National Day of Norway, celebrated in Norsewood on Sunday, provided an insight into the tough conditions the area's Scandinavian settlers endured when they first arrived.

Scandinavian Society member Bill Gundersen and Norway Day co-ordinator John Ellison had built a replica of the first shelter built by Norsewood's first Scandinavian settlers and it proved to be a real eye-opener for those attending the celebrations.

Gundersen explained that ballots had been drawn and the settlers were granted blocks of land at what was to become Norsewood. The men travelled to the area and began the task of creating a clearing on which they could build a shelter.

"The women and children stayed in barracks for two weeks then it was time for them to join the men. But there wasn't a lot of room in the barracks so some of the women and older children had to sleep outside," Gundersen said.


"For the men their first requirement was to build a shelter using whatever they could glean from the bush, such as punga logs, bracken and ferns, and a canvas type fabric they had used to cover their few possessions on the wagons they used. They also built an outside fireplace made from stones. They used camp ovens to cook their damper bread and make their coffee as they were great coffee drinkers."

Gundersen said the track leading to the clearing was too narrow for the wagons to travel on so the women had to walk.

"One can only imagine what the women must have thought about their journey and it was little wonder that they wept when they saw their first homes. They had come from cosy log cabins that had an indoor fireplace and were waterproof."

Over time, as more land was cleared, the settlers were able to build better houses using adze hewn timber for the framing with wooden shingle roofs and chimneys made from wood framing and clay. Totara and white pine were used as these were good splitting timbers, although the white pine was prone to borer.

"The houses generally had two rooms, one for sleeping and one for cooking with lean-to extensions added as families grew."

Gundersen said after 1880, as logging of the area increased, fine cottages like the one that houses the Norsewood Museum, were built.

"These were very comfortable with open fires and a number of rooms and a loft. They had colonial ovens and, later, coal ranges. As time went on the houses were further improved and the settlers were quite comfortable in their homes."

The question was asked what degree of contact the settlers had with the tangata whenua.


The main Maori settlement was in an area near the Manawatū River and the settlers learned from these people what bush food they could safely consume and how to cook it.

Following Gunderson's address people inspected the shelter that had been erected next to the Norsewood church and were surprised at the crudeness of it.

The Norsewood celebrations began with the raising of the Norwegian flag by Graeme Mitchell of the Royal Norwegian consulate in Wellington.

People then gathered in the church and were welcomed by Rose Waterworth who spoke on the history of Norway's Constitution Day. People then learned about one of the first families to settle on Garfield Rd from genealogist Sharon Burling.

Ellison told the gathering there had been much conjecture over the years about Norsewood's unique wagon wheel.

"There has been a lot of research carried out as to where the Scandi wheel came from but it seems to have been developed in Norsewood. It was carved from a solid lump of wood and had a steel rim. It was wide so it wouldn't sink into the ground. The wagons were very uncomfortable. They became known as the Scandi wheel even though they didn't look anything like the original Scandi wheel."

The crowd of visitors and locals then moved on to the Memorial Oak where a floral tribute was laid by Heather Cheer who thanked the settlers for their work ethic and giving residents the privilege of living in and loving Norsewood.

A tour of the Norsewood cemetery was cancelled because of the cold, wet weather.

The celebrations then moved on to the Hovding Hall in Lower Norsewood where children from Norsewood School sang the Norwegian national anthem and performed traditional Scandinavian dances.