From Heritage New Zealand, Winter 2009
by Geraldine Johns
Little-known heritage sites offer a tantalising glimpse into the past for those who take the trouble to find them.
The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse is a hisotric reserve managed by the NZHPT.
The Kaipara North Head Lighthouse
Described as one of the most evocative places on earth, the Kaipara North Head Lighthouse has tremendous historical and archaeological significance. Built in 1884, it is one of the few remaining timber lighthouses in New Zealand. Jock Wills, lighthouse custodian, master story-teller and something of a local identity, is the sole keeper of the keys and also takes guided tours of the Category II site.
“The lighthouse is an icon; there’s a lot of history tied up in the area,” he says. He tells of the unorthodox origins of the three-storeyed sentinel that sits over the treacherous Kaipara bar on the west coast of Northland where the harbour has recorded more shipwrecks than anywhere else in New Zealand. The lighthouse differs from others of its ilk because its walls, both internal and external, are made of kauri. Its construction was unconventional too. After the timber was milled locally it was shipped across to Sydney to be pre-cut before being returned in kitset form. The way Jock sees it, it’s a marvel it was erected without the use of helicopters.
The waters it guards once carried a heavy shipping trade and became the focus for the widespread exploitation of kauri timber in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The lighthouse stands on a sandstone outcrop about 8km from the nearest settlement of Pouto, an area dominated by large, drifting sand dunes. “The people who manned the Kaipara lighthouse were the hardest-working lighthouse keepers in the country,” Jock says. If they weren’t setting the light, they were sweeping sand out of the building or lining up the markers that allowed the ships to come in on the correct channel.
Now in his 70s, Jock has lived in the district since 1938. He runs a 202-ha farm in Mahuta Gap, 70-odd kilometres away, but considers the lighthouse a little like his own backyard. He regularly journeys to Pouto Point to pick up visitors who’ve booked a tour of the lighthouse and its sand-drenched surrounds. It’s not the easiest place to reach.
Tourists either travel by boat from Helensville or Port Albert or take the one-hour drive from Dargaville. Then the journey proper begins. The hardy can take the two-hour walk from Pouto Point, finishing with an energetic 15-minute hike up the sand dunes to reach the lighthouse or they can choose the chauffeured option in one of Jock’s Polaris rangers which delivers them to the lighthouse base. Once there, they can climb to the top and look out from the dome.
The lighthouse has been decommissioned but little else has changed. The sand still blows as hard as ever and although there’s now no need for horses to be called in to shift it (as the lighthouse keeper used to when big storms blew) the effects are still profound. There are days when it’s not wise to attempt the trek, says Jock. “If you didn’t hide from the storm, you could be sandblasted yourself when the squalls came.” He tells of a couple who were determined to make the journey, despite a threatening storm. “They wanted to come because one of their grandparents used to be on the supply ship Hinemoa. At 2pm there was so much sand blowing it was like evening.”
But the lighthouse remains a grand spot. “On a fine day there’s such a beautiful outlook. Straight across is South Head and if you could see over the curve you could see Australia.” Somewhat closer are the remains of a kauri forest and nearby is Pretty Bush – 40ha of native bush sought out by botanists but requiring a permit to visit. “There are species there unknown to them,” Jack says. He sees all types on his tours but everyone leaves with the same sentiments. “All the people who come to the lighthouse are amazed. They say if they’d known about it sooner, they would have been here sooner; it’s such a special place.”
Visiting the lighthouse: The lighthouse is in an historic reserve managed by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Located 67km south-east of Dargaville (beyond Pouto), the exterior can be viewed at any time, with access from the beach. To arrange a tour with Jock Wills, contact him on (09) 439 6678.
The Springvale Bridge
Whether seen from the river beneath it or on the road that leads to it, the Springvale Bridge represents a wealth of romance, hard work and history. There’s archaeological evidence of moa being hunted on the site and 19th-century European travellers forded the Rangitikei River here.
Today Springvale Suspension Bridge on the Napier to Taihape road is registered as a Category II historic place. Built in 1922-25, it carried traffic for 45 years before being replaced by the new bridge that runs alongside. Among locals who still remember the bridge in its heyday, 95-year-old Lou Campbell moved to the area as a shepherd when the bridge was 10 years old. He recalls crossing it from Ngamatea to play rugby in Taihape – a two-hour journey back then. Lou’s daughter Wendy relates his account of approaching the bridge from Taihape by truck. “The road was largely mud and very steep.
The drivers had to back up and have two attempts at getting down the hill and on to the bridge.” The Campbell family lived on nearby Springvale Station and Wendy has childhood memories of eeling and swimming in the Rangitikei River under the bridge. “Families from neighbouring properties would travel down by car or the station truck and have a picnic. It is a very picturesque area,” she says.
