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Rural New Zealand’s quiet places

December 22, 2009

On a typical early morning, a small town’s main street lies empty, except for an old forgotten metal relic – Morris Leyland – faded a dull red and covered with lichen calling cards. This car may have seen better days but its solitude on the street parked next to the curb, speaks volumes of the town’s character.

I walked down the short main street acting as if I belonged, moving at a casual pace trying to ignore the sound my sneakers made as they met the pavement. I glanced from left-to-right then left again. There was no-one around, nobody to notice my loud footsteps, no-one to offer up a smile or seek out information from. It felt like I was standing in an abandoned ghost town, minus the horse and cart, the tumbleweed and the flying dust, just me and the Morrison Leyland.

by Cate

Enter the small North Island township of Mangaweka on any day and silence immediately greets you. But it is no ordinary silence that ekes out eeriness. It is the kind of silence felt in small places affected by big city change, where commerce has died, shops have been abandoned and life goes on.

Mangaweka was once a town that trains stopped at and New Zealand’s State Highway ran through its short main street. It never bustled but constantly flowed with people both locals and visitors. Like neighbouring towns, Mangaweka had its origins in railway and early settlement. Surrounding the town today are the rolling hills and green pasture homes of sheep and cattle, sheepdogs, farm trucks and crop dusters. But there is also native forest and bush to hike in, steep clay cliffs and a meandering river – Rangitikei.

The region is emerging from decades of sleep, working its way back onto the tourist map. Rafting, bungy jumping and canyoning have been in the Mangaweka area for some time, attracting backpacker tours, while small bus groups stop and visit artist galleries that were once a place of worship and a general store. Old houses have been repainted and refurbished without losing their character or place in time.

by Cate

Mangaweka’s township still sleeps though, despite adventurous attempts to revive its energy. Early twentieth century shops are now homes while a once medical centre has been converted into a church assembly.

On the edge of town next to the parked Morrison Leyland are signs of Mangaweka’s new life – an art gallery and café and an espresso machine.

by Cate

It was too early to be open for business in this town, so I gently pressed my nose against the window and spyed the coffee machine.  I could see that this small town of Mangaweka, once lost in the silence of change, has captured the eyes of artists and small-scale lifestylers who are gradually bringing the town back into public recognition.

by Cate

Looking forward to the day when the sound of footsteps on Mangaweka’s streets won’t just be mine.

Caffeinated Traveller

  1. December 22, 2009 11:06 am

    It is quiet, but is awakening by now.

  2. Bear permalink
    December 22, 2009 11:06 am

    I am glad for you that there is an espresso machine! Quiet without being abandoned — it sounds like a nice lifestyle — and to be able to venture into neighboring canyons makes it even more attractive.

    But you do need an espresso machine 😉

  3. December 22, 2009 3:02 pm

    It’s interesting– the architecture reminds me just a tiny bit of small town South African architecture– there are some stylistic similarities, and yet they’re very different. Those little hints of decoration at the tops of the columns are taken to much more elaborate lengths here, and due to their fanciful forms, have a name that translates as ‘underwear lace’. -X

  4. cengizyarjr permalink
    December 23, 2009 12:35 am

    love the colors in these photos.

  5. December 23, 2009 9:29 am

    So many colours, though! Deserted towns in the UK just look grey and brown.

  6. December 23, 2009 7:43 pm

    These are great photos.

    New Zealand is one of the best, easiest-to-travel-in countries, me thinks.

  7. December 28, 2009 5:53 pm

    Thanks everyone for your warm comments, glad you liked this post.


  8. child of the Mangaweka's permalink
    December 30, 2009 6:13 am

    I lived in this delightful wee town in the 1950’s. My parents owned the fish and chip shop/local milkbar, and we lived at the back of the shop. Attached next door was the Max movie theatre that showed movies on Wednesday and Saturday nights, with a Saturday afternoon matinee for the kids once a month. Sadly after we left, both these buildings burnt down in the mid 1960’s and the town lost one of its cultural facilities. You are right that there was a steady stream of traffic through the town. My parents relied on it for their livelihood. When I lived there, we would sweep stones off the footpaths so that we could roller skate under the shop verandahs. It was a grand place to live and I still pine for those uncomplicated days of my childhood. There are several families still there that were there when I was. Thank you for the memories.

  9. bill cox permalink
    January 16, 2010 12:28 am

    Hi im from australia and have lived in nz for about 15 years. I like the dirt roads in the rural australian countryside where you could stop boil the billy or camp for the night.I realise its a lot bigger with wide open spaces with river side reserves where you can free camp beside the rivers. Anyway i find nz all fenced in farmers even must own the rivers here because they have fences blocking access. I travelled down the Buller river a few years ago and found hardly any access places to stop and check the river out. Is there a book you can suggest for people like me can explore rural nz without finding it all fenced off. regards Bill

  10. January 18, 2010 4:07 am

    Child of the Mangawekas – wow thanks for this delightful story I just read it to my mother and she wants to know who you are – possibky because you both came from this area. I would have loved to have seen your Mangaweka and hope one day that it will be that place once again. Thanks for sharing.

    Bill – I will send you an email to help you in the right direction but for now, you can access the rivers and shorelines of New Zealand under the Queens Chain which gives the ordinary commoner free access to rivers and seashores no matter where. The main problem is trying to access the shores which means going through private property first. Most farmers I know are pretty good at letting you cross their land as long as you ask first out of courtesy. I would recommend you contact Fish and Game or Department of Conservation in your area, they know the access rights like the back of their hand so to speak and can help you on where to go. Other river user groups are fairly converse with access righst as well and they are worth getting in touch with.

    Good luck and thanks for this question Bill.


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