When Monica Cantwell was murdered at Mount Maunganui's Mauao summit 30 years ago today, the community reeled. Kiri Gillespie talks to one of the women who made it their mission to keep Cantwell's memory alive, even if it meant climbing Mauao every day for three years with large bottles of water. Fern Nielsen climbed Mauao every day for three years to water a newly-planted pohutukawa tree.
If it was not her, it was another member of Altrusa Mount Maunganui ensuring their young native was being looked after to grow into a beautiful, blooming tribute to a life lost.
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English tourist Monica Cantwell was raped and murdered on Mauao's summit 30 years ago today. The crime sent the quiet seaside town of Mount Maunganui into shock, with residents unsure of what to do in response.
Nielsen told the Bay of Plenty Times the feeling of despair among the community was so palpable that "as Altrusa, we decided we needed to do something".
The club contacted Cantwell's family in the UK and asked for permission to create a memorial for Monica. With the Cantwells' blessing, a large boulder was placed with a plaque on Mauao's summit, where it sits today just off to the side of the 4WD track.
It is not the only tribute.
A pohutukawa tree was planted at the summit, and every day for about three years Nielsen and other Altrusa members would climb Mauao with bottles of water for it.
"It did drive us nuts keeping the darn thing alive," Nielsen said.
However, what the tree represented - new life with each summer bloom - was Nielsen's focus.
"It was important it stayed alive.
"It's the New Zealand Christmas tree and it happened in November. They [Cantwell's family] thought it was lovely."
Nielsen no longer makes the daily trek as she used to, but when she or other Altrusa members do, they take native flowers with them to place on the boulder.
"There are probably a lot of people who remember that time and the rock, but probably a lot of people now don't and might not know the history behind it."
As years passed, and fewer people who remembered the murder could climb Mauao, a peace garden was set up at Mount Drury. It was originally established where the children's playground is now but has since been transferred to the seaside of the reserve, where peace roses grow.
"It was about connection. If people wanted a peaceful place to rest," Nielsen said.
Nielsen said the first few years after the murder were "pretty painful". Yet, the horror of the crime spurred something special in the Mount Maunganui community.
"It's hard to believe it was 30 years ago. There was a huge community love," she said.
Nielsen was one of many people who gathered at Pilot Bay reeling from the news, trying to find out more. What unfolded was a community coming together like never before, she said.
"It's amazing how many hundreds of people stood there and not made a noise. People just stood there and didn't know what to do. It was just so gentle."
Nielsen said people began walking around Mauao's base track, eventually encircling it in compassion.
"There was enough of us to go all around the Mount, you just held someone's hand. We were all holding hands. It was just spontaneous."
"It was very moving. It was amazingly powerful.
"The silence was the amazing thing."
Nielsen said she hoped Cantwell's memory would not be forgotten today.
Read more about the Monica Cantwell murder, how police got their man and how else Cantwell is being remembered here.