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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 6 (September 1, 1937.)

Tauranga — The Riviera of the North

page 22

The Riviera of the North

The approach to Tauranga by way of rail is curiously abrupt. From miles of farming land, and brown and silver sea-swamps, the train bursts out suddenly across a glittering inlet. The traveller gains a brief glimpse of white launches on blue water, of white houses in green orchards, and then he is hurled into the station, into a taxi, and swept up the only low hill that brings him into the town of Tauranga.

It is perhaps partly owing to its position that Tauranga owes its peculiar charm. Bounded by the estuaries of the Waimapu and Waikareao on either hand, the narrow peninsula runs back to the remains of the old fortifications of Gate Pa. From no point is one out of sight or sound of the sea. It lies blue and tranquil at the end of every roadway, and all day long the sea-breezes blow across the Strand.

Tauranga is colourful. Perhaps that is the first impression which the casual visitor gains. Its beauty is far removed from half-tones and pastel shades and mistiness. The harbour is sapphire and emerald, shoaling to amythest; the hills behind are cut in a clear blue silhouette. The green and white and orange launches lie at anchor; triangles of sail drift like white butterflies against the blue. The gardens of Herries Park, by the railway, along the waterfront, blaze in masses of blue and gold and scarlet. The greens run the whole gamut of the colour card from pines and palms to the delicate brightfulness of English elms and aspens.

The architecture of Tauranga is a curious mingling of new and old.

The influence of the Spanish Mission is strong, and plaster fronts and sun-tinted pillars jostle half-timbered Tudors and psuedo-English cottages, and all lie cheek by jowl with small starting houses of no particular design, whose windows probably watched the redcoat soldiers march through Tauranga.

The early settlers of Tauranga must have been prodigal planters of trees. There are giant Norfolk pines, and four-square oaks, elms and aspens, and avenues of walnuts. At Christmas, the pohutukawa glows warm and red, and then the Australian scarlet gum flaunts its scarlet banners. Here, in season, the jacaranda breaks into blossom as blue as heaven; there are pink and white oleanders, and the blood-red blooms of the hybiscus, and the bougainvilla spreading its purple cloak like careless royalty. In autumn the exotics are suddenly bronze and gold and russet, and the persimmon hangs its fairy apples upon its leafless limbs. Winter is the season of the flaming poinsettia, and the orange trees glow with golden globes like Christmas trees decked out too early.

Straight in front of the post office, in a tiny reserve, is an aspen tree popularly supposed to be the largest in New Zealand. It was planted, so the story goes, by a trooper riding in with despatches for General Cameron before the battle of Gate Pa. He carried a stout aspen switch, and, flinging himself from his weary horse, he drove the switch into the ground, and dropped his reins over it. The horse, being an old campaigner, presently flicked the reins neatly over the improvised hitching post, and wandered away to graze. The aspen switch stayed in the ground, and sprouted. If you are sceptical enough to disbelieve such a picturesque story, you may come to Tauranga and see the tree for yourself.

Viscount Bledisloe described Tauranga as the “Riviera of the South,” but to fully appreciate the comparison one must make the brief launch trip to the Mount. That narrow strip of land, between the calm crescent beach of Pilot Bay and the white sands and
(Rly. Publicity photo.) The Strand, Tauranga, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The Strand, Tauranga, North Island, New Zealand.

thundering breakers of the Pacific, is entirely dominated by the frowning bastion of Mount Maunganui. One becomes gradually accustomed to the blue silhouette of the Mount in all Tauranga landscapes. Tauranga could not possibly be Tauranga without its odd characteristic cone set down upon the horizon. It is the first sight the traveller sees as the train leaves the hills and pinewoods of Waihi and Athenree, the last landmark of the Bay of Plenty on which he looks back as his car tops the two-thousand foot climb of the Kaimai range. From a distance it bears an undeniable resemblance to a sand castle turned out carelessly from a child's tin bucket. At a nearer view it looms more menacingly, like some impregnable Maori fortress, and the rocks which litter its frowning sides might have been rolled upon helpless and hapless enemies.

Among the sand-dunes and the pines and sea-grass, the holiday houses of the Mount are scattered, without symmetry or design. Their green and red and orange roofs and swinging shutters give the place a strangely picturesque and foreign appearance. Bright canoes are drawn upon the white sand, and Pilot Bay holds a fleet of pleasure craft as neatly at anchor as walnut shells in a tea-cup.

In season an amazing colony of tents springs up as suddenly as a mushroom ring; the long dusty road is one procession of cars; the brown-and-white launches come in hour after hour to the little stone landing beneath the shadow of the Mount.

Over on the great white stretches of the ocean beach, the peacock and white-jewelled emerald breaks in long slow rollers that come cresting and foaming in. Slender girls in all shades of sun-tan page 23 and exotic bathing garments go down to the sea dragging gaily-painted surfboards, and children ride small white lazy donkeys up and down the tide-out sands. Picturesque and not-so-picturesque young men burned as dark as Indians and as red as lobsters plunge in and out of the breakers, and lie blistering on the hot white sand. Languorous ladies in beach pyjamas hold court beneath sun umbrellas. Fathers of families superintend the erection of marvellous sand castles, and sober-minded ladies open tea-baskets in the shelter of the rocks.

