The mail service was an important part of Paekākāriki’s early Pakeha settlement. From the 1850s, the mail coach from Wellington ran through Paekākāriki to Wanganui, mostly along the beach. Paekākāriki was an important staging post for this service, particularly after 1865, with the arrival of Cobb and Co. Captain Anderson ran four coaches and 16 horses over the Paekākāriki Hill to Paekākāriki and north to Wanganui. In those days almost all the mail for the North Island passed through Paekākāriki along this trail. In those early days, however, the mail did not get delivered to the village. Instead, settlers had to go to Horokiwi or Waikanae to pick up their mail, initially delivered once a week.
But that all changed in 1869, when the first Post Office was established in Paekākāriki. It was located in the local hotel, and the publicans were the first Postmasters. Mr Woolston, who was the publican at that time, was the first to take on that role in 1869. This arrangement – publicans acting as Postmasters – continued through the 1870s and early 1880s.
1896 was an important year in the village’s development – this was when the railway reached Paekākāriki. In the same year, the Post Office was transferred to the Railway Station. This was a logical shift as rail became the dominant means for distributing mail as the rail networks moved north. The Post Office remained at the Station until 1907.
In 1907, the office was moved to a permanent building on Beach Road that was rented to the Post Office. Miss Lucy Cooper was the first Postmistress. She was also appointed as the first permanent Postmistress when that position became a permanent position in 1911. Lucy was the daughter of Paekākāriki’s first headmaster, Mr Cooper. She later married Mr Earley of the Railway Company and still lived in Paekākāriki almost 70 years later. Miss Lucy Cooper was the first of several short-term appointments of women to the Postmistress position during the 1907-1915 period and during both world wars.
Locals report that this early Post Office site was little more than a shed. Around half the space inside was used up by a large safe. There was room for only the Postmistress, her assistant and, at the most, half a dozen customers.
First Post office.
In 1920, The Post Office was moved again, this time to a new and larger building that better met the needs of the growing beach community. This building, a Postmistress’ residence and, initially, the telephone exchange location, together cost £1475. It is still standing and, as described below, has been used for various purposes over the intervening years.
Corner of Beach and Wellington Roads.
As in other townships and villages, the Post Office was a centre of community interaction. In the early days there was no postal delivery to individual houses. Everyone went to the Post Office to collect their mail. And, because there was little room inside, customers had to wait outside for their turn at the counter. That waiting had community benefits. Not only did people catch up with each other, they also caught up with local news by way of the ‘Tree of Knowledge’. Local people remember six large macrocarpa trees in the area in the 1920s. One of these trees stood outside the Post Office and became the place where people would pin up local notices – for instance about events like the bachelors’ annual ball, lost property and so on.
The history of the Post Office in Paekākāriki reflects social and economic trends typical of other areas of New Zealand. First, Paekākāriki was an important staging post in the overall North Island mail service, both when coaches drove over the hill and up the coastal sands, and when rail replaced coaches as the main means of mail distribution. Second, the initially small village of Paekākāriki grew steadily as a holiday resort from its earliest days and as a residential area as land was subdivided in the early 1900s and again in the 1950s and 1960s. And thirdly, railway development in New Zealand enhanced mail delivery overall and generated growth in key railway hubs like Paekākāriki.
The more recent decline of local services reflects nationwide trends. Like many small communities, Paekākāriki lost its Post Office during the economic restructuring of the 1980s. The building was bought by an ex-Post Office employee who ran a New Zealand Post mail service in the same building between 1991 and 1998. Since then the building has had several uses including retail outlets and, briefly, a restaurant.
Telephone Exchange: Telephones were introduced to Paekākāriki in 1894 via a metallic telephone circuit that also included Wellington and Pauatahanui. Initially the telephone office was separate from the Post Office but was still under the management of Mr Slight, the local publican at the time. It was closed in 1901 and re-opened in 1907 as part of the new Post Office. The exchange was expanded in 1922, and that manual exchange remained in use until 1969. It had a basic capacity of 400 lines with 533 subscribers. With the growth of Paekākāriki from the 1960s, the community had outgrown this exchange and Paekākāriki got a new exchange designed for up to 800 subscribers. This automatic electronic exchange was state of the art at that time. In fact, Paekākāriki had the most up-to-date system in the country.
Telegraph: The first telegraph [telegram] service probably came to Paekākāriki in the late 1870s, a few years after Wellington was linked to Wanganui. One indication of the increasing importance of telegraphing in New Zealand and Paekākāriki after this initial introduction was the tripling of telegraphs handled over a ten‑year‑period between 1909 and 1919.