JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH LAYLA TURNER FROM MOUNT MAUNGANUI, NEW ZEALAND!
Layla, a Freethinking, Sassy Global Explorer is the face behind AlialTravelGal
Originally from the UK, Layla gave up conventional life to follow her biggest passion of travel – and has been nomadic for 10 years now. Layla travel style is slow, immersive travel and she has lived in several countries including Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. Her writing focuses on the ups and downs of actually living in other countries, as her experience has taught her life on the road can be challenging, and isn’t all one big holiday. Health and wellness whilst travelling is also a passion of Layla’s and she believes mental health and balance is so important to address, amongst the nomadic community.
You’ll find Layla exploring awe-inspiring places or looking for unique travel experiences, or on a beach, drinking all the coffee or hanging out with dogs – preferably all at the same time 🙂
Mount Maunganui (nicknamed ‘The Mount’ by locals) is a relaxed, peninsular beach town, which is part of Tauranga City. It is located within the sunny Bay of Plenty region, in the North Island of New Zealand.
As per TripAdvisor’s 2017 Travellers’ Choice Awards, Mount Maunganui beach was rated as New Zealand’s most favourite beach.
What is the best month to visit Mount Maunganui and why?
Mount Maunganui’s climate is classified as warm and temperate and is well-known for having some of the best weather in New Zealand.
The best time to visit Mount Maunganui is late Spring, in November or late summer in March. The weather in November and March is around 18-21 degrees and so you’ll have plenty of sunny days. You’ll also avoid the huge influx of tourists and higher ‘peak’ accommodation prices in December – February.
What is the most convenient and favored transport of Mount Maunganui ?
As Mount Maunganui is a on a peninsula at the southern end of Tauranga Harbour, driving is the most convenient form of transport for this area. There is no local train service here although there is a bus service that runs between Mount Maunganui town, Bayfair shopping area and Tauranga City called Bayhopper service, but the buses aren’t too regular and don’t run out of the inner-city limits.
As I don’t currently drive I do use the public transport but I find it very limiting, so I often get a ride with friends. So to explore Mount Maunganui and the surrounding area with complete freedom, renting a car is the most effective option. There are a wide range of car rental desks at the local airport.
Once in Mount Maunganui, you can rent bikes from many places in town and you can cycle around the Mount or Tauranga easily, as there are many cycle tracks and beautiful routes to cycle around.
What are the different modes of transport available from the airport to town?
The nearest airport is Tauranga airport although, currently there is no airport service to or from Tauranga airport. There are taxis available at the airport such as Tauranga Mount Taxis or Uber. I recommend renting a car for complete transport freedom – Avis, Budget, Hertz and Thrifty all have rental desks at Tauranga airport.
I don’t currently drive so to get to and from Mount Maunganui, I fly into Auckland airport and use the national Intercity coach service which is very popular among travellers, it’s just a 4 hour ride and is an incredibly picturesque journey.
Where to get the best exchange rates in the town? Do you recommend any particular bank for it?
There is a foreign exchange desk called Travel Money NZ in Bayfair mall in Mount Maunganui and they usually have the best rates for exchanging currency. Also being located in a mall, they will also have the longest opening hours.
I don’t personally use banks for exchanging currency although out of all of the banks, ASB Bank seems to have the best rate for exchanging currency and there is also a branch at Bayfair Mall.
What are the top three must visit places in Mount Maunganui ?
The town of Mount Maunganui is named after it’s extinct volcano which was formed 2-3 million years ago and is officially known by its Māori name Mauao, but is colloquially known in New Zealand simply as The Mount. The town itself also gets referred to as ‘The Mount’, because the town sits at the base of the mountain. The formation of the Mount has made this town unique, with the large lava dome giving the town an amazing swimming beach (Mount Main Beach) on one side of it’s peninsula and the sheltered Pilot Bay on the other side.
The Mount (Maoao) : One of the must-see places in this city is climbing ‘The Mount’ mountain itself. The Mount summit track is a medium-hard, 45 min climb to the 232m summit, but you’ll be rewarded with panoramic, breathtaking views of the whole town and of both the harbour and beach sides of the peninsular. Many locals climb it every day, using it as their local gym and you’ll often see a steady stream of climbers or hikers at sunrise. Sunset is also a very popular time to climb The Mount, to catch a gorgeous sunset view.
For the less adventurous hiker, there is a base track that is 3 km and takes around 40 mins to complete. It is New Zealand’s most popular walk with extensive ocean views and white sand beach inlets along the way, where you can stop and take in the beauty of the coastline. The well-maintained track is suitable for strollers, runners and groups of people and is easily accessible from anywhere around the mountains base. One of the beach inlets off the base track, is my local hang-out for those lazy beach days.
Situated on the other side of the Mount is the sheltered Pilot Bay beach, where you can lay around on the beach and watch the cruise ships arriving and leaving. It hosts some of the biggest cruise ships during the summer months including the grand Ovation of the Seas.
