Surf, Sun, Sand...or Escape? A Guide to Local Beaches, Surfing & Get Away Spots
Some say the best beaches in the world are in places like Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Brazil, California, and Hawaii...but have they been to the Mount?
Where New Zealand’s concerned, Mount Maunganui is pretty hard to beat for a timeless package of white sands, rolling surf and all the water sports you could wish for. Not to mention the professionals to teach you one end of a surfboard, kite surfing rig, or whatever, from another.
The Mount has been a Kiwi surfing mecca since the 60’s (some would say 50’s) with its more forgiving waves than the wild coast West Coast. In 2008 it’s the same scenario, just more people with better water toys.
Mount surf spots are mainly beach breaks that offer two to four foot ‘fun surf’ on the average summer day. They run from the busy left-hander ‘The Blowhole’ at Main Beach, south past ‘Shark Alley,’ to Tay Street, and Clyde Street, and then on down the coast through Papamoa. It’s a surf scene where generally, you can work up some skills without battling fierce currents and gnarly waves, or 80 other aggro surfers scrapping over territory.
Apart from the odd week when a tropical cyclone pumps some big groundswell and brings the shortboarders out, it’s ‘mini-mal’ or longboard territory – the longer boards that best suit smaller surf. And of course, body boarders of all ages are in their element.
Mount Maunganui features New Zealand’s only artificial surfing reef constructed 250 m offshore at Tay Street. The delta-wing-shaped reef is a world-first, constructed from geotextile bags —the biggest more than 50m long and 3.5m high —filled with sand. How to spot the reef? Look out from Tay Street to the sea —to sight the buoys at either end, and waves peaking as they hit the reef. Controversy has simmered over how much it cost and how well it works but it’s a unique local attraction, regardless.
So you’ve never surfed? You’re in one of the best places in the country for professional lessons from well-qualified companies that have been in the business for years. New Zealand Surf School run by Jim Hoare and Erica Gilbert is nearly 10 years old and their instructors are NZ Surfing certified. They charge $70 for 2 hours, or $40 for one hour, and use soft top boards, good for learners. You can also organise private lessons, and they specialise in lessons for disabled and those with special needs. The school is set up under a marquee at Tay Street with group lessons held at 10am, 12 noon and 2 pm. Tel 021-477 873. Website: www.nzsurfschools.co.nz
Rebecca Taylor at Hibiscus Surf School is another professionally-qualified instructor with years of teaching experience. The charge is $80 for 2 hour group lessons which are run at 8am, 10am and 2pm, and they also teach body boarding (free one hour board and wetsuit hire after every lesson). Hibiscus also offers two and five day intensive surf clinics, designed to get your surfing on a fast track. The two day clinic is run for two hours each day on Saturday and Sunday, and costs $150 (minimum 3 people). Hibiscus also runs surf trips as far afield as Bali! The school can be found under a marquee at Main Beach Mount Manganui, where they also rent all sorts of boards, including the new stand up paddle boards. Tel 575-3792 or 027-2799 687, www.surfschool.co.nz
Mount Surf Shop is the only surf store at the Mount that runs its own surf school with qualified instructors, and its lessons are the cheapest, at $60 for 2 hours. It’s close to the beach at the northern end of the downtown shops. You get a free lesson if you buy a board, and they also offer ‘buy back’ deals to suit backpackers and other travellers, who are going to be using their board for only a few weeks, or months. This well-run shop at 96 Manganui Road (with a second outlet store in Tuatara Street – and Surf Museum!) will kit you out with everything you need, from long or short boards and stand-up paddle boards, to wax and wetsuits. Tel 575 9133, www.mountsurfshop.co.nz
Also close to Main Beach at the Mount is Backdoor (in the old Assault store) at 24 Pacific Ave. They hire surfboards, wetsuits, body boards and wakeboards. They also have demo boards. Tel 575 7831, www.backdoor.co.nz
What’s the Surf Doing? You can of course, check the surf from the comfort of your home computer, lappie or blackberry. The best way to get clued up on local conditions is to with the www.surf2surf.com website – which provides daily surf reports complete with surf cam views of various local breaks. There’s a wealth of other info, from tide times to water temperatures, and surf forecasts for coming days. We suggest you sign up for the Outlook newsletter and surf alert that goes out on a Friday - with surf predictions for the weekend, including easy-to-read charts, etc.
