It seems only right that, having become becalmed on the Bay Of Plenty, the Ericle should report back on Tauranga its principle ‘metropolis’. Over the years I have visited Tauranga quite a number of times, being that Mrs Ericle’s parents reside here and this is where she spent her formative teenage years. So Tauranga has always been a strong point of reference for me, nonetheleast at times when I am ‘reminded’ by Mrs E. as to what she has given up in order to spend married life with the likes of me.
The name ‘Tauranga’ derives from the Māori ‘Place Of Safe Anchorage’ – the name they gave to it when in the 13th century, as the first known human visitors to Aotearoa (The Land Of the Big White Cloud), they chose it as their landing place of choice. The Tourist Board’s brief and to-the-point description of modern Tauranga identifies the city as:
“… the largest city in the Bay of Plenty and one of the fastest growing population centres in New Zealand. It is about 15 minutes drive from one of New Zealand’s most popular beach towns Mount Maunganui.”
These bland couple of sentences, lacking somewhat in any real descriptive qualities, do however reveal the underpinning of Tauranga’s raison d’etre. The city itself is relatively ‘ordinary’ but its situation is spectacular. During New Zealand’s summer holidays (mid-December through January), Mount Maunganui is ‘heaving’ – not that any European would come up with that description. In modern times, the invading hoardes come principally from Auckland – not surprising given its proximity and the fact that 1/3 of all Kiwis live there. Naturally the locals make some hay of the pre-occupations and lifestyle choices of their guests, who have bid-up the property prices along Marine Parade and its immediate surrounding. Today any modern property, with a decent view, will fetch north of £1,000,000 with the gin-palace editions selling for considerably more. ‘Nostalgists’ will pour scorn on these relatively modern edifices – which really, for the most part, are mostly single or double storeys and by no means ‘eye-sores’ – and bemoan the times (until circa 1980) when ‘batches’ formed the principle housing-type to be found at The Mount. What they tend not to mention was that at those times The Mount was also a pretty seedy place, being that as a place of ‘safe anchorage’ Mount Maunganui is a major deep-water port of significant national economic importance. Today this means not just industry but cruise-ships. This year 85 of these humungous floating hotels are scheduled to stop at Mount Maunganui, mainly for day-trips to Rotorua & Lake Taupo but still leaving just a little time for them shop locally too. The building & completion of The Harbour Bridge marks both the cause and effect for the transformation of Mount Maunganui. When I first visited Tauranga in 1986, it took the best part of an hour to drive to Mount Maunganui. The $1 toll (up to $4 for larger vehicles) to cross the bridge, which was opened in 1988, was lifted in July 2001 when it was deemed that the bridge building costs had been recovered!
The significance of Mount Maunganui, within the wider New Zealand context, is much more than as a beach paradise. Known to Māoris as ‘Mauao’ (“Caught By The Light of The Sea”), the extinct volcanic outcrop itself – known locally as The Mount – holds huge importance to Māoridom. The site is sacred to the local and national tribes. It is a very special place and walking round its base and/or trekking to the summit is one of the great Kiwi experiences. In many ways it is a symbol of the place of Māoridom within New Zealand; suitably so as Māoris comprise about 15% of the population locally – almost exactly the same proportion as is the national average. The significance of Tauranga to both Māori & Pākehā (the White European settlers) is underscored by the 6 month Tauranga Campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Gate Pā on 29 April 1864, which effectively marked the final colonisation of New Zealand by the settlers. The scale of that battle reflects that of the country itself, as the day was won by a force of just 500; of whom 31 were killed and 80 wounded in achieving their victory.
However there is one other dimension to Tauranga that singles it out as unique. Known widely as ‘God’s Waiting Room’, it is the retirement community of choice for older Kiwis. The most recent New Zealand census, that of 2006, indicates that 18% of Tauranga’s population is over 65. That compares to the national average of 12%. i.e. 50% above the national average. I would be very surprised if the 2016 census doesn’t show an increase in that proportion. The social impact of this is very apparent at pavement level and in the lifestyles of the locals; especially after the Aucklanders have returned to base after their summer break.
For my part, though I have been known to unkindly refer to Tauranga as New Zealand’s ‘Eastbourne’, I would encourage any visitor to the North Island to visit Tauranga. (For some reason, Tauranga is often missed out as tourists head for Rotorua, to smell sulphur and watch a water-spout, and Taupo, which is undoubtedly beautifully situated but lacking in much else to offer beyond clichéd attractions.) If you do so simply to pay a subscription to the maxim that ‘Life is a beach’ you won’t be disappointed; but if you dig deeper you’ll find a lot more – in fact, you’ll be going a long way to discovering what makes New Zealand the country that it is.