Going Down to the Sea: Pilot Bay on a Summer’s Day


The Viking Orion is delicately leaving Tauranga. Its majestic size even more imposing and its gracefulness intensified because of its nearness to where I am standing on the Pilot Bay beach.

Tauranga seems surrounded by water and even though I live high in the Kaimai Range in rural Western Bay I can see the sea and hear the water of the river as it cascades downwards.  

It’s summer-hot today and there’s the usual roadside cluster of cars at the fence with the stile to get to the swimming hole on the fringe of remnant native bush. I drive slowly as a people mover, a motorcycle and then a large silver SUV slide out onto the Whakamarama Road.

The line of traffic from Tauranga past SH2 and Barrett Road seems never-ending. Eventually the small, ladybird-bright, blue car at the front of the queue darts out into a small space and miraculously avoids being collected by the ute driven by someone who, like so many of this day’s drivers, cannot read the charmingly coloured road sign some distance down the highway “Slow – busy intersection ahead”.  

I’m now an old hand at entering SH2 and know that if it becomes clear to the right and there is no large truck and trailer unit approaching from Kati Kati I can “dwell” on the painted median and then move out. The more nervous or the uninitiated prefer to see if they can achieve the quinella of a totally clear road. No chance of that today. Where I wonder is everyone going? Up the Coromandel for New Year? Up to Auckland for New Year? Going back home after a week in the Bay of Plenty?   Just going home after a day’s work?   Whatever – I’m “doing the groceries” and Mount Maunganui this afternoon.

The car behind me behaves like an out-of-towner. It stupidly thinks because the road signs say “90kph” it means he can drive into Tauranga at 100kph. Fat chance but he still gets as close as possible to my car without penetrating his grill with my towbar. I start to shake my head and mutter –modest road rage.   We have a reasonably uninterrupted run up through the Te Puna roundabout but I can see the brake lights of cars going on just before the corner – so I slow. I can feel the rage of the driver behind me but sure enough round the bend before the freshly painted Village the traffic is crawling and I can check out the font on the new Clarke Road Kitchen sign. Behind me the driver’s pulling left and right to see what’s holding us up.  

Past what was McGregor’s fruit barn and the Police heavy vehicle stop, along the flat to the corner down to the Wairoa.   I start to hang back a little and behind me the driver restarts his left to right dance.   The traffic hiccups the hill, slowing and stopping to allow those turning out of the road by the bridge to join in. Slowly over the bridge and up into the 50kph zone with Mr Left and Right weaving along behind me.   I hope he pulls in to the right hand lane at the Paeroa Road roundabout but no – still up behind me. I indicate my turn into the shopping centre early to give him a chance to avoid running over me.

Back on the road I drive over to “the Mount” without incident. They’ve painted “Totara Street this lane” way back on the road so visitors don’t have to try to move left at the last-minute.

Unbelievably I find a park outside Coronation Park and that’s when I notice that the Gourmet Night Market is on.   It can’t be more than 4 or 5pm but the wagons (the food trucks) have circled the park and the punters are already arriving, buying, eating and sitting on and under anything while a local radio station plays from the Mauaopac gazebo.

 I take the total tour.  

I’m more than tempted by The Milk Bar purveyor of scrumptious ice creams but remember the two plates of incredible desserts eaten at the Scandinavian Christmas Eve dinner I was privileged to participate in.   No ice cream for you!

One of trucks sells “Neapolitan” pizza. I see what I think is a Calzone: an Italian Pasty or Paratha relation. (Later when I look up Wikipaedia that font of all knowledge it tells me that Calzone are “baked pizza”). I ask if they make the small and delicious pizzas shared with me by a New Zealand-living Neapolitan family.   Small balls of dough flattened to palm-size, dropped into boiling oil then covered with homemade tomato and herb sauce? Almost like Puri. Another transformative experience – eating “real” Italian food. “No, they don’t make those”       A mature female  squeaks with delight when she sees the $10 a ride round Mt Maunganui on the large motorbike – “I’m going to do it”. I’ve been “driven home” from University in the middle of a wet Auckland winter on the back of a motorbike. That and being a motox mother tells me I won’t be paying to ride around the Mount on the bike!

I’ve come to walk along Pilot Bay. It may be late afternoon but the sea is still glittering as if overlaid with marquisite. Even with my sunglasses on I have difficulty maintaining my gaze. The tide is low, little and gentle waves rolling slowly up to the sand. There are towels, rugs, tarpaulins spread on the grass and one family has even erected a large lime green tent on the sand (smart people). A van packed to the gunnels with someone’s life has a small solar panel leaning against the door greedily absorbing each ray. Every inch of shade is occupied. The crowd is multi-ethnic. It’s slim and to the size of a small tent. There’s every kind of hat imaginable and everything from jandals to ankle boots. I walk past a young woman blowing bubbles and laugh with her as I explain my babysitting use of bubbles. She wishes me a wonderful afternoon and I continue along the boardwalk in penetrating heat.

