Katikati – Artistic Hub


Katikati, north-west of Tauranga, was an early, predominantly Irish-Protestant settlement. Like many early settlements they arrived by water and the rivers were the roads. Proud of their heritage, it’s displayed in murals around the town – yes it’s known as “Mural Town”. Katikati is also a retirement area – affordable housing and a very village-like layout and atmosphere.

The night before weather forecast suggests extreme weather and winds. When I turn left from Barrett’s Road onto the Tauranga West Road (State Highway 2) it’s sunny, warm and there’s little wind. It’s so relaxing to be turning left. Turning right means turning blind into traffic just coming off an overtaking lane hidden by a small hill. That and traffic blatting around the corner from Tauranga can make leaving Whakamarama a dodgem type experience.

Pottering along I pass a large sign exhorting me to “Ssh” – it’s a clever advertisement for the Apata kiwifruit and avocado pack house. This is also where the single line rail link through Kaimais from the Waikato shows up. Yes a single line – but you can go both ways – but only one at a time. The road is flanked by shelter belts and horticulture. I don’t remember any “shops” other than the small machinery store opposite Brown’s Cafe on their respective corners of Lockington Road. Forta Leeza a “hostelry” which for years has inhabited a former dairy factory flashes by. There are signs for Lodges and the many side roads hide not only working horticulture but “lifestyles” for families working in Katikati or Tauranga. I cruise on by the now closed Katikati Heritage Museum and enter the main street area that’s Katikati.

There’s a lot of free 2 hour parking on the main street – they want you to stop, look, buy and eat. And that’s what I do. There’s a small, chilling breeze now so it’s on with the coat and scarf and a quick walk to the end of the main shopping area. The cafe on the corner has a new name and a new look and I decide that’s where I’ll have lunch. Back up the street and first stop is the recycle shops – there are two at street level and later I find the Vinnies up the multi-coloured tile stairs. There’s a $5. fill a bag at one and I see one or two people leaving with bulging plastic bags.

Liquorice allsorts are painted on the exterior walls of the KATIKATI CRAFT & MURAL CENTRE I’ve parked near. It’s a big space – there are about 35 collective members. The art and art craft work is extensive. I immediately see a line of fibre art – they are knitted teacosies the like of which you won’t have seen before – flowers, fruit and in “decor colours”. The knitter is Dulcie Cooper who just happens to be one of the collective on duty this morning. Dulcie is a master knitter and creative. She has an intricate, traditional lacy baby something on the needles in front of her. Dulcie’s responsible for much of the baby clothing on display – there’s a pair of strawberry booties, trendy Ponsonby baby clothing and superb pink and blue traditional lacy little baby sets. I love all her work. And apparently so did a visiting American who bought 7 teacosies to take home as gifts.

There’s patchwork, all sorts of knitting, woodware, pottery, preserves, flavoured oils – all sorts of things. Treacle Tarts are witty and wonderful soft creative fibre sculptures. The work of Lorraine Morse. It’s unnerving one of the “girls” looks like someone I know. There’s a big display of hilarious painted garden pots a child would adore to have in the garden. There’s a display of traditional knitted soft toys – future heirlooms. (I’ve saved the ones my Auntie Winnie knitted for my children.) The woodware by Ray Zander is perfection smooth. Laugh out loud – a collection of golf club head covers – an owl (ruru), Pukeko, sheep, Tui, Kea and more. Overseas they’d probably cause a traffic accident.

This collective has been operating since 1991 and has weathered the recession. Dulcie and her fellow collective member, Noeline Thompsett, tell me that this is their “quiet time” but while I’m there at least three other people come in and they buy stuff. They’ve noticed a reduction in the numbers of UK tourists – some regular visitors are exchange rate victims.

Down the side of the Memorial Hall is THE ART GALLERY. I avoid being hit by the heavy entry door and find I’m in a busy and happy working art group. An accomplished artist Val Helms is the person “in charge”. Val lets me tell the arts group about ARTbop. I take in the art around the walls – diverse and reasonably priced. There are some excellent representations of New Zealand countryside and yes they are bought by tourists. There’s a buzz of chatter as the women talk and work, work and talk.

In front of the MEMORIAL HALL I notice the Maori design references in the “frill” along the top of the building – I’ve never noticed it before. The courtyard in front of the hall (where I’ve previously been to weekend markets) is now the most simple and sophisticated memorial to those who have participated in conflicts from the South African war (the Boer War). Laid between the hall and the existing simple clock this memorial is appropriate for its village location and the events it remembers.

I’m looking for THE BLUE HOUSE and I find a bright sign flapping rapidly in the increasing wind speed. By accident I’ve found THE VILLAGE ARTS & CRAFT, previously resident in the Heritage Museum complex. It’s another collective now housed in a former home – little rooms filled with treasures. I meet Sharnie who repurposes and creates. Like the collective on the main street the contributing creatives are local. Sharnie notes however that the Merino clothing is sourced from Auckland and the pounamu jewellery is made elsewhere. This is another place to visit and look for both locals and visitors.

