Stewart Island Bowling Club : New Zealand’s southernmost club

October 18, 2022

There are a few urban myths that circulate about the south.

Like the ‘fact’ that oysters are an aphrodisiac.  And because Bluff oysters are so big and plump, these bivalves are regarded as particularly arousing.  Unfortunately, there’s no substance to the myth.

Like the ‘fact’ that Bluff is the southernmost point in mainland New Zealand.  No it’s not.  A headland called Slope Point, an hour’s drive to the east (followed by a short trek across farmland) is closer to Antarctica.

And like the ‘fact’ that Bluff Bowling Club is the most southerly bowling club in New Zealand.  Well it is the most southerly affiliated club.  But across Foveaux Strait in the ‘capital’ of Stewart Island, Oban, there’s been a bowling club since about 1939.  And it’s still operating today.

“We’re not a busy club,” says Club Secretary and Treasurer, Ben Hopkins. “The fact of the matter is that many people living on the Island are so pre-occupied doing anything and everything that they haven’t got the time to dedicate to bowls that others throughout New Zealand might be able to.”

“We’re obviously a small community … I think at the last count something like 400 called Stewart Island ‘home’ and most people know each other.  The bowling club is just another thing to do on Rakiura … like the golf club, the tramping, the fishing, and many others.”

Even Ben is only a part-time, FIFO resident.  Not flying in and flying out of Stewart Island, but the reverse.  He’s always lived on Stewart Island, and so have the generations before him … it’s his home.  But his job is on the NIWA ship RV Tangaroa which he joins month on, month off, invariably in Wellington.

“We have casual roll-ups at the club over summer, usually in the late afternoons or evenings,” Bens says. “But nothing serious.  It can be like herding cats getting people together.  From time to time, some of the clubs in Invercargill and further afield offer to come over and play club against club, but it’s often too hard for us to get a team together.”

“Having said that, we’ve got about 20 members who pay a sub of $50 a year, and $85 for a couple.  It’s more of a donation … they’re keen to see the bowling club remain open, even though they may only play once in a blue moon.”

“We have an AGM every year, where we twist locals’ arms to take on an office … I seem to get landed with an office-bearer role each year.  Last AGM it was as both the Secretary and Treasurer!  But otherwise, there’s not a lot to discuss.  Although there is a slump in one of the corners of the green where the water has been draining off the roof of one of the shelters – we probably need to fix that.”

Even though the club’s green is only 4 rinks, it was originally set up with a full-sized green.  “It fell into disuse and disrepair in the 1980’s and went into hibernation.  In the early 2000’s, there was a renewed drive to re-establish the club, spear-headed by the late Alasdair Eade and his wife Jan, who fundraised to create a new half-sized artificial green.”

“Fundraising took over 15 years and consisted mostly of corporate and private donations, but we finally got our green.  One of the consistent fund-raisers, which continues to this day, was selling fridge magnets depicting various Stewart Island icons.  You can still buy them at the ferry and airport terminals.”

But it’s not just the local residents who benefit from the resurrected facility.

“We welcome visitors,” says Ben.  “You can just pay a $10 green fee at the Stewart Island Flights Depot and pick up a key to one of the boxes containing everything you need.  We have plenty of bowls here available for use, although some of the old bowls may need a pretty wide berth to get to the jack.”

“On top of the bowls, there’s tons to do here on Stewart Island if you’re into the outdoors … walking, tramping, fishing, wildlife spotting, and so on.  There’s an abundance of native birds and sea mammals not seen commonly elsewhere in the country.  It’s probably one of the easiest places in New Zealand to spot a kiwi if you’re willing to stay up a bit later in the evening.”

“And it’s only a 20-minute flight or an hour on the fast cat ferry across the strait.”

“We look forward to welcoming you here!”