Akaroa Bowling Club : Bowling at the edge of the sea … at the edge of the world

August 8, 2022

The Bowling Club is very close to the sea.

New Zealand has always welcomed immigrants from around the world.

Whether it’s Germans in Moutere in the 1840’s, Dalmatians in Northland in the 1860s, Scandanavians in Dannevirke in the 1870’s or Greeks in Island Bay in the 1940’s.

The French were also sort of welcomed to New Zealand in the 1840’s, establishing a settlement called Port Louis-Philippe on Banks Peninsula.  Today it’s called Akaroa.

Akaroa’s one of those must-visit places in New Zealand.  It’s only 80 or so kilometres from Christchurch, a drive that can even be broken at the Hilltop Tavern to enjoy an under-the-limit tipple while taking in the breathtaking view of the harbour.

Akaroa’s Canterbury’s oldest settlement.  And simply by wandering the charming ‘rues’ it envelopes visitors in a coddling atmosphere of pioneering heritage and French romanticism.

For bowlers, there’s an added bonus - the Akaroa Bowling Club sits in the village on the corner of Rue Jolie and Rue Brittan.

Surprisingly, the club’s not particularly francophilic.  There’s no special bowling tournament celebrating Bastille Day.  There’s no baguettes or croissants served for afternoon tea after a roll-up.  And they’re still referred to as ‘bowls’ rather than ‘boules’.  But the club has benefited significantly from its French ancestry.

“The French didn’t recognise ‘the Queen’s Chain’,” says Club Vice President, Evan Marshall, “So the bowling club is built up hard against the high tide mark in Akaroa Harbour.”

“That’s had pro’s and cons over the years.  It meant that when the club was set up back in 1906, a lot of the cost of £225 to create the green was in building a wall to keep the sea at bay.  Despite that, a high sea inundated the green in 1929, and members were asked to contribute 21 shillings each for repairs.  The sea got the better of us again in 1965, 1968 and 2002.  However, we reckon we’ve sorted it now.”

            “That’s the con.  The pro is that the pavilion that was first built in 1925 is right on the seawall, and the view out the rear windows is stunning.  We’d have to be in for the ‘best view from a bowling club pavilion’ in the country!”

“Having said that, we haven’t always had the view.  We had a lot of damage in the 2011 earthquake, so when the repairs were done to the pavilion, they included putting picture windows in the back wall overlooking the harbour.”

It’s made Akaroa a spectacular bowling club.  And the club has a membership which knows they have something special.

“We have 100 full and casual playing members here,” says Evan.  “More men than women, but we did have 8 women join this last year.  Most members are ‘permanents’.  But we also have a lot of bach-owners … Akaroa is still very much a holiday place for Cantabrians.  Funnily enough, in the early days they couldn’t be ‘full’ members ... you had to live within 4 miles of the Akaroa Post Office, otherwise you could only be a country member and unable to play in club competitions.”

The club has single artificial 33 x 33 green which was first laid in 2000.

“The extraordinary thing is that the club installed lights 100 years ago in 1922.  Considering electricity reticulation was still pretty new in New Zealand then, and considering the club didn’t even have a pavilion – only a small shed, they must have been pretty keen on playing night bowls!”

“I imagine we were the first club in the country to have lights.”

Akaroa was also one of the first clubs to allow women to play ... albeit only temporarily.

“We had a ladies day in 1907, which ran every year for several years until 1913.  It was then stopped until 1952 when once again women were allowed to play throughout the season.  But only on certain days – as was the norm at many other clubs.  We didn’t even install toilets until the 1980’s … the sea wall at the back of the club was the men’s urinal!”

“These days, after the earthquake repairs, we’ve now got pretty swish bathroom facilities!”

Akaroa’s a club that’s going from strength to strength.  The village’s popularity is growing, particularly as a retirement destination.  They’re looking forward to the cruise ships coming back … passengers used to come off the ships wanting to have a roll-up.

And why not.  Where else can you try your hand at bowls at the edge of the sea … at the edge of the world?