Marlborough: Hospitality on the house

By Don Donovan

This historic cottage has a grand tradition of welcoming guests, writes Don Donovan.

Rai Valley Cottage, near Carluke, as an amazing history of hospitality. Photo / Don Donovan
Rai Valley Cottage, near Carluke, as an amazing history of hospitality. Photo / Don Donovan

If there's a welcoming feel to the old Rai Valley Cottage, near Carluke, on the highway between Blenheim and Nelson, it's probably because it has an amazing history of hospitality.

This sturdy pioneers' cottage, built in 1881, is in remarkably good condition - not only because it was well-constructed in the first place, but also because it has been carefully looked after by volunteers and the Historic Places Trust in recent years.

It was built by Charles and Arthur Turner, the first settlers in the valley, and occupied by Charles, his wife Matilda and their children for the next 25 years. They lived remotely for the first four of those years until the coach road from Nelson was formed, and one can only imagine the hard times they must have endured; the constant danger from injury, the lack of medical help, the absence of easy communication.

Apart from a corrugated-iron chimney, the cottage was made entirely of local materials: split totara slabs for the walls and roof shingles, and stones from the riverbed to support the chimney.

Charles would spend weekdays working as a bushman in Pelorus Valley - a fair distance away, even by horse - while Matilda and the children worked at clearing undergrowth from around the house.

Eventually they cleared enough to fell the bush and establish a cattle farm, and so succeeded through the diligence and faith that marked those courageous pioneer families.

They were also well-known for their hospitality and welcomed passersby. Indeed, a diary note by one of the children recorded a hardly believable 500 visitors in 1894 alone.

Various additions were made to the cottage as time passed: a separate cookhouse and bakery, dairy, milking shed and a bloke's shed to which Charles could escape to play his violin (which might have been a relief for the rest of the family).

A settlement of about 100 developed nearby, with a school and sawmill founded by William Brownlee, who named it Carluke after his birthplace in Scotland.

The Turners moved in 1909, after which the cottage passed though several owners until, in 1965, Woodrow Wilson set it and the adjoining land aside as a private reserve dedicated to Rai Valley's early settlers.

It became a public reserve in 1980 and is now in the care of the Historic Places Trust.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Rai Valley Pioneer Cottage Historic Reserve is off State Highway 8, northwest of Pelorus Bridge, turn north on to Opouri Rd.

More information: See historicplaces.org.nz.

- NZ Herald

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