Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Mt Maunganui - Big Mountain

A couple of weeks ago I had a brilliant weekend with my two sons and their wives in Mount Maunganui, a small seaside town about 3 hours south of my home town, Auckland. Affectionately known  as "the Mount" and "Surf City" for its famous golden sands, excellent surf and deep sea diving and, of course, the mountain, it is a popular spot for people from all walks of life from retirees to family groups to the summertime party animals.  Its hard not to like its laid back, holiday atmosphere,beautiful beaches and thriving cafe culture.
View from "The Mount"
One  son and his wife were visiting from England so our objective was to have some fun quality time together and visit a part of New Zealand my Irish daughter in law had not seen before. Once settled into our accommodation we were all keen to climb the mountain, an extinct volcano.  Maunganui means big mountain in Maori but at 232 metres it isn't really very big by mountain standards.  Nevertheless I can tell you it looked mighty big from the bottom looking up and anticipating the climb!  The last time I had climbed the mountain was around 20 years ago and then it was quite a job to scramble up the rocks to get to the top.  It is much easier now with well developed tracks and stairs winding up the side.  It still took a bit of effort, though, not helped by the many smarty pants fitness freaks who sprinted up and down the mountain beside us as we trudged our way ever upwards. The climb is well worth the effort, though, the rewards are stunning views from the top, a sense of satisfaction....and, maybe, justification for that big fat muffin we all had for morning tea.
With my wonderful family on Mt Maunganui
 The Mount is also known for  its hot salt water pools at the base of the mountain, the ideal relaxant after the sweaty climb.  We didn't go there this time, though, because our hotel had its own hot pools where we spent a blissful, relaxing time  basking and chatting in the comforting water.

The next day we took a walk along the golden sand beach and out to a small offshore island, accessible at low tide.  Fishermen were perched along the rocks casting huge surf rods into the navy blue sea and hauling in fish for their evening meal.  I reckon the island would be a perfect picnic spot with its sheltered bays and grassy clearing, ideal for whiling away a lazy I-wonder-what-everyone-else-is-doing-at-work kind of day. 

My late husband talking to an old gold miner 
Karangahake Gorge 1970s
The trip between Auckland and The Mount is worth doing for itself.  Typical New Zealand countryside of rolling farmland is punctuated by stretches of flat plains, bordered by mountains and cute provincial towns.  Worth mentioning is the Karangahake Gorge, a ravine which cuts through a mountain range and was once the site of a gold mining frenzy a hundred and thirty or so years ago.  The winding road through the gorge follows the beautiful Ohinemuri River which twists and bubbles its way along the ravine floor.  Many years ago my husband and I were traveling through the gorge when we spotted an old gold miner's hut on the far side of the river.  We made our way across and whiled away an hour or so chatting to the old timer who lived, very happily, in his old shanty forever dreaming of striking that rich seam in the hill side one day.  His hut is long gone now and I feel very privileged to have had this tiny contact with the colourful gold mining history of the area.  Further on is the town of Katikati, one of the major kiwi fruit growing areas of New Zealand.  In an effort to entice more tourists to the town someone came up with the idea of painting murals on many of the shop and public buildings facades.  Well worth a stop they are fantastic, portraying the history of the town and scenery from around the area.

So that was pretty much our weekend....walking, drinking, eating, browsing the wide range of attractive shops at The Mount and hanging out drinking coffee in a few of its excellent cafes.  It was the perfect get-away weekend and such a joy to be together  enjoying each others company.