Bowls alive and well on the Kowhai Coast


Club News, Featured, News

At the beginning of 2022, you’ll be able to take your regionally fuel-taxed car up the regionally tolled motorway all the way from Auckland to Warkworth. With a bit of luck you’ll be able to avoid New Zealand’s most notorious road convergence at the intersection of State Highway 1, Sandspit Road, Hill Street and Elizabeth Street and take a new off-ramp into the pretty township. And more than likely you’ll still find Bowls Warkworth next to the Countdown.

That uncertainty may sound odd. But about 10 years ago, the future of the bowling club wasn’t so certain – the council had designs on the club-owned land for a through road. “We weren’t going to have a bar of it,” says Bowls Warkworth President Joy Harper-Keeley, “and we mustered overwhelming community support against the proposal. The club won much to our relief.”

It’s a theme that drives the club. “We’re not just a bowling club,” observes Joy. “Because we’re right in town, we’re used by the whole community – for wedding receptions, for funeral wakes, for service club meetings and fundraisers, for corporate team-building, blood services and more.”

But the two-green club (one carpet, one grass) still predominantly exists for bowls. “We have around 90 full-playing members,” says Joy. “It’s a membership that’s been stable, and is now gradually growing.”

It’s easy to see why. While Warkworth is still the charming, riverside village of yesteryear, outlying ‘suburbs’ are now being created by the demand for housing within commuter distance of Auckland.

The Warkworth Bowls & Croquet Club was created on land gifted nearly 100 years ago in 1923. It was the same year that the club’s oldest playing member, May Evans, was born … and in April this year, the club put on a surprise 96th birthday party for their illustrious member.

The inaugural club sub was 3 pounds 3 shillings … which doesn’t sound a lot. But it’s over $250 in today’s money. It even went up to 11 pounds, 10 shillings in 1929 (over $900 today!).

Soon after 1923, the croquet lawn was dropped in favour of another bowling green. And in the 1950’s the women set up a club on council land down the road at Shoesmith Domain. They amalgamated with the men’s club in 2008 to form ‘Bowls Warkworth’.

Although Bowls Warkworth today has a full-playing membership many clubs would be envious of, Joy is still focused on new membership.

“Our business house bowls programme every Tuesday evening over summer was extremely successful,” says Joy. “We were getting up to 26 teams of 4 culminating in a complimentary dinner on the last night of the season. They’re looking forward to coming back next year. Meantime, some have even decided to join as full playing members.”

Another proposed initiative is to introduce fully catered Friday evening meals. “We have great kitchen facilities here,” says Joy. “We can offer a great family menu – with nothing over $20, children’s meals for no more than $6 and under 5’s free. We can run a raffle and take some money over the bar as well. It’ll bring new people into bowls as well as keeping the club’s finances ticking over.”

Joy is well-qualified to know what families want. She’s got 3 kids, 7 grandkids, 6 great-grandkids, and even 2 great great-grandkids! Husband Allen still works at the Warkworth Satellite Earth Station down the road, which in 1971 joined New Zealand to the rest of the world. Joy spent some of her working years there as well.

But it’s not just the bowls activities which are the secret to the success of Bowls Warkworth. “We have a great group of volunteers in the club, rather than just a few people doing everything,” explains Joy. “That’s enabled us to have sub-committees to cover all the requirements of the club. The club is a dream to run.”

Next time you’re on the Kowhai Coast, perhaps at the Saturday morning Matakana Markets, pop in to Bowls Warkworth. They’d love to see you!

-Rob Davis