Essential reading for any wannabe surfer or long time devotee is the chunky little New Zealand Surfing Guide, found in all local books shops and surf shops, or online at www.surf2surf.com The guide has 550 pages packed with information including detailed maps and tips on local surf breaks, weather analysis, and more. The guide is the work of long-time local surf forecaster and longboarder, Peter Morse, and Paul Brunskill, who co-founded surf2surf.
If you’re fed up with the pounding surf, Pilot Bay is a great alternative: a sheltered bay on the inner harbour that’s known as a prime swim-and-picnic spot (Incidentally, a glass of wine with lunch is still legal here – the council’s new liquor bylaws left Pilot alone). Pilot Bay is a civilised alternative to the frenzy of Main Beach in summer and only a couple of streets away across the narrow peninsula. The Bay has wide grassed areas back from the beach, perfect for a spot of lunch without a sprinkling of wind-blown sand. Pilot Bay has modern public toilets with outside showers half way along the beach. The bay has a boat ramp and car and trailer parking. In season you can hire a kayak or catamaran, and there’s a dairy on Salisbury Wharf at the port end of the bay.
Mauao (‘the Mount’) has two fine beaches off the side of the base track that you won’t find in the guide books. To get to them, walk around the harbour side of Mauao past the wharf, you’ll come to a white sandy beach that is a perfect spot to view Tangaroa, the bronze statue that marks the harbour entrance. A few minutes further on is a second small but delightful beach that faces out towards Matakana Island, on the other side of the harbour entrance. You can swim at both beaches but be wary of fast outgoing tides. This is not a place for small children to swim without careful supervision.
South of Tauranga is delightful Maketu, a small seaside settlement near Te Puke, reached by heading south from Mount Maunganui along State Highway 2. Maketu has a large estuary along with a sandy beach leading to a rocky point. It is known for popular horse treks with spectacular sea views, while kite surfers use the estuary. It is famed as the landing place of Te Arawa canoe (waka) in the migration of early Maori from Hawaiki. It’s also famous in New Zealand for Maketu Pies sold across the country, based on an old family recipe. Maketu has a well regarded motor camp and seaside cafe.
Heading back north, the small seaside settlement of Omokoroa, halfway between Tauranga and Katikati presents another great escape from crowded surf beaches. Omokoroa is tidal, but with safe swimming on the high tide. There are pleasant grassy reserves beside the estuary. Add in a playground, general store, wharves (ferries to Matakana Island) and it’s a fine recipe for a family day out. The reserve has public toilets.
Further north, Waihi Beach consists of about 9 kms of un-crowded sandy beach, with a reputation for some of the safest swimming around. It’s also a good place for learner or intermediate surfers, with surfboard hire near the car park. There’s lots of space to surf, walk, sunbathe or surf-cast. There’s parking at the northern end, handy to the start of a magnificent coastal walk, 45 minutes to secluded Homunga Bay. Waihi’s laid back shopping centre, a few minutes away by car, has an award winning restaurant, The Porch, and a popular bakery. Waihi Beach has the award-winning Top 10 Resort with superb facilities, if you’re looking for somewhere to stay.
At the south end of Waihi Beach you’ll find Anzac Bay at Bowentown. You won’t find this charming, pinch-yourself it’s so-idyllic bay in the guide books either. Anzac Bay has a boat ramp, changing rooms and toilets, plus shady pohutakawa trees and barbecues. Watch out for a fast outgoing tide through the nearby southern entrance to Tauranga Harbour.
Keep an eye on the Wind, Surf, Sun...
Detailed forecasts from MetService
Philip Duncan's Weather Watch blog
Sunsmart's UV index - how to handle the sunshine
Marine forecasts from MetService
Port of Tauranga harbour conditions
Water Fun – Get Clued Up
Surf2surf- surf reports for BOP wave cams and more
Water Quality in the Bay of Plenty – Environment Bay of Plenty
Tauranga Coastguard – for safe boating, radio channels, weather, tides info
The Fishing Website – fish reports, forums articles, etc
Recreational fishing – information on daily limits, regulations from Min Fish