A vigil for slain backpacker Grace Millane has brought memories of Monica Cantwell's rape and murder on Mauao 29 years ago flooding back for a Tauranga woman.

The woman, who asked only be known as Cath, said she was one of the last people to see the 24-year-old British backpacker alive on November 20, 1989.

Cantwell was walking on a track near the Mauao summit when Charles John Coulam grabbed her, dragged her into bushes, raped and strangled her.

Her body was found near the track after her worried friends reported her missing.


Coulam is serving a life sentence for her murder in a secure mental health facility.

He was denied parole in August this year and will be reconsidered by the Parole Board for release in August 2019.

Cath said the circumstances and violence of Millane's death had brought back memories of her friend Monica.

"I still remember that day as if it was yesterday," she said.

Cath dropped Cantwell, who she described as "young, vibrant, full of life and on an OE backpacker adventure" at Mauao about 11.15am on that sunny Monday morning.

Cath said she had a two-week-old son at the time, her first child, and was due to get home to feed him, so could not go on the walk.

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"To this day, I still can hear the rustle of her raincoat as she got out of my car. I showed her the map of the walk and where to go.

"She turned and smiled, then waved. The memory of that is still lodged in my mind, forever," she said.

Two hours later her husband went to pick Cantwell up. Shortly after he became part of the police search.

Cath said her family and friends, along with Cantwell's in England, were in shock when police confirmed the violent death.

She struggled to understand how this could have happened in broad daylight, "in safe Tauranga, safe New Zealand".

"This is not the New Zealand we want. Violence to women is not okay. Violence to anyone is not okay. We need to teach our children this. We need to lead by example.

"Our heartfelt thoughts go out to the family of Grace Millane. Sadly, we and Monica's family have been there too," Cath said.

The memorial site on Mauao for murdered English tourist Monica Cantwell. Photo / file
The memorial site on Mauao for murdered English tourist Monica Cantwell. Photo / file