Bowling in the shadow of Mt Putauaki/Edgecumbe

September 24, 2021

Listen to the mainstream media, and you would believe that with the closure of ‘the mill’, Kawerau was about to become a ghost town.

Nothing could be further than the truth.

‘The mill’ is a huge industrial complex.  Sure, the third and final paper machine has finally shut down (the first shut in 2006, the second in 2013).  But it was no surprise to the 160 people who lost their jobs : today’s news and magazine lovers consume their columns on laptops, tablets and mobile phones … not broadsheets spun from giant reels of newsprint.

However, the Norske Skog Paper Plant was just one part of the steaming meccano complex on the outskirts of Kawerau … the OJI Fibre Solutions Pulp Mill and the Carter Holt Harvey Wood Products Mil still remain very much open.

And on top of that, there are other signs that Kawerau is not going to simply lie down and fall off the map.  The town has, for example, become a centre of excellence for the sport of canoe slalom.

The Tarawera River, which flows through the town, provides a magnificent challenge for the budding Luuka Jones’s of the sport.  This is a real canoe slalom … not giant lego-blocked artificial cataracts like at the Tokyo Olympics.  It’s great to see.

And it’s great to see the Kawerau Bowling Club flourishing at the centre of the town of 7,500.

“We’ve got 40 or so full-playing members,” says Kawerau Bowling Club President, Koro Dowie. “And another 50 or 60 affiliated members.  What’s really pleasing is that membership is on the rise.”

That’s what many other small town bowling clubs are experiencing : they’re either fading away and closing, or (like Kawerau) are enjoying a new life as a community hub for all sorts of activities that amongst other things, caters for bowls.

“We’ve got a keen darts club here now ,” says Koro, “and recently the local netball team have decided to make the club their home.  It’s great.”

Of course, the club has an ace card up its sleeve … it’s right next door to the Mauri Kjar Memorial Pools … a thermally-heated swimming pool complex with free entry to all. “It’s the only place in New Zealand where thermal pools are free,” says Koro proudly.

The pools are one of the reasons that the bowlers come from far and wide to the club’s two annual signature tournaments

“In the first weekend of July, we have ‘the Classic’.” says Club Match Convenor, Benny Dixon.  “It’s an Optional Fours and we fill the two greens.  The hospitality is legendary … we put on breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Usually it’s a hangi on Saturday night, but this year a couple of members, Simon Goddard and Laura Holloway, put on smoked brisket.”

“We either have karaoke or a live band on the Saturday night as well … we’ve had to kick people out at midnight, it’s so popular.”

The other popular tournament is the Fours/Pairs at Queen’s Birthday Weekend.

“We just started it this year, says Benny.  “The two-dayer was a real hit … we even had teams from Gisborne and Wellington.  Needless to say, we gave them the old Kawerau hospitality which worked a treat.  They’ll be back next year!”

The two tournaments are deliberately scheduled in the winter.  “We’ve got two carpet greens, so we’re open all year round,” says Benny.  “The climate’s kind here in the Bay, and we don’t end up clashing with the Centre schedule.”

Now that the two tournaments are over this year, the club’s looking to replace the carpet on one of the greens.  “It’s 20 years old,” says Club Treasurer, William Cotter, “We’re just waiting for the survey of the base beneath the green.”

“We’ll do the other green after this one,” says William. “We’re aiming to future-proof the club, so we know that we can get at least another 20 years out of the facilities.  We’ve just put a new chiller unit in.  And we’ll be looking to refurbish the roof of the pavilion …. No one’s been up there to know whether that means a new roof, or just a re-paint, or something in between.”

Sounds like if you come back in another 34 years for the club’s centenary, they’ll still be going strong.

Awesome stuff, Kawerau.