In late 1929 we were introduced to Kawatiri, south of Paraparaumu Beach, where Bert Eatwell, a farmer, and Mr A J McLennan, an accountant, were about to cut up some land. Bert Eatwell was the son-in-law of our neighbour in Wait Road Hataitai, in Wellington. The area appealed to us for a holiday destination. The beach was wide, and not just at low tide, the sea very safe for swimming, partly sheltered by Kapiti Island and the area reasonably accessible from Wellington. We decided to buy two adjoining sections on a ridge, recently close planted in Pinus Insignus trees. Messrs Eatwell and McLennan had originally planted Douglas Firs, but these had not taken very well, though a few did survive amongst the pines. The sections cost us fifty pounds each, with an initial deposit of five pounds.
Bert Eatwell was putting in a road at the base of the ridge using a horse and scoop, which he named Pine Avenue. This road today is named Tennis Court Road. As the sections were sold baches slowly appeared, many with asbestos for their exterior covering. Some originated from surplus public works or army huts and were in most cases fairly basic. Some baches had previously been Wellington trams.
No utilities such as sewerage or water were available, all baches collected rainwater for their own supply. Over the ensuing years many residents put down their own well to tap the very good underground water that was fairly easily pumped up. Water tanks were usually round corrugated iron, or square steel, these having started life as containers for crockery being shipped from the UK. We built a garage on one section and for the next few years this was our family holiday accommodation, with bunks fitted at the rear, and camp stretchers for everyone else.
We brought water out from Wellington in four-gallon tins, on the running board of the car, a 1926 model Dodge Tourer. Behind the garage, for our cooking, we cut a fireplace into the bank with corrugated-iron roof, and burnt pinewood for fuel. In about 1934 we were connected to the recently reticulated electricity. Our garage was indeed moving with the times.
Shortly after completing the subdivision, Bert Eatwell laid down two tennis courts and set aside the area that today is the reserve with Kohanga Reo, children’s play area and the Raumati South Memorial Hall. The water supply for the Eatwell home, on the ridge behind the reserve, came from a bore and pump in the reserve, driven by a windmill (for some years a Raumati South landmark).
In those first years we would often go out there just for the day from Wellington, a long arduous journey on mainly unsealed roads. Ngauranga Gorge was a very steep and narrow two-lane road. From Johnsonville the narrow route wound down to Glenside then through Tawa Flat to Porirua and followed every small bay from there to Paremata. Thence to Pauatahanui and up through the Horokiwi Gorge to emerge at the summit of the Paekakariki Hill and that spectacular view of sweeping coastline, occasionally with Mt Ruapehu showing in the distance. I have very vivid memories of always looking forward to emerging from the final cutting then seeing that great vista before us. Down below the road at the summit was a Tea Room operated by Mrs Cynthia D’Ath. That same spectacular view was enjoyed by anyone partaking of her afternoon or morning teas. From there, the winding road descended steeply to Paekakariki. On one hairpin bend there was a tank that gathered spring water for motorists whose radiators had boiled on the uphill journey, a frequent occurrence in those days.
At Paekakariki Railway Station, right alongside the road, there was always activity. While train passengers consumed railway refreshments, steam locomotives were re-stocked with coal and their water tanks were replenished and for the northbound journey, pillows could be hired for six pence. Railway electrification from Wellington to Paekakariki came only in 1940. To the north close to Lynch’s Crossing was a relief camp for unemployed men working on the road, as this was during the great depression. At Raumati Road the route headed west towards the beach then south along Matai Road. Farms were the only buildings or activity on Matai Road then. Poplar Avenue was not built until 1939 and Rosetta Road a little later.
About 1932 Mrs Eatwell opened a small store to supply basic grocery items for the increasing Raumati South population. A year or two later, Mr and Mrs Urwin opened a store on the comer of Renown Road and Poplar Avenue, all called Renown Road then. That building still stands there today, though having been extended and altered many times over the years. A post office was established within the shop where we all collected and sent mail and made occasional phone calls. Probably the only other telephones in the area then were at Eatwell’s and McKenzie’s farm, the countryside between Raumati South and the main road. In the early 1930s the Post Office insisted that the name of the settlement be changed from Kawatiri as it was duplicated in the Nelson Lakes region, and the name, Raumati South, was chosen.
For some years that shop on the corner was the only store, and when Urwins left the Trayes then took over. In 1938 a shop was opened on the comer of Renown Road and Tiromoana Road but after a short time was closed and converted into a house. The tennis courts were becoming ever more popular and bookings were often needed. The Eatwells handled these for a while, then Trayes at the store bought the courts and handled the bookings.
In about 1938 a second shop was built opposite the present block of shops and run by the Woods, then after a short time Mrs Mitchell took over. The building is still there but no longer a shop. At about this time a petrol pump was installed at Trayes’ store. The hand-operated pump on the footpath dispensed Big Tree petrol. Raumati South was really moving forward. For more extensive shopping than the local store we would drive to Paraparaumu, where there were three or four shops. These, together with the shop attached to the local dairy factory, The Dairy Co-op, provided Paraparaumu with three shopping areas!
