Fifty kilometres north of Auckland, you’ll find a community that’s just a little different. The village of Puhoi owes its existence to a group of Bohemian settlers who came from what’s now the Czech Republic to forge a new life in a new country; a little corner of Bohemia in New Zealand. Today, many of Puhoi’s residents make their living from inquisitive tourists. Its proximity to New Zealand’s largest city makes Puhoi a great choice for a day’s excursion.
Puhoi: a little corner of Bohemia in New Zealand
Kayak through the mangroves
The village sits alongside the Puhoi River, whose name roughly translates to “slow water”. The first immigrants arrived in Auckland where they boarded a sailing cutter to take them north, transferring to Maori canoes for the final few miles along the river. It must have been a relief to arrive after that marathon 124 day journey. You’ll get a sense of what they faced if you rent a canoe yourself. Paddle along the river through native bush to reach the mangroves to nature’s soundtrack of pukekos, kookaburras, kingfishers and herons.
Learn about Bohemia in the village museum
Life was tough for the first immigrants. Lured from Europe in 1863 by the promise of Crown land, they found that the plots they’d hoped to farm were covered by dense bush. Clearing the vegetation was hard. Local Maori chief Te Hemara Tauhia helped them settle and gave them food. He taught them how to make a living from the land and they earned money selling firewood and roof shingles to the population of Auckland. The tools and everyday implements these determined settlers used are on display at the Puhoi Heritage Museum, together with a scale model of the village as it would have been in 1900.
Explore Puhoi’s historic buildings
The German speaking, Catholic immigrants set to work on constructing the church which stands today. It opened in 1881 and was known as the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, as that was the saints day on the day the settlers had first arrived. They built the church from wood, incorporating more than twenty beautiful stained glass windows. The painting that hangs above the altar is a copy of one that hangs in a church back in Bohemia. Once you’ve admired the church, make your way to the hotel and general store which date from around the same time.
Savour the delicious local produce
Though strictly speaking not Bohemian, you shouldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy a delicious Devonshire cream tea at the village tea rooms. It’s one of New Zealand’s oldest tea rooms and the cottage that houses this cafe has been standing for over a century. Leave room to sample some of New Zealand’s best cheese at Puhoi Valley Cheese Company. Originally a goat farm, it produces a wide range of dairy products. Time your visit to Puhoi for the last Sunday of every month to take advantage of the farmers’ market. The market is often accompanied by music or folk dancing in a nod to the village’s unique heritage.