Memories of holidays at English seaside towns probably encouraged many Pākehā New Zealanders to head to a nearby beach during summer. Some coastal towns and cities with railway stations began to promote themselves as holiday destinations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One such place was Timaru. In 1897 the Caroline Bay Association began to develop the beachfront there with a promenade, gardens and recreation grounds reminiscent of English pleasure resorts such as Brighton.
The search for new holiday beaches beyond the cities began. Dunedinites Thomas Hocken and George Fenwick promoted the Catlins district after a trip there in the early 1890s. They noted that ‘for a very long time Broad Bay, Portobello, Brighton and Taieri Mouth were about the only places at all generally visited for a week or two in summer’.1 All were close to Dunedin.
At the bay
Writer Katherine Mansfield grew up in Wellington, and her family regularly took their summer holiday at a cottage across the harbour at Days Bay. One of Mansfield’s most famous short stories, ‘At the bay’ (1921), drew on her vivid memories of these childhood holidays in the early years of the 20th century.
From the 1880s the government began to develop thermal areas – especially at Rotorua, Te Aroha in Waikato, and Hanmer Springs in Canterbury – as health spas. The main aim was to attract overseas tourists, but New Zealanders seeking a health cure and a break from daily routine also took advantage of these resorts, which had leisure and sports facilities. Improved rail and road links made them accessible to local holidaymakers.
When the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts was established in 1901 spa facilities were further upgraded. They continued to operate, but the heyday of thermal spas had passed by the First World War.
In the 1920s and 1930s the New Zealand Railways Publicity Branch began highly successful campaigns that encouraged New Zealanders to see the scenic wonders of their country – not just beaches and thermal areas, but lakes, bush areas and mountains.
The by-then extensive rail network allowed ordinary people to take winter holidays at places once patronised mainly by the wealthy, such as the Chateau Tongariro. Inland destinations such as Waitomo Caves in the King Country and Queenstown in Central Otago were also accessible by rail and steamer.
Getting back to nature
Gradually, more people began to enjoy year-round bush tramping in scenic landscapes such as Fiordland and the West Coast in the South Island and the Tararua and Central Plateau regions in the North. For those prepared to rough it, this type of holiday became increasingly popular from the 1940s. The creation of more national parks in the 1950s supported the trend, and cars enabled people to reach many remote areas.
It’s your local
Most major towns and cities have preferred holiday spots within reasonable travelling distance. For Dunedinites, Central Otago is a favourite. Christchurch people often head to Arthur’s Pass, Banks Peninsula or north Canterbury beaches. Many Wellingtonians holiday on the Kapiti Coast, in the Wairarapa or across Cook Strait in the Marlborough Sounds. Hamiltonians prefer Whangamatā, Waihī Beach or ‘the Mount’ (Mt Maunganui). Aucklanders frequent places on the Coromandel Peninsula, west coast beaches such as Piha, and Northland resorts.
Cars also opened up more isolated beaches to holiday traffic. In post-war years, the beach holiday enjoyed its heyday. Some beaches far from major centres of population became favourite destinations.
At the top of the South Island, Tasman Bay and Golden Bay offered the winning combination of maximum sunshine and beautiful beaches. The idyllic Marlborough Sounds offered hundreds of kilometres of fiords and beaches, while on the South Island’s east coast, Kaikōura was famous for its seafood, especially crayfish.
In the North Island, Waimārama in Hawke’s Bay, the picturesque coves of the East Cape and surf beaches south around Wairoa and Gisborne were magnets for holidaymakers, while further north in the Bay of Plenty, hot spots such as Waihī Beach and Mt Maunganui attracted staggering numbers during January. Coromandel Peninsula, including Whangamatā, Whitianga and many other pristine beaches, was being promoted as a ‘pocket wonderland’ by the early 1970s. In Northland, the Aupōuri Peninsula, including Ninety Mile Beach, and the Bay of Islands promised endless sand, sun and surf.