There are only two ethnic historic villages in New Zealand, one being Akaroa on Banks Peninsula which was settled by the French in the 1840’s, and Puhoe, settled by Bohemians in 1863. And over this past few days I had the great priviledge of riding into Puhoe. It is a lovely historic town which has obviously received some very special and tender loving care and restoration over recent years. On the day of my arrival there were about thirty motorcyclists enjoying a repreive from the heat at the local hotel. As I rounded the corner I received a standing ovation much to my embarassment. Not entirely sure what that was about, but I duly dismounted with Harley Davidsons on either side and was warmly hosted.
I was impressed with the town but even more so by the Bohemian settlers. The local museum was a mine of information, and I soon learned that the settlers came from Bohemia in 1863, from an area known as the Czech Republic approx 60 kilometers from Prague.
In the snow, at midnight on 26th Feb, 1863, 82 Bohemians left Staab ( pronounced Stod) by train for Praque. Three days later and they were in Hamburg, their port of departure. Then 90 days followed of sailing ship to Auckland, then several hours aboard the cutter Wenderholm, then finally two hours by maori canoe and punt to Puhoi for the last four miles. They arrived at two whares on the river bank. This was on June 29 1863 after a journey of 124 days. In despair, in the cold and dark, the women sank to the ground and wept.
Life was a real struggle. They had to forage for what little they could find nearby and were close to starvation. From time to time local Maori brought them vegetables and fruit and despite real language difficulties the settlers gradually gained skills and learnt what could be derived, i.e tools and animals, from sending firewood and charcoal down to Auckland.