Wagon to the past

The drive to Paengaroa took all of 10 minutes. It can take me longer to get to Greerton Village or Bethlehem Town Centre. I was actually planning to go to Maketu with our photographer Bruce Barnard, but decided to call in to the antique shop at Paengaroa first.

While our photographer Bruce was engrossed with photographing the wagon over the road, I went for a wander around the village. Some of the buildings have a hint of yesteryear about them, and signs with ‘Old Coach Road’ and ‘Junction’ also suggest this.

The area has a rich cultural history for both Maori and European descendants dating back to the 14th Century. Much of the beginnings of Paengaroa start at Maketu, where around 1350, the Te Arawa canoe made landfall, just five minutes’ drive from where we stood.

Maori ventured inland following rivers, such as the Kaituna that flows past the village, settling in the wider region, planting crops and harvesting the natural environment.

For the local Maori iwi, the Kaituna River is the umbilical cord connecting with the inland “womb” of Rotorua. The river is a lifeline which enabled Maori family groups to travel back and forth from Rotorua to the sea.

Before the introduction of motorised transport, all horse-drawn traffic travelled through Paengaroa - from Maketu to Rotorua and Papamoa to Whakatane along the Old Coach Road - hence the name of the ‘Junction’.

From the records I read of stables being built, closely followed by a blacksmith, wheelwright, bookmaker and saddler, plus a boarding house, post office, butcher and a general store.

This progress was supported by the development of flax mills and railway camps. In 1903 the community gained a Bank of New Zealand and Bank of Australasia. Mr Gilmore opened his workshop as a hall for social functions. As I look around me, and glance at the Google search on my phone, I find my mind picturing the scene of 100 years ago - the hustle and bustle.

I turn around to check out where Bruce is. He’s still across the road with the wagon. A community project, four volunteers turned up at John Fowler’s storage shed in 2014 and started stripping down the old Coachman Tavern Wagon. They bought the wheels from TradeMe for $2500 with funding from First Sovereign Trust, and built the shelter with the support of Barrett Homes.

The wagon made a brief one-day appearance when the new cycleway was opened, but is now finally installed in its present location. It certainly captures the heritage of the village and the region, as it is believed the wagon dates back to the 1800s.

Used to bring milk, cream, flax and logs along Old Coach Road, Comvita originally obtained the wagon in 1996, on purchasing the Coachman Tavern property. A wonderful gift, restored by community volunteers.

The Comvita Visitor Centre and café features natural health and bee products, and is on the same side of the road as the wagon, but instead of heading there, I went to explore the older shop buildings that make up the rest of the village.

I enter Golliwog’s Bakery and Lunch Bar first, and yes, there are golliwogs sitting across the wall looking at me. Nearby is Fush and Chups.

Fascinated, I move on.

The Funky Lizard Café is a quirky delight, packed with local art and sculpture. And lo and behold, a painted piano! I feel quite a home within these warm walls, and there’s a lot of seating area outside too, quiet and under shade. Most weekends, the place appears to be pumping with local bands.

I still haven’t found the antique shop, so I wander off and ask a local.

“It hasn’t been here for about seven years,” I’m told. Bemused, I realise that it’s been that long since I last stopped in Paengaroa. I now don’t want to leave for Maketu until I’ve completely finished looking around. Bruce has started following my trail, taking photos as he goes.

Further along, the Bridal House by Corina Snow is breathless elegance, with vintage gowns that reminisce the classic style of the past. Why go to another city or township for a wedding gown?

I realise what a strategic location Paengaroa is, for any type of business. Once again, 100 years later, thanks to the Tauranga Eastern Link, it is an increasingly viable site, at the junction of Tauranga, Whakatane and Rotorua.

The Cycleway was opened in March 2016 and links Paengaroa to Papamoa. A penny farthing cycle rack near the wagon was completed by the Maketu Rotary in November 2017. There’s also a picnic table and an information board nearby.

Once upon a time the lowland in the area was covered in water in which flax and cabbage trees grew. The highland was covered in ti tree, tutu bushes and stunted fern.

It’s said that Paengaroa was once named Siberia due to the pumice soil, derived from the Kaharoa ash shower. The Paengaroa of today is in the heart of the greenbelt kiwifruit and farming industry, and one of the communities that will ultimately feel the effect of the growing local economy. “Weren’t you looking for an antique shop?” asks Bruce.

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