quite chilly and necessitated two tugs pulling the ship away from her berth before engaging her own motor to sail out of the narrow channel and into the open sea. Sue and I watched these proceedings until it got too breezy for our now heat-acclimatised bodies and we retired inside the warmth of the observation room and continued watching from there until there was nothing left to see except the sea.

I loved Mount Manganui when I first came and I haven’t changed my mind, those Kiwis fortunate to live here, as well as in Devonport and Russell should count themselves lucky, if Sue and I had discovered you earlier one of you would have been our neighbours.

We have one more sea day for our battered legs to get back into shape before we start again!

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