From Pongakawa to the Mount

This house with a history, on a prime Mount Maunganui site, is for sale along with the land.

A Mount Maunganui property currently on the market has caught the eye of those interested in its history.

The Pitau Road house was once a two-bedroomed cottage on the Tobacco Crop Rotoehu Plantation in the Pongakawa Valley.

Joy Edmonds, who grew up in Pongakawa, remembers her parents buying it around 1958, when she was about nine years old.

“While we played outside, they wandered in and out of these houses which had been put up for tender,” explains Joy.

“The next thing I remember is coming with my parents to Pitau Road and seeing it up on 44-gallon drums. It became our holiday home.”

In 1932, some 20 of the small homes were built to accommodate unemployed married men and their families who came to work in the Pongakawa Valley tobacco plantations.

The great depression of the 1930s had provided the impetus for the tobacco growing scheme.

Under the Small Farms Scheme, the Department of Agriculture established unemployed men and their families on five-to-ten acre tobacco farms that had been surveyed from a wilderness of fern and scrub in the Pongakawa Valley.

The men were paid 37/6 a week, from which they paid five shillings rent. The following year, 20 more houses were built.

None of the men were farmers, having come from Auckland with previous occupations such as a university lecturer, a newspaper editor, waterside workers and many other trades.

However, the tobacco families were a lively group and organising dances and card evenings as well as cricket and football matches. They lobbied the government for a school, with the Pongakawa Valley School starting in a tobacco barn.

The tobacco farms produced well for three or four years, but the natural fertility of the soil became exhausted and the crop declined in quality.

In 1937, the NZ Forest Service was given 24,000 acres of Crown land between Rotoehu and the Pongakawa Valley upon which to plant pine trees. In 1939, the government abandoned the tobacco farming scheme altogether.

“We only had our house for a couple of years, and sold it around 1960,” says Joy. “Underneath we had a garage and bunkrooms for my four older brothers.”

The Pitau Road property has had two owners since then, and is now on the market with Bayleys.

“The Mount is full of many properties with interesting histories,” says Bayleys CEO Simon Anderson. “There are baches along most streets and around each corner with special memories for our people, and 17 Pitau Road is certainly one of those.”