You can take the bowlers out of Tolaga Bay, but you can’t take Tolaga Bay out of the bowlers

Unless you’ve been brought up on the East Cape of the North Island, you’d be forgiven for being unable to pinpoint Tolaga Bay.

Even the name ‘Tolaga Bay’ gives you no clue. Te Reo-challenged Europeans assume the name has a Maori derivation.  Maori assume that the name originated from one of James Cook’s tinkerings.  No one knows.

However the name came about, you’ll find Tolaga Bay 55 kilometres north of Gisborne,  It’s one of the many untrammelled bays and beaches where State Highway 35 kisses the coast on the way to the East Cape : at Okitu, Makorori, Tatapouri, Turihaua and Pouawa.

You’ll also find the Tolaga Bay Bowling Club … these days the most northerly club in the Gisborne East Coast Centre.  That is, you’ll find it if you’re not diverted by the cheekily-named ‘Black Market’ food truck parked up in the main street of Tolaga Bay  … which offers tempting local kai moana like mussel fritters and creamed paua loaded fries.  They are to die for!

After a 13 month hiatus following Cyclone Gabrielle in February last year, the single natural green at the Tolaga Bay Bowling Club is back in business again, and recently held their first bowls tournament on the Jamey Ferris-rehabilitated green.

“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” says Club Match Convenor, George Tamihana. “We have to squeeze all our club championships in before the scheduled centre championships.  We’ve got a lot of bowls to play, very quickly!”

Jamey and his team came up from Christchurch in August last year to help the bowling clubs at Wairoa, Te Karaka and Tolaga Bay with re-establishing their green after Gabrielle.  “We have an on-going dialogue with him to get the green at its best,” explains Club Greenkeeper Ben Elkington. “As well as with a couple of Gisborne locals - Andrew Boyle and Frank McLaughlin.  We’ve got a bit of brown top in the green, but hopefully with the correct TLC we’ll be able to get rid of it.”

But getting the green back after Gabrielle is only one of the stand-out achievements at Tolaga Bay over the past year.

Recently, the club won the Centre Interclub Men’s Sevens, and attended the national finals over the weekend in Auckland.

‘It was pretty amazing,” enthuses club cheerleader and Club President Sharon Olsen.  “We had no green all year, and had to go to Gisborne just to get a game of bowls.  Any of three clubs could have won the tournament on the last round, but we came through.  Thanks to our Four of Keith Tamanui, Ben Elkington, Zaedys Hughes and Mike Namana; and Riki Miller and George Tamihana in the Pairs; and Mark Walker representing us in the Singles.”

“It was an outstanding result for a club with just 14 full-playing men … even more amazing that 3 of the players in our Four were juniors.”

“The goal next year is to be able to put a team in the Centre Interclub Women’s Sevens … we only have 6 full-playing women at the moment, so we need one more woman to join!”

It would be no surprise to see Tolaga Bay with seven or more women next year … and no surprise, if they even won the Gisborne East Coast Centre Sevens.  Such is the spirit of the 800 or so locals in the Uawa area who know they live in paradise, even if the beaches and rivers are occasionally buried in storm-driven slash.

“We’re really thankful to Gisborne and Kahutia Bowling Clubs for putting up with us over the last year,” says Sharon. “They were the only two clubs in the centre to escape major damage from Gabrielle … Wairoa, Te Karaka and Poverty Bay were all like us and were out of action for most of the last year.”

“Having said that, it’s great to have our own home back.”

And what a home it is.  Earmark it for your next roadtrip.

Spreading sand on the new green
Remembering past members on opening day