History unpreserved at Tokomaru Freezing Works

After visiting Waipiro Bay we were keen to go and see Tokomaru Bay further down the east coast as I had read about the ruins of the old freezing works there.

The Tokomaru Sheepfarmers’ Freezing Company Ltd opened the works in 1911 after a group of local farmers raised the money for its construction. Many of the bricks used in the buildings were made at a local brickworks.

A small locomotive was built to link the freezing works with the wharf where up to 400 ships a year arrived to collect frozen sheep carcasses.

Overlooking the Tokomaru Sheepfarmers’ Freezing Company Ltd works at Waima, Tokomaru Bay. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 :Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-000942-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://beta.natlib.govt.nz/records/22763394

In the early 1950s the freezing works closed.

The spectacular location of Tokomaru bay is still home to many but the population has shrunk from 5000 to less than 500.

The factory is reduced to ruins with crumbling shells of buildings surrounded by overgrowth.

It it hard to be nostalgic about this once great place.

This place where business, initiative and hard-work once existed is now covered in graffiti with broken drinks bottles and crushed cans scattered around.
There are flies swarming in the hedgerow where animal carcasses seem to have been dumped regularly for some time.

I found it a depressing place.

New Zealand is the youngest country in the world.
It has wonderful natural beauty and knows how to show it off stunningly.
There are understandably a relatively small number of historic buildings here but I cannot understand why somewhere like this could be allowed to fall into such a state.
I am all for preservation of buildings – in any manner or method that works – but I wonder if it would not have been better to just totally demolish the former freezing works.

This wreck is so heartbreaking, it has no soul or shadow of former life left in it.

We travelled a short distance to the other end of beautiful Tokomaru Bay and I will post tomorrow about our New Year Eve stay there on the beach.

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20 responses to “History unpreserved at Tokomaru Freezing Works”

  1. Lizzi Tremayne says :

    Having just spent time at Tokomaru Bay yesterday with my partner, whose grandfather was a woolbuyer there, and whose mother grew up in a brick house near the works, I was pleased to find your photos, but gutted to read your comments about

    “but I wonder if it would not have been better to just totally demolish the former freezing works. This wreck is so heartbreaking, it has no soul or shadow of former life left in it.”

    We both saw the soul AND the shadows of former life left in it. Yes, it could be restored in some fashion, but its aging, weathering, AND the bush growing up into the building that was, restoring it to what it was before the buildings were created in the first place… that is part of the beauty of something which once was… In fact, this morning, I have already started a novel based upon that which is and that which was. Came across your post in doing some research. Perhaps a story might help in the restoration of the site someday… Thanks for the photos, but I have to reiterate… the soul and shadows ARE there… if you can see them, as we did.


    Lizzi (also a liquorice lover!)

    • Kiwi Annison says :

      Thanks for your comment Lizzie.
      I can normally feel the historic vibes and soul of derelict places – they don’t need to have been restored for me to imagine the previous life they had and the social activity that occurred there.
      However it was the total lack of respect around the buildings that disappointed me. The abundant graffiti and rubbish dumped there plus dead animal carcasses thrown in the ditch outside.
      I hope that one day the buildings are restored in some way – it’s an amazing part of NZ history that should be treasured.
      Good luck with your novel.

  2. hirini henare says :

    ye aam a local residant of originally,a placed area called waipiro bay,,,but reside n gisborne and am presently duin a course n maori tourism,,,,,have a very close connection to tokomaru bay and various rural areas along tha coastal line,2 meke on or visitation along this area,,,and am lukkin forward on or many more stories etc ,,etc,,,,,hirini

    • Bryce Brown says :

      Kia ora Hirini

      I’m heading down the East Cape this week and looking forward to visiting the old freezing works at Tokomaru Bay. I’m a New Zealand artist (www.brycebrownart.com) and hope to capture some of this on canvas at some stage. Is there any protocol involved with visiting the area or anyone I should/could see to learn more while I’m there?

      Bryce Brown
      Bay of Plenty

      • Lizzi Tremayne says :

        Hey Bryce, would love to see your work. Have taken notes for a story involving it, it might be awhile before I get to it… 🙂 several other novels in progress., 🙂

  3. Felicity Ledger says :

    Several years ago I stumbled on this place, and discovered a plaque on the bridge over the concrete culvert which was built as the outflow from the works. Through this place and this plaque I made connection to a forbear and then living relatives. The soul and the lives of people past are inextricably linked to the place- the bricks, the mortar, which they made, constructed from and worked within. Rather than pulling down it should have been preserved long ago.

    • Kiwi Annison says :

      I absolutely agree that the Freezing Works should have been preserved at their best – it’s an amazing place full of history and soul – more people should get the opportunity to go there and learn about the heritage.

    • Lizzi Tremayne says :

      yep Felicity. Was up there last New Years holidays… amazing.. my then-partner’s mother’s family were the woolbuyers and my partner remembers jumping from the third story down to the pile of dags and wool in the bottom story… I’m including Tokomaru Bay in my new novel, A Sea of Green Unfolding… http://lizzitremayne.com … though it will be WAY too early for a freezing works there.. only opened 1912.. the story is set in 1862,
      Loved it. Amazing place with the forest taking back its own through the remains of human civilisation.

