Tauranga in Māori means ‘resting place for canoes’ and the Voyager of the Seas is by far the largest canoe to ever tie up to the pier in Pilot Bay. We towered over the town. I had a birds eye view of the whole place from my seventh floor balcony. At a population of 128,000 Tauranga is the center of the Bay of Plenty region and is considered one of the most desirable places to live in New Zealand. The region got it’s name from Captain Cook when he arrived here in 1769 and found so many peaceful Māori settlements. Since 2004 it’s been the fastest growing city in New Zealand. Mount Maunganui anchors Tauranga. ‘The Mount’ as it’s known throughout the region is an extinct volcanic cone.
Tauranga itself is built on a narrow sandbar that gives the place not only an excellent harbor on one side but also a spectacular surf beach just a few steps away on the other side of the narrow strip. Papamoa Beach stretches ninety kilometers down the eastern shoreline of New Zealand and is considered to be a much under-rated surfing destination. And with the hot springs of Rotorua only an hour and a half away, it’s no wonder the place is one of the top vacation spots in the country. There is apparently a three year waiting list for the camp grounds at Rotorua. I put my name down just in case.
A lovely Tauranga neighborhood and a tiny island off Papamoa Beach.
Most of Tauranga’s residents could look out their window and see our cruise ship. The tallest building I could see here is five stories. On the other hand, in a country known to have more golf courses per capita than any place else in the world, Tauranga takes the cake with at least eight courses in the Bay of Plenty region. I like their priorities.
The main retail street of Tauranga is a delightful stroll through some very high-end shops and lovely sidewalk cafes. Several stores feature New Zealand products, especially the beautiful merino woolens that are really making a name for themselves worldwide. Icebreaker is a relatively young New Zealand company, started by 24-year-old Jeremy Moon from a business plan that he wrote in his bedroom. I love their merino wool ‘layering system’ and I pay an outrageous price for it in Canada. But I consider it investment clothing and happily shell out a hundred bucks for a long-sleeved t-shirt. I found a similar label, Kathmandu in Australia with similarly wonderful quality so I invested in a jacket.
These unique and stately trees along the bays on either side of Tauranga are Norfolk Island pines. They are native to…you guessed it…Norfolk Island, a tiny dot in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand.
The Voyager of the Seas would call in at three ports in three days – Auckland, Tauranga and Napier so I decided to pace myself a bit in little Tauranga. Instead of picking up a tour I took a stroll through the compact downtown and then made my way out to the Classic Flyers Museum at Tauranga Airport.
The museum features an extensive collection of aviation antiques and vintage aircraft. One of the most impressive features of the organization, however are the knowledgable and dedicated volunteers, many of whom are retired pilots and aviation mechanics like Mike Newall here, who not only work to restore the pieces but are on hand for wonderfully informative guided tours. I was pleased to capture the roundel, or insignia for the Royal New Zealand Air Force in this photo.
All of the planes at the museum are labors of love and many of the vintage aircraft are still flown for pleasure, and at the Classic Flyers air show that takes place here annually.
Parts are scavenged from all over the world and of necessity must be donated or sourced at the lowest possible cost. The museum operates largely on charitable funds and the generosity of other flight enthusiasts. These are parts for one of their newest acquisitions, a RNZAF Aermacchi fighter plane that is in the process of being restored.
In the event that a particular body part for a plane can’t be sourced the enterprising Classic Flyers folks have been known to build it from scratch using intuition and fibreglass.
I have been away from home for almost two months by now and I guess I was feeling a little homesick as I was unreasonably pleased to find this beautifully preserved Chipmunk trainer plane, designed by the Canadian company deHavilland.
I’ll be trying very hard to get this image out of my mind next time I’m on an airplane. It’s the engine of a Bristol Hercules. I’d like to see the boys on Top Gear get this baby up and running again!
I looked at the remarkably sparse number of controls on this little bird and recalled flying to Toronto a few years ago with a pilot sitting next to me. He was studying to fly a new aircraft and had with him a manual that must have been a thousand pages. I think I could fly this baby.
This Devon Dove is also designed by the Canadian company deHavilland. It was their first post-war production aircraft. The Royal New Zealand Air Force, which celebrated it’s 75th anniversary this year operated thirty of these between 1948 and 1981. This is the six-seater VIP model.
This is a traffic island that I passed by on my way back to the Voyager decorated with Māori totems…and a big rock.
I cannot think of a more appropriate place to harvest salt than from this tiny peninsula between two seas – the Tasman and the Pacific – and in proximity to the port of Tauranga. It’s not an original idea though. Dominion Salt Ltd. has a large vacuum processing refinery here and ships high grade salt all over the world.
This is a Pōhutukawa and there seem to be hundreds of them around Tauranga. It’s also called a New Zealand Christmas tree because it puts out large balls of white flowers that turn bright red just before Christmas.
The harbor pilot coming out to pilot our ship out of Pilot Bay. How many times can you say ‘pilot’ in one sentence?
It was a relatively short on-shore day for me. I was seated on my usual stool at the Schooner Bar well before the required boarding time, to have a very pleasurable couple of hours solving the problems of the world with my philosopher friends. I had discovered a stash of Boddington’s Ale at the bar by now and was doing my best to keep it to myself. The ship had run out on the previous sailing and I knew if the Brits found it that would be the end of it. It’s amazing how much simpler things seem after a couple of pints.
And I was in the Schooner again after dinner to meet up with our gang for another fun evening. I have lately been chastised by a member who shall remain nameless. After reading my ‘Cruise Control’ post he commented that he thought me guilty of down-playing the antics in the Schooner Bar. There was certainly no shortage of writing material to be had here, and the ground definitely got more fertile as the night wore on. But I can only respond by quoting Falstaff in that “the better part of valor is discretion” and by saying that some things are better left to the imagination. I can tell you though, by way of an illustration of the spirit of the place, that not only was there a wedding onboard but at least one engagement occurred in the Schooner Bar. I’m not sure, and will never know if the engagement lasted longer than the cruise but I will say that the guy who got down on one knee boarded the ship with a pocketful of engagement rings ! On this night I learned a new Aussie term and tried it out by ‘shouting’ a few rounds for my friends – the evidence of which turned up on my on-board bill at the end of the cruise.
We left Tauranga at sunset. The Mount is more correctly called Mauao or “caught by the light”. Māori legend says that the hill was once part of an inland range. The little hill loved a beautiful peak called Puwhenua, but was jilted by her in favour of the handsome Otanewainuku. In sorrow the nameless hill decided to drown itself and called on the fairy people to help drag him to the ocean. Before they reached deep water, however, the sun rose and the fairy people melted away by the light of day, leaving the hill fixed in its present place at the entrance to the harbor.
And on that poignant note we are off on another short, overnight hop further south to Napier. Stay tuned!