Bay lights up for Christmas

By Annemarie Quill


It may be only mid-November but Christmas fever is already starting to build. Already some houses around the Bay are planning their decorations and light displays for one of the highlights of the Christmas calender, The Bay of Plenty Times Christmas Lights Trail.

Houses not only compete for the People's Choice vote of being the most dazzling in the Bay, but provide delight for other residents.

Samantha Dowling of The Bay of Plenty Times says she has already received entries.

"There's something magical about seeing houses all lit up for Christmas," she says.

"The Bay of Plenty Times Christmas Lights Trail provides addresses of homes which have entered, so come December families can pack a flask of hot chocolate, a few festive treats to nibble on, bundle the kids in the car, haul out the Christmas mix on your iTunes and take a couple of hours visiting the sights. And the best thing is it won't cost a thing."

Greerton mum-of-two Sarah Watene is a fan.

"The Christmas Light Trail is a family tradition in our home. Every year we plan out what houses we are going to visit, keeping to the old faithfuls that always give that warm Christmas feeling and trying some new homes that wow us," she says.

"We are amazed by people's generosity and Christmas spirit when visiting their homes. Our girls look forward to it every year, and so do us big kids."

Previous winner Shane Spalding has been decorating his Highlander Place house in Welcome Bay every December for the past seven years.

"It started out as a bit of a competition between me and my father-in-law, Brian Neil, who lives just down the road in Discovery Avenue. He still enters now, but has never won anything to his great annoyance."

Shane puts up the lights in November. "It's a big job putting the decorations up but we love it. Of course I love to win but that is not why we do it - we just love it."

His display is more elaborate each year. "Last year was my biggest ever with more than 40,000 lights. I think I even have a few more this year. I always think about what I can do differently."

He says his electricity bill goes up each year at Christmas, but not by a huge amount.

"There is so many LED lights now that it keeps the cost down."

One street in Tauranga that really lights up the grid is Maungatapu's Plover Place. Most of the residents put up elaborate displays each year and, come Christmas Eve, the queues of cars stretch for several roads.

It began nine years ago when Alan Holloway and his wife put up a few lights, and neighbour Vicky Barnett suggested others follow suit.

The concept grew, the word spread and it soon became one of Tauranga's main Christmas attractions.

Vicky says people started asking if they could donate money, so a donation box was put up for Waipuna Hospice, where Alan's wife Raye died and where the couple had been volunteers.

But it is the community spirit that the residents do it for.

"I have a snow globe which means I have to go out and stand by it, otherwise the kids might climb in. Some nights I may not feel like it and would just prefer to sit by the TV. But every time I get out there, I love it," he says.

"The people are so appreciative, adults and children alike. It is nice to feel that we can share this with people - I recently had my kitchen fixed up and every tradesperson that came said they all came here with their families at Christmas."

Vicky says the residents are not overly competitive and all help each other out with the lights.

"We all try to do something different. My neighbours are putting stuff on their roof next year and my other neighbours - who are my parents - have made a huge wheel with a star on that they will put on a flagpole."

The street is even home to Santa - aka John Shakespeare - who lives at number seven. Every night leading up to Christmas, John sits outside his house from 8.30pm until 11pm handing out sweets to children and listening to their Christmas wishes.

"He has already grown a beard," says Vicky.

To be a part of the trail people must register by Monday, November 26. Forms can be found in the BOPT. The Trail will be published on December 4, 11, 18, 20 and 24.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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