Making The Esplanade
The Rainey family’s association with Raumati South began in 1935. My father, W B Rainey, a solicitor practising in Lower Hutt and Wellington, acted for a local farmer, Norman McKenzie. His farm extended from the State Highway to the coast and from the southern end of Raumati South to the Whareroa Stream in the south. I am not certain whether he farmed south of the Whareroa. Some of the fencelines on his farm are still visible, although often all there is to see are the straight lines of undergrowth growing over and submerging the fence.
The fee for his work was £100. It was during the Depression and that sort of money was not readily available, so a compromise was struck, Norman McKenzie offering in payment two acres of beachfront at the north end of his farm. This land is now occupied by numbers 64–78 The Esplanade. McKenzie Avenue is named after him.
Raumati South was not at that time a sought-after location, but my father decided to build a holiday home. He built on the highest point of his new land; the house still stands and has had just three owners over its nearly 70 year history. Julia Wallace, headmistress of Palmerston North Girls High School, bought the property in 1951, and she subsequently sold it to the present owner, Marion Bruce. The house was built by a Lower Hutt builder, W E Jones, in 1935 and cost £525.
The Esplanade at that time ended at the point from where it now angles south-east away from the beachfront; I remember long days cutting flax, toetoe and lupin along the seafront dune from the end of The Esplanade to provide an entrance to the new house which we named Hilltop. How we got access to the dunes I don’t know, but it acted as our driveway until early 1937 when The Esplanade was extended as far as what is now Jeep Road.
Part of the land we crossed was subsequently owned by a Mr Amos who lived in a house which is now 52 The Esplanade. He was a self-styled voluntary beach warden and carried with him a much folded, frayed letter from the then Minister of Internal Affairs vesting in him the right to call himself a warden. He hounded us as children for the most innocent reasons, whether we removed wood from the beach, or lit beach fires. We had the feeling that he made up the rules to suit our misdemeanours, even more so after we threw stones on his roof in retribution for some slight.
It was interesting watching mid 1930s roadworks. Opposite the present 66–68 The Esplanade was the toe of a large dune and the sand from it was removed by a team of men with horse-drawn scoops, about the size of a large wheelbarrow with two wooden handles for the operator to manoeuvre it. One of the workmen was Harry Shaw who, after finishing his daily early morning milk run, would set to work for the rest of the day forming the road. The large sandy face of the cut edge of the dune was quickly fastened with bundles of manuka cut from the Jeep Road area, bound together and wired, overlapping, into place over the exposed face. It was an unpleasant job when the wind blew as it did even in those days.
Harry Shaw in the 30s and 40s was one of two milkmen. He milked his own cows, on his farm, now converted to a housing estate and bearing his name. The milk was put into old milk cans and delivered on a horse-drawn cart into your billy. An early delight was to ‘drive’ the cart while he distributed the milk, although in truth, the horse knew exactly when to stop and start without any help from a youthful driver. He used to be in competition with a Mr Cudby. Sensibly they eventually zoned their deliveries, with Harry Shaw keeping the southern run.
Jeep Road was formed soon after this, approximately following the line of an existing foot track from the beach to a motor camp which was sited about where Rainbow Court now is. The cutting to the beach was eventually widened and concreted as a marina. Apart from its intended use, it has been involved in illegal activities on at least two occasions.
The owner of 80 The Esplanade, Mrs Lily Smith, observed one moonlit night a boat come ashore. One of the occupants was then seen to walk up the beach, place a packet under a log in front of her property and then depart again by sea. The following morning she retrieved the package, wrapped in oily paper, and took it to the police. On opening, it revealed a revolver. Nobody ever reported it lost.
On another occasion, a small boat came ashore, this time in broad daylight, and began unloading sacks into a van parked in the cutting. An alert resident observed the likely smuggling operation, took the number of the van and informed the police, who were waiting at the owner’s house when they arrived with a haul of undersized paua. Because of its relative remoteness it’s been suggested that it’s the site for smuggling of all sorts of illegal produce. And at night it is not uncommon to see lights flashing from the shore and hear small boat motors out to sea.
