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Preserving Treasures Of The Past - 9
Hawera - A Town That Treasures Its Past And Is Vital Today
Dorothy - 11/8/00

I once would have defined Hawera as the South Taranaki town you drive through where State Highway 3 turns inland to the east of Mt Taranaki/Egmont between Wanganui and New Plymouth. That was before we visited there. This town has places well worth a visit as you find out when you allow yourself time to look around.

History of the area
The land around Hawera was a subtropical rain-forest until some four hundred years ago human settlers burnt off the bush near the coast to hunt the moa and establish gardens.

A Wesleyan mission station was established in the area at Heretoa in the early 1840s.

After the Taranaki wars of the 1860s sawmillers cleared the land where the town now stands and the surrounding area was developed for farming, now mainly dairy farming. Kiwi Co-operative Dairies, 2 km south of Hawera, is the largest single site dairy factory in the southern hemisphere.

Dairyland Visitor Centre and Cafe
If you are coming from the south take time on your way to visit The Kiwi Dairies' visitor centre. It features informative audio-visual and interactive displays about the development of the dairy industry. Comparisons between dairy farming around 1900 with dairy farming today highlight the role of technology in a modern dairy factory. In the later years of the nineteenth century small dairy factories were built all through the area at a convenient distance for deliveries by horse and cart. Now the one large dairy factory can service a wide area as the visitor discovers from the simulated tanker ride.

While you are there you can visit the revolving cafe, view the countryside, see Mt Taranaki/Egmont if the weather is favourable, and sample good food, some of it featuring the cheeses or ice cream made in the nearby Kiwi factory.

Hawera town
The name, Hawera, means "the burnt place" or "breath of fire", and the town has lived up to its name having suffered four serious fires - in 1884, 1895, 1912 and 1941. You might take this to mean that there would be few interesting old buildings in the town. Quite the contrary. Many buildings have been carefully preserved and a historic walk featured on an excellent pamphlet takes in nineteen buildings, the War Memorial Arch, The Penfold Post Box and the Water Tower.

The Hawera Star building dating from early in the twentieth century is plastered masonry in a simplified classical design.

The Hawera Star building
The Hawera Star building
Photo source Peter Hunt
The Central Building was built of concrete and plaster to replace a hotel burnt down in the 1912 fire. The town centre has been attractively laid out with paving, seats and plantings.

 Looking down High Street towards the Central Building
Looking down High Street towards the Central Building
Photo source Peter Hunt
The Water Tower
After the 1912 fire the insurance companies put pressure on the borough to improve its ability to fight fires so it was decided that building a water tower to increase the water pressure would ease the situation. The building of the 169 foot (54.21m) tower was completed by January 1914, but after an earthquake in the same month it was found to list 2' 6" to the south. After engineering work was done to strengthen the tower and it was filled with water the list was reduced to three inches and the tower was pronounced to be safe and Hawera no longer had a leaning tower.

The Hawera Water Tower
The Hawera Water Tower
Photo source Alister Hunt
The tower has been a Hawera landmark ever since it was built. Now it is crumbling and the town has been faced with an all too common problem - deciding whether the expense of preservation is justified. After lengthy consultations and discussion it has been decided that as demolishing it would cost more than preservation the town's landmark will remain.

King Edward Park
This sounds like a rather typical name for a New Zealand town's park, but this park has some interesting and unusual features. It is well worth a visit.

Twenty eight acres was set aside for a reserve by the forward looking Hawera Town Board in 1875.

There are a number of items in the park which have an interesting history. If you go in the main entrance the impressive wrought iron gates commemorate the Industrial Exhibition held in 1904 and the side gate is a memorial to the Hawera soldiers who died in the Boer War. The cannon was sent to the town for the local Hawera Volunteer Rifle Company to train on and used only in that year. Albert Fantham, a prominent Hawera citizen at the end of the nineteenth century, is remembered by a large marble statue. The rose garden and the azalea and rhododendron gardens and the large ornamental lake are also memorials.

There are two special features in the park. The first is the Willow Pattern Garden made from an old fernery and depicting the pattern of the well-known Willow Pattern china.

The Willow Pattern Garden
The Willow Pattern Garden
Click here for a larger version
Photo source Alister Hunt
The second attraction is the Wendy Statue depicting Wendy from J. M. Barrie's 'Peter Pan' a bequest to the children of Hawera from Mrs Campbell in memory of her husband who had been Mayor of Hawera. Myk Davis, a Hawera historian, has investigated the history of Peter Pan and Wendy statues in New Zealand and has given me his research for a coming article in NZine.

Wendy statue
Wendy statue
Photo source Alister Hunt
Although the park is full of history it is at the centre of many happenings in Hawera in the year 2000.

The South Taranaki District Council has developed a special entrance to the park to honour one of New Zealand's most outstanding athletes, Stan Lay, who represented New Zealand in the javelin at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics and the 1930 Ontario Empire Games. His winning throw of 207 feet 1.5 inches (63.13 metres) stood as a Commonwealth record for 24 years. He also took part in the 1938 Sydney Commonwealth Games and won a silver medal. Mr Lay was the son of the curator of King Edward Park, so he frequently trained in the park. It is therefore appropriate for a feature recognising him to be sited in the park. Mr Lay, now ninety six, attended the opening function.

The lake in the park was the venue for the Newstalk ZB Concerts on the Lake in February. Many of the audience gathered for a picnic tea and the concert ended with a display of fireworks. Also in February the park was the site for the inaugural Arts in the Park outdoor exhibition featuring artists, craftspeople and buskers.

Before you leave the park remember that it contains a swimming pool complex with an Olympic size swimming pool, diving pool and children's pool.

If you are looking for a motor camp you need go no further as the park provides that too.

The Hawera area also has the Tawhiti Museum which is a delight to visit, but more of that in a separate article.

With all this and more to see you may well decide to break your journey in Hawera and stay at the King Edward Park Motor Camp or in other local accommodation.

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