Kaeo Bowling Club : Bowling the way we used to

September 29, 2022

Chances are that when you one day do what all Kiwis need to do in their lifetime, and that’s take a pilgrimage the northernmost tip of State Highway 1 at Cape Reinga, you’ll pass through the village of Kaeo.

It’s one of those charming ‘New Zealand-the-way-it-used-to-be’ settlements … the gateway to a spectacular coastline of beautiful beaches : Matauri Bay; Tauranga Bay; Taupo Bay; Hihi Beach; Coopers Beach and Taipa.  As well as the historic harbours of Mangonui and Whangaroa.

Kaeo also still boasts a single green lawn bowling facility, the Kaeo Bowling Club, and is very much as it was when it was established back in 1958.

“I have to admit that we almost weren’t here today,” says Club President Allan Martin.  “We got down to a membership of just three before last Christmas.  But these days we’re up to a full-playing membership of 13 : six women and seven men.  And on Thursday evenings over summer, we’ll fill the green with even more, albeit casual bowlers.”

“Our biggest issue isn’t attracting players, it’s the wet.  We’re on the flood plain of the Kaeo River, and you’ll see us in the news every year because of the flooding.  It just means that we can’t usually get on the bowling green until late in spring.”

But all that water does have a silver lining.

“It also means that we have a never-ending supply to irrigate the green over the long hot summer.  Years ago we put a bore down, and we pump the water into holding tanks.  It’s not so good for drinking … it’s like soda water.  In fact you can see where it’s stained where we’ve waterblasted the clubhouse.  But it’s okay for the green.”

That may all be about to change.  The club’s looking at installing an artificial green.

“We own our own land and buildings, including the lot next door,” says Allan. “We’ve put the next door section on the market.  It’s about an acre.  And we’re hoping to get enough to install an artificial all-weather playing surface with the proceeds of the sale.”

“It’ll allow us to play all year round.  And the bonus will be that it will almost certainly attract more members.”

“We’re just sorting out an administrative issue at the moment.  When the Far North District Council replaced the Whangaroa County Council a few years back, the land was somehow recorded as being owned by the school behind us.  No one disputes we own it.  But no one’s going to buy the lot until it’s sorted.”

Waiting for it to be sorted won’t stop the club from continuing to act as a great lawn bowls host over the coming summer.  Particularly when it comes to its two most noteworthy tournaments.

“We have the Leslie Triples at the beginning of March,” Allan says. “It’s an annual tournament that was started by one of our club member’s dad, and was carried on by Nigel Leslie for a number of years, before he handed it over his nephews.  We get at least 20 triples teams every year.  It more than fills the green … so we also have to have a bye.”

“The big attraction is the in-ground hangi.  The Leslie family provides the food for the occasion … it’s enough to feed all the players and all the hangers-on … over a hundred.  Teams come from all around the Far North, and even as far south as Mangawhai.”

“It’s also one of the days of the year we turn the chiller on.  We stopped using it because it was going through $600 worth a power every week, and we bought a double-door fridge for day-to-day use.  But on big tournament days, when we’re dispensing a few beers, we start it up!”

One of the other days of the year the chiller is turned on is between Christmas and New Year for ‘the Rush Tournament’.

It’s a tournament hosted by one of Kaeo’s most noteworthy sons : Eric Rush.  Every two years, the Rush whanau gather in Kaeo for ‘the Rush Tournament’ to play a little bowls, have a few beers, tell some lies, and enjoy a feed.  It goes down a treat.

“On top of these tournaments, the club still runs its own club championships, and still fronts up at the centre championships,” says Allan.

“I wouldn’t say we strike fear into the hearts of other clubs at the centre champs,” says Allan.  “Having said that, a few years ago we won the Centre triples and went on to the national championships.  We knocked over Burnside in the first round, and just about beat Hinuera in the second.”

“We had a few beers after that one!”