As plans take shape for a major redevelopment at Whakarewarewa Village, one local remembers the time it all began.

And that's because her parents - Bunny and Noelene Ray - were at the heart of the establishment.

Susan Ray admits her memories are not as comprehensive as they could be, largely because she was at boarding school and travelling for many of the years her parents were there, but they are bolstered by a box of history compiled by her mother.

"I think both my parents were very good at realising things of importance," Ray said. "This box holds memories I will treasure until the day I die."


Newspaper articles dating back to 1974 provide an introduction to The Little Village.
The first, from January 1974, boldly announces $200,000 to be spent at Whakarewarewa to replicate an authentic colonial street.

"At the time, Mum and Dad owned the Whakarewarewa store on the site the company purchased. Its opening was a climax to their 10 years in Rotorua's tourist trade," Ray said.

"It was a chap called J.R. Milne (Auckland) who financed the buildings, I'm sure $200,000 was a huge amount of money at the time."

The proposal included a two-storey building that would house a pottery shop, run by Herbert Hoare, a spinners and weaver's room, run by Beryl Kunac, Anita Brennan and Judy McKay, a rock hand and carver's room, run by Hepi Maxwell and an ice cream parlour boasting 24 flavours of ice-cream.

The Rays were described as hosts of the Village.

"The various articles, including ones from the Rotorua Daily Post, the New Zealand Herald, the Hot Lakes Chronicle [a replica of Rotorua's first newspaper], the Daily Mirror, the New Zealand Listener, Thermal Air and the Woman's Weekly, detail how these people came to be in the various rooms/stores.

"They are all hugely interesting, particularly the story of Hepi Maxwell," Ray said.

Rotorua historian Don Stafford advised on the authenticity of the build.


"One of the articles described the staff of the village as being dressed elegantly, but that's not quite how I recall it," Ray laughed. "They wore a 1900s costume of long chequered skirts and high neck blouses and, to a youngster, they certainly didn't look elegant."

She clearly remembers the working "well pump" in the village and the "cobbled pathways, horse-drawn carriages (there was a carriage in the village), lattice windows and hitching post described in one of the stories".

"The working well pump is one of my favourite memories."

Central to her recollections of very early life in the village is the hours her parents worked.

"They worked seven days a week and they worked hard. Although I was sent off to boarding school it was, without a doubt, where I learned to be a salesperson and I eventually spent my working life in sales."

Ray recalls her father obtaining some old whiskey barrels for the village from the Museum of Transport & Technology, Auckland. "He was told to put water into the barrel and leave them to rest. What he got out of those barrels was bottled and stored throughout our house – there were literally bottles everywhere."

The box of village history will be added as the planned redevelopment progresses, but Ray is hopeful the past will never be forgotten.