February found us, like many others, on our way to the Wings Over Wairarapa show which, as it happened, was cancelled due to bad weather. About then, the Art Deco festival was taking place in Napier, so the small towns along State Highway 2 (SH2) were beneficiaries of the travelling public seeking coffee, food, fuel and somewhere to sleep. Tourism seems to be helping to save many of these towns from relative economic oblivion, and we heard that the tentacles of the Auckland housing market are creeping as far south as Waipawa and further afield, so prospects look good. We’d never been to this part of the country before, so decided to spend a few days ambling through Central Hawke’s Bay and on down to Wairarapa.

First stop was Waipawa, the small Central Hawke’s Bay town situated about ten minutes north of Waipukurau. It’s a service town for an agricultural district. It’s on the state highway and its most prominent feature is a rather lovely art deco clock tower that is also a war memorial. In streets back from the main road the Catholic and Anglican churches are both eye-catching, and from the outside they seem to have impressive stained glass windows. To fully appreciate their beauty I guess you’d need to be inside at the appropriate time on a Sunday.

Aramoana Station Homestead 1894

We were interested to see that the ship’s anchor sited outside the well-proportioned museum building on the main road was from the wreck of the schooner Maroro that foundered inside the Blackhead Reef near Porangahau in 1927. The ship’s bell and steering wheel are also on display (inside) and we noted that the ship had been built in Totara North on the Whangaroa Harbour, our home turf.

A notice inside the museum reveals that the event commonly referred to as ‘the Napier earthquake’ had an effect far beyond that city. The notice reads ‘No cars allowed to leave Waipawa for the north without a permit from the Mayor. Only urgent cases permitted. By order of the Health Department.’ Mayors seem to have had greater powers in those days than they have today. The earthquake’s impact is no doubt a reason for the number of attractive art deco buildings in town. In the museum we also watched a video clip from a television programme relating to a young woman in trouble at the beginning of last century and the subsequent trial of a local businessman for his involvement in her death, so Waipawa history is not just limited to that of its pioneers.

Ship’s wheel from the wreck of the Maroro

It was Wellington-windy at the time of our visit – we spoke to a local businessman who was dubious about making deliveries in his high-sided van due to the strength of the wind. He said the area was subject to strong winds at times, but generally wasn’t too bad.

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