16 December 2010
After a bleak crossing through the Karangahake Gorge from Auckland, the bright sun poking through the clouds is a clear reminder why the Bay of Plenty has been given its name. We’ve made the trip here for the third annual Tauranga Kaimoana Seafood Festival.
Pre-kids, music festivals were a favourite activity so we’re looking forward to what awaits at the grown-up foodie festival version, which promises a fun day out for the kids this year with an earlier start time, a bouncy castle and a treasure hunt.
Arriving after the five-hour road-trip to the friendly and luxurious Sebel Trinity Wharf was definitely the main event for the kids as they tested each bed for the best bounce and spent time on the balcony looking at the water lapping against the rocks.
“G’day Dude,” waves a couple on a small fishing boat trailing past the balcony. Our five-year-old waves back enthusiastically, “I’ll always remember this day,” he says out of the blue, making sure we do too.
“That’s great, but today was just the traffic jam and the hotel, imagine how memorable tomorrow will be!” we reply. With that thought in mind, and tired from the trip, he falls asleep next to his sister in her cot while giving her a kiss good night.
The next morning we are up early and decide a trek to the top of the Mount will fill in our time before the festival begins. After a hearty breakfast of muesli, fruit and pancakes at an over-priced tourist trap at the bottom, we head skyward.
The walk proves too distracting for our two-year-old, who prefers to lie on the edge of the bumpy grass cliff practicing her swimming strokes, or picking up stones and asking “Where Sheep?”
Giving up, I head down the Mount and to the hot baths perched at the edge while my son and husband walk to the top. It’s far easier to slide down the cement slide into the warm water than rush a two-year-old up a mountain.
A thirty-something couple slinks into the inch-high toddler pool and begins a full-on make-out session. “Excuse us,” we say as we almost tumble into them after reaching the end of the slide. They don’t notice us and the lifeguards don’t notice them.
It’s awkward and when our son joins us after his walk, he looks confused at their behaviour, so we end up leaving early so we don’t have to explain why the man has his hands in the ladies swimsuit or his tongue down her throat.
The Seafood Festival begins at 12 and we head back to the hotel in plenty of time. The Sebel Trinity Wharf is perfectly situated at the edge of the festival so it’s just a one-minute stroll to the entrance.
“What should we see?” I ask the lady at the entrance, half expecting at least a little of the variety of my last festival experience – Glastonbury. “The food stalls,” she says with passion, and a feeling that she’d been made to state the obvious.
The smell of seafood hits our hungry stomachs and we pick up the largest, freshest oysters we’ve ever seen along with creamy seafood chowder from our favourite fish market – Bobby’s on the wharf – plus a side of prawn twisters from Lynne’s Kitchen.
Walking around, you get the feeling a food festival is quite a marketing exercise – sponsor’s banners abound and the teams in the events are from the big seafood companies like Sanfords. Even the chef doing cooking demonstrations is selling his new cookbook.
People: the biggest festival attraction
Spotting something, our five year old races ahead, “Here it is,” he calls back to us. We see a shriveled up bouncy castle and a mound of sand with an adult-sized broom and red bucket on top.
While the small toddler bouncy castle is being blown back up, we settle for some rainbow slushies and a sit-down on hot concrete to watch a teenage breakdancer and a local dance troupe.
“Jeez, not sure if you’d get me doing that in front of all these people,” says the lady behind me, verbalizing what I was thinking. Afterwards the pack-up crew wince as they put away the dance mats in bare feet on the sizzling sidewalk, but the performers never show any discomfort and are enjoying themselves.
Even though the entertainment was aimed at the adults, the kids sat enthralled and we notice our son’s foot tapping away. Later, our daughter stops at each break in the pavement to do the splits – something the elegant dancers had been doing.
After a fruitless search for the ice cream truck, we head to the fish-filleting and seafood-eating competition. This is a new feature hosted by Classic Hits’ Grayson Ottaway.
Ottaway takes tiny but fast steps back and forth behind the filleting table with sunglasses somehow balanced on his forehead, polo shirt collar up and hair gelled.
He repeats “Back in a Shake” frequently as first the microphone fails him and then the salt-of-the-earth contestants stump his long-winded questions simply with “yeah” answers.
“I wouldn’t know a fish if it fell on me,” He says as he fumbles around for a further fifteen minutes before we leave – chasing after the kids as they head back to the bouncy castle and a friend they made there wearing a silver mermaid outfit.
The light is now fading and revelers, now full of seafood and wine, dance past. The sound of glasses clinking competes with the flags from the food stalls waving in the wind. Seagulls like tiny hang-gliders from the Mount nearby skip overhead as live music echoes past.
We sit on the edge of the bank, waving at the boats cruising past. Cousins and large groups of friends share smiles and laughter in inter-generational groupings, and it’s now we see the real attraction to a festival – the people you share it with.
Stay: Sebel Trinity Wharf
: luxurious yet friendly hotel accommodation centrally located in Tauranga CBD on the waterfront. Highly recommended.
See: The Tauranga Kaimoana Seafood Festival
runs annually at the end of November
Do: Walk around The Mount at nearby surf spot Mount Maunganui and soak in the hot pools afterwards.