Whitby Bowling Club : Hiding in the hills of Wellington

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Rodney Foote (left) and Bob Jull

Chances are more Kiwis have heard of Whitby in England than Whitby in New Zealand.

Most people, well certainly those of bowling age, learned that Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast of England was the home port of James Cook … as well as the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

But Whitby in New Zealand hasn’t figured in life’s education. Tucked away in a valley on the Pauatahanui Inlet, it is one of the many dormitory suburbs north of Wellington that visitors bypass on the way to the capital.

Developed in 1969, at the time of the bicentenary of James Cook’s landing in New Zealand, it is a suburban hideaway that unlike much of Wellington, avoids the lash of the Cook Strait’s winds. It is one of the region’s residential gems. And it’s home to the single-green Whitby Bowling Club.

The club was opened in 1975 when little more than 500 houses had been built. Whitby was based on the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy – a village centre, a library, a church, a commuter bus service, a golf course and the bowling club were all built to attract residents to a new suburban 70s lifestyle. It worked. Today Whitby is home to over 5,000. And many more are predicted to live there when the new Transmission Gully off-ramp opens in 2020.

Whitby Bowling Club Match Convenor, Rodney Foote, is obviously proud of the club. “We’re nothing fancy.” he remarks. “We don’t have, and haven’t had, any notable bowlers. We haven’t won any national titles. But we are a real community club. We’re here for the people of Whitby.”

Friday evenings at the club reflect that sentiment. “We get 30-40 locals here every week, and a few less over winter,” says Club Secretary, Bob Jull. “There’s a roster of members who volunteer to cook the dinner in the club kitchen on the night. We charge just $5.”

Bob also ensures that their favourite tipple is on hand. “At the moment, I think we have 18 different beers behind the bar. I just ask members what they like to drink, and get it in. We’ve done away with the taps. They were too expensive and too wasteful.”

That consideration includes catering to the preferences of the Porirua Masters Men’s Football Club who have made the Whitby Bowling Club their social home. “They’re great have here,” says Bob. “We’re happy to have any community group.”

The membership of the club is about 130. “There’s about 65 full-playing members,” says Rodney, “with over half of these being men and women who are really serious players. The other 65 are social members – the football club, life members, associate members, and the like.”

“We play a lot of variations on traditional bowls to get everyone involved,” says Rodney. “For example, ’96 shot’ where pairs score 6 points for the closest, 4 points for the next closest, 2 then 1. The pair that’s first to 96 or ends up with the highest differential wins.”

“Over Christmas – 6 weeks before and 6 weeks after – we also run a continuing tournament every Wednesday night using Shanghai scoring – 3 points for first, 2 for second, and 3 for third.”

“The secret is keeping the one green working all the time – from when we open in September until we close in April. We’d rather the green be always available when members want to play. We’re willing to sacrifice the fact that it may not always be at its best.”

That’s the attitude that causes a community to embrace a club like Whitby.

It’s an attitude that’s attracted the likes of Brian Waddle and Keith Lawrence, who can occasionally be seen enjoying a quiet beer at the club away from the glare of the limelight. And an attitude that will see the club continue to be an integral part of the Whitby community into the future.


-Rob Davis