Lifelong Tauranga residents share their stories of the former city. They also share their feelings on whether the area us changing for the better or the worse.

"I haven't gone far in my life," says Noel Peterson. "I've moved next door."

Noel lives on Pemberton Cres in Greerton, next to the house where he was born in 1953.

"When I grew up in Tauranga, it was a seaside village," he says. "There were 26,000 people."

Back in the 50s, the half of Pemberton Cres where Noel lived was called May St and the area provided the perfect stomping ground for a preschooler with his first set of wheels.

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"I used to go off roaming on my little tricycle and quite often somebody would stop in a car and bundle me up and take me home," Noel says. "Mum would growl at me for disappearing and I found out later she had pinned on the back of my shirt a sign that said, 'If further than 9 May St, return'."

If parents today shudder at the thought of letting their toddlers loose on the streets, Noel says Tauranga then was a very different place.

"Pretty much every time you went down the street, you met and spoke with people you knew. Everybody knew everybody else."

Apart from seven years in Wellington, Noel has only ever lived on Pemberton Cres - and he's only twice been overseas. He went to Samoa for a month in 1979 and Australia for another four weeks in 2006, but says the experiences only served to make him appreciate Tauranga more.

An environmentalist and the city's self-proclaimed "Green Wizard", Noel, 63, recalls being "very much a wanderer" in his childhood and exploring Tauranga's harbour, estuaries and beaches. "I had a great interest in marine biology and ecology so I knew all about the different plants and insects and animals."

In those days, Noel says, Tauranga was a landscape dominated by trees.

Born-and-bred Tauranga resident Noel Peterson "hasn't gone far in life", living in the house next door to the one he grew up in.

His mother was a housekeeper for Mrs Pillans of Pillans Point, and Noel would sometimes bike the hour from Greerton along Otumoetai Rd, which was then metal, before turning on to a track at Cherrywood. The last few kilometres down to Pillans Point were, he says, "a forest of grapefruit trees".

"[Now] we've lost the orchards and the country feel to a degree because of urban sprawl. I've seen the demise of a lot of our environment and ecosystem here in Tauranga. It's still a lovely green place but if you scratch under the surface you find there are a lot of things that have disappeared."

Noel began his working life in Tauranga's orchards and moved to Wellington at age 18 to study geology. He returned to "cleaner, greener" Tauranga when starting a family and spent 25 years working in the disability sector.

For the past eight years, he has served as a sustainability and biodiversity specialist at the charity Envirohub, teaching people about organic gardening and dressing as the Green Wizard to promote environmental ideals.

A father of three and grandfather of nine, he says Tauranga is "one of the best places in the world" and population growth means you now have everything you need. "If you wanted to buy a car in the old days, you got what was available and you went on the waiting list."

He welcomes change but believes the environment could be better protected by, for example, planting more wetland vegetation to absorb noxious runoff from roads.

He also sees a need for better urban design and envisages the Tauranga of the future as a series of "connected eco villages".

"Instead of putting the houses so close together that you can't even look out the window without looking in your neighbour's lounge, we should be designing with more space between the houses and more trees and the opportunity to grow food and gardens."

As an aside, Noel worked as a paperboy for the Bay of Plenty Times in the late '60s and early '70s, selling papers outside the hotels. "This was considered perhaps an undesirable influence on us and moves were made to have selling papers on the streets banned by council. I recall being interviewed on The Strand by a television crew who came from Auckland, and I said I would stand on the white line in the centre of the street if the ban took effect. Fortunately it never happened, [but] it was quite a big deal back then."

Dennis March is a third-generation Tauranga resident but his family's connections to the Bay stretch back further.

His great-great grandfather, Henry Marsh, came to New Zealand on a boat called the May Queen in 1881, a paid immigrant who became a farmer in Katikati.

Dennis' grandfather, Ascot "Cot" Marsh, was the first in the family to be born in Tauranga, before Dennis' father George was born in 1914.

Dennis, 78, is at pains to point out that despite their long ties to the city, the family is not the namesake of Tauranga's Marsh St.

