The best thing about backpaking and not having a definite itinerary is that you can change plans within minutes and it's OK. I was in Rotorua but decided to take a trip back up north a bit to Tauranga so I could see Mt. Maunganui, a destination that was highly recommended to me.
I booked one night at Harbourside Backpackers which had a gorgeous view of the harbor right in town. I arrived at my hostel before check-in time so I decided to do my Mt. Maunganui experience right away! I dropped off my big backpack and took my day bag over to the i-SITE (NZ information centers in each town) to wait for the next bus to Mt. Maunganui (buses 1 or 2).
On my way there, I heard a kiwi woman talking to two girls around my age. She was giving them tips on where to eat and the best way to hike the mountain. I couldn't hear the conversation too well so when we got off the bus, I asked them their plans. Their names were Mel and Diane. They said they were going to eat before the hike and invited me along.
We went to this small garden cafe/restaurant right in town called AstroLob. I realized that I hadn't eaten a single vegetable in about a week so I ordered a huge spinach salad with pulled pork (of course not as good as NC pulled pork, but still good), candied walnuts and apples. The other girls ordered beers but I stuck with water because 1, we were about to hike a mountain, and 2, NZ beers are awful from my experience.
After lunch we started the walk. It wasn't an intense trek but some parts were quite steep. The view all the way up was gorgeous, looking out over the Pacific Ocean. It took about an hour or so to climb to the summit. I had my hiking boots on (which I normally do), but I could have easily done this hike in sneakers. At the summit we could see the whole penninsula and islands surrounding it. We walked up to the summit, back down the other side, and around the base. Sometimes we were passing the ocean crashing on huge rocks on the beach and at other parts, we were surrounded by sheep grazing in huge rolling fields. It was all so diverse. The gils and I made great conversation, as well. Mel is from England and Diane from San Paulo. Diane was a bit older than us and explained that she was in New Zealand trying to get a visa for her and her 11 year old daughter who was back in Brazil with her mother. Basically, her whole goal of coming to New Zealand was to find someone to marry and aquire a visa for her and her dependant. She said she wanted to go to the States to do so but the process is much more complicated and expensive.
Before we got the bus back into town, we grabbed a coffee from a cafe along the beach. Chai Latte for me!
By the time I got back to the hostel Nicole, the Swiss girl I met in Rotorua, was checking in. It was so nice to see a familiar face. We settled in to our (cramped) 4 bunkbed dormroom and went up to the terrace overlooking the harbor. There, we met some people from South America, Marco from Argentina, Lupe from Chile, and Papu from Uruguay. Nicole and I wanted to get a bottle of wine for that night but the nearest grocery store was at least a 15 minute walk away and it was already getting dark. Lupe said they needed to go to Pack'n'Save as well so he offered to give us a lift. While I was there, I grabbed some apples and fruit so I didn't have to rely only on Cliff bars like I have been.
The rest of the night was full of red wine, mate and dancing to Latino music (I've missed it all so much since I left Argentina).
The next morning I had a bus to Taupo. Sorry I did these blog posts a bit out of order. I already posted the Taupo post but it's OK! As long as its all there for me to read later.