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Twenty years ago, the Reefton community decided — not
without controversy — to embrace its past. These days it flies
the flag proudly as one of the best heritage mining towns in
Broadway during the heady goldrush
The Lange Labour Government
saw the demise of the town’s biggest
employers, the New Zealand Forest
Service, Ministry of Works, Railways
and the diminished State Coalmines.
Shops closed, main street buildings
were let go, and many people passing
through Reefton did exactly that and
did not bother to stop.
Former Aucklander PAUL
THOMAS arrived in August 1990
from the Hauraki Gulf Maritime
Park as the new field centre
manager predominantly for Victoria
Conservation Park in the brand new
Department of Conservation. He
advocated for and then led a complete
renewal based on the town’s goldmining
heritage — and then put his money
where his mouth is. Nowadays he
runs the heritage-themed Broadway
Tearooms at the top of a rejuvenated
Here is the story of Reefton’s revival
in his own words.
“I managed on arrival to immediately
score two black marks: I was from
Auckland and I worked for the
Department of Conservation.
I remember attending a meeting
about the main street revitalisation,
in our case Broadway, and there was a
lot of negative talk, and some people
expressing that the town was dying and
that we should do nothing.
I stood up at the meeting as the new
boy, and said, ‘well we should at least try
to do something; if we try and then fail,
well we tried’.
I was aware that Di Lucas, one of
New Zealand’s leading landscape
architects and planners conducted
community workshops to assist
communities shape their future. I made
that happen, we called the workshop
I coupled together the financial
resources, cajoled our Buller District
Council (Inangahua) community board
to participate, and encouraged as many
people to be there on the weekend, in
February 1996. Ninety people turned
As we stepped out of the workshop,
we stepped into our first controversy.
A contract had been let for a new
library addition. The design of the
building didn’t quite fit with existing
architecture. We made a request to the
Inangahua Community Board to have a
window of opportunity to redesign the
Ian Bowman created the design and
collaborated with the contractor’s
The design reflected the 1800s
architecture of the past, but used a
range of materials that included bevel-
backed weatherboard and corrugated
iron, except the concrete walls of the
existing service centre.
We had to go through three council
meetings to get approval, and as we
went through that process community
opposition grew; the community
wanted new architecture, the modern
look, they wanted to dispense with the
old, despite it being one of the town’s
At the second council meeting, one of
the local councillors strongly opposed
the design and presented a 400-person
Thankfully the councillors gave a
majority decision, but with a fish
hook — we had to meet $24,000 of
additional costs. Eleven of us then
stepped up to be guarantors and the
building was built!
At that very meeting one of the
notable women in the community came
up and said: “Paul I will make sure you
never succeed in this town again”.
The completion of the building and
the opening in November 1996 was a
great success story.
The baton changed from the
informal Reefton Revival Group to
the town’s promotions organisation,
and incorporated society, ITP. In 2002
ITP’s focus was on the main street,
Broadway, called the Reefton Shop
Front project. It was a collaboration
between Development West Coast, the
shop owners, and the Buller District
Council, albeit a bit reluctantly.
Development West Coast provided
a formal loan to ITP and then ITP
had formal loans with individual shop
Research was done to the historic
form of each of the buildings, designs
were drawn up.
New motels were built of modern
materials that incorporated light
concrete walling, but the building had a
Stage by stage the town was
transformed to be like the best of any
heritage goldmining town that you
might find in Victoria, Australia —
Beechworth, was our model.
The benefits on now having a high
quality main street, with cared for
heritage building and a good tone to
the town, is that people stop. They want
For Reefton people, they: Have a
town that they are proud of, a town that
is vibrant, business owners have strong
business activity, that grows stronger
year by year. They have buildings that
will rise in value.
Reefton is richer in so many ways for
its community input.”
“people stop. They want
to stop. “
The ‘top of the town’ shops today. The gallery and tearooms, at left, were part of the Reefton Shop Front Project in 2002.
The tearooms in the 1940s.
The tearooms after the historic form of the parapet had been reinstated. The aluminium
windows were replaced with wooden windows. The leadlight windows above the main
windows salvaged from a back shed, restored and placed in their original position. Wooden
veranda posts were installed, now the bike stands for the popular mountainbiking activity. A
heritage paint colour scheme applied to the building.
Broadway today celebrates the town’s histor y.
The Lantern Court Motels on Broadway.
The library building, before and after.
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