Moturiki (or Leisure Island) is a small island that sits just off Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach and you can literally just walk out to it from the beach. Connected to Mount Main Beach by a man-made land bridge, Moturiki is very accessible for an island. Moturiki has a colourful history including being inhabited by early Maori settlers, established as a blast quarry in 1911 and then being made into an Aquarium and then a Water Park, which has left it with the local name ‘Leisure Island’.
Moturiki is now a protected reserve and has a popular walking track from the beach to it’s northern tip, where you can see a spectacular blowhole shooting water upwards, usually during high tides and large ocean swells.
Just 10 mins drive out of the laid-back city of Tauranga itself, you’ll find McLaren Falls, a picturesque parkland set alongside Lake McLaren. McLaren Parkland is family-friendly and very popular for camping, kayaking, trout fishing, picnics and bush walking, it’s also host to a few summertime concerts.
Walk the short waterfall track to the beautiful and quaint waterfall McLaren Falls. After dusk, you can even spot glow worms either side of the track.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Mount Maunganui ?
For true kiwi culture and history take a drive just one hour south from Mount Maunganui and you’ll find Rotorua, the home of ‘Maoridom’ and the cultural hub of New Zealand.
Steeped in history, you can take a historical tour of a living Maori village, take part in a traditional ‘hangi’ cooked in the steaming ground, experience the geothermal natural wonders of a geothermal/cultural park or explore the Rotorua lakes. Due to Rotorua’s volcanic activity in the geothermal parks, you can find geysers, bubbling thermal mud pools and colourful sinter terraces. You can book through a tour company or just as easily drive yourself there and visit the Kuirau Park, Te Puia Park or Orakei Korako area directly.
For a taste of ‘Middle Earth’, no trip to this area of New Zealand is truly complete until you’ve seen a real Hobbit hole. Hobbiton attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and is as charming as it a magical place to visit. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited many times as my partner used to work there as a Gardener and it is only 1 hr and 10 mins away from Mount Maunganui by car.
New Zealand is famous for being the filming locations for the trilogy movies, Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit. Setup by the director Peter Jackson, Hobbiton was created as the location of ‘The Shire’ depicted in the movies and is one of the few existing movie set locations that is open to the public. After filming The Hobbit trilogy, Peter Jackson left behind the beautiful movie set you’ll see today, showcasing 44 permanently reconstructed Hobbit Holes and The Green Dragon Inn, all set amongst the green, rolling hills of a working sheep farm for visitors to explore.
It’s very popular and the only way to experience Hobbiton is to book a guided tour, many of which offer transport to and from where you may be staying in Tauranga, Auckland or Rotorua. Although you can drive directly to Hobbiton yourself, you cannot access the set unless you are accompanied by a Hobbiton tour guide in a tour group. It’s a must-see if you’re a movie fan, Hobbiton is as vivid, charming and authentic in real life as it is in the movies.
If you like unique nature experiences and want to walk on a live volcano, (who doesn’t right?), then a tour to White Island is for you. Whakatane is a pretty beach town just 1 hours drive down the coast from Mount Maunganui and it’s here you can pick up a boat that takes you over to White Island. White Island (Whakaari) lies 49km off the coast of Whakatane and is one of the worlds easily accessible volcanoes. Guided tours are available every day and gas masks and hard hats are provided as this active volcano is still very active! Billowing clouds of smoke from White Island can be seen on a clear day from all down the Eastern Bay of Plenty. A guided tour takes you around steam vents, bubbling mud pits, and scorching volcanic streams. Don’t worry though, White Island’s seismic activity is closely monitored and the island is usually on an alert level rating of 1 or 2 on a scale from 0 to 5.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Mount Maunganui? What makes it so special?
The Christmas holidays are a pretty big deal in Mount Maunganui as they coincide with the peak summer period, which is also when most of the city-dwelling locals and all the tourists, descend on Mount Maunganui to enjoy sunny Christmas celebration BBQ’s on the beach.
ANZAC Day is also special here, where there is a Dawn Parade and a Dawn Memorial Service, which pays tribute to the ANZAC forces (the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli), by putting on a small but spectacular airplane display over the Cenotaph. It can viewed at it’s best from the top of Mount Drury, opposite the Cenotaph, an easy 7 min climb.
In Tauranga, the annual Paradox Street Art Festival is held over March – June and this festival was the first of its kind in Tauranga. Paradoxical in its nature by bringing street art into a gallery and also by internationally acclaimed artists turning the city into an outdoor gallery.
Where to head for best view of the town?
Without a doubt, the summit of The Mount (of Maoao), is the best place to get a 360 degree view of Mount Maunganui town, the peninsula, all the way down the Bay of Plenty coastline and over to the Kaimai ranges and as far as the Coromandel Peninsula.
The Mount summit track is 45 mins of moderate-hard level climbing/hiking and there are two different routes up the mountain. It’s suitable for anyone of moderate fitness and can be done in training shoes/sneakers, although do take care as it’s quite steep in areas.
