My Auckland: Howick

Alan la Roche is a lifelong resident of Howick, and a founding member of the Howick Historical Village. He tells Elisabeth Easther why he loves his suburb.

Alan la Roche outside the Readaway Bookshop. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Alan la Roche outside the Readaway Bookshop. Photo / Steven McNicholl

In the early 1900s my grandparents bought a house in Howick as a weekend holiday home, and my parents were subsequently given a house here with five acres as a wedding present. I grew up in that house and I love everything about the area. Being a marine suburb, we have wonderful beaches, and in the summer most days I go swimming at Cockle Bay.

We have lots of cafes and restaurants too, I counted them up for you and there are 48 in total. My favourite is Katch, which is by the post office, simple, economical and tasty. Shamrock Cottage is lovely too, it's the second oldest building in Manukau, built in 1848, which makes it very historic. I was part of a group that restored it, we saved it from demolition and gave it to the council. I've also been involved in the creation of a lot of the walkways around here. Mangemangeroa, the valley of the Mangemange, boasts one of the world's longest ferns, which grows up trees. The Mangemange track is more than 4km long and we keep extending it. We have a big group of volunteers who do much of the work, and more than 100 people a day walk it. It goes through substantial native bush, and follows the estuary from the sea, following an inlet up a narrow stream, then up to the upper reaches of the valley.

Most of it was a farm, and when some of us saw it was on the market, we went to the Manukau City Council and, with help from the owner, Archie Sommerville, the council bought the land and turned it into a reserve. We have regular groups who do planting, and when the school children come and help, they learn the names of native trees and find out how things were used by the Maori, and early settlers.

Howick Historical Village is actually in Pakuranga, but way back in the 1960s the Howick Historic Society had a dream of a little village. In the 1960s Howick was starting to grow, changing from a rural village to a suburb of Auckland. We made plans to collect some of the old cottages in the area and gave them to the Howick Council, but they turned us down. They called us the Howick Hysterical Society but we didn't give up and the village opened in 1980. It's all done with voluntary work, and in the first 18 years we did it all for free, with big working bees every Saturday. And the visitors love it and numbers have constantly grown. I get such a lot of pleasure from seeing the hundreds of school kids coming through and learning about our past.

I've seen Howick change a great deal, in some ways it saddens me to see all the farmland becoming housing estates, although we've retained our friendly village atmosphere, which is very dear to the people of Howick.

One thing that's different about Howick is the shops, many are owner-operated, and have been round a long time. Businesses in Howick will often deliver free, they offer personal service and they're keen to satisfy their customers. We have the butcher shop which has been a butcher's since 1922, next door The Baker's Delight has been a bakery since the 1920s. These shops have been serving Howick for a long while, and they are inter-generational. We have one of the best bookshops in Auckland, Readaway Books and I ask for things long out of print and the mother and daughter who run it will get things in, they are wonderful. Round the corner we've got Hodsons, the sewing centre, people come from all over Auckland to go there.

Even the Howick and Eastern Bus Company is family owned. It was started in 1880 by John Crawford with crimson and cream coloured horse buses and the buses have the same corporate colours on them that we admire today. I love Howick, I think it's wonderful.

Alan's picks

* Katch Cafe: 60 Picton St. Howick. Ph (09) 537 4556. Everyone is made to feel welcome.

* Shamrock Cottage: 73 Selwyn Road, Cockle Bay. Ph (09) 533 1370.

* Readaway Books: 83 Picton Street, Howick. Ph (09) 534 5610. Best little bookshop in Auckland.

* Howick Historical Village: Lady Marie Drive, Pakuranga North. Ph (09) 576 9506. A wonderful living museum.

- NZ Herald

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