Tauranga Road Trip – March 2008

A more recent journal entry……

When you have a drink with people you know or work with, the most obtuse subjects can be discussed – for example, if you were to take a holiday someplace, is it better to plan each and every minute of your trip and get as much packed in a possible or is it simply better to turn up ? Over the last two months, the debate amongst a small number of us has given rise to sharp tongues, silly posturing and name calling.  A recent weekend away was time to put up or shut up – so, with ‘Seat of the Pants Girl’ (SPG) and TI (batting resolutely for the ‘plan each hour of every day’ school of travelling), would ‘seat of the pants’ thinking best ‘overelaborate planning’ ?


Day 1: Fly by the seat of your pants:
An uneventful drive from Auckland to Tauranga suddenly got interesting when SPG revealed that she had, in fact, booked an excursion. Not having been to sunny TRG previously, she omitted to factor in the fact that the destination was in fact at least 20 minutes out from the city centre.  As I was driving, this did not bode well particularly as I do not like the stretch of road leading to the destination.  Result = we got there about 10 minutes late.

Jetboating up the Kaituna River: At Longridge Adventure Park (just out of Te Puke). I know this venue well, having done the jetboat ride a number of times, and well enough to know that you do not under any circumstances, sit in the back two seats of the boat. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to suffer being a wetback this time around – a stag party made up the majority of the complement and fortunately the victim-in-chief was put in his place. Other than that, it is a highly recommended trip and fortunately for me, I managed to get some video (mpeg) footage of the ride.

‘Swap it ’round’: SPG then revealed that there was a part II to the jetboat ride.  However, as she had not factored in the distance / time to the next destination (seat of the pants planning, you see), a rescheduling was in order. Having now disclosed that 4-wheel-driving was part of the deal, SPG offered a deal – swap part of TI’s plan for tomorrow, today.

SPG then disclosed that she had booked another activity at a specific time but did not day what it was except that it was located at the airport. I was not sure which distressed me more, the fact that SPG was not living up to form or what the undisclosed activity was.

The chaotic Tauranga Gliding Club: The best pilots are glider pilots, they say and this is a pretty good rule of thumb. It takes a lot of flying and experience to read the winds and steer a glider to its maximum potential.  However, given the chaotic way the Tauranga Glider Club ran their scenic flights, you have to wonder where their heads are – possibly permanently in the clouds ! So although SPG had booked well in advance (we saw the booking on the day sheets, they managed to spell SPG’s name wrong), we spent a lot of time at first watching takeoffs and landings while the Air Cadets got some flying time in. Eventually, they decided to let us have a go.  Despite one last futile attempt to chicken out (can you blame me ? Chaotic organisation, one glider had a faulty battery thus no radio or gyro and air cadets pushing gliders around without much care or finesse), any apprehension was dispelled very quickly by an experienced pilot and an extremely sprightly 86 year old who has gone tandem skydiving, hot air ballooning, and now gliding (with a biplane ride to be done in the next few days).  How do you chicken out after talking to someone like that ? The ride up to 3000ft was a bit bumpy but not frightening While I still have a fear of doing something that would put the aircraft into some sort of terminal tailspin, being in control of the glider for the takeoff and doing a few turns around the Mount was thrilling.

The hike up Mount Maunganui: Given the we finished the glider flights early, we agreed to bring the Mount hike forward a day.  This proved to be an excellent decision.

When I lived in the Mount a few years ago, I did try and climb it but basically started to keel over after getting to a point I called ‘base camp’. But that was due to a lack of fitness and too much flab. Last year, being a bit fitter, I tried again, got two-thirds up it and then became lame. Would I ever get to the top ? Feeling a little resentful at the way SPG had tried to break my sprit, I proceeded to try and break hers. We went around the Mount and then up it – although this is perhaps something in melancholy that I should report, her resolve did not break, I didn’t break down physically and so I can cross off another achievement from my limited list. The hike is worth it for the views, that’s for sure. As well as admiring the paraponting.

Hot Pools: Next to the Mount are the Mount Maunganui Salt Water Hot Pools. Highly recommended for individuals looking to recover after climbing said Mount. One problem is that the poseurs try and hog the jets.  That wasn’t an issue for me. I just kept looking at the brunette in the green string bikini.

Astrolabe: This and Two Small Fish are probably your best choice for dining here. The ‘Lab was full to capacity but worth the wait. Kudos to the somewhat harangued but pleasant waitress who looked after us and, after some little confusion brought on by your correspondent, did very well. If I had confused her, I think I would have ended up with a main of fries, and not tuna.


