I’ve heard so much about the fantastic walk to the top of Mauao – the ‘Mount’ for which this place is named – that I’m really keen to try it, and since I’m staying for the weekend, now is the perfect chance. Saturday morning at Mount Maunganui in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty dawns perfectly fine and still, but the weather forecast promises rain later on. So after a quick breakfast on the balcony, looking out to the sparkling Pacific Ocean, I pull on my trainers and jump into the car.
Cruising down Marine Parade, I’m awestruck by the perfect morning. With its beachfront mansions and a seemingly endless curve of white-sand beach disappearing into the distance, this has to be New Zealand’s answer to Australia’s Gold Coast! Surfers are pulling their boards from their roof-racks and families are cycling down the boardwalk. Further up the coast, Mauao looms up behind the cluster of apartments and cafés behind Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach. It’s an impressive sight!
I park the car and stroll along the boardwalk, past a camping ground with what has to be one of the most incredible camping spots around (where else could you pitch your tent or park your campervan in a beachfront location, right across the road from a fine selection of eateries!), to the start of the track. There are two choices – the base track, a coastal walk which loops around the bottom of the Mount, or the summit track. I opt for the latter, keen to sample the famous views. Both tracks are clearly popular – on a morning like this, there are dozens of walkers, from families to diehard fitness fanatics – who are actually running up the mountain! – and the trails are beautifully maintained. There are two options for reaching the summit – one is steeper than the other – so you can choose according to your fitness level. I’d heard the scenery was amazing and I’m not disappointed. I wonder if the sheep grazing on the lower slopes realise how lucky they are to have such an incredible outlook!
The Mount is situated at the end of an isthmus that protects Tauranga Harbour from the Pacific Ocean, so it’s surrounded by water on three sides. North and south, the sweeping arc of the Bay of Plenty coast is bordered by sandy beach and breaking surf. As you spiral around the mountain on your way to the summit, the views change with every footstep – from the endless ocean to the city of Tauranga across the harbour. The pasture at the base soon gives way to flax (keep your eyes peeled for the Tui birds sipping nectar from the flax flowers) and then native forest crowded with lush green tree ferns. The summit is large, so there’s plenty of room to stop for a picnic, take a million photos and drink in the scenery before you head back down.
The verdict: pack your trainers, because this is definitely a must-do for any visitor to Mount Maunganui!
– Michelle Berridge