The itinerary said our port of call was Tauranga but we really docked in Mount Maunganui and we had a plethora of options. We could visit the massive thermal area at Rotorua, do a canopy walk through the redwoods, visit some important Maori sites, take a cruise on the Bay of Plenty (so named by Captain Cook), visit the galleries of Tauranga, or do what the brochures say is the most popular, tour the Hobbiton, a movie set for Lord of the Rings (a fantasy based on a fantasy.) We opted to do none of that but to walk around Mt. Maunganui.
It was the right choice. Everywhere people were having fun. Unlike some resorts I have visited people actually looked happy. Mt. Maunganui is a spit of land that guards the Bay of Plenty. At the end is a small volcano, Mauao, extinct I presume. On one side is a gentle bay with beaches, safe swimming for kids and venue for all sorts of water sports. A group of swimmers and kayakers were training for a triathlon. There were families with young kids and mother sea birds with young chicks. On the lawn people were practicing yoga.
As we crossed the isthmus, just at the foot of Mauao, the sound scape became distinct. There’s a roar, and I mean roar. It’s surf, punctuated by whistles and an odd rumbling sound. The whistles were part of a college beach volley ball tournament. Different schools had tents set up displaying their names. The rumbling was skateboards, scooters and prams on the boardwalk.
The town built a reef along part of the beach to encourage waves just right for surfers and body surfers. People were picnicking, wading, splashing and having a great time.
Down the middle of the spit is Maunganui Road with cafes, restaurants, surf and beach shops, sushi, and even some tacky coin operated amusements to make this a proper boardwalk town. I had an excellent macchiato and we had New Zealand ice cream. A cheeseburger stand is named “Wisconsin.” To top it off the first Saturday of the month there’s a crafts market in a park with live music and donkey rides for the kids, each kid riding with a helmet. It was a real party.
But the main thing was the people. They were friendly and they loved talking about their town. This is a lesson for us in Sitka. Jane, a local volunteer in a straw hat and a bright red flower, greeted us at the ship. She was excited about the monthly crafts market, which she would attend when her shift was done. I was walking up a sand dune, stumbling, and a woman reached out and helped me up. She’s lived here 50 years and says we’re lucky to have good weather. (It was partly cloudy with a little rain in the late afternoon, in the low 70’s) They had had quite a blow yesterday and temperatures up to 30oC (86oF) the week before. The barista wanted to show off her new espresso machine, new from Italy, just like she was. And she made a mean macchiato. I saw a sign for “Alaska Construction and Interiors.” I approached a man wearing a yellow reflective vest that said “Alaska” and asked him about the name. His business partner loves “all things American” and vowed to start 50 companies, one named after each U.S. state. Alabama was the first alphabetically, but someone was already using that name for use in New Zealand so Alaska was next. It was a fortuitous choice because, as he said “when people think ‘Alaska’ they think ‘green.’” The name pushed him in the direction of constructing “green” buildings. They have a second company, “Nebraska,” skipping the rest of the “A”s though the “M”s so it can rhyme with Alaska. He wants to come to Alaska on a cruise. I gave him my card and told him to stop in Sitka.
The most interesting conversation was with Lance, a Maori carver. He used to work in bone but said that was too smelly so now carves in wood. He and his wife also work in Jade. He sells beautiful work. We talked about similarities in Maori design and Pacific Northwest native art. He’s active in the indigenous community and, as he was taking down his stand and tent at the close of the market, we decided we wanted to spend more time together. He too wants to come to Alaska on a cruise. I gave him my card too. I hope we can have that extended conversation.
As we sailed out we saw a statue next to the harbor marker off of Mauao and “Seadoo” riders on the surf. Each day I wonder how this can possibly get any better. But it just does.