Our land to the south of Hilltop provided plenty of opportunity for sporting activity. An asphalt tennis court was constructed and this acted as a focus for many holidaying friends in the area. There was also room to build a rifle range. (Can you imagine the activity among the residents, local and regional authorities if we tried that today?) After a morning’s tennis, if the tide was right, low turning to come in, everyone would cool off dragging a flounder net along the beach. It was uncommon not to catch 30–40 sole and flounder between Hilltop and the Whareroa Stream.
The first shop I recall in the present Raumati South shopping centre was a general store run by John Trayes, in the same building which now houses Valhalla. He was a returned serviceman who had been repatriated in the early 1940s after being injured. After the war he sold the business to L.T. Mark, and he and his younger brother Kneale after him ran the store for many years. For a short period after selling the business John Trayes started a dairy in a building, still standing, on the north-west corner of the junction of Tiromoana and Renown Roads.
The Marks’ general store sold everything including food, hardware, cloth-ing, even mouse traps. Initially you asked for what you wanted and the person behind the counter got it for you. It wasn’t long before the customer did all the collecting. Com-petition was intense because there was another general store in a building, again still standing, directly opposite the present takeaway shop. For a long time it was run by a Mr Loveridge. The attraction of his shop was that, if you were there for a number of weeks’ holiday he would put the cost of all the purchases on a slate, and you would just pay once at the end of the holiday.
A few yards north along Renown Road was a building which over the years housed a butcher, who as well as having a retail shop, delivered bulk orders of meat as far away as Wellington. As well there was a dairy, run by a Dutchman, name unknown. In the 1960s the present shopping centre was built and the 4 Square grocer put paid to the two general stores. Marks’ store has at various times been a second hand shop and an art shop run by a mid European man, while the Loveridge store also became a second hand shop and later a made-to-measure shoe manufacturer.
The new shopping centre, apart from the 4 Square grocer, had a pharmacy owned by Graham Priest, and his father Magnus, also a pharmacist, doubled as an optometrist. The part of the building directly opposite Valhalla, which in 2004 is a cafe, has at various times been a branch of the Bank of New Zealand, a pet groomer, a tile shop, a watch and instrument repairer and a mower repair shop.
For a number of years during the 60s and 70s there was a dairy on the northern corner of Kainui Road and The Esplanade. The house still stands; then the dairy was on the ground floor and the two women owners occupied the flat above. It had a sign on the road frontage “STOP! STOP!” and was obviously known to our children as the Stop Shop.
Just up the road was a church (St Andrews), initially Presbyterian, with the Reverend McCaw as the minister. The church was well attended during the period of the US Marines’ time in Paekakariki, much to the delight of the minister because they were very generous with their offerings. The church subsequently became interdenominational, and was finally sold and converted to a holiday flat.
The onset of the Second World War in 1939 changed our life at Raumati South. Friends disappeared overseas, and although there was no major immediate impact on our lives, petrol rationing was soon implemented. To enable us to get to Raumati for school holidays the family Ford V8 was fitted with a charcoal burner on the driver’s side running board. About a metre high and 25 cms across, it enabled us to travel about 40 kilometres before a refill was required. The road to the beach over the winding old Haywards Hill road and then on to the highway over the Paekakariki Hill was littered with piles of spent carbon that had to be emptied before a new load of charcoal could be inserted.
Paraparaumu airfield was used as an RNZAF training facility and trainee pilots in Hunter Hawk biplanes “attacked” drogues pulled along by another plane. We once saw the sad sight of a pilot getting too close and getting his propeller caught in the towrope. The plane plunged into the sea just north of the Whareroa outlet. The pilot drowned.
