The lights in Kaiwaka may have dimmed in recent years, but the community spirit is still very much alive and well.
Located on one of the narrowest pieces of land between the east and west coast, Kaiwaka has been trying to get your attention for years.
It all started in the 1990s when a local man, Mark Ottoway, decided to get the town lit up. The call to action went out and the locals responded. The church, the bookshop, the bakery, and the cafés plugged in and switched on. The little town of lights had officially been sparked to life.
Two decades later, the bulbs have blown and replacements are no longer manufactured. The bright street lighting has also overshadowed the community’s efforts to provide their own unique glow. Reliability and cost effectiveness have been a problem but with new LED technology, the town plans to bring back the illuminations by Christmas.
State Highway One runs right through the heart of the town, delivering revenue and visitors, but it’s a curse as much as a blessing. The bohemian artistic feel of the town is constantly punctuated by the incessant thunder of huge trucks and cars speeding past.
The locals have recently started an action group called Kaiwaka Can. They have been liaising with NZTA to drop the 70 kilometres-per-hour zone down to 50kph and to police the 50kph zone.
NZTA, along with Council, has recognised 29 issues raised by the group and it is developing a comprehensive plan to meet those needs. Traffic calming measures that have proven successful in other areas are increased trees, more parking, pedestrian crossings, and narrower stretches of road.
The town has always had a can-do attitude, having helped build its own sports complex and continues to finance it through fundraising initiatives. Locals also have a drop-in advice centre that is open three days a week with free internet and a Justice of the Peace.
The town itself is an eclectic mix of shops and cafes, including antiques, arts and crafts, a bakery, and a specialist gourmet cheese shop that stocks over 50 different varieties.
The general store has been in the same family since 1924 and continues to provide employment and serve the local community. Bianca’s Cafe is an interior designer’s delightful stop, the decor offers a glamorous cat-walk down memory lane – picture a Victorian boudoir with Ponsonby chic and you’re halfway to imagining the splendour.
Bianca is also an unforgettably gregarious host.
Many visitors to Kaiwaka will have noticed the ship-shaped Eutopia Cafe with its stunning array of glittering mosaics and nautical theme. The cafe is currently undergoing renovations, but will re-open true to form with its trademark styling, and a secluded courtyard area away from the main highway.