THE LITTLE BLUE HOUSE is set back from the main street. It really is a little blue house. There’s a front room housing story boards created by students of Katikati College – the lives and photographs of local young men who died in World War I. There’s also a display of related historical objects from the Heritage Museum collection. It’s well thought out and well set out. There’s a volunteer attendant. I sign the visitors book and write “impressive”.

Past the iconic newspaper reading Barry and into the i-site. One of “those pianos” this one covered with liquorice allsorts is out at the edge of the awning. I chat with another volunteer Jane Burger about the murals around town. I pickup a handful of brochures and maps for activities around Katikati. Jane talks with two young overseas visitors who want to see the murals. She’s great with them – another jewel of a volunteer.

I check out some of the murals. There’s a small booklet you can buy which has a brief description of each mural and their location. Some I saw had been painted in the early 1990s.

The wind is really getting up now and head down I go back along to JENNY’S CAFE and into the warmth of what initially seems to be a tiny espresso bar. But it’s not – there’s another large room, a carpeted and enclosed “deck”. The roadway is right there and the large truck and trailers float past the corner like canal boats.

The food cabinet has a selection of savoury lunch food (and Jenny cooks hot food to order). There are homemade bacon & egg pies and homemade steak pies. I have one of those which comes with watercress greens, strips of cucumber and carrot and a dab of vinaigrette. The pie really is a steak pie – it’s a traditional stew encased in pastry. And to top it all off there’s some tamarillo chutney – homemade. Before this arrived I read the New Zealand Herald and drank some tea. I think I deserve a treat and my lime, ginger and marscapone cake (smothered in long thread coconut) shows up with an orange nasturtium and angelica leaf and a small container of thick yoghurt.

The orange awning of the Cafe has started to beat in time with an increasing wind speed. Since I’ve come in another five tables have filled. Jenny tells me she’s only been open since March. She’s changed the appearance of the cafe both inside and out. A friend has created original wall sculpture for her. She’s from a cooking family and it shows. It’s Auckland food and it’s appreciated. She tells me the morning of the recent Cat Show she did 45 breakfasts and there were people lined up outside waiting to get in. I’m not surprised. Jenny and her assistant are a real Katikati asset.

I parked at the other end of the township to walk the haiku walk. I was almost blown over. This is a well-known Katikati feature that I’ll have to try another day. For once the weather forecasters are right. I manage to get my car door shut and head down some of the back streets. There are a lot churches in Katikati! I drive down one road that seems to be businesses or home based businesses – it runs parallel to SH2. There’s a very big Action Centre near the well presented Katikati College. New housing developments and road works. But, it’s still predominantly rural land. Out in the wind someone’s replacing a shelter belt.

Back homewards and I call into FORTA LEEZA. Someone has told me they’ve had an artisan pizza there that was so big they had to take most of it home!! The bar manage Sammy talks to me and shows me around the former dairy factory. You can feel the still and the chill of the former “chiller” – there’s a tiny window product was passed through. The heavy refrigerator door remains to one side. It’s rustic and there are wood fires in several areas. Two wood burning stoves are going killing the wind and wet outside. Sammy tells me as well as the bars and restaurant they cater for events and weddings (when I leave she’s folding the napkins for a wedding reception).

I mention the pizzas and I’m taken to meet their creator Carl. Carl is at pains to tell me he’s only an employee of the family which has owned and operated Forta Leeza for a very long time now. He’s a former baker and has an extensive history in hospitality. He says food needs to be created with love. The pizzas really are artisan creations. Carl laughs when I tell him about the pizzas being too big to eat all at once – “we only make one size” Carl shows me how his “secret” dough is made and rolled. I also see the area where he makes his cheese and garlic rounds to accompany the restaurant meals. Carl keeps up a steady chat while he works – he has a schedule and a list of chores and preparation to get through. I tell him he should give lessons! While we are talking a well-known local artist comes in, says hello and goes out again with a cup of tea. Later Sammy shows me his work displayed around Forta Leeza.

Forta Leeza is home to an extensive doll collection and display and above one of the bars are Fantasy Doll colouring in competitions – yes the winner gets one of the dolls. Forta Leeza has been there for a long time now and is a roadside icon and like all icons it’s survived because it has the capacity to change with the times – this time it’s pizza time! If you asked me what made my visit to Katikati so enjoyable – it was the people I met as much as what I saw. There’s obviously a huge creative talent pool around Katikati but there’s also a large volunteer brigade of talented residents with great people skills who are doing what they do “with love.”

Rosemary Balu


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