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Murray Mackay

For some reason, people whisper the words ‘Takaka Hill’ fearfully.

The 791 metre climb out of Tasman Bay into Golden Bay seems to have entered urban myth as the ultimate New Zealand highway hill climb.  Even though it ranks well behind New Zealand’s other passes like the Crown Range (1076m), the Desert Road (1074m), the Lindis Pass (971m), the Homer Tunnel (945m), Porters Pass (939m), Arthurs Pass (920m) and the Lewis Pass (907m).

Probably the difference is that the trek up Takaka Hill starts and ends near sea level, whereas the others all have a starting height handicap and sort of cheat to get to their lofty heights.

It’s a reputation that was ‘enhanced’ in February 2018 when Cyclone Gita closed the road for two weeks.  There was almost Kaikoura-like slip damage, and Kaikoura-like repairs are still going on to the road today.

It’s a hill that has always made it difficult for the two bowling clubs in Golden Bay – Takaka and Pohara – to attract Centre tournaments.  The other 11 clubs in the Centre are on the Nelson side of the hill, and a snaking, torturous climb up and down 791 metres has always been a good excuse for the Centre to make it easy for the majority.

That’s changed.

“A couple of years ago, we made the decision to resew the green,” says Takaka Club President, Murray Mackay. “And we now have a superb, top class green which bowlers love.  Pohara has done the same.  So we now have two beautiful greens in Golden Bay, which makes it a real treat for bowlers from over the hill to come to Centre events.”

“Both clubs share the same greenkeeper,” says Mackay, “Rangi Westrupp has really delivered the goods – we reckon you wouldn’t get a better greenkeeper anywhere in New Zealand.”

But the green isn’t the only thing that makes Takaka special.

The club has a special relationship with Pohara Bowling Club just 15 kilometres down the road from Takaka.  It seems strange that a small town like Takaka with a population of just 1,500, would have two clubs, but nearby Port Tarakohe was the site of the Golden Bay Cement Works before they closed in 1988.

“We work closely together,” says Mackay.  “Not only do we have the same greenkeeper, but when it comes to working bees at the clubs, invariably we get members from both clubs helping.”

“Our club day is Saturday and theirs is Sunday.  We have a lot of members who often go to both days.”

“The big tournament of the year for both clubs is the Golden Bay Memorial in early April.  It’s a mixed triples run by Pohara, but we pitch in to help as well.  Both greens, theirs at Pohara and ours at Takaka, are used for the tournament.  They’re always full.”

“Unfortunately, because of COVID, this years tournament was cancelled.  But usually they come from as far away as Christchurch.  It’s a good excuse for bowlers to visit their family in the bay!”

“We also work closely together to host Centre events.  This year we had the Centre Champion of Champion Triples over here.”

The cooperation and lack of rivalry between the two clubs is not something that Mackay was used to. “My wife and I retired here from Christchurch nearly 10 years ago,” he says.  “I belonged to a big club in Christchurch, and the way we did things was quite different.  Not better here.  Or there.  Just different.”

“For instance, when we’re looking at holding the club championships here, we check with the members to make sure they are able to compete on the planned dates.  Otherwise we’ll shift the games to suit.  In Christchurch, the dates were set in stone, and if you couldn’t play you got substitutes.  No way’s better.  It’s simply a matter of adapting to suit the size of the club.”

That probably makes Takaka like many small town clubs in New Zealand.

“What also makes us like other small town clubs is the fact that we’re a community centre for the town,” says Mackay.  “There’s no other club facilities in town.  We’re the only meeting place with a licence, other than the pub.”

It means that Takaka is used by the community, as well as for milestone birthdays, funeral wakes, anniversaries, Christmas functions and the like.  “It provides good income for the club, and means that despite our modest membership, we can still keep our subs at a reasonable level.”

Those subs were a guinea when the club was formed way back in 1908, on its current one-and-a-half acre site purchased for just over one hundred pounds.

Since that time, the club has boasted members of the likes of Tine Kirk, who eventually became a Dominion Women’s Bowls Councillor, and Norm Lash, who not only won a National Pairs and Fours title, but a Fours gold and Triples bronze playing for New Zealand in the World Games in Sydney.

Today, the Takaka membership is holding steady.  And despite the closure of the cement works, there’s still plenty going on in Golden Bay to enable a bright future for the club.

“Mussel farming is growing like mad,” Mackay says. “There’s forestry and dairy farming as well – Fonterra has a dairy factory here.  And Solly’s, the local transporting operator, hauls thousands of tonnes of dolomite out of Collingwood every year.”

“In the end it’s about the members themselves.  We have a great group here willing to pitch in and help wherever and whenever.  Our Club Secretary, Roy Reid, even got a Queen’s Birthday Honour recently – a Queens Service Order for services to seniors.”

Keep up the great work, Takaka.

~Rob Davis