That said, there was a time when he knew all the locals, and if he didn't know them personally, he knew them through his father or grandfather, he says.

Dennis was born in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, and spent the war years living in a cottage on an orange orchard that is now Decor Gardenworld in Moffat Rd.

He remembers having a pet lamb and his mother having to milk their house cow before his father arrived home in his army uniform.

"He got man-powered out of the war to come and sharemilk on a farm on Cambridge Rd," Dennis says. "It was owned by a woman called Mrs Bell whose husband got killed in the war. That's where the name Bell Common comes from."

Dennis went to kindergarten at Bethlehem Maori School and caught the bus into Tauranga Primary when he started school.

He says the landscape was entirely different then. "There was no such thing as 1st Ave or 2nd Ave [and] if you wanted to go visiting, you went to the Jones' house or the McCauleys' house. The council used to charge people for grazing their cows on Cameron Rd."

Dennis says his father recalled a time when Cameron Rd was sealed in crushed shells from Tauranga Harbour to steel against the bullock carts.

His father's family also farmed on Cambridge Rd, providing some of the first town milk supply to Tauranga in the 1920s and '30s. "There were five kids in my dad's family," says Dennis. "They hand-milked, night and morning, 60 cows."

In 1949, Dennis' parents bought a farm in Te Puke, but it wasn't long before he returned to Tauranga to work at the Regent Theatre, one of two picture theatres in the town. The other was housed in the town hall and commonly known as The Bughouse. "The Regent Theatre was the posh one where all the monied people went," Dennis says.

He also loved music and traded in his career as a projectionist to play nights at local bars with a group called The Senators. He still plays country music at clubs in Tauranga and Papamoa and sees the same familiar faces. "The crowds haven't changed but they've aged," he says cheekily.

Dennis shares his stories at the dining table of his home in Greerton, where he and wife Leonie have lived since October 1963.

The couple have three children and bought the quarter-acre section on Manson St for 700, taking advantage of subsidies offered by the Government to couples with children to get a loan.

Leonie says her and Dennis are the longest residents of the original "Bee's Nest" development - "most of the sections have sold off the backs but we won't do that" - and Dennis, in particular, has no desire to live anywhere else.

"It's really nice that the population of Tauranga has expanded as much as it has because for too long Tauranga was considered a retirement village. And the fact that we've got so much industry and other forms of employment I think is really neat."

Ask Ross Boreham if he'll ever leave Tauranga and his answer is blunt.

"Nah, just in a casket," the 44-year-old says. "I'll be here till I die."

Ross lives on his whanau's land at Matapihi with his wife and children.

They moved there seven years ago, and he says life on the peninsula is like escaping to another world, free of the busyness he encounters every morning at the Bayfair roundabout.

Born and bred Tauranga resident Ross Boreham has been kept in Mount Maunganui for 44 years by family and the beach. The only way he would ever leave? "In a casket."

Ross was born in Auckland but his mother is Ngai Te Rangi and brought the family home to Arataki in 1972 when Ross was a baby.

In those days Arataki was a brand new suburb and the family home on Gobray Cres was the only one around for a time.

"When we were kids, we'd be knicking building materials and building huts and going down to the beach and cooking marshmallows and having dirt bomb fights - basically free stuff," Ross says.

A father of four with two stepchildren, he says times have changed in terms of keeping the kids entertained. "Entertainment for them is taking them to the movies, Burger King, the hot pools. Back in the day, you were out of the door and that's you for the day."

He says with his youngest kids, aged 7 and 8, their meetings with friends are always pre-arranged. "It's all play dates now. It's organised at school. We just met up on the street, chucked our bags over the fence and we were gone."

Ross recalls there being no traffic lights at Mt Maunganui when he was a kid. The Bayfair mall was a deserted construction site with metal beams and pipes where he and his friends would play hide and seek.

"We used to go and get our mates and count to 100, then we'd take off home and they'd try and find us. We weren't even there," he says with a laugh.

