Dear Tauranga

Your growing pains are hurting us all. It's often easier to complain about traffic, unreliable public transportation, high housing costs, low wages and rainy winters than it is to celebrate your strengths.

I'll grumble another time. In honour of Valentine's Day, I want to tell you what's held me in your arc for eight years.

It's home detention.

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Yeah, nah - that's a joke.

I love that you don't take yourself too seriously. How can you when half your population wears jandals year-round, the other half wears no shoes at all, and a sizable number of people are stripping out of wetsuits alongside Marine Parade at any moment?

I love that you've accepted me and my children. Even though we're not from here, you've made us your own.

I love that the friends in your city are as plentiful as shells on the beach. I love that those mates are always willing to lend an ear, share a cuppa or throw out a lifeline.

I love your embrace of sport and movement - for hosting more games, tournaments, matches and races than we'll ever be able to attend or take part in. I love that you nurture everyone from beginners to elite athletes.

I love your sunny disposition. Your rainy periods foster an appreciation of clear skies which seem to stretch forever in late summer.

I love your sounds - waking before sunrise to birds, cicadas and the sea before the cacophony of cars and construction commence.

I love your shoulder seasons, when crowds have thinned, cafes are calmer and food arrives at the table inside of 30 minutes.

I love your beauty - the sweeping bosom of sand bisected by Moturiki (Leisure) Island as seen from the top of Mauao; the way the sun's yoke rises beyond the horizon of blue sea.

I love your trails - the places we walk, run and cycle within our urban playground, tucked away from traffic near the harbour, waterways and through the bush.

I love your rituals - the prescribed order of events like a walk around the Mount followed by coffee.

I love your clubs - where we practise skills and sports, make connections, serve other people and learn about leadership.

I love your volunteers - servant leaders who, in another realm, are bankers, parents, truck drivers, nurses, teachers, attorneys, baristas, doctors … no matter their other jobs, they raise their hands time and again to ask, "How else can I help?"

I love your arts - the way you attract and nurture world-class musicians, artists, actors, writers and people dedicated to making works of emotion and beauty accessible. I love that you dedicate entire festivals to bringing us joy.

I love your schools, though they struggle from being loved by too many people at once. I love that my children have turned strangers into friends. I love that they've learned to read, write and solve problems within the classroom walls and beyond.

I love your diversity. I love that I can go to the store without being asked each time about my accent, because being from somewhere else is normal.

I love your food, especially when it's in season. I love your avocados, green-lipped mussels, kiwifruit and blueberries. I love your chips so hot, they require a cooling squiggle of tomato sauce. I love your ice cream in a waffle cone, which is always in season.

I love your warmth - a "polar vortex" might mean zero degrees, not minus 20 degrees, in July. I love wearing short sleeves on the beach in winter and buying leather boots strictly for fashion. I love not shovelling snow, not driving in it and not stretching rubber grippers over my trainers in hopes I won't kill myself trying to run on ice.

I love your abundance of water - your ocean, harbour, rivers, lakes and streams. I love that you've encouraged my son to surf and to discover the joy of submerging his body in a cold natural spring on a 27 degree day. I love that even my non-seafaring daughter will swim in Pilot Bay.

I know nothing's forever, but I hope our relationship lasts a long time. And unlike a box of sweets or bottle of bubbles, the memories you've delivered are forever.

But if you want to bring chocolates and wine, I'll savour those, too.

*What do you love about the Bay? What would you miss if you left?