Next time you visit New Zealand’s northernmost drivable point, Cape Reinga, you’ll pass through the settlement of Houhora, about 60 kilometres from the cape. And past the Houhora Bowling Club right alongside State Highway 1.
You’re a long way north. Even when the likes of Shane Jones or Hone Harawira talk up the ‘Far North’, they’re usually only referring to Kaitaia, Kaeo or Kaikohe. This is the far, far north. It’s only 34.8º south from the equator… about the same as Wollongong in Australia.
“When we go to the Taranaki Fours every year,” says Life member and Ex-President Russell Hockley, “The drive takes us 9 hours. When we get to the Auckland harbour bridge, we we’re only halfway!”
The Houhora Bowling Club is the northernmost bowling club in New Zealand. And funnily enough is probably also one of the youngest bowling clubs in New Zealand. It’s only been going since 1982 .. not yet old enough to have even had a 40th birthday bash.
“The driving force behind the establishment of the club was a bloke called Jim Nichols,” says Russell. “He wasn’t even a bowler, but felt that the community of Houhora deserved a bowling club, so he collared four mates (Gordon Milne, Noel Balderson, Bob Aylett and Eddie Edwards) into helping put down the green.”
“They relocated an old school building to use as the pavilion. And the then Mangonui County Council gave them use of council reserve at a peppercorn rental.”
“The only stumbling block was the New Zealand Bowls Association at the time,” laughs Russell. “They insisted that we had to have separate men’s and women’s clubs. I guess we were ahead of our time wanting just the one!”
Russell became a foundation member of the club. He had never played bowls before … he had only recently relocated to Houhora after retiring from the Navy. “I’d always enjoyed watching bowls,” he says. “Particularly during the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch in 1974. I was co-opted from the Navy to make sure all the ceremonial flags were flying when and where they should be at the various venues.”
Today the club still boasts 25+ full-playing members, and a handful of social players who turn up for an occasional roll-up. “We’ve got the only grass green north of the Mangamukas, so it’s pretty special.”
And in particular, two annual tournaments are very special.
“‘The Cowleys’ is run every Waitangi Day,” says Russell. “It’s a three-bowl any combination triples. We get a full green every year. And every year Cowley’s Hire Centre sponsors the tournament … they’ve been doing it for 30 years. We really appreciate their support.”
“The other popular tournament is ‘The Kaimoana’ in March. It’s an open any-combination triple again. The lunch the kitchen puts on is legendary : fish pieces, tuatua fritters, marinated mussels, crab sticks, oysters and more. Needless to say we get a full field every year as well.”
During the season, Thursday night twilight bowls can also attract a full green.
“We run an 8-week two-bowl triples just after the season starts, and another 8-week tournament after Christmas. These weekday evenings are popular with the local orchardists, fishermen (and fisherwomen!) and other workers tied up working in the weekend.”
“They’re also popular because of the slices of watermelon we hand out on the green … we pick up the blemished ones the supermarkets won’t accept from the local growers.”
There may even be a change of refreshments in the future.
When the newly-planted avocado orchards south of Houhora start bearing fruit in a few years, players in the twilight may also be grazing on guacamole hors-d’oeuvres created by the club kitchen from supermarket-rejected avocados.
“You never know what we’ll have up our sleeve,” laughs Russell.