Then in 1942 the US Marines arrived and began training for their assaults on the Japanese-held Pacific Islands. They camped at Camp McKay around McKay’s Crossing, across the highway on the Whareroa farm, and at Camp Russell nearer Paekakariki. A large intimidating notice was erected on the beach where the Raumati South landing ramp now is, forbidding use of the beach south of that point, and certainly not allowing anyone into the dunes while they carried out manoeuvres. Some hope! It became a goldmine for teenagers on the lookout for all manner of military equipment. The marines exercised by landing on the beach in large blunt-nosed landing craft and then storming fortified positions in the dunes. After the exercises they were lax in collecting anything but the most dangerous and expensive equipment. Hence the goldmine. Revolvers, clips of ammunition, tinned food, chocolate, cigarettes and clothing lay strewn across the sandhills, ready for the taking. And in those days when communication in such circumstances was by telephone connected by insulated wire, there were literally miles of the wire left in the undergrowth. It served the Rainey family for all sorts of repair work for many years.
We were made by our parents to return much of our collection to the camps. With the notice forbidding entry to the area I’m not sure how we overcame the problem, but we made several visits to the camps, and once actually joined the chow line for lunch. The hospitality was returned and many servicemen were entertained at Hilltop for meals, with beer and a fermented grapefruit drink called Lemora as the only reliably available alcohol.
Many of these wartime activities were faithfully recorded on our Kodak Box Brownie cameras. Not one wartime photo of the time remains. Censorship demanded that any film with even a vague military association was destroyed when developed; and there was a time, when invasion by the Japanese was a distinct possibility, that even the most innocent views of the shore were destroyed, lest they fall into enemy hands.
The opening of Coastlands shopping centre broke up the village atmosphere of Raumati South, but before that many interesting characters would shop and hold court there. Keith Eliot VC lived in the district, as did R.H. Thompson who escaped from the Germans in Greece and recorded his adventures in Captive Kiwi.
Then there was an elderly fisherman, name unknown, who caught fish from his dinghy off Raumati, brought it ashore, cleaned it and sold it. Can you imagine the present-day reaction of OSH, the Ministry of Health and the local authority if that sort of activity went on today? He then tramped off down the beach to spend his earnings at the Paekakariki pub. With 6 o’clock closing the norm, you could often meet him returning as dark descended in the summer evenings, to repeat the same process the following day.
Another memorable character was Geraldine Fitzgerald, who retired as headmistress of Chilton St James in Lower Hutt about 1940 to live in a house at 33 The Esplanade. The house still stands as it was then, at least externally. She was a small, wiry, slightly hunched woman, but she too used to set off south down the beach with a sack and a large axe looking for firewood. I don’t remember her ever worrying about notices restricting the beach access. Maybe because she was a fearsome sight wielding the axe, no-one was prepared to confront her.
An aunt of mine, Dorrie Flux, worked as a live-in help to an elderly couple in Lower Hutt. She bought a section, now 7 McKenzie Avenue, and built a small house on it. She travelled regularly from Lower Hutt in the late 1940s on a bicycle powered by a small lawn-mower motor attached alongside the rear wheel.
The beachline has, even in recent memory, changed considerably. Going back perhaps 150 years, there appears to have been considerable change. There is evidence that 5–600 years ago the sea came up as far as the line of State Highway 1 inland from Raumati South. It is postulated that earthquakes then lifted the land so that the high tide line was hundreds of metres west of where it now is. Then over the years the sand of the open beach has been blown inland to form the fore-dunes which at least 70 years ago were much more prominent and extensive. The photo and caption of the house owned by the Anyon family in the 1930s gives an indication of the depth of the fore-dune and what has been lost.
There is a drawing on the cover of the first edition of William Carkeek’s book The Kapiti Coast from the old Paekakariki Hill Road looking north towards Paraparaumu. It is impossible to tell how accurately the geography is recorded, but the coastline shows four pointed estuaries from Paekakariki north. They could coincide with the outlets of the Waikakariki Stream, the Wainui Stream, the Whareroa and the Wharemauku at Raumati.