The really athletic climb the Mount. From the top the view is almost hard to comprehend. The harbour lies at one's feet like a silk glove flung down, the blue and silver fingers among the gentle hills. The white ocean beach and the lines of creaming surf stretch away to uncomprehended distance. The blue bold silhouette of Mayor Island has come curiously closer, and there are the rocky Aldermen, and, down by the horizon, Motiti, and the creamy cliffs of its coastline. To the south a puff of sulphur-hued smoke hangs over White Island. It is from the Mount, and the Mount only, that your bewildered eyes may look in a single sweep from the dim blue hills of Coro-mandel to the misty headland of East Cape.

It is in winter, perhaps, that the Mount exercises its greatest fascination. The campers are gone, and the township …. left to its skeleton population of residents and privileged seekers after winter sunshine …. resumes its pleasant, leisurely, sea-coloured existence.

The easterly storms fling the seaweed up on the deserted beach in long shining brown strands; the seagulls come in to mew and chatter in the tennis courts. The ice-cream stalls are closed, and the little white lazy donkeys range up the frowning slopes of the Mount. Then it is that the breakers come foaming in in all their wind-flung glory, and sprout from the Blow-hole in a tumult of thundering spray. The little painted boats are drawn up from the beach, and the surf-boards stacked away, and the fishermen sit and tell stories, and leisurely mend their nets.

Certainly a great part of Tauranga's attraction lies in its brief storm-punctuated, sun-drenched winter. May, June and July it regularly tops the sunshine averages for the Dominion. The easterly storms rage in across the harbour, and the sea-spray drives over the waterfront into the very shop doorways. As swiftly as the storms come they are gone again, and the thin clear golden sunshine holds sway once more. In the gardens the roses bloom, and before the chrysanthemums are gone the first pale spring flowers star the earth.

Tauranga is a town peculiarly divided between holiday-makers, retired colonels, and dairy farmers. In the season, the visitors upset the balance, but, as summer ebbs, so ebbs from the town the unrestful tide of young women in slacks and young men in shorts and sandshoes, and it becomes possible once again to appreciate the institution of “farmers' Saturday.” On Saturday the farmers come in as one man from the country, in every kind of vehicle.

In the light of our brief history Tauranga seems an old town, but looking back, we find the first mention of it in 1769, when Cook passed the harbour without discovering it, and called Mount Maunganui an island. It was not until almost sixty years later that the schooner “Herald” sailed up the uncharted passage beneath the shadow of the Mount, and cast anchor in virgin waters.

In 1835, Alfred Nesbit. Brown, pioneer missionary, starting the mission station of Te Papa, laid the foundation stone of Tauranga to be. Before 1840 he raised the heart-of-kauri buildings which stand to-day, and bought from the Maoris the thousand acres of the narrow peninsula where the town of Tauranga now stands. To mark the boundary, he had dug across the neck of land at Pukuhinahina a ditch with a gate crossing, and the spot began to be known as the Gate Pa.

By 1864 a handful of white people had gathered in the settlement, and, in that year … with a concentration of British troops and men-o'-war at Tauranga … there was fought one of the most tragic engagements in the
(Rly. Publicity photo.) The popular beach at The Mount, Tauranga, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
The popular beach at The Mount, Tauranga, North Island, New Zealand.

history of the Maori Wars, the battle of Gate Pa, when two hundred Maoris defeated two thousand British soldiers, naval men, and armed marines.

In Tauranga the past is curiously interwoven with the present. You find it in the street names … in Cameron Road, and Greertown, in Durham Street, and Brown Street, and the Old Redoubt. The Camp is that leisurely pleasant residential section of the town that lies on the rise toward the Domain, and you might live there a year without realising that the bugle calls of the 68th and 43rd once rang beneath the gnarled old elm trees. The Monmouth Redoubt is a garden now, and where the sod of Gate Pa was soaked with English blood the boys play light-hearted football. But on an afternoon's casual visiting, you may find, as a doorstop, a cannon ball, pitted with rust and salt water, fired from the “Esk,” or “Harrier,” or “Miranda” more than seventy years ago.

The old mission station, as it stands to-day, is a page of the past preserved. Set amid its green lawns and century-old elms, it is a lovely shrine of old rare things. By its closed white gates stands the first bell to be landed in the Dominion. For a hundred years it rang the call to prayer and the tocsin of alarm, but it stands silent now.

They say thereabouts that once you have lived in those sun-drenched lands of the East Coast, you must go back. Perhaps its enchantment lies in its odd trick of making one forget everything but fine weather, so that, under farther greyer skies and drizzling rain, one is stricken with a sharp nostalgia for Tauranga's vivid seas and white beaches, and, above all, for the clear golden brightness of its sunshine.

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