Times Gone By

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By looking back through the pages of history it’s interesting to observe which aspects of Waihi Beach life have continued through to our present day.  Many of the ‘old ways’ now appear to us as ‘quaint’, often humourous in their simplicity and seemingly contained within an air of blissful innocence.  Sometimes though, we find that the more things change, the more they stay the same…

During the 1950’s and 1960’s the commercial and social centre of Waihi Beach was just a few metres down the road from here.  The northern end of Waihi Beach was the place to be, and campers from this era fondly remember the great choice of entertainment that was to be had.

The small handful of local shops in the area had all congregated here too – somewhere to re-stock with necessities and a place for kids to spend their pocket money.  The Milk Bar was one such place; it was equipped with a juke-box and teenagers were often seen dancing on the footpath outside.  As for country kids, it was a treat just to be able to buy things for themselves with Hokey Pokey blocks and bags of loose biscuits being the favourites.

Unlike today, with the Waihi Beach Hotel providing both live entertainment and a bar, back then there was no pub, meaning people had to go into Waihi township in order to drink and buy their supplies of alcohol.  It was the days of ‘six o’clock closing’, bars were required by law to close at 6pm so people would return to Waihi Beach with copious quantities of booze and the parties which followed were wild even by today’s standards.

In those days, Waihi Beach Camping Ground (as it was known then) had a capacity double that of today, with up to 1,200 people staying at peak times.  Fresh goods were delivered by local businesses to the camping ground gate where ‘billies’ and other containers could be filled with milk and those in quickly enough were able to secure one of the freshly baked loaves brought in from Waihi township once a week.

The cookhouse at the camping ground was a long building with a row of wood-burning stoves standing back-to-back down the middle and sink benches on either wall.  Children had the task of stacking firewood beside their mother’s choice of wood range while she waited for a hot stove to become available.  You can imagine the queues at Christmas time when everyone in the camping ground wanted to roast their chook at the same time.

Throughout the 50’s a dance was held every night over the Christmas and New Year holiday periods at both the RSA and Cabaret dance halls, the best attended being the one showcasing the most popular band on any given night.  Also popular were nightly concerts held each evening at the ‘Sound Shell’ featuring some of New Zealand’s premiere acts of the time.

The Sound Shell was located behind the Surf Club; patrons sat on wooden planks beneath the Pohutukawa trees and heard some of New Zealand’s most popular acts of the day.
The Sound Shell was eventually relocated to Pohutukawa Park, and at the same time a rink for roller skating, which was then all the rage, was built.

Pam Mitchell, a camper at Waihi Beach for sixty years, remembers when she and her friends were teenagers getting ready for a dance.  They would begin their preparations at four in the afternoon.  Firstly they would wash their hair, then in would go the hair-rollers, after which they would sit in the sun until it was dry.  An hour would then be spent getting “dollied up” – putting on make-up on and teasing hair.  With pristine hair and faultless make-up they would then stroll down to the dance wearing shorts and t-shirts!  Pam remembers these times – ‘We would all walk to the dance together, then back together to the camping ground cookhouse for Milo and toast before going to bed’.

Those days were, however, perhaps not quite as innocent as you might think.  A picture theatre located only a few hundred metres from the Holiday Park showed three or four movies a day (depending on the weather) and although few people remember what was playing at ‘the flicks’ all those years ago, they do recall making for the ‘love seats’ – the double seats at the back of the theatre which offered privacy and a bit more room to move.

While many of these forms of entertainment have long since disappeared, one event that still takes place is the New Year’s Sports Day organised and run by the Surf Club.    At one time the popularity of the event was such that bus-loads from Hamilton and all over the Waikato used to make the trip; a major draw-card being the handing out of free sweets and ice creams to participants and spectators courtesy of donations from Waihi Beach Holiday Park.

Earlier Sports Days would feature a running race for everybody; grandmothers ran for coconuts that were hidden beneath the sand – crossing the finish line without a coconut meant disqualification.  Grandfathers had a race of their own too, along with more traditional Kiwi favourites such as the three-legged, egg-and-spoon and gumboot races.

Teenagers still primp and preen, adults still sometimes overindulge at parties and Hokey Pokey lives on, although these days we put it in ice-cream.  New Zealand’s leading bands still include Waihi Beach in their tour circuit and the New Year Sports Day has been going for longer than even the oldest remaining campers can remember.  These are the things that survive the test of time.