For the 26 families who make the annual Christmas pilgrimage
to a 90-year-old fishing village on the Kakanui River, near
Oamaru, there are no gaudy Christmas lights on display, no
annual re-runs of Mary Poppins on television to suffer
and no electricity to cook Christmas lunch - but that is the
way they like it, and that is the way they want to keep it.
Land at Gemmells Crossing was developed about 90 years ago by
the now defunct Acclimatisation Society as a fisherman's
village and camp ground for about 18 cribs, all of which had
no electricity - and although the camp has grown since then,
to this day there is still no electricity supply.
Despite that, holiday-makers come back year after year,
generation after generation. Gemmells Crossing Camp Committee
member Colin Ballantyne said that was because the simple
charms of Gemmells Crossing were enticing.
Mr Ballantyne, himself a 50-year veteran of the area, said he
had frequented Gemmells Crossing every year at Christmas and
New Year, ever since his parents built a crib there in 1958.
Mr Ballantyne said he had seen a lot of changes over the
years, but although the spot had lost popularity among
campers, it was still a desirable holiday spot for those who
''It used to be heaps of people used to camp out by the
river,'' he said.
''Lots of people used to come out from town, for swimming and
fishing, but a lot of that doesn't happen now because the
river has deteriorated and has got quite low.
''The crib owners themselves still enjoy it. It's a nice
''There's no electricity. It's a good place to go and relax
and just chill out.
''A lot of the cribs have been in people's hands for 30 to 40
years and it's sort of passed down through generations. Not
many come available; once people get them, they tend to hang
on to them for a long time.
''There are even people there with cribs from Christchurch,
Dunedin - all over. It's just a nice, friendly area beside a
The crib built by his parents had now been passed down to his
own children, he said.
''The extended family all go down there.''
He said his first memories of the place were of making
bonfires on the banks of the river.
''It was a good place to run around and catch frogs and catch
trout, swim. All the kids used to run around - and still do.
They rule the camp more than anything.''
There were just 18 permanent cribs on the site when he was a
boy and although there was still no electricity, many of the
cribs had been modified slightly, he said.
''We don't want electricity there, and we only get marginal
coverage for cellphones - it's good.''
The Department of Conservation took ownership of the land in
1990, but after a two-year process, the land was last year
was given reserve land status as a local purpose reserve and
the 26 crib owners were each granted a 30-year lease to
occupy the land.
Mr Ballantyne said that meant the camp committee, made up of
one representative from each crib, was the legal ''guardian''
of the land.
Heather McMullan has been visiting the area for four decades
- ''40 years this year'' to be precise, she said.
Mrs McMullan said she started renting a crib at Gemmells
Crossing because she could not afford to take her five
children on holiday, but soon became enamoured with the
community spirit of the place.
''We had a family of five and we really couldn't afford to go
anywhere, and the kids love swimming in the river, which was
really great in those days.
''We rented a crib down there and I think it cost us $12 a
week, so we have five weeks down there, which was brilliant.
Then we decided to buy a crib.
''With most of our family in Australia, they all come home
for holidays at Gemmells Crossing, which we are going to have
''It's just a good friendly community.''
She said the place's proximity to Oamaru also made it very
handy, and although most of the regulars were Oamaru
residents, there were a few families from Dunedin and
Not being connected to the electricity grid was not a
problem, she said.
''We get nothing done for us. We have our own pumping system.
We just run on kerosene lamps, but some people run on
''Quite a few of the families that own cribs there are there
even during the year, during holiday breaks. My family use
the crib quite a bit, but I'm usually just a Christmas one.''