City Councillor Catherine Stewart is gearing up for a 21st and she has a whole year to decide what to wear. The opening of the new University of Waikato campus in Tauranga’s CBD in 2019 will likely coincide with the anniversary of her own entry into tertiary study when she was one of the first students to enrol into a degree programme in 1998 when the university ventured into the Bay’s tertiary space.
Tauranga born and bred, Catherine dreamt of becoming a teacher but after acing her senior business course at Tauranga Girls’ College took a different route into legal administration. She worked for a local law firm for several years until her adventurous spirit saw her retrain in travel and tourism.
It’s fair to say Catherine loves everything about her home town. One of her favourite things to do is go on a cruise and sail into Tauranga harbour just to listen to the comments from people who are arriving for the first time.
“The diversity of ocean and bush within a relatively small area makes it unique and fascinating. Mauao is pretty special - it’s the first thing I look for when I’ve been away travelling. Flying in or sailing, when I catch a glimpse of the Mount it’s that instant feeling of being home.”
A 10-year stint as a travel broker indulged Catherine’s passion for places away from home too. Remote places are her favourite - she cites Great Barrier and Ulva Island as two of her preferred Kiwi haunts, along with Antarctica as her top pick abroad. She adores cruising and, never one to shy away from a challenge, penned “Cruising: A guide for first time cruisers”, going on to not only publish and market it herself, but finance her own nationwide book tour to promote it.
A desire to keep it local drove Catherine to enrol in a Bachelor of Social Sciences when the University of Waikato first opened its doors in Tauranga. She completed a few papers while continuing to work in travel and enjoyed the mix of school-leaver and mature students.
“The comradery was brilliant in that first intake. The experience of attending university really broadened my thinking and I found that all ages had something different to offer. It just goes to show you’re never too old to try something new!”
Her penchant for trying new things got her into local council, almost by accident. When she raised a concern as a constituent it was suggested that her energies would be well channelled as an elected councillor. She’s been Councillor for ten years now, her first seven were as Ward Councillor for Otumoetai-Pyes Pa, and says she still feels privileged to have a say.
“I’m a good listener and I love getting out into the community to see and hear what’s going on. If I can resolve an issue or be a sounding board to someone I feel I’m making a difference.”
Already excited about the opportunities the CBD campus holds, Catherine sees it as another positive drawcard for Tauranga.
“The university already has some very unique offerings here in the Bay, the Marine Research Centre for example who do such amazing work, and the Adams Centre of course. The new campus will be a welcome addition to the heart of our city and create opportunities, not only for local and international students, but businesses catering to the student experience.”
And while Catherine is now nanna to four grandsons and delights in the simple pleasures of kicking around a soccer ball and jumping on the trampoline with them, she shows no signs of curbing her thirst for learning.
“Who knows, I may go back and finish my degree," she muses before adding with a cheeky smile, “Or maybe I can enrol at the new campus and retrain to be a teacher after all? If there’s one thing I’ve learnt - it’s never too late to start.”