Another uneventful New Year's Eve has passed at Mount Maunganui. Carparks and Mount Drury were fenced off, the streets were closed and quiet and there were no public events, no fireworks. It's easy to forget this was once one of New Zealand's most popular -and notorious - New Year hotspots. After four years, is the Mount ready to get the party started again? Samantha Motion reports.
Mount Maunganui used to be one of New Zealand's New Year's Eve party hotspots, but for four years it's had no public entertainment or fireworks display.
Now, there's a push to bring the party back.
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The party stopped in 2016, when Tauranga City Council axed its annual beachfront concert and midnight Pilot Bay fireworks after allegations young partygoers had been sexually abused at the concert set social media alight and hit national headlines.
An independent review commissioned by the council found the event was rife with risks and they voted to can it.
"The evidence from police and emergency services is clear," mayor of the day, Stuart Crosby, said at the time.
"There is a risk of sexual assaults, young people being intoxicated, and potential violent situations. We are the event owner - we have the responsibility to change tack."
Some claim the allegations were blown out of proportion by authorities looking for a reason to end the event.
A youth silent disco the next year was a huge flop, so the council focused its funding on family-friendly events and fireworks elsewhere in the city.
This year it ran events in the CBD, Greerton, Pāpāmoa and Matua with funding of $454,000.
The basic formula was all-ages entertainment and food trucks and fireworks at 9.30pm and midnight.
Gareth Wallis, council general manager of community services, said he had always hoped Mount Maunganui would be added to the lineup when the time was right.
He believed it was time to start talking about doing that for the next new year, but not all stakeholders were convinced yet.
"Some are nervous, and understandably so."
The costs were not known and may ultimately be more than the council was willing to fund.
"The council has a responsibility to its residents. If it is going to organise something, it needs to keep it safe.
"There is a sector of the community who have a fairly rose-tinted glasses view of what used to happen. The reality is not that great. There was violence and there was sexual violence against women."
Wallis said the council had been keeping an eye on economic and tourism indicators, and the Mount's business sector did not seem to have suffered for the lack of a public event.
January 2 music festival Bay Dreams - New Zealand's biggest at 30,000 people - helped pick up the slack.
"The Mount is still full at New Years. People are still coming and still spending money, they're just not having a big public piss-up."
Wallis said the most likely location for a new event would be Blake Park. He saw no good reason to go back to Main Beach, a sensitive environment.
He was "not convinced" it was the council's role to provide something for everyone to do on New Year's Eve.
The commercial sector - local bars, restaurants and event organisers - could fill the gaps.
Tauranga-based New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell is a former owner of the Mount Mellick and operator of another Mount New Year icon, the Sandbar temporary beachfront bar.
Asked about the council's role in New Year's Eve events, he said: "It is the council's job."
While some ratepayers were happy for the recreation portion of their rates to go to pools and parks, others wanted events.
"There's certain sectors of our community that would prefer to have this sort of amenity over an important calendar date such as New Year's Eve.
"I think it needs to be looked at again. I think the risks can be managed if it's done properly."
Police area commander for the Western Bay, Inspector Clifford Paxton, said police supported community-based events and were open to a discussion about the future of New Year's Eve in Mount Maunganui.
"Our aim is always to reduce alcohol-related harm.
"We all want the same outcome ... to ensure New Year's Eve events in the Western Bay of Plenty are safe, family-friendly events."
Some in the Mount hospitality scene are keen for change.
Lucas Fleury has owned Mount Social Club for 10 years. He said the past four New Years had been "a bit slow".
"It definitely was more vibrant before. I have friends who go to Whangamata for New Year's. They used to come to the Mount.
"We need to have something. We're a summer destination. We just need to work together to see how we can manage it."
Lisa Rooney, area and entertainment manager for The Rising Tide in the Mount and High Tide Tauranga, said the Mount needed to embrace family festivities.
"I think they are lacking family festivities in the Mount, but New Year's Eve for adults really helps the bars and venues."
The issue has been a hot topic at Mount Maunganui Residents, Ratepayers and Retailers meetings.
Member and long-time Mountie Mike O'Neill said having no New Year event was "a real kick in the pants" for a town that used to have some of New Zealand's best celebrations.
Group co-founder and now Tauranga City councillor Andrew Hollis said the suburb's New Year's Eve party was once iconic but had "lost its feeling and its vibe".
"It was a national highlight and we closed it down."
The loss of the public event was like "pre-punishing" everyone, rather than leaving police to deal with the minority of revellers who made trouble, he said.
"Police are going to work a bit harder on New Year's Eve in the same way that firefighters work harder on Guy Fawkes and the emergency department does on any long weekend."
He did not want to see the Mount experience "watered down into a plain old family-friendly thing".
"People in their teens and 20s are keen on it being more of a party."
He did not think it was the council's job to entertain everyone, but believed it could bring down costs in other areas and "have $500,000 to celebrate New Year's Eve properly - put on a bit of a party".
"Nobody goes to Greerton for New Year's Eve."
Bright light idea
A Mountie father and son team want to bring a multi-day live arts show to Mount Maunganui over the New Year period.
Mike O'Neill and son Shea said the concept for the festival was interactive light and sculpture.
Shea, a creative producer, had worked on exhibitions like this before.
Mike said the idea was family-friendly, would have a point of difference in New Zealand and would be "attractive to everyone".
"Not just loud music and carry on."
Keen to avoid noisy and disruptive fireworks that scare animals, one of their ideas was to project a laser light show on to Mauao.
Mike said he had pitched the idea to the council and hoped they would be keen to run with it.