Once upon a time Kerikeri was a quiet backwater of the Bay of Islands.
Sure. It had been around a long time. In fact, long enough to be home to two of New Zealand’s iconic heritage buildings : the Stone Store built in 1832 and Kemp House, New Zealand’s oldest building, completed in 1822.
But it was simply known as an escape where burnt out Auckland advertising executives built potteries amongst the orange orchards.
Today Kerikeri is very, very different.
Kerikeri has become a buzzing township … a home to more than 7,000 people. Put in perspective, that’s about the population of Greymouth – the West Coast’s largest town. And Kerikeri, along with the neighbouring commercial centre of Waipapa, are growing at a dizzying rate.
And as a result, so is the Kerikeri Bowling Club.
Tucked into a corner of the Kerikeri Domain in the town centre, the Kerikeri Bowling Club boasts two internationally-sized artificial greens available for the use of its 115 full-playing members.
That makes a healthy club in itself. But the real healthiness is in the mix of men and women, the mix of young and old, and the mix of new members and old members.
“We’re about 60% men and 40% women,” says Club President Lyn McKeating. “And we’ve got a 50/50 membership of seniors and juniors. We added about 25 members last year, and we’re expecting to do a similar number this year.”
Sceptics would argue that this simply reflects the influx of retirees to the area. And to some extent they’d be right … there’s now 6 retirement villages in this community. Most club members are ‘imports’ to Kerikeri.
But as most clubs know around the country, a blossoming populace in the catchment area of the club is just the start ... prospective bowlers still need to be gently press-ganged into coming down to the club. playing bowls and becoming members.
Kerikeri seems to be doing that so well. What’s more, people are joining for the bowls … and only secondarily for the socialising.
“We’re not a boozy club,” explains Lyn. “We come to play bowls, and maybe enjoy a drink afterwards before going home.”
That’s a formula that sees 50 to 60 turning up every Tuesday for a roll up.
But they don’t just turn up at the Kerikeri Bowling Club for casual roll-ups. Along with the Kaitaia RSA, Kerikeri is regarded as one of the bowling powerhouses in the Far North Bowling Centre.
“Our women won 7 Centre titles this last season,” says Club Match Convenor, Jon Young. “One of our club members, Ellaine Albury, has won 44 Centre titles over the years.”
“We’ve also had our moment in the sun at national level. Linda Pedro won the Champion of Champions in Nelson in 1997 … they were the days when the champion won a car as well!”
“More recently, we got to the semi-finals in the Sevens in Christchurch this year.”
All this bowls success is not surprising. The greens at Kerikeri are magnificent, so there’s no excuse for playing poorly.
“It wasn’t always like this,” says Club Vice-President Paul Strong. “We started off with a single rubber dust green when the club was established, and replaced it with an Astro in 1998. That got renewed again in 2008.”
“And the second green just received a new AstroTurf last November.”
The two greens are bisected by a spacious pavilion which is up to the same standard as the dual greens. “The only plans we have are to refurbish the women’s toilets,” says Paul. “Everything else is up to scratch.”
Up to scratch for now, maybe. But knowing Kerikeri, they’ll quickly find new ways of making bowling better.
Keep an eye on them.