High Hopes and Big Dreams

Peter Janssen & Elizabeth Anderson
White Cloud Books


Tick off these 165 towns and you have good claim to have seen almost all of New Zealand.

Most of the settlements were once bigger and many are on their last legs, but their stories make a visit worthwhile.

Along the way, you will probably collect 165 brochures at the local museums and find that the authors of High Hopes and Big Dreams: 165 New Zealand small towns in their twilight, who make no claim to be in-depth local history writers, have already collated all that info to prepare you for your visit. Knowing what to expect will entice you to stay a bit longer at places you might drive through with no thought of exploring what is on offer.

There is a good geographical spread and South Islanders planning a northern tour will find much to make their journey more fascinating. I am determined to see places like Kawhia, Frasertown and Matawai now that I know a bit about them. Museums have supplied many fine photographs which are not often seen outside their own patch and both contemporary and historic pictures have been excellently reproduced.

If you are wondering which towns qualify as being ‘‘in their twilight’’, a few from the Otago tour might have you quibbling but generally they are not what once they were - perhaps because the gold or the coal has gone or the railway closed or, in more recent times, the urban drift has seen dramatic population loss. But the old buildings often remain and their stories are full of the optimism of more bustling times.

For a tourist to have at hand a potted history of places like Dunback, Macraes Flat, Benhar, Owaka, Beaumont and Hyde  makes the book a valuable travelling companion.

There is the odd minor blemish. Ranfurly could hardly be called a gold-rush town and Burkes Pass has been blessed with an apostrophe, but High Hopes and Big Dreams may well persuade you to ditch that overseas holiday and explore a New Zealand you know little of - and that’s no bad thing.

Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer