Akaroa Bowling Club takes a fire in its stride

April 20, 2023

Almost a year to the day after fire razed the clubhouse at the Foxton & Beach Bowling Club, an electrical fault started a fire in the storage shed adjoining the clubhouse at the Akaroa Bowling Club.

But Akaroa was a lot luckier than Foxton.

Fortunately a restless nearby freedom camper raised the alarm in the dead of the night, and the local volunteer fire brigade was quickly on the spot dowsing the fire before it could destroy the clubhouse.

“The first I knew about it,” says Akaroa Bowling Club Vice-President Evan Marshall, “Was when I turned up at 7 o’clock in the morning to pick up gear for a tournament that day, and all the doors and windows to the clubhouse were open.  The fire brigade had smashed their way in, dealt to the fire, and left!”

But Club President, Ben Hutchinson, had been called out and was on site at 4:00am.

“The fire never got the chance to get a real hold,” explains Ben.  “So most of the damage is smoke or water damage from both the fire hoses and a burst water main.  But it still means we’re going to have to close the clubhouse for the rest of the year while repairs are done.”

“The storage shed is gutted and everything in it destroyed.  But the smoke and water also went through the ceiling space into the clubhouse. The ceiling collapsed in the kitchen, and we’re up for a new kitchen and appliances.  Plus a new outside roof and new internal ceilings right through the clubhouse.  I’d imagine some of the gib is also going to need replacing as well.”

Akaroa is very lucky they don’t have to demolish the clubhouse, because almost certainly they would not have been allowed to rebuild on the same footprint.

Through a unique quirk of history, the Akaroa Bowling Club is built right on the edge of the harbour.  “We’re talking right on the edge,” Vice-President Evan Marshall emphasizes.  “Just the other week in a storm we had waves splashing up over the clubhouse roof!”

“There is no ‘Queen’s Chain’ here …. The reserve was established under French law when Akaroa was originally colonised.  There’s a few places along the foreshore like us which have full riparian rights.  But if the building had burnt down, I’m pretty sure the local council may have insisted we could only build a new clubhouse 66 feet in from the shoreline.  That would put it half way across the green!”

The club hasn’t wasted any time getting repairs under way.

A 9.6 metre Portacom has been moved in beside the green to act as their new temporary clubhouse.  “We got the last one available in the South Island,” adds Ben. “It cost $1200 to bring over the hill from Christchurch, and it’s $170 a week to rent for as long as we like.  We’ve just got to connect it to power so we can put a fridge in, and with a few plastic chairs and tables from the Warehouse, we’ve got a clubroom ready to go.”

The club’s also bought a $4,000 container to act as a greenkeeper’s shed.

Luckily, the artificial green didn’t suffer any damage.  “We’ll probably still be able to use 7 rinks even when repairs get underway.”

“It’s looking like we’re going to be well-covered by our APEX insurance,” says Ben, “so we’ll be able to get back to where we were with no issues.”

And that’s just as well.

The Akaroa Bowling Club is one of many clubs throughput New Zealand that is thriving.  “We’ve got a membership of 120+ now.” Says Evan.  “It’s a mixture of permanent and holiday-home residents … a mixture of men and women of all ages … and a mixture of social and competitive bowlers.”

The club won the Ellesmere Sub-Centre Chatterton Cup this year.  And Evan’s wife, Viv, is in the Canterbury Bowls Team Under 5’s.

“We’ve added 10 or 15 new players this last year.  One of them, Murray Kiely, even won our Club Pairs championship … he’s down here every day he’s so keen!”

And the club still acknowledges its French roots.  “Every year we host a street versus street Fours tournament … the residents of Rue Grehan play the residents of Rue Balguerie.  And every second year, the French Festival is held over the road on the Akaroa Recreation Ground.”

In between times, the neighbouring Madeira Hotel In Rue Lavaud acts as an extended clubhouse for the members … providing drinks at bowling club prices and complimentary nibbles.  All on top of their generous tournament sponsorship of the club.

Even if you’re not a Francophile, there can’t be many better places to play bowls than at Akaroa.

Bon courage pour te remettre sur pied.

PS If you wish to make a donation to help Akaroa, please email Vice-President Evan Marshall at ev.marshall@xtra.co.nz to obtain bank account details.