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.