Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 November 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 6. The Turrets, Orepuki

I wrote and illustrated ‘New Zealand House and Cottage’. It was published in 1997. It’s a snapshot of some historic New Zealand homes - both grand and modest - as they were preserved at the end of the 20th century.
I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.


If the earth was flat and you had a well-developed imagination you might see the Antarctic coast in the shimmering distance for at Orepuki, on the eastern end of Te Waewae Bay, nothing impedes the fury of the southerly winds from the pole, winds which are sometimes so salt laden that the macrocarpas stretch out their long, naked, flinching trunks as if to rip their roots from the soil and escape to the north. Here, with only a flimsy yet enduring stand of hardy trees for shelter stands a most unusual house.

I had first seen ‘The Turrets’ some years ago while travelling along the road from Riverton that parallels the southern coast until, faced with the uncompromising bluffs of Fiordland, it turns north to Tuatapere. The house lay in the distance, silver against forest green like a pavilion of towered Camelot. I determined that one day I would approach more closely.

John and Glenda Watson, who have lived at ‘The Turrets’ since 1960, have raised a family of five within the sheltering solidity of its timber walls. With pride they showed me over the house and were amused by my astonishment when I entered the sitting room and saw the most unusual pressed metal ceiling with its wonderful art nouveau frieze, which, they assured me, is entirely original.

The house was built in the late 1800s by George Valentine Printz for his son, John Louis (known as ‘Barney’ for no apparent reason). Printz, born in 1833, came from Sydney, prospered as a whaler and owned 7000 acres (2832 ha) at Paihia. He fathered ten children, two of whom died in infancy, leaving five sons and three daughters. They grew up in a lively community whose economy was based upon mixed farming, saw-milling, shale oil working and the unreliable rewards of winning fine gold from the black beach sands of the bay.

The turrets were a delightful eccentricity: George Printz built houses for four of his sons; Henry’s was towerless, George’s had one turret, William’s had two and John Louis trumped them all with three. They do sparkle so when the sun comes out …

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By Don Donovan