Some of our readers have asked: "Have you seen Santa at the Mount?
“He must be on holiday.”
Intrigued, I went to find out. Sitting in Pilot Bay, I waited. Within minutes an orange Santa on an orange bicycle flew past me.
I caught up with him at the Big Wave Cafe. I later learned he stops there for coffee on his daily ride.
We sat in the sun and chatted.
The orange Mount Santa Claus is actually Peter Barney, a Mount local who grew up in Pitau Rd. His grandparents moved from Te Puke to Tauranga in 1922, and his mother Elizabeth Barney, now 101, moved to the Mount from Hamilton when she married father George in 1948.
Peter’s grandparents opened Barney’s Supermarket, a general store, in Victoria Rd with George and his two sisters. Peter remembers the Mount Primary School being moved from Totara St to its current site in Orkney Rd about 1969.
The township’s buildings were mostly baches.
“My dad was one of the foundation members of the Mount Golf Club, and a founding member and chief of the Mount Volunteer Fire Brigade.”
Peter remembers his dad owning a few sections, and being offered a couple more near where Marine Parade meets Ocean Beach Rd.
“He said ‘who would want to buy sand?’”
In 1968 when the Wahine went down Peter recalls the surf being very high on the Mount Main beach.
Moturiki Island had been used as a quarry, then turned into Marineland, then Leisure Island.
“It was a great place to grow up. Go out surfing, fishing and diving. Out around Rabbit Island.
“Climb the Mount. Anyone could drive onto the wharf and chuck their rods out.”
He remembers the first soundshell at the southern end of Coronation Park, and the royal visit that followed.
His family moved the general store from Victoria Rd to the corner of Pacific Ave and Maunganui Rd, building Barney’s Building there in 1957.
Downstairs was the main store and grocery shop for the township. They also owned a general carrying business, transporting rock for sumps and septic tanks, coal and firewood. Eventually they sold the trucking business licence to Bob Owens.
“Whenever the old sirens went, Dad just dropped everything and took off to put out the fire. Back then they didn’t have modern hoses for scrub fires, it was spades and sacks.”
Across the road from the Barney Building was the old post office, with the small recessed archway for posting letters still evident today. Peter recalls the Mount New Year’s Eve parties of the 1960s.
“I was about eight or nine. On New Year’s Eve, they used to have dances in the old Peter Pan, where Backdoor is now. At midnight, they’d all pile out into the street, throw bottles and smash windows. This happened for three or four years.
“Mum and Dad would come down and board up the shop windows.”
The business was sold when George developed health problems. After he died in 1973, the building was also sold.
Peter has lived much of his adult life in Rotorua, working in the Waipa Mill for more than 20 years before being laid off in 1998.
“I was 47, fighting depression and things just got a bit out of control.”
When his mother had a fall in March 2016, she stayed in hospital for about two weeks. Peter was 178kg, and found it difficult walking from the hospital carpark to her ward. He realised caring for her, which he wanted to do, was going to be a challenge, so he set out to get fitter. He downloaded a step app for his phone, donned good walking shoes, and set off each day determined to walk 8000-10,000 steps per day.
“I just went out every day around the block and then tried to do more and more.”
After walking most of the streets of Papamoa and Mount Maunganui from March to August, his feet were hurting, so he bought a bicycle. He now prepares his mother’s breakfast, sets off to cycle for the morning, returns at noon to make her lunch and then cycles again in the afternoon. He also recently bought an orange electric Pedego cycle.
Between both bikes he’s averaging 200km per week. Over the past year Peter has lost 30kg and is enjoying the fresh air and outdoors.
Locals find it delightful that there may actually be a Santa holidaying here over winter, and along the way we all get to hear a little snippet of Mount Maunganui history.