Sumner Rocks

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We’ve had to move out of our house for a few weeks. This is so the damage it incurred from our earthquake(s) can be repaired. We’ve moved to a lovely wee cottage a few blocks away in Sumner.

We had looked at possibly moving into the city for these two weeks to be closer to the schools of our older girls. We have been considering quitting Sumner for a while after the trauma of the quakes and while the girls are at school in the city. We spend a lot of time in transit, back and forth from schools or dancing or whatever. The state of the roads after the quakes has added to the drama and time that this takes. But I’d have to say the process of packing up our home and relocating to the cottage has made me stop and reflect on Sumner and my relationship with it…

2013 will mark my having lived in Sumner (excluding wee trips to Wellington) for 20 years. For Katherine it’s nearer 40 years given she grew up here.

Queue swirly screen signaling a trip back in time.

My earliest memories of Sumner were as a child coming out here for a play on the beach and the always hoped for (Hokey Pokey) ice cream. Cave Rock was an endless source of adventure and fun, it was an obvious place in which pirates would have buried their treasure and upon which one could while away hours playing complex games. It seemed huge in my youth and finding new ways to reach it’s summit was always a challenge. I have vague recollections of a cousin or family friend taking a chunk out of their head while running through the cave and requiring medical attention which added to the drama of that day.

I am old enough to remember water lapping underneath the jetty that is now the Poseidon Cafe.

I started to become a regular visitor to Sumner when ‘courting’ Katherine (I believe that is the correct term) way back in 1985. We were married in 1989 and our first home was in St Albans.

We had our hearts set on owning property in Sumner and in 1993 bought a lovely house in Nayland Street. It was in a gloriously sunny position in the block by the beach. It was a little two bedroomed cottage on a large section. Over the next 10 years we turned it into a much larger and more modern home adding a large family room and kitchen along with a huge deck.

Our first two daughters Annie and Molly were born at “The Croft” as we had named the property and in the tradition of the Tangata Whenua their Whenua (placentas) are buried at that property. They too are connected to Sumner.

We sold The Croft in 2002 but rented it from the new owner while we built our Wiggin’s Street property. We had enjoyed renovating and so had set ourselves the goal of building our own property. It was a drama at the time but we ended up with a wonderfully comfortable home, well suited to our needs and with all the mod cons as the saying goes.

Katie was born into our family and came home to Wiggins Street. Her whenua is part of this garden. Our current home is about 15 houses away from where Katherine spent her childhood years.

Along with these two properties I have lived in several others in Sumner when we’ve needed to rent short term. But apart from the houses we’ve lived in we have other deep connections to this seaside community.

Katherine and I were married in the Our Lady Star of the Sea, Catholic Church in March 1989. The church suffered significant damage in the September 2010 earthquake and fatal damage in the February 2011 quake. The powerful aftershock in June 2011 sealed its fate and it was demolished later in 2011. I had served on the Parish Council at the time the parish centre was constructed, this saw significant renovation of the church. It had (ironically) undergone additional renovation in 2010.

All of our girls were baptised in Sumner, the older two went through Our Lady Star of the Sea primary school and Katie is currently there. It is the same school that Katherine and her sisters attended for their primary education. I served on the Board of Trustees for some time. Our girls names are recorded on trophies and plaques for their diligence in the halls of this school.

Katherine’s parents live a block from us, her older sister on the corner of our street. Yet another of her sisters and her three children are three blocks away. It is a family enclave.

I am a regular visitor the the Hollywood Cinema in the village, and an even more regular visitor to Joe’s Garage (one of five coffee shops we have).

A wander down to the village to pick up provisions at the local supermarket can take a while as one invariably meets a friend or neighbour for a chat and a catch up on local news.

The Esplanade is a regular wandering place for me. I never walk to the village by the more direct road way and always prefer to amble along beside the sea. I frequently will go for a wander by the sea (especially on the weekend) just to take in the ever changing scenery that is the ocean.

I love the fact that I can hear the sea from our house. In the summer in particular when one is able to have the windows open, the sea is a constant reminder of our location. Seagulls are ubiquitous and always an efficient way to dispose of half eaten sandwiches or uneaten chips from the fish and chip feast the kids didn’t quite complete.

In a bid a few years back to loose weight and to feel better I started walking. Walking is something that Sumner is great for. One can explore the hillsides, the ‘flat’ or the seaside.

Yes the earthquake has ravaged our suburb, the February one bought death and destruction on a significant scale to our neighbourhood. While many in Christchurch have managed to resume normality we are living with constant reminders of our fragile landscape. Four hundred or so shipping containers are strategically stacked along precarious cliff faces and road ways. The roads themselves are broken and twisted. Many of our historic buildings such as the churches and the community centre have now been demolished.

But I am noticing more and more the spirit of Sumner is alive and well, the locals seem more determined than ever to retain and restore the unique character that is this place. We have a Sumner Rocks Street Party this weekend to celebrate our place in the world. Every car sports a Sumner Rocks bumper sticker, marking our resilience.

As I noted at the start of this ramble we had looked at moving into the city after the quakes, to be be closer to the older girl’s schools.

I don’t want to do that. I like this place… I love this place … It is home.

I used to tell people that I’d be carried out of Sumner in a box. I believe that may actually be the case, and I just hope it’s not for a good 50 years yet.



  1. I love reading your posts. This one is especially good because it gave me a real lift. To read about a place that I also love and remember well as a child, probably playing with you and Alexander in Cave Rock, reminds me of all the good things about New Zealand. Living here in Jerusalem with the constant tension, prejudice, and other sad examples of the inhuman and degrading way some people treat others, it is great to read, and see, a reminder of happier times.

  2. Justin

    Great yarn. We certainly feel the same way about sumner even where we are now. If you need some beds for a night or 50……I know of a backpackers that is currently VACANT !!!!!

  3. “Cave Rock is made of toffee
    And the sea of lemonade
    And the little waitress wavelets
    Are always on parade
    When cars roll down to Sumner
    On a Sunday ….. Denis Glover

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