No I’d never heard of it either, but after my mum heard a radio interview with Helen Pratt creator of Helenstown, the miniature village, we put it in our road-trip diary and vowed that one day we’d pay a visit.
That day turned out to be yesterday when we were in Hawkes Bay and decided to venture south via Waipawa (for the best saveloys in New Zealand at the Waipawa Butcher), by-passing Dannevirke (but we stopped on the way back), a quick gander through the junk (antique) shop followed by a pie on the pavement from one of the many bakeries that line the main street of Woodville.
We dropped one of our party off in Palmerston North (the driving bloke who decided a miniature village was not quite as alluring as lunch with a mate) and headed 25 minutes south, past Shannon to Murrayfield.
Suddenly over a hill an enormous barn appeared with MUSEUM CAFE painted onto the grey corrugated roof. That’s it, we shouted and skidded to a stop. Ok, honestly, you wouldn’t want to make a special trip here under normal circumstances because the Pioneer Museum is best described as hilarious, old fashioned kiwiana with mannequins and mechanical toys depicting nursery rhymes in glass cabinets and polystyrene titles missing a few letters.
But pass through the vast collection of dusty memorabilia and there is Helenstown. A miniature village painstakingly modelled on kiwi-style buildings by Helen Pratt. She started by building one dolls house which took 2 years but is not the same scale as the village, so sits alone in the middle of the room with windows to peer through and admire the little bathroom, sash windows, and retro kitchen and living room.
It’s very cute and an obvious labour of love (confession: I built a 13-room/4-story dolls in 1987 and still secretly love miniatures). Helen’s started as a hobby in the 1990s when she built a model town and sold it.
This is the second one – a miniature New Zealand village built at 1:24 scale in a wing of this giant room. There is a railway track running through it, but sadly that’s not working at the moment. There are dinky wee lights in some of the buildings and people on doorsteps. Look closely and you’ll find a wedding party posing for photos outside an art deco house and children doing headstands in a park. There are 1920s style wooden villas alongside stores, banks and warehouses.
The Mangatanoka Tui brewery towers over the village and on the other side, the famous Sure to Rise Edmond’s building. In all, Helen’s built 200 buildings of New Zealand’s architectural history. Many of the buildings are replicas based on photos. The village has moved around the country from Levin to Taupo to Auckland and now sits on SH57 between Shannon and Levin.