Forget staycation. Let’s go to Tauranga!

Dear reader, I have a confession to make.

I didn’t go anywhere else on my staycation. Apart from a walk down the waterfront followed by a novelty dessert, my trip to Matiu/Somes Island was the only adventure I went on that week. I spent the rest gaming. More on that another time.

So, yeah. No more local adventures to report for now.

However: I had something else lined up that was guaranteed to get me out of the house.

A wedding invitation!

1 squee
Squee!

Before you get too excited, this post isn’t about the wedding. As much as I’d love to share the wonderful experience, it’s not my story to tell!

I’d been to a few weddings before, but always for family or friends of family. This is the first time I’d been invited to a friend’s one. It was a huge privilege. I booked my flights straight away. There was no question as to whether I’d go – that was, until I came down with a cold within a week of the event. Thankfully I got over the worst of it just in time!

The location? Tauranga. I’d passed through there once as a kid, but never had a chance to explore the place. I booked the Friday off work to make a long weekend of it.

Okay, it’s still not Fiji. But you know what? It’s pretty sweet!

Day 1: I did not think this through

My plans changed shortly after the plane touched down outside Tauranga’s adorably tiny airport. (There’s one gate. This is New Zealand’s sixth-largest city (pending 2018 Census results), and the airport has just one gate!) It was late morning. My plan was to Uber to my motel room in town, drop my stuff, and explore from there. Thankfully I had the sense to ring them and check, because it turned out they’d been full up the night before and couldn’t check me in until 2pm!

So there I was, in a tiny airport terminal, in an unfamiliar place, with a backpack full of nice clothes and three hours to kill. What to do?

Find an outlet and charge my phone. (Why didn’t I do that the night before?) Oh, and buy a snack from the café so I could justify using the space. And while I’m at it, hit up Google Maps to suss out my options.

2 map_satellite
What’s where in Tauranga. (Google maps, 2018)

Well that killed half an hour. But seriously, now what?

I decided on something that probably not many visitors to Tauranga do: Explore on foot. Like pretty much everywhere outside of Wellington, Tauranga is built for driving. But like many Wellingtonians, I don’t drive. And besides, I’m doing a step-count challenge – what better opportunity to bump up my stats?

Fuelled by coffee and cake, I set out for the beach, where I’d planned to go the next morning. Thankfully the weather was good. Actually it was better than good: Tauranga put on a stunner for me! After half an hour of pavement-pounding, I hit the promised golden sand of Mount Maunganui beach.

3 real beach
Look! A real beach!

Let me tell you, this is quite something. We don’t get beaches like this back in Wellington. The main beach at Oriental Bay isn’t even a real beach – they ship in sand and dump it there! Sure, there are real beaches too, but nothing like this.

Camera in hand, I set out on the hour-long (according to Google Maps) trek to the hill at the other end. After two hours, 80 photos, and a detour through the town, I made it. Hey, I’m on holiday, there’s no hurry!

Montage 1/3: “I like long walks on the beach”
Ain’t no Mount high enough

This is the part where I wanted to point out that the “Mount” in Mount Maunganui is redundant, like the N in “PIN Number”. (Maunganui means “big mountain”.) But on reaching the foot of the hill, I discovered that the hill itself has a different name! It’s known as Mauao – “caught in the light of the day”.

5 looks intimidating
Sign me up.

Looks kind of intimidating. The photo doesn’t convey how steep the hill looks from here! So, once again, it’s decision time: To climb or not to climb? I’ve been out for a few hours already, I’m sick, and I’m mildly sleep-deprived from having a blocked nose and therefore not being able to sleep properly. It’s past 2pm and I could just go crash at the motel now. But I might never be here again, and my legs still feel okay.

Here goes.

Montage 2/3: “Mountage”

I made it to the top without incident and set about getting some photos of myself to prove I was there. Easier said than done. As friendly and helpful as the other visitors were… let’s just say they don’t have my eye for photography. (Thanks for trying, Johnny from Auckland!) Rather than ask for a retake, I thanked them, walked away, and asked another stranger to help. At the third attempt, I found a local who managed to photograph me in the light – albeit with my feet in their shadow. Oh well, I can crop that bit out!

7 on top of the mount
Bay of Plenty lives up to its name!

Photos in hand, I returned to base camp and Googled up a route into town. Earlier in the day, I’d Ubered to Wellington Airport, giving Metlink the middle finger for their questionable network changes. Now to rub it in a little. Here at the Mount, I found a bus route that went from my location to within two blocks of the motel! Wanting to travel like a local, I waited at the stop until – lo and behold – the bus turned up right on time! (Take that, Metlink!)

Exhausted but satisfied, I checked into the motel, took a spa bath (ahhhhh!), grabbed some takeaways, and hit the hay.

Oh yes, how was my step count? Well, my inner math-nerd was delighted to find I’d landed on a strobogrammatic number – and nearly double my 10,000 target!

7.5 19061
Turn it upside down and tell me what number you see
Day 2: Wedding bells

Wait, I said I wouldn’t talk about this. Let’s just say I’m still buzzing from the wedding as I write this a week later – it was a truly joyous and special occasion! (To the bride, since I know you’re reading this: Congratulations, and thanks again!)

Day 3: It’s not Oriental Bay, but…

After a late night out, and with a midday flight home, I had a couple of hours to cover the city centre and waterfront. Thankfully, central Tauranga is tiny, so this wasn’t an issue!

I walked from Memorial Park to the northern end of the waterfront, following the coastline where I could. A big chunk of the shoreline is taken over by houses (watch out for sea-level rise, folks!), which meant my route cut through the city centre, saving me from doubling back. Not that there’s much to the CBD, especially on a Sunday morning – it felt much like the northern half of central Wellington in that respect.

I didn’t expect Tauranga’s waterfront to stack up to Wellington’s, and maybe it didn’t, but it was charming in its own way!

Montage 3/3: Waterfront, interrupted

And with that, I wandered to the nearest bus stop and… oops. There were no buses for half an hour, by which time I’d be late for my flight. Come on Tauranga, I thought you had this! Oh well, back to my default state of hating public transport. Thankfully Tauranga has Uber drivers too!

Okay, but what’s in it for me?

Believe it or not, this was my first time staying in another city by myself! I gained a ton of confidence by flying solo, and some great life experience too. There’s a fair bit of stress in being responsible for every aspect of the trip – planning, travelling, unplanning, exploring, replanning. And writing up, of course! But to know I did it all is immensely satisfying.

I also discovered some of the perks of solo travel:

  • Setting my own agenda. With other people in tow, I might have had to compress my schedule, do activities I didn’t want to do (or miss the ones I did), and – heaven forbid – share accommodation!
  • Doing what I feel like with no one to tell me otherwise. Want to go for a crazy long walk? Ate way too much for breakfast and need a nap? No problem!
  • Random interactions with strangers. I had some lovely conversations with locals and visitors that I wouldn’t have if I’d travelled with friends or family.

Okay, let’s not get carried away here. It’s a weekend away within the same country. For me, though, it’s a big deal, and hopefully a stepping stone to something bigger. A huge win after the staycation that wasn’t.

Overall a great experience. A+, would recommend. And the city’s all right, too!