You would think that in such a tiny place as Pongaroa, there wouldn’t be a great deal to see. Not so. A “Welcome to Pongaroa” sign greeted us as we drove into the village. It’s true that the area around the sign was a little overgrown, but the sentiments were certainly there. None of us had visited Pongaroa before and we found it a very pleasant place to camp.
There were several rather nice murals painted on buildings. Sheep farming and dog trial competitions are part of rural communities everywhere in New Zealand. This mural painted on the wall of the general store shows Stan Herbert, the founder of the Akitio Dog Trials in the late 1940s.
Another mural shows how the country looked when it was covered in bush. The loggers arrived with their saws and bullock teams and made a huge impact on the forests covering this area. The mural shows Tom Yeoman’s bullock team hauling huge logs from the native forest in 1901.
We are all familiar with the double helix shape of DNA, and there is a Pongaroa connection here. Maurice Wilkin, born in Pongaroa in 1916 was instrumental in this discovery. Together with colleague Rosalind Franklin, they studied the structure of DNA using x-ray diffraction techniques. Their discovery of what appeared to be a double helix enabled Francis Crick and James Watson to deduce a structure for the molecule. Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for this work. This monument was erected by the citizens of Pongaroa in 2001 to honour their famous son.
We drove around a few corners and discovered the tiny one man police station, and the cemetery up the hill. We found the kindergarten, and the local school, the pub and a newly built public toilet block, complete with a handy dump station for campers. Pongaroa may be small, but it appears to be in good heart.