The Drake Farming Years at Waikawa
In 2018 Gary Drake, from his front porch, looks directly across to part of the 3,000 acres that his grandfather, Arthur Drake farmed. Along with Thomas Bevan, another farmer in the district, they were the early settlers and run-holders that worked the land over 143 years up until the present day. They were the first large European-run farms in the wider Manakau/Waikawa district.
In 1875 Arthur and Thomas Drake settled in the area — Thomas at Ohau and Arthur in Waikawa. Arthur took up 3,000 acres of land. In 1881 a meeting was held in Otaki to consider the establishment of a small farmers’ association in the district. Some 5,000 acres was in the proposal. Some farming statistics printed in the Onslow Historian Journal, Vol. 3 (pp. 90-92) revealed the following numbers of sheep owned by people living in Waikawa:
Gary’s photo (below) of the W. Capper & Sons Cartage Contractor’s truck laden with bales of wool was taken during the 1950’s. These bales cleared the debt of the Drakes who were experiencing financial difficulties at the time. However, as Gary explained, one New Zealand pound for 1lb of wool lifted them out of troubled times when the New Zealand economy was emerging from the effects of WWII and the Korean War.
Gary’s grandfather, Arthur Drake, was married to Harriet Halse in 1885 when he was 33. Together they had 8 children. The original Drake homestead was east of the present heritage sign on Waikawa Beach Road. From here, through the 1880’s and into the early 1990’s the land produced flax, timber, meat and wool with the associated farming of animals, geese and angora goats. There were approximately 100 working horses, for toiling the land without the mechanics of today.
Arthur Drake’s only focus was farming; he allowed others to run flax mills on his land during the flax boom of 1888 to 1891. When the timber and flax was exhausted, farming became the major occupation in the area as an increasing amount of land was broken in and land became more productive. Of great pride to Arthur Drake was his breeding and training of race horses. The Otaki and Ohau race meetings provided his quest into the ‘Sport of Kings’ and standing with the local racing community.
The Drake farm, stretching from south of the Waikawa River down to Forest Lakes and inland to Takapu Road, consisted of four land lots of mainly coastal sand dunes and inland forested plains. Streams, small lakes and swamp lagoons tested the early settlers. The documented history shows the Ohau and Waikawa rivers had a common mouth to the sea.
After the Weathersfield ship was blown ashore at Waikawa in 1888, the refloating caused devastating effects on the Drake landholdings. The channel that was cut to allow the refloating caused the Waikawa River to move south some seven miles to the Waiorongomai Stream destroying foreshore and cutting into alluvial and coastal farmland three miles eastwards away from the coast.
Between 1910 and 1918 massive marram planting to re-establish usable farm country was undertaken. Flooding of the farmland was still a regular problem until a groyne adjacent to Cathryn Street was built by Hon. R. J. Semple, Minister of Public Works in the 1930’s. The effect was to provide better drainage to the farmland and lessen the flood problem.
When Arthur died in 1916, his farm was divided in two; one half was farmed by three sons — Clayton, Roland and Ray, the other half was farmed by son Ivan, daughters May and Leta and Arthur’s wife Harriet.
Ray and Ivan Drake farmed through to when Ivan left to farm an area north of Manakau. As the Drake extended family grew, various family members took up sections in the area. Over time the original farm has been divided and developed with subdivisions and weekend retreats.
Properties in Drake and Arthur Streets were first established in 1943. Farming then continued by other Drake family members. In 1958 the two farms owned by the Drake family were sold as smaller farms. Clayton Drake bought 147 acres and farmed here till 1970.
The photos below show the previous Drake land now being prepared and cultivated by the new owners for crops required today:
Gary Drake still resides on Waikawa Beach Road and, whilst not being a farmer or having any association with land production, still leaves his footprint in the Huritini and Manawatu-Kukutauaki land blocks of the Waitohu Survey District.
It did come as some surprise that Gary Drake had very little involvement in farming practice at Waikawa over the years. He, like many of his generation after finishing secondary school in Levin, then headed onto to further education and wider job opportunities that lay outside the district.
Victoria University and missionary work overseas took Gary to diverse areas. Work opportunities, particularly in retail menswear in Wellington and thereafter in Levin, saw him to his retirement days. He then returned to the farm and the wider Drake network of farming interests.
He oversaw the farm devolution and the latter stages of the Waikawa subdivision development. He looks with some pride at the last remaining farm lots adjacent to his home now and awaits the latest arable plants that have been sown in 2018 and wonders just what might be the story of this land in the future. Gary’s porch view and the smell of silage and fresh sown seed keep him well connected with the land and his story line that is Waikawa.
Story contributed by Kevin Burns