Unless ticking off New Zealand’s ‘great walks’ tickles your fancy, chances are you’ve probably never visited Karamea.
Karamea’s the jumping off point for the Heaphy Track, at the northern end of State Highway 67 on the West Coast. The Heaphy connects the Coast in the south to Golden Bay in the north, and is one of New Zealand’s many excellent must-do walks.
Karamea’s not a place you ‘pass through’. It’s 100km up a no-exit highway from Westport, But the return trip’s worth it.
Once you’ve transited the 400 metre high Karamea Bluff (think Mt Messenger or Mt Hercules times two), the road winds down into one of those hidden paradises only seen in Dwayne Johnson movies.
It’s a place where a proliferation of nikau palms makes the landscape seem triassic. Where wekas still cheekily share humanspace … no one here’s told them they’re endangered.
It’s a place where whitebait fritter sandwiches are still on the menu. A place where the locals still prefer to spell the settlement Little Wanganui without the ‘h’. A place where the air is pristine, yet government still punishes the local tomato grower with a $70 per tonne coal tax to heat their hot houses.
It’s also home to the northernmost bowling club on the West Coast : Karamea.
Once a year, the Karamea Bowling Club hosts a men’s fours tournament. “It’s the only tournament the club holds,” says Tournament Secretary, Debbie Langford. “But we get bowlers from all around : Murchison, Greymouth, even Christchurch.”
The club’s only got the one grass green, so with the end rinks out of play, there’s room for 12 teams to contest the 2-day tournament.
“We play 7 games over the two days,” says Debbie. “The games are only 8 ends … there’s no time limit – we don’t need one. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, so no one’s persistently killing ends.”
“It also allows us to squeeze in 5 games on the Saturday, so if we’re rained out we get a result and out-of-towners can get away early on Sunday after the final two games and prizegiving.”
Everyone gets a prize. “Winning’ the tournament simply means getting first dibs on the prizes donated by Pub Charity, our main sponsor for many years, Farmlands, Lowe Contracting, and the Karamea Village Hotel.
That’s part of the attraction that keeps players coming back.
“They also come back to catch up with their mates. And the food. We put on a pretty good feed for lunch each day,” laughs Debbie. “For instance, $12 gets you sausages, roast spuds, peas and ‘awesome’ salads.”
Unfortunately, whitebait fritters don’t make the cut (even fritters made from the non-endangered common galaxia).
However, despite the continued success of the tournament, the Karamea Bowling Club itself is an endangered species.
“We’re down to under 10 members,” says Debbie. “The tournament’s no problem to put on, because non-bowling volunteers from the community love to help. The next door neighbour Chrissie Hynes even came in off her own bat and freshened up the white paint on the seats and boards before this tournament,”
“But with so few regular bowlers, it begs the question as to whether it’s worthwhile keeping the club open.”
“It’s not a money thing. It’s a people thing. There’s only 500 or so people in the Karamea area, and not enough of them want to be bowlers.”
“We’re lucky, at least, to have our greenkeeper. He’s a full-time dairy farmer. It’s a big commitment for him. Without him, we’d definitely be in the proverbial.”
Debbie’s a dairy farmer as well. Dairying plays a big part in the GKP (Gross Karamea Product).
“There’s 28 dairy farms in the area, and up to 7 tankers make the 235km journey from the Westland Dairy Factory in Hokitika every day. There’s no Fonterra … this is ‘Westgold Country’.”
It would be a damn shame if the club were to close.
Bowls would effectively die in Karamea … the nearest bowling club would be a one-and-a-half hour trek to Westport over the Karamea Bluff. It would all be too hard.
The local school would also not be happy.
“Currently, the bowling club pavilion is being used as a classroom for Year 7 and 8 students, while the school is being rebuilt,” says Debbie. “We’ve moved all our memorabilia into a container, The kids just cant use the bar!”
Pleeeeeeeeeease stay open Karamea. You’re a lawn bowls taonga that would be sorely missed.
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