Topic: My Kind of Place by Lily Coles

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My Kind of Place. Impressions of Poukawa

Archived version here.

What lies hidden behind trees, bushes, hills and clouds is possibly unknown to many, a small place without shops for the next mile.  It’s not a city, but the complete opposite.  It’s a place I’m very fond of - Poukawa in Hawke’s Bay.

Poukawa has its very own school, a small country school for kids who live too far from town. The roll has almost trebled since many children now catch the school bus from Hastings to Poukawa.  So generally not only country kids attend, but children from town as well - a contributing
factor to making it such a great school. The school’s motto is “Top kids, top place, top education,” and I believe the teachers follow these principles impeccably.  We’re also taught P.S.S.F.H. which stands for ‘polite, safe, sensible, friendly and helpful.’ It’s our job as students attending Poukawa School to put this motto into practice.

Unlike most other schools Poukawa has a plantation, a forest full of foliage that Year 8 students, along with their teacher Adam - also my teacher - are slowly turning into the school’s very own obstacle course.  Until this course is complete the whole school is allowed occasional lunchtimes there and when we do, we definitely make the most of it.  Building huts around these courses, we mark our territory in groups, turning it into a
big amusing game with almost the whole school involved.  Not long ago we used this area for cross-country training.

At town schools cross-country usually means running 3.5 km on footpaths.  Poukawa do it differently, teaming up with two other country schools, Pukehou and Argyll East.  We compete in our age groups at different schools, but train at our own. The fun thing about training at Poukawa is that Adam, my tall teacher towering above us, gets involved and runs too. 

Jill, Room 3’s teacher, often jumps on one of the student’s bikes yelling, “Well done! Good pace!” or “Go faster!”

As she zooms past on her bike we groan, wishing we could cycle, but we must run, otherwise when we face the real race, we’d find it hard.  So when cross-country day comes we run over hills, tree stumps, creeks with ducklings, branches and even the odd cow pat. Yuk!

“This is hard work,” I tell my friends.

“Yes, but we’ll manage,” they reply, and it is hard, but we do manage and even enjoy ourselves.

‘Pet Day’ at Poukawa is an event both students and teachers enjoy.  Our last one was in September.  We were excited and weeks ahead discussed what pets we’d take. Those who didn’t have a pet were allowed to bring a soft toy.  This was great as nobody missed out.  We grouped into two sections of soft toys or pets.  A teacher judged our pets and soft toys and presented everyone with a certificate. I took my Flemish Giant rabbit ‘Honey’. The juniors thought he was enormous and everyone, including me, agreed with them.

“What do you feed him?” many asked when I paraded him round the field after receiving my certificate.

The parade is in the afternoon, but the morning is also full of fun activities when each class does art, using either flowers, vegetables or both.  This year we themed our art on the Rugby World Cup.  Even the girls enjoyed it.

Another exciting activity is when the whole school stays overnight at a marae.  Last time we piled into a bus and cars, then our teachers transported us to Te Hauke where the elders warmly welcomed us onto the marae. We did numerous activities, namely string and stick games, ate ‘kai’ (food) in a big hall with long tables and slept on comfy mattresses.  In the morning we did more activities and ate more kai. 

We also had a hangi. A hangi is prepared by digging a pit and lighting a fire in it, then covering it with large stones, heating them thoroughly.  Kumera, potatoes, pumpkin, puha, watercress and meat are wrapped in tinfoil and sacking, and put on the hot stones and covered with earth so the food gets steamed. Later we practised Kapa Haka for the Maori Music Festival, which our school takes part in every year.  When we
left, I thanked everyone at the marae for providing such a wonderful opportunity for us.

These activities couldn’t take place without our teachers who also play hide-and-seek with juniors, sit and chat, shoot hoops and ride bikes to encourage us during sport training.  It makes us aware of each other.  Our teacher Adam, along with our Principal Heather and teachers Jill, Mrs Dickie and Sue are great.  Other important people at ‘Poukawa’ are Patsy, our bus driver and receptionist (you name it, she does it!); Leanne, our
school cleaner and Jenny, one of the mums who helps Patsy and the teachers.

Another important factor about Poukawa is the sheep and cows in the surrounding paddocks. There are so many, I struggle to count them.  They’re all over the hills like an incomplete collage.  Some look like they’re having races, others just lay in the sun. Occasionally we see a farmer pass by the school herding his sheep into a new paddock.  The grass in the old paddock is almost disintegrated by them, as they have eaten it all up.  I believe eating is what they do best and I guess that will never change.

But Poukawa District has changed.  The post office, used by many for postal business in the past, was also a popular meeting place.  It isn’t there now; modern technology has outdated it.  There also used to be a railway station for passenger-trains.  That no longer exists, although freight-trains still pass through.  We see them from the school gates.  Until not long ago there was a small dairy.  Even that has gone; in fact the only shop I know of in Poukawa is the portable Bay Espresso van.  The owner often parks up and sells coffee on the side of the road, but you can hardly call that a shop.  Poukawa still has a community hall, in walking distance from school, although we have our own there now.

In 1921 children would have marched to the hall for assemblies, arriving at school by horse or on foot.  Though they attended a much smaller school, the learning part hasn’t changed, except for modern teaching aids.  Parents often helped out. For example, they dug our swimming pool by hand and constructed it so well we still swim in it today.

Then there is Pekapeka, our wetlands, an area made beautiful by volunteers.  Most of it, hidden from view by hills, trees and plant life, is now becoming more like paradise for plants, birds and the public. This is because people and schools around the area, including Poukawa
School, look after it and treat it with respect instead of the smelly rubbish dump it used to be - a stinky swamp with nothing but rubbish, weeds and willows. 

Hills border the swamp.  They are like Poukawa’s mini mountains, full of foliage and birds.  Pekapeka is now visited by many people, but duck shooters are banned.  This way the beautiful swans and other birds are safe.

Birds also like Poukawa Lake, a small shallow hardwater lake close to Te Hauke.  It’s the largest lake in our area, lying in peat land in the active Poukawa depression, between the Raukawa and Kaokaoroa Ranges, and is about one metre deep and 1.5 km wide.  It used to be more
than two metres deep, but was artificially drained after the 1931 earthquake.  In 1956 the lake became famous when excavations exposed prehistoric plant life for waterfowl and the bones of ten different types of extinct prehistoric birds.  Twelve km south is Te Aute’s swamp, famous
for moa fossils and  tracks - wow!

The school is researching further into Poukawa’s history.  I find it fascinating to learn about the past and what things used to be like long ago.  Many students have gone before us who formed part of the school’s character. We’re fortunate to have inherited such a historic and community focused school.

With the local community in mind, the school holds its yearly ‘Gumboot Golf’ Fair.  On 30th October all kinds of appetising food could be bought from stands that not only attract and excite the children’s taste buds, but the adults’ as well.  There were bumper cars, a merry-go-round,
bouncy castle and more shopping stalls - perfect for early Christmas shopping.  The golf course was set up on farmland, so it was wise to wear gumboots. The cool thing about this event is that it’s not only fun for families, but also raises money for the school.

For me Poukawa is what it is – what you see is what you get.  I’ll admire it forever and one day will explain to my kids and their kids how much I love it.  I hope the school and its beautiful scenery will still be there for them to enjoy and be their ‘kind of place’ too. 


‘My Kind of Place’ was written for the Memoir & Local History Competition 2011, run annually by the New Zealand Society of Authors (Bay of Plenty Region) with support from Tauranga Writers. Lily Coles was only eleven when she recorded her impressions of Poukawa.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016: 

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