Our milk was delivered in the evenings by Mr Cudby, whose dairy farm was on Matai Road just north of Poplar Avenue. The delivery vehicle was a two-wheeled horse-drawn cart. The milk and cream were in cans on the cart and dispensed using a ladle into the residents’ billys. The milk would often still be warm, as he had milked his cows just before heading off on the evening round. He was also the local supplier of cut manuka, used by many residents for brushwood fences and to hold back loose sand banks. In about 1936 Harry Shaw, who also grazed cows on a property further to the north in Matai Road, started delivering milk and cream. What was his property now bears the name Raumati Estate. He and Mr Cudby then shared the area, as Raumati South was growing rapidly. On one occasion, when most residents knew that the Shaws were expecting a baby, Harry displayed a large sign on his cart on the day after its arrival announcing: IT’S A GIRL. This saved him answering the same question from everyone: “Has the baby arrived yet?”
Our meat supply in those days was from Mr Deacon, a butcher from Waikanae who once a week drove his van to our area and stopped at various strategic sites using the vehicle horn to announce his presence. Later, a Mr Killick ran a similar operation. The local fish supply was the Kapiti Fish Shop, run by members of the Webber family on the main highway, where McDonald’s restaurant now stands. A mounted swordfish on the shop wall was an often-talked-about feature.
Another option for fish was a local identity, Mr Pert, who fished from a clinker-built sailing dinghy that he kept amongst manuka in the sand hills. Seeing his distinctive sail out at sea, but heading for the shore, announced to us that shortly there may be fish for sale. Mr Pert had a very definite routine once he had beached his boat. The boat had to be cleaned out, the fish had to be gutted and scaled, the sail and oars stowed away – only then would he discuss what fish species he had and what price he would ask for them. In gumboots, he would walk up the beach and cut some flax. Each fish then had a sliver of flax threaded through its mouth and out through the gill for means of carrying. A trolley made with wooden rollers was then used to transport his boat up the beach to its home in the sand hills. He lived in a garage on the comer of Poplar Avenue and The Esplanade.
Two sisters, retired from a draper’s store in Wellington, came to live in Raumati South and built two identical houses next to each other. Every day they went walking. They must have brought with them the surplus stock of the millinery department of their store, for weird and wonderful were the creations they wore on their heads. We could be sure of seeing different piles of ribbons, feathers and flowers decorating their heads nearly every day.
An ex-headmistress, Miss Fitzgerald, was a skilful carver of little knick-knacks out of driftwood. She had a workshop just above the beach. She liked sawing up firewood and could be seen carrying her bow saw followed by her three little dogs.
In the late 1930s, the journey out from Wellington was being changed by three major roading projects. Construction of the Centennial Highway, from Paremata to Paekakariki, eliminating the long Paekakariki Hill Road, major reconstruction of Ngauranga Gorge, and construction of Poplar Avenue through peat country, linking Raumati South directly to the main road. During the building of Poplar Avenue, a small temporary set of railway tracks was laid and wheeled steel carts used to move the sand from the sand-hills to the road head and the peat away to waste areas. The carts soon became very popular with local children during the weekends and we spent many happy hours giving each other rides in the empty carts up and down the tracks at speed – fortunately without any major accidents.
We all looked forward to the completion of these roads and then a shorter trip from Wellington. During construction of Centennial Highway (named because the year 1940 was New Zealand’s centennial), we would often stop at the Paekakariki Hill summit and look down on the new highway working its way north between the railway and the shoreline. Bulldozers, having been imported for the Public Works Department, were being used for one of the first times in New Zealand. The concrete sea wall built then in the 1930s still protects our state highway today, over sixty years later!
Often, especially at Christmas time, there would be peat fires burning north of McKays Crossing, giving off a very distinctive smell and sometimes seriously restricting visibility. About 1938, Tennis Court Road was extended from the junction of Kainui and Forest Roads to its present southern limit. Shortly after that a motor camp was developed where Rainbow Court is now. Jeep Road, McKenzie Avenue and Whareroa Road were not built until after the Second World War.
The Raumati South motor camp, with large communal cook-house, plenty of tent sites and cabins plus its own shop, was a very popular holiday destination for many Wellington families, especially during the war when petrol was rationed, preventing any long distance travel by car. A track to the beach was cut from the camp through the scrub (mainly manuka, five fingers and flax). The camp cookhouse was often used for concerts and sing-songs, with many more than just the motor camp occupants partaking. In 1938 there was much earthmoving activity as Rosetta Road was being constructed. This direct link between Raumati and Raumati South opened up many sections, previously inaccessible by road. Some baches had already been built between Renown Road and the sea, but their access was along the beach or through the scrub from Renown Road. Sections on the western side of Rosetta Road were all very long, being the full distance from road to beach. In recent times most of these have been subdivided, in many cases providing two or more sections.