  4. Deidre says :

    It is an amazing building the whole freezing works history is amazing, to think of how they built the wharf and buildings back then is unthinkable. Tokomaru Bay was beautiful ‘ a shame to see it not working. Best NZ holiday

  5. Anne H says :

    Tokomaru Bay is where my mother grew up and her family members lived there from 1910 to 2010. My grandfather was the engineer and ran the train (Dirty Dora) from whaft to ships. I went up there this weekend and was a shamed to see the place. In 1994 I walked along the beach and found this wonderul old church where my mum when to chuch. The church being placed on the beach with glas windows with Christ pictures made him look like he was walking on water. Amazing – 2 years later the locals and pulled that church down. The problem is no body appricates things until they are gone. What we need is the GCC to help with the restoration. Tolaga Bay has restored its wharf we need to start donations to save something beautiful.

    • Kiwi Annison says :

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your family’s history in this area.
      The church sounds like it would have been amazing – there is one next to Lake Rotorua that has a similar glass etched window.
      Such a shame that many parts in this area are so desperately needing restoration – I hope it happens before anything else is lost.

  6. Felicity L. says :

    Great to see that there are like minds about wanting the area preserved. Was interested to hear Anne’s comment about her grandfather being an engineer. Appears it may have been my Great Grandfather who engineered the culverts etc for the outflow from the works and the little bridge that you cross over to get to the wharf-which has plaque with his name and the name of the builder on it.He had a connection to Waipiro Bay which had a thriving wool trade too, and was a councillor in Te Puia Springs way back. My parents also lived at Tokomaru Bay bay around the 1940’s/50s? and remembered the ships coming in-apparently a pretty rough place to tie up us far as the sea conditions were concerned.

  7. Siouxsie06 says :

    I’m sorry but I don’t agree with your comments about the freezing works site. The East cape is an economically depressed area and doesn’t have the millions of dollars required to properly restore an old building like this. I visited here a few days ago and it didn’t take much imagination to transport myself back to what must have gone on here in its heyday. You may enjoy places more if you suspend judgement a little more.

    • Kiwi Annison says :

      Happy to hear your thoughts and glad you enjoyed your visit to the East Cape and Tokomaru.
      I do not consider that I am very judgemental – I fully appreciate the beauty and history of all places I visit – however there was something in the total neglect I saw during my visit (which is some years ago now) that lead me to write this post. I appreciate it can take a lot of funding to renovate and give a new lease of life to old buildings, and in most cases this is just not feasible. However it should not mean that derelict buildings, especially those of such historic importance, are an acceptable place for ill treatment / vandalism / use as a dumping ground.
      I hope that someone, locals or otherwise, can step in and prevent this amazing building from becoming totally lost to our children’s children – the future should be able to remember and visit the historic past.

    • Lizzi Tremayne says :

      Awesome, Sousie06! 🙂 my thoughts exactly! 🙂

  8. Gizzy Borne. says :

    I was there last week – the soul is still there with a little imagination. I took a long time trying to capture the feeling / heart of the ruins. The one thing that did annoy me was the broken glass and rubbish – not a huge expense to tidy it up and clear tracks … the graffiti was expected and some interesting to view – the rubbish? Nope clean it up a bit folks please.

  9. Peter Rawstron says :

    Hi there everyone….My Father Ernest Rawstron spent his younger years in Waima.I can only reflect on the stories he told me when i was young…about a place that held memories from his childhood…how he missed saying good bye to his dad going to the 1914-18 war…to never see him again…i visited there in the 1990s…i just wept to see the place left in disrepair…to see my Aunty Kates hill just about washed into the sea…and the old works left to rot…the graffiti..the rubbish….of a once proud place…where people worked and had families….when things were really tough through the depression..dad would sob his heart out if he could see it now…

    • Kiwi Annison says :

      Hi Peter – thanks for your comment. I agree with your sentiments and feel it is such a shame that this amazing place has been allowed to be ruined and disrespected.
      It seems to be a sore point for some, and many disagree with me, however it obviously is a place that many feel passionate about.
      Let’s hope it gets some much needed love and attention soon.

  10. Maia Tawhara says :

    My kuia (grandma) was born and raised in Tokomaru bay, at 30 she moved to New Plymouth. She used to work at the freezing works and her brother used to work on the wharf as a docker. My whanau recently took a trip to Tokomaru bay, and where completely shocked at what it is like now. My kuia’s house was completely torn up. Weeds growing through broken windows, rubbish, graffiti, random pieces of clothing. We were looking for her house for ever because we couldn’t see it. foliage and grass had covered the whole entire house. My kuia was heartbroken. She mumbled quietly to herself, “ehē whakaute” (no respect).

    • Vicki says :

      I’m so sorry to read this. I can imagine how hard it would be for a past-resident to see the state of somewhere that was once so loved and taken pride in.
      I hope one day it is cleaned up and reused for a new purpose to bring fresh residents and visitors to the area – but it would be a huge job and I’m not sure who would take that on. Such a shame.

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