Northland Stories and Tips

Batley - Nothing like home

The view from the gate of the family house Photo, Northland, New Zealand

Not far from the small country town of Maungaturoto, about 1 ½ hours north of Auckland, Batley is a quiet rural location on the banks of the Otamatea River, on the northern side of the Kaipara Harbour.

The Kaipara Harbour is a vast expanse of water and is the deepest harbour in New Zealand. Many small towns/areas dot its banks/shoreline – Batley, Tanoa, Ruawai and Tinopai are just a few on the northern shores. There is a lot of Maori and early pioneer history in the area with ancient carvings – possibly dating back to pre-Maori days - known to be found in the harbours muddy shores.

Batley was once a bustling township, consisting of a number of houses, a school, a couple of small shops/business, a church, a the large home/trading store/hotel establishment which once belonged to an early pioneer Masefield, a medium sized fishing factory/cannery and a reasonable sized wharf with plenty of boats – my husband’s grandads being one of them.

Now days all but two of these buildings have been demolished/removed – the church was moved to another location, further up the harbour, by barge in the 1970’s/80’s - and all that remains are the odd footings, parts of walls, a couple of sheds by the water and the like. Some bottles, etc., keep getting unearthed in the muddy shoreline. The only homes in the Batley area are the two remaining buildings from the areas heyday - the old, large, heritage listed house called Batley House located down at Batley Beach – was once the Masefield home/trading store/hotel and is now privately owned - and my husband’s 100 year old family home, built by his grandfather back in the days, which is perched up on top of a hill, not far from Batley House. There are also a small number of newer farmers’ homes in the area.

This house is where we spent 4 days catching up with family. The time was spent sitting around looking at photos, talking, laughing and lamenting broken up with walks down to the beach, netting for fish on the beach, going spear fishing for flounder, a bit of shooting, rounding up the two sheep that got out of the property and visiting another small, nearby area called Tanoa.

Tanoa is where my husband’s mother and a lot of other relatives have been buried, at the Otamatea Church, on Maori Land. It is also the location of the Otamatea Whare and Marae (Maori Meeting House and lawns), located opposite the church, which is the central hub for his families’ affiliated Iwi (tribe) – the Ngati Whatua. Part of our trip home was to unveil his mum’s headstone which my husband’s sister, who is an artist/sculpturer, had made – she hadn’t quite finished it but we managed to mount half of the sculpture and get a promise from her that the remainder will be completed in the very near future, with photos to be taken of the finished installation and then a copy of the photos sent out to everyone.

My uncle lives, on his farm, in the small country town of Ruawai, about ¾ hour drive from Batley, towards the west coast. I managed to make it over to see him on one of the days and he was nice enough to take me for a drive through the rural areas that surround Ruawai and then out to another small harbour side town, Tinopai.

It was great to get a chance to catch up with everyone – Dennis, Linda, Sharon, Linda (cousin), Colin, Kate, Johnny, Andrew, Emily, Abbey, Jake, Ken, Heather and Ruby (the dog) – and to spend time at Batley, although the old place does need some work.

There are two great museums in the immediate Kaipara area – one is the Kauri Museum, at Matakohe, which has displays dedicated to the local pioneers and people, the gum digging and kauri lumber production industries along with other items, and the other is the Dargaville Museum, at Dargaville, which has a collection of all types of items including some maritime memorabilia.

This area is also not far from the Kauri Forests on the west coast and Mangawhai Heads and Waipu Cove -two popular beach locations on the east coast - Mangawhai has a great handmade chocolate shop and there’s a coastal walkway at the Mangawhai Heads, Waipu has a museum which features a lot of the Scottish ancestry in the area as well as other items/things of interest).

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