Handy destinations favoured
Holidays usually involved little travelling. Anne J enjoyed holidays on an
uncle's farm or having country cousins to stay in the city. Many families
went to a bach or a tent at a nearby beach, river or lake. In Otago and
Southland baches were known as cribs.
Corrugated iron was often used for building holiday houses. The bach in
the photograph was built around 1930 at the South Island Lake Rotoiti
which is in what is now the Nelson Lakes National Park.
Corrugated iron bach in the beech forest at Lake Rotoiti
Photo source Elizabeth Arnold
Lake Rotoiti has long been a popular holiday destination for Nelson people
as it is only 119 kilometres from Nelson.
Problems with car travel
Even on such short trips car travel could be full of difficulties with
punctures to tyres or the engine boiling going up hills. There were none
of the modern judder bars to slow traffic, but the corrugations in unsealed
roads especially on hills and on corners could have the same effect. Cold
temperatures made travel in a small Austin 7 with flapping side curtains
On steep hills the engine would often over-heat and the trip would be
halted until the engine cooled. Peter remembers 1930s journeys from Nelson
to Lake Rotoiti which were punctuated with stops as the car engine boiled
going up Spooners Range. Wet weather could make fords difficult to cross.
Families would often carry a lot of camping gear on the running boards
along each side and this meant a heavy load for a low-powered car.
Mildred recalls travel in an Austin 7
"While we lived in Moana Ken drove an Austin 7, but motoring on the rough
roads of the West Coast was not easy. There were few bridges and cars
often got stuck in the fords. Planks were left beside the river for use in
getting cars out of the river. The Austin was so light that Ken and I
could lift the car on to the boards to drive out."
When petrol was not rationed (as it was during the war) some people
travelled further by car but often had to wait at bridges such as those at
the Rakaia and Waitaki Rivers, which were shared between road and rail
A crossing keeper was on duty and stopped the cars when a train was coming.
Travel in remote areas
The Geary family at their camp site with the Essex Super Six
Photo source Ngare Rutledge
Ngare recalls that her father had a job with a large Electrical Power and
Lines Department as Lines Superintendent. "He certainly gave the job his
best shot as our car journeys were never free of 'Tut-tut, that light is
out, take a note of the street or avenue', and so on. It's a pity we were
all girls as the lessons on power distribution were given, and these were
embellished by visits to remote power houses and hydrodams built on some of
the mighty rivers of the Canterbury Plains and amongst the remote areas of
the West Coast - enough to inspire the boys to opt for a career in
engineering. My father took great risks as he led us over some really
primitive swing bridges and rickety wooden ones. The forests were
beautiful, and after recovering from our fears of falling through gaps etc.
from these bridges, often situated many feet above the river or gorge
levels, we heard tui, korimako (bellbird) and riro riro (grey warbler),
etc., in our earliest years.
"For holidays my father built a sturdy trailer - I can still see the leaved
springs beneath her frame. It weighed a ton. Once goods, including an
enormous food canteen, were unpacked and lodged in the beautiful tent, a
double mattress was spread over the floor of the trailer and whiz-bang, a
communal bed for four, and one or two in the tent. The back of the front
seat of the car was adapted, hinged and made a very comfortable double bed
for my parents.
The first family car was an Essex Super Six, rigidly sprung, and some of
the family suffered years of car-sickness. Then the family progressed to a
Travelling to camp in Central Otago
George's father worked very long hours and when the holidays came he did a
quick tidy up at home and then they went on holiday. In the May and August
holidays they stayed in a hut at Frankton. Gullies ran down from the hut
to the lake and George remembers rabbits being everywhere.
The family travelled in a Rugby car and in summer went about twenty five
miles a day and then stopped to camp. His father had built what George
thinks may have been one of the first caravans in New Zealand - a trailer
with a canvas top. There were no couplings and no tow bar but a complex
system of tying it to the car. Luggage was carried on a concertina luggage
rack. A calico lean-to tent was attached to the car when they set up camp.
They could camp anywhere as long as there was a stream for water, and they
travelled all over Central Otago.
Travelling had its problems, though. His father fashioned specially
shaped pieces of wood to put behind the wheels whenever they got stuck.
Once when driving over the Kilmog, a hill on the main road north of
Dunedin, they had to stop seven times to mend a puncture.
