Full of Flavour: Spotlight on Eltham

This week we talk to Eltham business owner Barbara Valintine about her hometown.

What is your name and what do you do for a job?

Barbara Valintine, I am the owner of The Bank, a vintage retro store situated in the old BNZ Bank Chambers in Eltham. My partner Mark Bellringer also runs his photography business in the old Bank Manager’s office of the building.

Where do you live?

Bridge Street, Eltham. We live in the old BNZ Bank in the manager’s residence.

What is the origin of the name ‘Eltham’?

Eltham takes its name from a town in Kent, England. The name comes from the Saxon ‘Ealdham’ meaning old home. Eltham has a wealth of Victorian/Edwardian buildings and was first settled in the 1870s. In July 1883 it was gazetted as Eltham Village settlement.

How long have you lived in Eltham and why did you move there?

We have lived in Eltham for 8 years after seeing the building for sale while living in New Plymouth. We came to view the open home and fell for it. Although it needed an enormous amount of work we could see its potential to create a unique home as well as businesses for us both.

What makes you love Eltham?

I just do. It is my tūrangawaewae and always feels like home to come back to. The area has a special wairua and you can sense the layers of lives lived and the history of the place still evident in the buildings.

Best thing about your town?

The community is small and friendly and Eltham has that village vibe. I love that I am living in an urban environment with everything at hand – a library, well stocked Four Square store, chemist, art gallery, two cafes, a dentist, and hair dressers.

New Plymouth is only 40 minutes away and Wellington is an easy drive for a bigger city visit. 

Mountain near Eltham

What is the town most well-known for?

Its industrial successes. The tradition of cheese-making continues today with Eltham being home to the production of Fonterra’s gourmet cheeses and where all Mainland cheese is cut and packaged. Eltham also has a number of other award-winning and internationally recognised engineering companies that employ many workers.

We’re well-known for Lake Rotokare, a community-led sanctuary project of national significance. Thanks to its predator-proof fencing, Lake Rotokare is a sanctuary for native birds and other flora and fauna. It is a great spot for a picnic visit and a walk around the lake.

We also have a variety of vintage retro shops in Eltham of which my shop The Bank is a part of. Eltham is also the home of Beck Helicopters.

What is the town’s best kept secret?

Eltham has a wealth of parks and walkways, from Bridger Park, a natural amphitheatre which has had live jazz bands play in the summer. Many other parks and bush reserves lead to picnic spots, bush walks and rivers.

The town’s worst kept secret is the cheese bar on Bridge St which was initially set up for workers and locals but is now a destination for many visitors to Eltham.

Why do visitors need to come out and visit Eltham?

As the Eltham town entry sign says, ‘take time out.’ A walk down Bridge St is certainly like a walk through time - there is a fantastic heritage walk with buildings selected not only for their architectural significance but also for their importance in the social and economic history of Eltham. 

Tell us what makes your town ‘a little bit out there’?

One of the more quirky things we have here are our ‘Arty Loos’. The public toilets feature wrought iron and tiling artworks made by locals. They are quite out there and funnily enough they were even voted a ‘must do’ to explore in Taranaki by the locals so they feature in Venture Taranaki’s Must Do’s brochure. The public toilets in Eltham used to receive complaints and now people come especially to use them - now that’s a little bit out there!

Name some famous people from your town

Chinese businessman Chew Chong exported the first butter shipment to England in 1884 which started New Zealand’s dairy industry. He followed this up by building the country’s first dairy factory in Eltham in 1887.

Chew Chong also pioneered the exporting of ‘Taranaki wool,’ an edible fungus. During an early downturn of the dairy industry he had all of the farmers out on their farms gathering it and then he organised for it to be sent to China where it was a delicacy.

Well-known businessman and politician Charles Wilkinson was mayor from 1941-47. He built several of Eltham’s shop buildings and his former home, Ashleigh Lodge at 214 High St, is one of Eltham’s most impressive older buildings.

Where is the best place to take the kids?

There are many parks and reserves in Eltham that kids love exploring. Bridger Park has the Eltham Toy Wall that was started a number of years ago when a woman found some toys left behind in the park and placed them on a wall in the hopes that the toy’s owners would find them. Instead, many more toys were added and it has now become a display of lots of toys set in the concrete.

Where can I get great food and drink?

Inflame was voted into the top ten café list by Taranaki locals.

At Inflame, I recommend the lovely fragrant curries and the carrot and cashew soup.

Across the road from us at The Bank is China Wok, a takeaway run by a lovely Chinese couple that have been in Eltham for years. They have a huge variety of dishes, are open lunch time and evenings, and are very popular with the locals – sometimes half of Eltham rocks up for dinner! Davey’s Patch Pizzas also do a great pizza.

What would the ideal visitor day in Eltham look like?

It would start with a picnic at Lake Rotokare where you would walk around the lake and take in the sights and sounds of native bird life. After that, visit the town and check out the local shops, maybe buy your favourite cheeses at great prices at the cheese bar or a cheese scone from the Four Square. Have a coffee at either of the two cafes and a walk through Bridger Park and beyond. Each Friday, there’s also a market day selling a range of goods, home preserves and plants.