An 18-year-old has been arrested after a fire which badly damaged the century-old wooden Mangatainoka grandstand near the old Tui Brewery in northern Wairarapa.
Police say the youth will appear in Palmerston North District Court on Monday charged with arson.
A Fire Emergency NZ shift manager said the building beside State Highway 2 between Pahiatua and Woodville had been "well involved" in fire when the first firefighters arrived after the alarm was raised at 2.04pm.
The grandstand, emblazoned with the name of the long-gone Mangatainoka R.F.C. has taken on an iconic and nostalgic aura in recent years with the field transformed from farm paddock to rugby field for several Hurricanes Super Rugby pre-season game, the most recent against the Blues in February 2019.
The century and the refurbishment of the grandstand was marked with a Golden Oldies match kicked-off by now-late All Blacks great Sir Colin Meads in 2008.
Crews from the Pahiatua and Woodville volunteer fire brigades battled the fire, with a tanker from Dannevirke also in use, some still at the scene two hours after the initial call.
The rapid spread was highlighted by Tararua District Mayor Tracey Collis who was at an ambulance station next-door to the Pahiatua Fire Station when the alarm was raised.
"The speed at which the brigade response was lightning fast," she said. "They're all quite close, so I understand they are one of the fastest volunteer brigades in the country.
After a visit to the ground, on private farmland barely 5km from the fire station and south of the brewery, now known as Tui HQ and used mainly as a tourist attraction, she said later the firefighters would not have had a chance of saving the building.
"The roof has collapsed and from the load it looks like the whole inside has gone," she said.
"You're talking about a grandstand that was both loved and well cared for," she said. "I
drive past it every day, it's part of the landscape – the brewery and the grandstand on either side of the road."
Nick Rogers, now operator of the Tui Experience attraction, said it was the fundraising to refurbish the grandstand that led to its use for about eight of professional rugby's pre-season games.
"We were sitting down afterwards having a beer, and some said: What's next, Nick?," he said.
Most of the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises had played there, with crowds up to 9000, sometimes on specially erected temporary grandstands and improvising such other elevated points as stock trucks, in addition to the 136 perches in the old stand.
"It's sad for the community," he said. "Some great history, it's real grassroots. If the walls could talk?"