Because there were lots of new families in Arataki, Ross made many "lifetime friends", some of whom still live in the area. Their other pastimes included riding their BMXs on a track at the original Baypark speedway next to Gobray Cres. As they got older, the group frequented the bars on The Strand but Ross says as the Mount grew - "traffic lights, more houses, Papamoa boomed and Bayfair was created" - there was less need to cross the harbour bridge.

"Tauranga used to be the place to go but now you don't really need to go there."

The other main hangout for him and his friends growing up was, of course, the beach. "Back when we were younger surfing was huge for us. We didn't want to go down to Omanu and the Mount. We created our own little suburb. We used to call it Top Shop Beach."

Ross surfed at national level but now, as a busy father running a timber flooring company, he doesn't get out on the water as much as in the past. He admits to being "a bit of a sook" about surfing in the cold but says it is comforting to know the Arataki beach is unchanged.

"There's always still no one down there."

The biggest change for him at the Mount is the number of people and all the "strangers".

Growing up at Arataki, everyone knew everyone, and he feels most at home on the coast. "Any time you go inland you feel like a fish out of water," he says.

He also feels a strong cultural connection to Matapihi and, having lived in Australia a couple of years, he says the desire to be close to family pulled him home.

When he was 24, he got a tattoo of a topless woman on his leg, and although he laughs about it now, he still feels proud of the word "Arataki" etched beneath her torso.

"When we were kids, we'd be knicking building materials and building huts and going down to the beach and cooking marshmallows and having dirt bomb fights - basically free stuff."

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M

arilyn Searancke's home at Mt Maunganui is filled with sea shells and pictures of Mauao and the beach.

"My dream was always to live at the Mount and I got here eventually," the 66-year-old says.

Marilyn Searancke sitting on the step of the state house on Cameron Rd where she spent her childhood. Photo/Supplied
Marilyn Searancke sitting on the step of the state house on Cameron Rd where she spent her childhood. Photo/Supplied

Marilyn, a widow whose soldier husband died in 2005, lives in a Housing New Zealand house on Grenada St.

She loves wandering the beach and although she won't eat the tuatua anymore, she rejects suggestions that stocks are depleting.

"You've got to know where to look," she says.

Marilyn was born in Tauranga in 1950, the eldest of eight children, and both sides of the harbour have always been her playground.

She spent her early years in a state house on Cameron Rd before her parents bought a section on Esk St in Merivale in 1959.

Marilyn remembers watching the steam trains come through Tauranga as a child and was also a big fan of the boats.

She loved fishing and cried watching the old wharf across the road from the Crown & Badger pub on The Strand being demolished in 2005, saying it brought back many memories.

She also remembers the area around Bayfair being cow paddocks and Hewletts Rd "all pine trees".

As a teenager, she used to get on the ferry to Pilot Bay to watch the ships and listen to a jukebox at the Mount.

One night, she missed the last ferry back to town and had to sleep in the toilets at Pilot Bay. She was 14 years old.

"I was one of those naughty children," she says. "I was a rebel."

Marilyn got kicked out of home at 15 and headed to Opotiki to work as a kitchen hand in the hospital, and has come and gone from Tauranga over the years. She spent seven years in Australia from 1998, but has always found herself back where she started. "It's home. It's safe," she says.

After her husband left the army, they bought a house at Welcome Bay, then another at Bayfair Estate in 1993. It was in Pacific View Rd and cost $40,000 - a price Marilyn marvels at now she sees sections advertised for $198,000.

The former Tauranga Girls' College student says Tauranga has always been a conservative place and she feels class distinctions still exist.

She worries about the amount of rubbish on the beaches and says there are not enough toilets and showers to cater to the crowds.

At the same time, she says, progress cannot be stopped and in the cruise-ship season, she sets herself up on a bench at Pilot Bay and talks to the passengers about Tauranga.

-See videos of Noel, Dennis, Ross and Marilyn talking about life in Tauranga at www.bayofplentytimes.co.nz.