Rena and sharks on visitors' minds

By Michele McPherson

Where's Rena? Can you see Rena? Is it over there?

These are the top questions being posed to this year's crew of summer ambassadors based at Mount Maunganui Main Beach, ensuring visitors and locals get the most out of their summer holidays.

Nineteen-year-olds Evelyn Bradley and James Tingey make up one of four ambassador pairs, based in a cabin at the base of Mount Drury, who walk the Main Beach, Pilot Bay, Mount mainstreet and around Mauao offering advice, freebies and a smiling welcome to the Western Bay.

This year the huge container ship stranded off Tauranga's coast has been at the forefront of beach-goers' minds, with one man mistaking sea lettuce in the water for oil from Rena.

"He was really agitated because he thought oil was coming up on the beach. It was just all the weed in the water," James said.

One woman told the pair she wasn't taking a dip until she saw a written statement from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board, including the results of water testing, proving it was safe.

"Some people are still really, really sceptical about the water," Evelyn said.

But James said the majority of people on the beach were in good spirits.

"They just say how lovely the area is and how well it's been cleaned up," he said.

What lurked beneath the surface was also putting other swimmers off.

"They're not going in the water because they've heard there's been a lot more sharks round this year," James said.

A shark washing up on the beach last week also caught swimmers' eyes.

"We did have the beached shark, which I think kind of scared people. Kids got really excited though and started touching it," Evelyn said.

Questions were also coming from cruise ship passengers, wanting to know what they could do for the day, where to rent a car or find a good cup of coffee.

The pair also sent a Brazilian couple and their two adrenalin-seeking teenage children to try blo-karting at Papamoa.

Beach base manager Peter Gibbs said the crowds emerged when the weather began to clear on New Year's Day.

"It's just really winding up and happening, and the waves are beautiful, so I think for the rest of the week it will be really full on," he said.

By 9.30am yesterday carparks around Mauao and Mount Drury were a hot commodity.

Both James and Evelyn, who are on university holidays, are loving the summer job, which runs from December 23 to January 6.

"It so good, it's just awesome being down here on the beach and talking to people. The vast majority of people are really nice, happy and glad to be here. It's a chance to approach random people and spin a yarn," James said.

However, Evelyn said the response to ambassadors was a lot warmer from visitors to the Bay, with some locals almost insulted if they were handed a Summer Passport, featuring events and summer information.

"It's for locals too though," James said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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