Day 2: Stick to the script – or what’s left of it.

Originally, the well drafted script had us hiking to the top. But we agreed that we would swap the 4WD over from the previous day in place of the Mount climb so lie-in and a short walk along the beach was able to be substituted instead. 

Pancakes: It is quite odd that the standard of food around the Mount varies wildly. Some is truly excellent and would pass muster anywhere, other places would be suitable for entertaining your worst enemy.  Around the Mount itself, I have had more bad experiences than good. But I am pleased to advise that ‘Slow Fish’ is an excellent place for breakfast. The Big Breakfast looks particularly appetising as does their omelettes but being a (rather sad) creature of habit, pancakes on a Sunday morning (or waffles) are rather good. I can definitely recommend the Blueberry Buckwheat pancakes at Slow Fish (who are ‘slow’ as in ‘slow food’ i.e. the good kind).

4WD: Back to Longridge for that spot of 4 wheel driving. On previous visits here, I had noted parts of the track and it didn’t look that hard – until you actually get in the vehicle and try it. They are very good here – you get a bit of a practice run to get used to the handling. And then they start to make life difficult – they ‘blindfold’ (blacked out goggles) and  slowly coach you over the practice course – initially terrifying, on sober reflection, this is a good indication of how good your vehicle control really is. But any laughs and relief at surviving that are quickly dispelled when you start of the real track. And it really is a lot harder than it looks ! 4WD could well have been 4-wheel-disaster at certain points of the track – we drove half of the course each and SPG did very well down the near-vertical hill, up the near-vertical hill and around the 35-degree-incline. However, I had tremendous difficulty down the first steep hill (you have to take your foot off the clutch at all times, you see, and apply gentle pressure on the brake) which was a nightmare for me.  However, after not panicking and listening to the instructor’s instructions (that helped), I managed to get through that part of it. Driving through a shallow water hazard was a piece of cake in comparison. 

Kiwi360: After adrenalin / sensory overload, I thought it appropriate for something completely laid back, almost comatose. Kiwi 360 was so touristy, it served the purpose well. Without going into detail about the tour of the orchards, there’s plenty of fruit on the property, Seeka have the contract to collect the fruit (Gold is looking a bit small this year, Green also but there’s enough of it). They let you collect the avocadoes and other fruit when it is in season as they have no wish to pick it and sell it themselves which is a nice side bonus. It’s worth one visit and one visit only if you have never seen an orchard and this was probably the best time to go (a few weeks before harvest). But avoid the gift shop and don’t sample the kiwifruit wines or liqueurs. Stick to gin, whisky, vodka or whatever your preferred poison is.

Blokart Heaven: I’ve wanted to try Blokarting as soon as I saw the first articles about it a few years ago. To my eye it combines the ability to sail like a windsurfer but on land.  And although I know I am hopeless when it comes to sailing any type of boat, that didn’t stop me wanting to try this. The Golden Rule in Blokarting is ‘let the rope out’. If you are going too fast, let the rope out. If you are turning to sharply, let the rope out. If you are about to tip over, let the rope out (you may not make it in time but do it anyway). SPG got the hang of it early. I wasn’t as co-ordinated but I got a few laps of the ‘beginner’s track’ in. I was happy enough not to crash in to anybody or tip over but a sudden drop in wind was a bit frustrating. Worth repeating.

Morton Estate: Had to make a stop to buy a couple of bottles of wine. I prefer Morton Estate to Mills Reef in terms of wine quality but now that the restaurant is closed, Mills Reef has a significant advantage over Morton’s which is a pity because it used to be very good from all accounts.

Karangahake Gorge: Worth a stop to admire the views when driving from TRG to AKL on SH2. SPG seemed to enjoy it (I think). That and the ‘real’ L&P Bottle in Paeroa are probably the only highlights of the drive.


Scientific conclusion: Yes, there’s plenty to see and do of a weekend in TRG / Mount M and it’s all very exciting if you want it to be. Objectively speaking, planning did win the day but the quality of SPG’s activities clearly won against TI’s dull choices (in my defence, TRG is not my favourite place in the world and I am not easily inspired) – points victory by a clear margin to SPG.

About TI

TI is based in Auckland, New Zealand. TI's somewhat eclectic interests include (but are certainly not limited to) legal humour (the law can be funny), good wine, the search for the best possible chocolate, alcoholic beverages, travel, commercial aircraft, photography, weird news stories and classical music.
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