It’s always hard to figure out where to live when you just arrive in a new city. After all, you’ve only been there a few weeks, and you have to make a somewhat major decision that will color your whole experience of living in the new place. And you really haven’t seen that many neighborhoods. Rebecca and I both had our handfuls of familiar streets, but the places we liked could be all wrong. Heck, living at the intersection of Devonport and 3rd Avenue in Tauranga could be the equivalent of living at the corner of Astrozon and Galley Roads (a particularly dangerous area back in Colorado Springs where we were from), but we would have no idea. We just got here.
But at the same time, living in our dumpy, moldy rental, a converted motel from the ‘60s, was grating at our souls. We had found it online while in Colorado Springs since Rebecca needed a place to stay as soon as she got here. The picture and description on the Internet were, shall we say, deceiving. Apparently everything in our New Zealand isn’t quite paradise. Rebecca calls our place “the bog” because it is constantly damp and moldy. Despite opening the windows as much as possible, there is always condensation over everything.
The place has two rooms: a tiny living room/kitchen area and a miniature bedroom. Our suitcases take up most of the available space. The kitchen area has one of those half-refrigerators with an ancient microwave on top of it, a sink and a cooktop. The refrigerator is so tiny you have to put a milk carton on its side, and there is only one outlet so to use the microwave you have to unplug the refrigerator. Of course, we forget to plug it back in all the time and all the food goes bad. There is a mis-matched assortment of pots, plates and silverware all-different like orphans from various bad families.
It is like we are newly-weds again except we are no longer at the newly-wed stage of our life. We are bigger and older now and each guy knows all the other guy’s tricks. Nonetheless everyone is on their best behavior—there is no fighting—since we both know the other guy is their only friend here and we are a long long way from home.
There is no heat. No heat at all and it’s winter here. We bought a little space heater that emits a tiny cone of warmth. We huddle in front of it before climbing into our sleeping bags at night. The TV has four channels: rugby, British soap opera, a news channel from Australia, and a black-and-white cartoon channel. For variety on the sports channel, sometimes instead of rugby an alternative such as snooker or cricket is featured.
In the last few days the place has also developed a disgusting odor. No, it is not from Rebecca’s cooking because that usually goes away after a while. It smells as if something has crawled in and died under one of the appliances. Maybe a possum or a stoat. Rebecca also burned a hole in the carpet with her hair dryer just as she had done at our place back in Colorado Springs! People had told her that her hair dryer wouldn’t work in New Zealand because of the different electrical voltage (220 vs. 120). She proved them wrong. She said it did work. She says it just gets very very hot. That was until it finally burned out.
Our place does have a hot tub however. But it isn’t filled with water and there is someone’s old toothbrush in the bottom of it.
Anyway we need to get out of this place. This wasn’t why we moved to New Zealand.
There are lots of nice suburban neighborhoods around Tauranga with small houses with porches and backyards. But we don’t have kids with us, don’t care about schools, don’t need a backyard to fit a trampoline, don’t want to care for a yard having spent the last ten years grooming grass which never seemed to take. And although pleasant and functional, those suburban houses didn’t really provide the experience that said we were now living in New Zealand.
The downtown central area of the city itself was pleasant with shops and walkways along the waterfront where at dusk, the city lights reflected off the estuary and Welcome Bay glimmered and twinkled on the hills across the inlet.
How about the party area of town? For Tauranga, that is Mount Maunganui, a spit of land extending out into the Pacific Ocean with a mound of hill, an extinct volcanic cone, rising up at its tip sprinkled with grazing sheep. Maunganui means “big mountain” and the 232 meter high hill that dominates the area is variously called Mount Maunganui, simply The Mount, or Mauao (its Maori name).
The Story of Mauao or Why You Should Always Have a Name
Maori legend tells the story of three mountains. One maiden mountain, Puwhenua, was in love with a nearby mountain named Otanewainuku. But another mountain was also in love with Puwhenua. When he made advances toward her (the story doesn’t explain how exactly mountains do this), she asked him his name. He confessed he had no name and for this Puwhenua shunned him in favor of the original suitor, Otanewainuku.
In despair, the nameless mountain solicited the help of the fairy folk, Patupaiarehe, to cast him into the ocean. That night the fairy folk, who live in the forest, have magical powers and can only work at night, started dragging the nameless mountain to the sea. Heavy work—as they dragged him his track gouged the Waimapu Valley and Tauranga Harbor. However with the first rays of the sun, they were not yet out to sea, and had to abandon the mountain at the head of the isthmus at the entrance to Tauranga harbor where the mountain remains to this day. For this he was named “Mauao” which means “trapped by the light” or “caught by the dawn.”
Teeming with tiny shops, cafes and bars, the town of Mount Maunganui is like a mini-Key West. Could we live there? Would it be too much like a tourist town? There was even the omnipresent Bob Marley T-shirt for sale in one of the shops with Bob’s big face and dreadlocks and the words “One Love”. Would we be falling for the hype and should we choose a more reasonable, respectable neighborhood?
Apparently in the summer, particularly December (remember Southern Hemisphere), Mount Maunganui, at least the downtown part, goes crazy. People come from all over New Zealand for its beaches and the weather. From what people describe, it sounds like a New Zealand version of Carnival in Brazil or Mardi Gras in New Orleans for a few weeks in December.
We knew we were going to rent, and after looking at the prices of used furniture, we decided a place that was already furnished would be best. The thought of having to re-buy all the junk we had just sold last month in the US at bargain prices, except this time at inflated New Zealand prices, was distinctly unappealing.
We finally decided on a furnished townhouse in Maunganui with a view of the ocean if you lean way off the balcony, no yard, and one block from the beach.
For whatever reason, our townhouse does have a small elevator (termed a lift in New Zealand), which runs from the first to second floor. If guests arrive, we could direct them to the elevator just down the hall. And by the time they arrived on the second floor, Rebecca and I taking the stairs should be there to greet them.