Travel from Central Otago
James has vivid memories of travelling from Central Otago to Dunedin in the
"Our holidays frequently took us to Dunedin to visit relations or else to
an Otago beach. We had no motorcar and transport was public, by a bus to
Ranfurly and then a train to Dunedin - quite an adventure! The journey
always had its fascination, especially in the Taieri Gorge. Some of the
carriages had forward facing seats, but some still had two rows facing each
other, so you had plenty of opportunity to scrutinise your fellow
travellers. There are many tunnels on that line and lighting was by gas
mantels which the guard came along and lit to our wonderment. Similarly in
Naseby township the few street lights were lit by the dayman who worked for
the Borough, but I think these were kerosene whereas the railway ones were
"Once we arrived in Dunedin to reach our grandparents' home at Halfway Bush
we travelled to the end of the Kaikorai cable car (which we proudly knew
had been built by my grandfather) and were met by my uncle in the
springcart. Often it would be dark before we reached the farm and the
lighting of the gig was by a candle in a special holder.
"A holiday at a beach took more organising as all bedding had to be carried
as well as our clothes and I suppose some essential stores, but it seemed
to be only rarely that we used carriers. There were horse drawn covered
carts which operated from the railway station in Dunedin and throughout the
An unforgettable incident on a camping trip.
"One Christmas the family received the best present of them all. A small,
black and white foxy dog we called 'Scamp'. He was loved by all and in
turn loved us.
"We were camping at Naseby once when at 3 am Dad pumped up the primus for a
cup of tea. Just picture it - a heavy frost over all, a full moon throwing
up the relief of pine trees and outside the tent the dog and Dad pumping
and shivering away. Little Sitting Bull Dad sat there with a blanket
round him, drinking tea and looking at the moon. It was too much for the
dog. He got into Dad's sleeping bag. The next thing I heard was a
demented howl as Dad rolled onto the pooch. Mum woke up and said she had
enough. Dad was saying something to Christ and I could not stop laughing
as the dog made out through the hole door in the igloo tent."
A tiring trip from Christchurch to Picton in 1942
I remember a trip in 1943 from Christchurch to Picton to visit my sister.
It was wartime so we didn't have enough petrol to take the car. We left
about 8 a.m. and travelled by steam train to Hundalee. Then we had to
transfer to a service car - a bus with a door beside each row of seats - as
the railway along the Kaikoura coast was not completed until about 1948.
After a winding and dusty trip from Hundalee through Kaikoura to Clarence
Bridge we transferred to another train. It waited over an hour to load
sheep trucks, and another hour outside Blenheim, and we finally arrived in
Picton at 9.45 p.m. - nearly three hours late. I remember being told that
the only time the train arrived on time there was no one there to greet it
or unload luggage and the only taxi driver was at home having dinner. The
trip took nearly fourteen hours, but it now takes less than five hours by
bus or train.
Travelling between the North and South Islands
An overnight ferry ran both ways each night between Wellington and
Lyttelton (the port for Christchurch), and ferries also ran from Picton and
Nelson to Wellington. All could be very uncomfortable trips especially when
there was stormy weather in Cook Strait. On the overnight ferry the
stewardess brought in a cup of tea and a biscuit at about 6 am to ensure
that passengers were awake and ready to disembark. You could ask for a
cooked breakfast to be served on the boat. If you were putting the car on
the ferry it had to be there about 5 pm.
Jane recalls her trips from Wellington to visit grandparents in
"Sometimes we visited the South Island travelling to Christchurch over
night on the Wahine or the Maori. It was not an enjoyable trip., We used
to travel there in the term holidays to see my grandparents, and we often
had very rough trips at that time of the year. I hated the smell of the
ship. There were no sea sick pills and I was very relieved to wake up in
the calmer waters of Lyttelton Harbour in the morning, We travelled by
train from Lyttelton to Christchurch and then by taxi to my grandparents'
house. I longed for my parents to hire a horse-drawn cab instead of a taxi
but that did not happen.
"In the summer holidays we sunbathed on the beaches at Plimmerton, Karehana
Bay, Raumati, Paraparaumu and Days Bay. Every summer we were badly
sunburned. However in those days we didn't think we might be doing
ourselves serious harm.
Business trips from Wellington to Auckland
"My father travelled a lot for his business. Travel between Wellington and
Auckland was on the 3 pm express and the 7pm Limited, the overnight
express. It had limited stops and left at 7 p m arriving in Auckland in
Flying to Sydney
"My father was one of the early fliers to go across the Tasman. It would
involve eight to twelve hours flying just above the sea.
"People like my grandparents used to travel round the world, taking a
year's tour with trunks full of luggage. Long overseas experiences were
popular with those who could afford it. It took four days to get to
Australia, and some six weeks to get to Britain."
Travel and holidays not for everyone
Not everyone could afford to travel. Especially during the Depression
some adults and children went only as far from home as they could walk.
Many children living in Christchurch had never seen the sea, though that
city has seaside suburbs just a tram ride away.