Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Trip to Selwyn Huts

I have lived in Christchurch for nineteen years and during that time, a good number of people have told me about Selwyn Huts. They've told me about the quaint little archetypal New Zealand community that sits near the mouth of the Selwyn River, where it opens out into the wide expanses of te Waihora, Lake Ellesmere. But until a few weeks ago, I'd never been there myself.
It was a classic Canterbury Nor'wester Sunday when I finally decided to drive out there - big blue skies and enormous drifts of white cloud swirled into dramatic patterns. I drove through Taitapu, through Lincoln and turned down a side road soon after - one of a number of convoluted routes that will eventually get you there. I was happily driving through the flat green that characterises the Canterbury Plains when all of a sudden the road ended in an abrupt 90-degree turn. If I hadn't been paying attention I would have driven straight on through a farm gate. A few hundred metres down the road I suddenly found myself at Selwyn Huts.
I'm not sure what I was expecting - perhaps a few scattered huts on the edge of the river bank? I certainly wasn't expecting a tight little fistful of at least a hundred cottages/baches/cribs (see below) - fabulous little dwellings that are the product of every architectural whim anyone has ever had. Some are lived in permanently; some are holiday spots, with doors locked and curtains drawn. Whatever else you might think of these quintessential New Zealand communities that spring up beside the country's beaches, lakes and rivers, you have to admire the inventiveness of those who choose to put down roots there. There's something free-spirited and carefree about that, that speaks far more to the notion of home and gathered memories than any of the fancy architecture that is currently springing up in our cities. Selwyn Huts are a quirky mix - old converted tram carriages, converted buses, rickety old cottages, makeshift dwellings put together with building oddments, cute little huts that have been prettied up with vegetable gardens and flower beds and even a modern dwelling or two. And down a stretch of metal road, a kilometre or so on, there are the Lower Selwyn Huts - a smaller gathering that overlooks the river and its wobbly jetties. A 1924 photograph I found of this area shows the river lined with jetties and moored boats and speaks of Selwyn Huts as "a weekend resort for Christchurch anglers" keen to try their luck at netting the trout the river is well known for. The word 'resort' might be stretching it a bit by today's standards but there was something about this place that drew me in. I'll be going back - and if I can find an empty cottage to rent, I'll be staying a few days. There's an undertstated magic there that got to me.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kia ora Adrienne,
I am a "Huts" gal. My family and I have a wee batch there and have been traveling from Nelson for over 40 years to go for both Summer and May holidays. Duck hunting and Salmon / Trout fishing were the main draw-cards (duck hunting still is) for my father. It has been a place full of marvelous memories and it a nostalgic trip every time. It has been exceptionally disappointing to see the, once pristine, river turn to a polluted nightmare over the years. It was a place where my brothers and I used to go eelling, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, canoeing and generally larking about in the water. I always imagined my kids would do the same one day - but sadly this is not to be. What has become of the Canterbury water-ways? A dying shame... regards - Kelly

Adrienne Rewi said...

Thanks for the lovely comment Kelly. I should imagine Selwyn Huts would have presented an idyllic childhood (and adult for that matter) escape. It is a dreadful shame about the water, although it's not just Canterbury that has dirty water. Pollution (dairying/industry?)has spread throughout New Zealand. In some areas of course, measures have been taken to counteract that. That aside, I hope you enjoy many more Selwyn Huts years. It's a beautiful little spot.

Natalie said...

It's nice to read someone else's impression on the Huts!

We just bought our batch in the Lower Selwyn Huts part as opposed to the Upper Selwyn Huts.

The distinction is that the Uppper Huts don't allow dogs, so I guess they don't have a mice problem (due to their number of cats),
and the Lower Huts allow dogs as they are the duck shooters huts.

Once apon a time, from what I hear, you couldn't buy a hut there unless you had a fishing license, and/or a gun license to shot ducks, but that has all changed, of course.

It was nice to have our get-away especially after the earthquake in Feb 2011!! Being at the huts after the 'quake was just so refreshing !!

PS. There are still very BIG trouts in the river!

Adrienne Rewi said...

Lucky you! It's such a lovely spot - a little bit under-rated I think. And I'm always surprised at how many Christchurch people have never been there. A nice little hideaway :-) Adrienne

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