The bridge is regarded as an excellent engineering example of its kind. Made of reinforced concrete towers and hardwood timber stiffening trusses, it is now believed to be one of only three still standing and intact. Its designers probably weren’t thinking of fourlegged traffic when they had it on the drawing board but the bridge, for all its convenience, still provided headaches for some. As Wendy explains: “Instead of using the river, as they once did, farmers used the bridge to take stock across. But because it was a swing bridge, cattle and sheep didn’t like it and they would stop in the middle.” The farmers would call on more placid “house” cows from the adjacent Otupae River Cottage to lead the wilder stock across. As neighbouring stations were developed and with the advent of top dressing and cultivation, stock numbers grew and by the 1950s trucks were used to carry them across. But again the bridge had its limitations. “Getting on was fine – but it was so narrow you’d see wool tufts hanging on to the bolts,” explains Wendy.
Thirty kilometres of the 150km Napier-Taihape Road are unsealed and can be a bone shaker even in a modern car. But while the bridge is fairly remote, it is not forgotten. Earlier this year an information panel telling its story was installed by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The bridge is still open to pedestrian traffic and it is still a fine fishing spot.
Visiting the bridge: The bridge is located on the Napier-Taihape Road (also known as Gentle Annie Road), approximately 41.5km from Taihape.
Johnny Jones established Matanaka, Otago’s earliest farm, in 1843; today Paul Toomey and his wife Alayca farm the property. The families are not related but the pioneering efforts of Johnny Jones are a constant reminder to Paul as he goes about his work.
The farm buildings erected by Johnny still stand on the 290ha property. They include stables (still with the original ‘Patented Galvanised Tinned Iron’ roof ), a schoolhouse, stable, granary and three-seater privy. These buildings are regarded as outstandingly significant. And although they’re on the Toomey farm, they are open to the public (the NZHPT provides a car park, a 10-minute walk away). A visit offers considerable insight into the early development of Otago and the stories behind the man responsible.
Originally from Sydney, Johnny Jones was a trader, whaler and ship owner and his interests were vast. In 1838 he bought a whaling station and parcel of land at Waikouati. Soon after he was encouraging Sydneysiders to move to Waikouati, thus establishing the first organised settlement on the east coast of the South Island. When whaling interest declined, Johnny successfully switched his attentions to farming.
His memory still lingers. Paul says: “I see him as an entrepreneur. He owned all the land around the township. Some people feel hard done by him; some say he brought things forward.”
Matanaka sits on a headland overlooking Waikouati. Beneath it are the Matanaka Caves, a sea-kayaking site (but not accessible from the farm). The original homestead, the oldest house in Otago, still stands but is off-limits to the public.
Four generations of the Toomey family have lived in the district. Paul’s parents bought Matanaka in 1991 when he was 15; when his father died two years ago, he and Alayca took over ownership (Paul’s mother is building a new home but currently lives in the Matanaka homestead). As he gets older, Paul finds himself thinking more about Johnny Jones and all he accomplished. “It’s interesting to think about how they coped compared with what we do now,” he says. “They did all the things we do today but without machines. Of course now it’s just the two of us, compared with lots more back then.”
Visiting the farm: The Matanaka farm buildings are located off State Highway 1, north of Waikouiti. Turn on to Edinburgh Street and follow the private road to the car park. It is a 10-minute walk along the track to reach the buildings.
To live at Te Waimate is to be immersed in a rich history. To visit is to find a family passionate about their heritage and happy to share both the sights and stories surrounding them.
The 1012ha station on State Highway 82 in Waimate, South Canterbury, has been in the Studholme family since brothers John, Michael and Paul Studholme arrived in New Zealand in 1854. Coming from a small English village with the same name, they were the first European settlers in the Waimate district. Current owners Jan and Michael Studholme are the fourth generation to live on the land.
The Cuddy was the original home for the brothers. It sits in the garden just 25m from the main house, which itself occupies the same site as the first homestead. With its beaten clay floor, vertical Totara slabs, black maire rafters and thatched roof, The Cuddy provided shelter to the Studholme brothers for six years before a larger house was built in 1860.
Jan Studholme refers to the forebears as “the boys”. And, indeed, they were still in their teens when they arrived and built their first simple dwelling. “They would be astonished to see it still standing today because it was just a hut,” she says. The Cuddy is not the only historic building that can be visited at the station. Not far away is a small brick building that was used as a creamery and apple house. Further out are the old brick stables (built in 1888), a woolshed (built in 1856), a stockman’s cottage and a granary. The woolshed, with its original manuka-railed holding pens still in place, is regarded as one of the oldest working woolsheds in New Zealand. There’s a Maori storehouse (whata) too. Not all the buildings have survived. The original homestead was destroyed by fire in 1928 (although The Cuddy was untouched) and the shearers’ quarters burned down seven years ago.
Jan says the family is very privileged to know its history. “People say ‘aren’t you lucky, you’ve got it all sitting here’ and it is a very beautiful setting.” With such strong and enduring connections, the Studholmes don’t see a change of ownership for the station. “When the property’s been in the family so long, you feel obliged not to sell.”
Visiting The Cuddy: While The Cuddy has been gazetted as a private historic reserve and is administered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Te Waimate Station is privately owned and not open to the public. Prior arrangements to visit The Cuddy must be made by contacting the owners through the Waimate i-SITE, (03) 689 7771.