When you visit your old home town and nothing looks the same …

Catching up…

We’ve had a busy few weeks doing family stuff instead of road tripping, but the week before Christmas a favourite aunt passed away, and we made the trip to Taranaki for her funeral in Manaia, South Taranaki.

We travelled from Taupō to Otorohanga via Mangakino, and stayed the night in the NZMCA (New Zealand Motor Caravan Association) Park. We planned to leave our caravan there and travel down in the ute, as we had to go to Manaia and back the same day due to time constraints, and from Otorohanga the three hour trip was do-able.

Otorohanga celebrates all things Kiwi, and is known as the Kiwiana capital…

Our neighbours at the NZMCA Park were easy company...

We were up at 5am the next day and had a good run south through Te Kuiti, the Awakino Gorge and Mt Messenger.

There was a bit of fog around the hills…

I’m always excited to see Mt Taranaki appear as we near Mokau. You can just see it’s snowy peak, it’s as if it’s rising out of the ocean. This was the only view we would get all day as cloud cover excluded any further sightings, even though we would be almost right underneath it.

Mt Taranaki’s snow-covered peak in the distance…

Read the legend of Mt Taranaki here

We then stopped in Urenui at my cousin’s place to freshen up, have coffee while we had a brief catch up with them, and get changed for the funeral. From their place it was another hour and a quarter’s drive to Manaia in South Taranaki.

I grew up in the small South Taranaki town of Manaia, and don’t go back very often now as our associations with the district have lessened over the years. My father owned a family shoe store in Manaia and he drew customers from all over Taranaki and beyond with his innovative and reliable service in the days before big stores like The Warehouse, and franchised stores such as Footloose and Overland dominated the retail sector. Prior to owning his own business he had worked for Hannah’s Shoes since leaving school, eventually managing stores within the company. Because of his business acumen he was often sent to struggling stores to turn them around and make them successful again.

So it was, as a married man with three young children, he saw an opportunity to purchase a run-down shoe business in small town Taranaki, near his home town of Hawera, and apply his skills to his own business. He became very successful and owned that shop for more than 20 years, from the late 1940s to the early 1970s, when Manaia was a much more diverse and thriving town than it is today.

Small towns all over the country have suffered over the last few decades as the economy has had its ups and downs and the lure of the big cities has taken its toll. The retail sector has also changed drastically, and so, returning to Manaia was an emotional journey for me.

A new block of shops sits where my father’s shop was

Where once stood whole rows of verandah-fronted shops, now there are enormous gaps, and tired, sad buildings standing alone. The grand hotels that dominated the centre of town around the old band rotunda are also gone.

Manaia band rotunda now has a garden around it, where once it stood alone, with only the war memorial cenotaphs for company amidst the asphalt, in the centre of town…

And how sad to see what was Bull‘s Butchery. Phone numbers were shorter in those days, and faxes didn’t exist…

McKay’s Garage once stood proud as a well known Citroen dealer. We all knew Max McKay was a collector of Citroens…

A blacksmith operated out of this building. Horses being ridden around the town weren’t uncommon and Mr MacTier was a skilled tradesman. We didn’t think it unusual watching the red hot metal being worked in the fire, a horse waiting quietly to be shod, as we walked past…

The Town Hall was an integral part of our childhood too. It was not only the Town Council offices and local movie theatre (movies were called ‘the pictures’), but also the venue for school balls and all major town events. It looks a shadow of it’s former self…

Sowman’s Dairy opposite the Town Hall is now the Sweet Dairy, but at least it’s still there…

Yarrows Bakers are bigger than ever. They were always a major employer in the town,  and I would think even more so these days, as they seem to have taken up a large part of the town. They made the BEST doughnuts, and their cream horns were pretty good too. I wonder if this has changed.

The clock tower is new…

The building on the right was the old Bank of New Zealand, where I started my first job. It’s now Yarrow’s head office…

The old Post Office building still stands proud, and has been repurposed and converted into a stand-out private residence...

As we drive around the town, past the school I attended in the 1950s, past the swimming baths we spent so much time in, past houses that belonged to school friends, (“look there’s so-and-so’s place,”) my music teacher’s house, OUR old house, the memories keep coming, and spark more memories.

The school had no flash sign back then, and that court could tell a few stories about hopscotch and marbles and knuckle bones, and skip rope. Not to mention the ballroom dances we learnt there, or The Grand March Mrs Livingstone taught us…

We learned to swim in the Manaia Baths as they were then known…

The ANZ Bank looks very sad. I remember seeing it on TradeMe for sale a couple of years ago…

This Four Square shop is new. Gone are Greaves Grocery, Chong’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Shop, Lambert’s Electrical, Tidswell’s Chemist, and Armitages Drapery Store…

The once familiar streets reveal changes – neglect, and rejuvenation…

And our old house has a new roof and aluminium joinery…

It was quite a journey.

A bit sad really, and not just because we were attending my aunt’s funeral at the small local Church of England, but because time doesn’t stand still, we grow older, times change, society changes, and life as we knew it back then no longer exists.

I’m glad I had that small town upbringing. It was a magic childhood growing up in South Taranaki in the 1950s. I don’t think I appreciated it back then, but now I’m grateful for it.

Otorohanga NZMCA Park on our return…

Tomorrow it’s Raglan.

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