Which is the most happening area in Mount Maunganui?
The ‘main street’ or ‘strip’ area (Maunganui Road) is the most happening area in Mount Maunganui as this is where you’ll find the popular bars and and trendy eateries and cafes.
Cafe Eighty Eight – This cafe on the main strip of Mount Maunganui stands out as having a bit of character and is my personal favourite. I love their unique decor, with retro armchairs in the window, art-deco mirrors and covered courtyard full of repurposed fence palings and pallet plants. There’s something for everyone here, yummy counter food, amazing coffee, delectable smoothies, delicious breakfast and brunch options, plus plenty of vegetarian and vegan choices too.
Tay St Beach Cafe – This beach-side cafe is a favourite amongst the Mountie locals with it’s laid-back charm and fresh food. It has a relaxed, beachy vibe, indoor and outdoor dining space and is dog and child friendly too. The traditional Kiwi and Asian fusion cuisine on the menu, draws in the foodie crowds every day and the cafe boasts a gorgeous view over the sand dunes over to Tay St Beach. The coffee is amazing too, it’s one of the few places in Mount Maunganui you can get Havana bean-roasted coffee, which is my ultimate favourite coffee.
The Pizza Library – Unique and iconic to the Bay of Plenty, Pizza Library is literally a library and book themed restaurant serving delicious, handcrafted gourmet pizza.
The dining experience is what attracts the crowds, set in a old-style library, all of the pizzas on their menu are named around famous novels such as Charlotte’s Web or Narnia.
Hide – Thirst & Hunger – Hide Bar is literally hidden and you’ll miss it if you blink. Hidden down a lane-way on the main strip, Hide Bar is THE place to go if you love beer, wine or cocktails and they do incredible food too. It’s a sunny courtyard by day, turning into a cool and lively bar by an open fire at night. I adore their cocktails here, so much imagination and effort goes into them, I tried a Raspberry & Vanilla Vodka cocktail here that was SO good, I still dream about it.
Astrolabe Brew Bar – Astrolabe is a Mac’s brewery bar that has become Mount Maunganui’s famous gastro-bar. Lively and welcoming by day, but has a real buzz at night-time when it kicks the vibe and the music up a notch. Popular with the backpacking crowd, Astrolabe hosts food specials almost every day and has a family pub style dining area plus a spacious outdoor beer garden.
Is Mount Maunganui a vegetarian friendly town? Where can one find street food in the town?
Mount Maunganui is definitely a place for the foodies.
George Cafe is a great cafe for plant-based, and home-made goodies and delicious coffee. Located right near around the corner from Omanu beach, it’s the perfect place for a pre or post beach walk snack. Grab an almond milk latte or a plant-based, home-made pastry from the counter. George also do a weekend, yummy sweet treat, (think plant-based vanilla doughnuts) check their instagram page for weekly teasers. There’s also Mr Jacksons Plant-Based Vegan Food Truck which you’ll find on Macdonald St and popping up at any festival in the Bay area. This popular food truck makes delicious tofu burgers, pies, nachos, brownies and shakes – all vegan.
For great street food, try Johney’s Dumpling House which is located within the popular Rising Tide bar. Choose from a huge range of fruit beers, IPA’s, and ciders all made on premises and complete with an order of pan-fried or steamed delicious dumplings and steamed pork buns.
What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Mount Maunganui? Do you suggest a place to try it?
The best loved savoury food is the classic and timeless kiwi Fish and Chips. And this dish is best eaten on the beach, for the ultimate Kiwiana dining experience. A favourite Fish and Chip joint that locals love in the Mount is Mount Fish and Chips on Maunganui Rd. Try locally caught and fresh Snapper or Tarakihi to go along with your generous portion of hot chips.
For the best locally loved sweet food, Copenhagen Cones is the winner. You’ll find it at the bottom of The Mount mountain itself, making it a perfect spot to grab an enormous ice cream classic cone, after an energetic walk up or around the Mount – a post-Mount walk ritual for many locals.
Where to head for shopping in the town? Which is the local craft, product or souvenir of Mount Maunganui ?
For luxury shopping or shopaholics, the ‘mainstreet’ strip of Mount Maunganui (Maunganui Rd) is adorned with boutique stores, from beach boho brands to exclusive designer brands, you’ll find it all here.
For an affordable, high-street shopping experience, get to Bayfair Mall, the biggest shopping mall in the North Island, outside of Auckland and Wellington. You’ll find all high street brands here, surf and streetwear, plus department stores, discount stores, trendy cafes, eateries and a cinema .
For local craft buys or souvenirs, don’t miss the Little Big Markets held on the first Saturday of every month in Coronation Park. The Little Big Markets have a vision to create a place to bring communities together and showcase a range of local artists, artisan and local produce stalls. The ideal place to buy all things craft-ey or locally-made.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in your city?
Uber, Uber Eats apps and now Transit are the apps available in Tauranga and Mount Maunganui areas, although there aren’t any apps area specific or exclusive to Mount Maunganui.
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