Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

26 May 2010

Fyffe House, Kaikoura Peninsula



Since before recorded history there were whales off Kaikoura. They mewed unmolested because Maori, who flocked to this coast for its fish and crayfish, had developed no technology that might harm them. But the whalers came in the early eighteen hundreds with their harpoons and flensing knives; the seas and beaches hereabouts must often have been a loathsome sight.

Kaikoura’s first whaling station, the Wai O Puka Fishery, was established in 1842 by Robert Fyffe and John Murray in ‘Fyffe’s Cove’ (now called Armers Beach). Twelve years later Fyffe was joined by his cousin, George, who unexpectedly found himself in charge of farming and whaling operations when Robert drowned just a few weeks later.

The Fyffes’ house was built in three distinct stages. The first, a simple cottage, possibly built in the mid 1840s, was earlier known as Cooper’s House. Its construction materials were standard for the times: cob, lath and plaster, pit sawn native timbers and eucalypts. But it also had whale vertebrae for foundations!

By 1857, George had added a kitchen with a store room above; then, with his wife, Catherine, he continued the extension, at right angles to the old cottage, until they had, by 1861, completed the west wing of Fyffe House. Only two other families, the Goodalls and Lows, have owned Fyffe House since it was built. George Low bequeathed it to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1981.

In the intervening years Kaikoura has grown into a flourishing tourist town and it’s difficult to picture life when it was a remote whaling station on a harsh and craggy peninsula below mountains whose snow lasts all summer.

© DON DONOVAN
donovan@ihug.co.nz
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RANDOM SAMPLINGS F...
By Don Donovan