Road trip Part 2 – Quartzopolis aka Reefton

Road trip part one And now part 2: Murchison

On the road to Reefton.


Reefton used to be known as Quartzopolis, and is a bit famous as “In 1888 Reefton became the first town in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere to receive electricity …” [Wikipedia] It is also where my whānau comes from. I haven’t visited for years, probably since my Grandma died. It’s a place we visited lots, I used to dream of coming here to live.

Dad’s nickname was Farmer – aka the Broadway Farmer – so it was cool to stay on the street he got that name from.

The Reefton cross.

The Reefton Skate Park. 

The swinging bridge across the Inangahua River.   

Reefton Cemetery

I visited the graves of my uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents – Robertsons and Cohens.

The cemetery is quite beautiful, and it was raining.


There are a bunch of second hand shops in Reefton. Many of them had a lot of dolls. Apparently there is an elderly collector who has dispersed her collection. One was showcased in a gigantic fridge.


Bubbles on Broadway

At the top of Broadway,  an American artist in the old BNZ building has two bubble machines firing out his window, and the street is full of bubbles.


More second hand sights and shops

Coutts and Jones Antiques at the Reefton Coffin Co

My favourite shop. So many treasures. They had an original Tom Scott cartoon drawing about the welfare state, you could see where he had whited things out. Also glass eyes, Fun ho toys etc. I bought a 1988 first day cover celebrating 100 years of electricity, and a long pair of leather gloves with little buttons.

There is an historic photo in the window of this shop, and my grandma is in it – the shop used to be called Thorpy’s.

Here is her great-granddaughter in the same spot.




Road trip Part 1 – Amberley, Maruia Falls, Tahananui Beach, Nelson

I had this week off work, and had a big ole to-do list around home.  But things didn’t go to plan, and we took a short unexpected roadie.  A night in Nelson, a night in my family hometown Reefton, and driving through points in between.


Paris Cafe in Amberley. With some artful cropping, we could zush up our summer holiday pics no end.

Maruia Falls

Where a bee had the temerity to sting me, and a visitor had the gall to do a shit beside the river when there was a DOC loo metres away.

Tahunanui Beach

Tahunanui Beach had playgrounds galore, a miniature railway round a lake (open on Sundays, not while we were there), bumper boats, trampoline world, and racing karts. Excite!


Unexpected architectural delights for lovers of Brutalism, Art Deco, and Gothic.

Loved Penguino Ice Cream Cafe, design store Cubicle, and Gizmos (pinup girl frocks etc). I had the salted lychee sorbet, and DAMN.

Nelson Steps and Cathedral

It was muggy and hot and wonderful. There was a Christmas Tree festival in the Nelson Cathedral, and we were there just before closing so got to turn out the lights and blow out the candles.


Dead sheep

When Dad sheared sheep, he left them with sideburns so they looked like late era Elvis.

Once when we were visiting the home farm on the Coast, we tried to move a dead sheep and both ended up retching. My stoic little sister held the contents of her stomach intact. That ghastly sound of expellent air as we tried to move it. The smell, the smell.

At high school in Gore, the worst insult the boys could hurl at a girl was “Dead sheep”.

Sherriff, George, 1846-1930. Sherriff, George, 1846-1930 :[A victim of the keas. ca 1885]. Ref: 1/2-002753-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Sherriff, George, 1846-1930. Sherriff, George, 1846-1930 :[A victim of the keas. ca 1885]. Ref: 1/2-002753-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

My great-great aunt Myra

When I was little, I thought my ancestry was Scottish, Irish, Maori, Spanish and Swedish. Later on my grandmother told us she had been adopted, and our ancestry on her side was Jewish – an East End London family who moved to New Zealand. So Grandma was in fact a Cohen.

Exploring this side of the family led me to great-great aunt Myra Cohen “Barber, dental assistant, entertainer, milliner”. Here are some excerpts from her entry in The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, written by Fiona McKergow:

Her parents were central figures in local community organisations. From 1898 to around 1905 Myra attended Reefton School (upgraded to Reefton District High School in 1902). She won a scholarship for two years’ free tuition at Nelson College for Girls; however, being hampered by defective eyesight, she was obliged to forego this opportunity and her desire to become a journalist.

She was widely advertised by her employer as ‘the only lady barber in New Zealand’.

The Cohens’ financial circumstances eased in 1910 when Percival won a nationwide lottery for the famous ‘Honourable Roddy’ nugget (weighing 99 ounces and worth £450), found at the Ross Flats goldfields and named after the minister of mines, Roderick McKenzie. The nugget was purchased from Percival by the government and mounted as a coronation gift to King George V.

Cohen’s ambitions grew, and in 1914 she became a receptionist and nurse attendant for a well-regarded firm of Greymouth dentists. Here she gained further expertise in manufacturing dentures from vulcanite, turning out hundreds with skill and precision. Cohen lived in a guest-house and became actively involved in the social life of the town.

During the First World War she participated with enthusiasm in patriotic fund-raising activities organised by Tom Pollard. As a member of Pollard’s Pierrot and Pierrette Show, she was a performer in variety shows, comic operas and a highly successful marching team.

Myra Cohen was compelled to resign from her position as dental assistant when she contracted influenza during the epidemic of 1918. It is not known when she left the West Coast. By April 1919 both her parents had died and her sister Kate had taken charge of the family business, which now traded mainly in books.

In October 1928 she entertained Charles Kingsford Smith in her workroom, and later watched him depart from nearby Woodbourne aerodrome on his return flight across the Tasman, an event she considered the ‘most thrilling incident’ of her life. She remained in Blenheim until at least 1934.


Miss Myra Cohen with a hand loom at the Blind Institute. Reference Number: EP/1959/1432-F Display Dates: 28 Apr 1959
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Myra compiled her reminiscences of life on the West Coast in the 1950s. They are entitled Westland Metal and are held at the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Without these, little trace of her varied career would remain.