The hire toys are packing up their stands. Kayaks and paddles are being carefully placed into the trailer. I laugh at the notice to “please keep away from the canoes” and the earnest Tsunami warning but wonder in the event of a catastrophe how far I’d get “walking” and how many of us would get far enough up “the Mount” to avoid death and destruction. Hopefully I’ll be at home when it happens so I refuse to let this exhortation to Health & Safety spoil my afternoon.

I’d planned to walk along to the base of Mauao but it’s so hot I find a vacant shaded seat and sit with my back to the light. I find myself inadvertently peering in the large windows of the house opposite: I can see a big pair of bare feet at the end of a reclining armchair – this makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable so I start my walk back to the Park.

I walk along the pavement and without shame peer into the gardens and front windows of the ground level houses. I’m amazed so many are closed up as if summer has terrified the occupants. One poor home has suffered a flood and there’s a huge drier cranking on like a maniac.   I walk past the “bach” whose post I’ve shared on facebook – what a spot “right out in front of the goal posts” and walking (or stumbling) distance to the main street nightlife.

I photograph a large cruise ship through the trees. I had wondered earlier in the day why I hadn’t seen the hordes of lanyard wearing humans– they’re on board and leaving. I can’t believe how big the ship is – it’s gargantuan but imperceptibly moving away from the wharf behind a small bright yellow tug. I’m entranced. I’m that child again. I just stand and stare.  

Two larger tugs appear from behind the ship one calmly slides between this seagoing mountain and the land the other lurks behind it. I can’t believe it’s so close to the shore; so close to the swimmers, so close to the microscopically small boats as it floats by.  

What must be the pilot boat, the first little tug, just like “Toot” buzzes ahead to take this behemoth past the guardian of the Bay – Mauao. It’s so big it obliterates the horizon and the distant Kaimai. I try to work out how many lifeboats there are. As I stare I discern that speed is slightly increasing – what a responsibility like driving the Queen down the Southern Motorway during the rush hour. Now I truly understand the complaint of a young merchant navy cadet friend who bitterly told me “Nana wouldn’t let him use her boat but he had guided an oil tanker through the English Channel….”    

I don’t wait to see it depart but continue to walk back with teenage memories of an unbelievable holiday cruise experience on MV Aurelia – my first introduction to the wonders of Italy.

I finish my microwaving walk to the car and find my notebook. In the shade of one of the Park’s protecting trees I start to write.   By this time there is “live music” under the gazebo and a stream of soothing elevator music flows over the gathered crowd. Trapdoor spider-like a car noticing I’m about to leave hovers behind me. It swerves into my vacant space as if pursued by demons. Another politely ushers me into the line of traffic.    On the beach and in the park, I’ve just seen a quintessential New Zealand Summer.

I hate to spoil the day – but today it’s raining again. I cannot see the sea or the sky my world has been painted grey. Coming to New Zealand best bring a sunhat and a raincoat!

Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as     the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.

You’ll also enjoy reading Rosemary’s recent article about the art and creativity of Christina Magsig whose work you can find at the Affordable Art & Artisan Fairs at the Black Sheep Whakamarama and online through Christina’s own website (details at the end of the article).

Precise Patterns: the work of artist Christina Magsig



ARTbop promotes

   (or we think you should check this out!)


Travelling down SH2 towards Tauranga check out the thriving arts scene in Kati Kati.


The Carlton Gallery at The Arts Junction

In and around Downtown Tauranga make sure to visit the wonderful, vibrant exhibition in the Atrium of the TAG by Emma Prill.   ARTbop’s Lee Switzer has just published some images of this exhibition and the artist.

You’ll also want to check out The Historic Village at 17th Avenue with its increasing boutique shops, galleries and The Incubator Creative Hub

Check out what’s inside the People’s Gallery

Toymakers to the nation: The Men’s Shed

The weather up at Waihi Beach over Summer is usually wonderful – this year we’ve been having days where it has really “rained on the parade” – don’t let that put you off there’s so much to see and do (and eat).   I was up there some weeks ago to check out the weekly market – don’t miss it and make sure you take a peek into Sunday homewares.

This vintage sign bears no resemblance to the ticking and vibrant summer vibe of Waihi Beach!

This is more like it!

And this!

And this!

And this!

And this!

Or this!

And this!

ARTbop favourite!

Weekly Sunday market

Beautiful flowers

Superb graphics



Boutique style

Creative fibre talent

Traditional toys

Fresh artisan produce


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