If they did exist as drawn in about 1840, the prominent points have now all gone. In living memory a sizeable portion of the dune area seaward of the houses built in the 1930s has also disappeared. The 1977 seawall stretching from QE 2 Park to Raumati is now 25 metres seaward of the dune line south of the end of the wall; the wall too is inland from the toe of the dunes as I remember them in the 1930s. To give an example of how much the dunes have receded, the most seaward point of the house at 78 The Esplanade is a short 8–10 metres in a horizontal line to the toe of the wall; in 1935 it would have been at least three times that distance. Much land was lost in the September 1976 storms, but several other high tides has been all that was needed to create the erosion.
By chance or not, one major erosive storm occurred a few days after a series of large earthquakes in Chile. The waves on an otherwise calm and peaceful Raumati South day were as high as I can ever remember. The sea in a malevolent mood can make a huge dent in the existing coastline, despite the best efforts of designers and engineers.
Seventy years’ experience watching the effects of the sea leaves me in no doubt that building solid structures of wood or concrete is not the way to permanently prevent further erosion. Much time and money has been spent and several consultants’ reports written with the consistent conclusion that the building of better and higher walls are the answer to the problem. The most effective measure in recent years has been the placing of quarry rock in front of the wooden wall. The rock breaks the direct force of the sea and prevents the scouring action of the usual north to south drift. Looking at other beaches with similar problems it seems that the most effective way of reducing the force of the sea, and allowing the build-up of sand rather than its removal, is the building of groynes at approximate right angles to the line of the dunes. Two good examples of their effectiveness are at Eastbourne on the eastern side of Wellington Harbour, and at St Clair in Dunedin.
I guess in the long run that efforts are largely at the mercy of the elements. The sea will win eventually, and unless there is an earthquake, which again lifts the seabed and creates a much wider beach, the sea could ultimately reclaim Raumati South, as we now know it.
The beach south to the Whareroa Stream has always been a shell collector’s heaven, perhaps less so now than 20–30 years ago. Several types of shells, once plentiful, are now no longer seen. Yet occasionally, for no obvious reason, the beach will be littered with previously unseen shells for a few months, then they disappear never to be seen again. In one episode in the 1980s a large hand-sized mussel-like shell with a soft pink interior appeared on the beach in large numbers. They appeared singly and in clumps of several shells concreted together, and have now disappeared completely.
Dragging a net along the beach, and the usual haul of flounder and sole, gave just one indication of the bounty the sea provided. Fifty years ago schnapper of between three and six kilograms were regularly caught on set lines less than a kilometre off shore. Gurnard, kahawhai, sand sharks, and in season red cod were all readily available. It was quite usual to see surfcasters catch schnapper less than 20–30 metres off the beach.
Fifty years ago it was not uncommon to see whales spouting on their annual migrations north and south as they took the inland route between Kapiti and the mainland. Dolphin could be seen too, surfing in the waves, and it was not unusual to hook a two-metre blue or seven-gill shark on our set lines.
All that changed as commercial fishermen, both local and foreign, fished closer and closer inshore. Their lights could be seen at night moving up and down the coast and in the squid season the lights of the fishing boats at the south end of Kapiti could have been mistaken for those of a small town. The creation of the 200-mile fishing zone and the introduction of a licensing system with increased surveillance have all arrested and gradually reversed the decline in fish numbers and size. And although the newly created Marine Reserve at the north end of Kapiti has further improved the stock the pressure of recreational fishing further adds to the problem of preserving a balance. Fishing is one of the many attractions of the area and it would be sad if the only seafood available were pipi and tuatua, delicious as they are. In the 1930s it was still possible to get toheroa at Raumati South, although if you wanted to be sure of a reasonable haul you had to go to northern Paraparaumu and Waikanae.
One of the main attractions of Raumati South has always been that it has so far avoided the creation of a highrise apartment, night club, and neon light beach resort. Its proximity to Wellington makes it both a feeder suburb and an easy place to escape to, and the temptation will certainly be there. The houses now being built are more sophisticated than the simpler houses of 50–70 years ago, but they seldom are more than two-storied, while renovations of the older houses have not destroyed the overall appearance of the area. It is to be hoped that the recent upsurge of house prices does not lead to a desire to create highrise buildings, and if that sort of pressure is applied, the local council is strong enough to resist it in Raumati South.