Next time you’re at the lookout on Bluff Hill, make sure you pop into the Bluff Hill Bowling Club.
However, if the AA sign at the lookout says 1403km to Cape Reinga and 5133km to the Equator … and you can vaguely see Stewart Island through the misty cold 35km away … you’re probably at the wrong Bluff Hill. The Buff Hill Bowling Club is a 1300km drive away at Bluff Hill in Napier, where there’s an equally impressive view.
Club President, Dan Steiner, reckons the club has the best view of any bowling club in New Zealand. And that would be hard to dispute. Its location on ‘Lighthouse Road’ is a dead giveaway to the 270º view that unfolds over Hawke Bay.
“Even though we’ve only got one grass green,” says Dan, “people love bowling here. It’s the most amazing view … it’s just a fabulous place to play bowls, relax, have a drink, and take in what is so wonderful about the city where we live.”
Dan should know. He’s an ex-pat American – born in Southern California, educated in New Jersey, and lived and surfed in Hawaii for 25 years. “I used to come out to New Zealand surfing, and ended up marrying a Kiwi. We’ve been living here for the last 14 years.”
Dan discovered lawn bowls by accident – walking by the Port Ahuriri Bowling Club and wondering what was going on inside. “I took to playing at the club until it closed at the end of 2015. That’s how I came to be at Bluff Hill.”
Dan’s family and friends back in the States must wonder about a game of bowls where the object is to get as close as possible to a small white kitty, rather than knock the bejesus out of ten pins. But Dan knows that lawn bowls is the traditional game – it’s been around for over 800 years … ten-pin bowling has yet to celebrate a bicentenary!
What’s more the Bluff Hill Bowling Club is probably older than any surviving ten-pin bowling club in the States. “Later this year, Bluff Hill celebrates its 125th anniversary,” says Dan, “It’s the oldest surviving club in Hawkes Bay, one of the oldest surviving clubs in New Zealand, Dan and his team are planning a week of celebrations for the end of November.
The view from the club would have looked a lot different than when it was founded in 1894. In those days, Bluff Hill was virtually surrounded by the Ahuriri Lagoon. But the Napier earthquake in 1931 raised the land around Bluff Hill by more than 2 metres – just like the earthquake did in Kaikoura a couple of years ago.
The current clubhouse dates from 1936, five years after the earthquake. It’s not a flash art deco build like many of Napier’s post-earthquake replacements. The club moved to the current location after the quake and established the clubhouse then.
“Despite our long history, we’re not a club renowned for a playing elite,” says Dan. “Although our Four of Zay Rio Da Silva, Grant Sargison, Allan den Boer and Max Plested did win the Centre Men’s Champion of Champions Fours this year. The last time we did that was back in 1989!”
“We get to play in the National Champion of Champions, and they’ll be a lot of supporters from Bluff Hill there. The other teams had better watch out. Our members love their club!”
At last count there were 111 members, 77 of whom were full-playing members.
The other highlight will be the annual Art Deco Tournament that coincides with the Hawkes Bay-wide Art Deco week in February.
Top Greenkeeper Jesse Jones will have the green in ship-shape for the tournament. Funnily enough, Jesse is tending Department of Conservation land – the club pays a substantial lease to DOC, rather than the local council or owning the land freehold itself.
“Some people think we lawn bowlers are an endangered species,” laughs Dan, “so it’s rather appropriate that DOC should be providing us with a happy habitat!”
For those keen to play in the tournament when they’re in town for Art Deco Week, keep an eye on www.bluffhillbowls.co.nz and www.facebook.com/bluffhillbowlingclub/