Hunterville Bowling Club : Herding bowls in the Rangitikei

The Rangitikei is probably not an area of New Zealand that makes a lot of Kiwis’ bucket lists.

Yet State Highway 1 which chases the Rangitikei River from the Central Plateau down to Tangimoana features some of the most Kiwi of Kiwiana : from Taihape (the ‘gumboot capital’) in the north to Bulls (the remarka-bull town) in the south, with Hunterville in between – where every year the ‘Shepherds Shemozzle” is held to celebrate the huntaway sheepdog.

And until recently, a 75 year old DC3, the workhorse of the original National Airways Corporation, sat on a plinth at Mangaweka.

50 years ago, the state highway meandered torturously through endless hills – it was a road unwelcomed by motorists. But these days, long cuttings quickly sweep the miles aside.

However, it was over a hundred years ago when the Rangitikei was first opened up – when the main trunk railway between Auckland and Wellington was finally completed in 1909, after a construction period of nearly 40 years.

The railway construction created ‘railway towns’ along the route : Taumarunui and Raurimu became most well-known. But there were many others like Ohakune, Taihape, Utiku, Mangaweka and Hunterville. And in these towns, bowling clubs sprang up to entertain the railway workers on their days off.

The Hunterville Bowling Club is one such club.

Founded in 1908, the club is still operating in much the same way as it did over 100 years ago.

“We have 25 playing members,” says Club President Vitaus Pecekajus, “And another 2 or 3 social members. I wouldn’t describe us as a highly competitive club … we’re a bunch of friends who like to get together on Tuesdays and Saturdays for a roll-up or club or centre competition.”

“On Tuesdays when we finish bowls, we pick up takeaways from town and enjoy them together back in the club rooms.”

Vitaus loves it here in New Zealand. He emigrated from Wigan in Lancashire in 1987, originally settling in the Wellington area. He and his wife came to Hunterville in 2004 to enjoy the lifestyle of a small New Zealand town. He’s a man in demand in Hunterville, helping the Police catch up with firearms licencing.

“Our green’s not looking the best at the moment,” says Vitaus, “But we’ve recently welcomed a new member, Alfie Webb, who’s going to give the green some TLC. She’s been a gardener at the Hamilton Gardens and helped look after the green at the Taupiri Bowling Club. She knows what she’s doing.”

“We’re lucky to have someone like her. What’s more, she’s even taken up the game herself … she’s a ‘natural’.”

Hopefully Alfie will be able to work her magic on the green by year’s end.

“Our big tournament for the year is the Christmas Cake Tournament in mid-December. It’s just a one dayer … mixed three-bowl triples. It’s very popular … we fill the green. And at the end of the day, the winners and runners-up are presented with large, medium or small Christmas cakes. Made locally of course!”

Alfie will be fighting the climate to get the green at its best though.

Hunterville typically has a long, wet, cold winter when the club’s closed. Nonetheless, there’s plenty of willing volunteers at the club ready to grab a shovel and a wheelbarrow to help with topdressing or whatever.

The club also looks forward to the Shepherds Shemozzle in late October.

“We don’t do anything special for the festival,” Vitaus says, “But we do hire out our carpark for casual parking of campervans. It’s a good source of revenue for us. We also hire the carpark all year round for the local school buses to park there.”

Put the Shepherds Shemozzle on your calendar now (29th October 2022). It’s a quintessential Kiwi festival ( happening right next to a quintessential Kiwi bowling club!

It’s a great weekend of fun!