Travel

Book Barn - New Zealand's little-known gem for book lovers

New Zealand has many wonders for the traveller to experience - and this little-known gem for book lovers

I flew a quarter of the way around the world to look at a barn - full of old books.

Okay, that wasn't the only reason I visited New Zealand last month. I wanted to spend a few days with some dear relatives there (which I did), take the Interislander ferry linking the North and South islands (which I did) and get a ride on the TranzAlpine train running from Christchurch to Greymouth (which I couldn't because it was disrupted by severe unseasonal weather).

And I wanted to visit the Chertsey Book Barn.

I went to other used-book shops too - Hard To Find in Auckland and Arty Bees in Wellington, both nice - and there are many images from this spectacular country that will stay with me.

There were the Living Maori Village and geothermal pools near Rotorua, the view of Mount Taranaki from a turboprop flight out of Hamilton, the approach to Picton harbour through the Marlborough Sounds, and snow-capped peaks meeting the ocean at Kaikoura.

But unlike all these - and a namesake or two in the US and elsewhere - this Book Barn is quite unknown.

It offers hundreds of thousands of books, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Chertsey is a small town some 70km south-west of Christchurch.

The barn, next to a railway line, can be seen from where a long-distance bus dropped me off on State Highway 1.

I walked in, to a cheery "Good morning" from the assistant at the counter, who gave her name as Leonie.

She said I could help myself to a hot drink. A good idea on a cold day. (It can get a bit chilly, so it is probably best to go in summer.)

I felt a warmth around my feet. That was Gypsy, the barn's tabby cat, giving me a welcome rub, though it declined to hang around for me to take a photo.

A local radio programme was playing, and occasionally there was a freight train clattering by, or the crunch of tyres as other customers drove in.

And I spent as enjoyable a morning as any, pottering around among the books.

So how did this business start? According to Leonie, who lives nearby, Christchurch resident Paul Edwards leased the barn to keep his collection of books about 6½ years ago, and it just grew.

Do they know how many books there are in the barn now?

"No," said Leonie.

Then she added: "Paul reckons it could be around 300,000."

Mr Edwards was not around, though he was expected later that day.

The books I looked at were NZ$1 (93 Singapore cents) to NZ$3, much cheaper than in the cities. I picked up a varied bunch, from a remembrance of comedies past (Spike Milligan's The Goon Show Scripts) to a fictionalised "refusal to forget" recent Korean history (Human Acts by Han Kang).

RESTRAINT

Restraint was essential. I would have to lug the loot to the highway and wait for my bus back to Christchurch. And of course, there is no way to find a barn to keep my own growing collection here in Singapore.

You may not want to buy a round-trip bus ticket that costs about $50 or get a car to visit the barn, but if you are a book lover driving from Christchurch to places like Ashburton, Dunedin, Queenstown or Invercargill, do take a break in Chertsey.

You will find it worthwhile.

TOURISM & TRAVEL