Kiwi farmland to iconic cricket ground

People have long known the gentle Hawke’s Bay village of Te Awanga for two things: coastal vineyards and cycling trails.

People have long known the gentle Hawke’s Bay village of Te Awanga, 25 minutes south of Napier, for two things: beautiful coastal vineyards, and some of the best cycling trails in Hawke’s Bay. 

Claim to fame

Now you can add a third claim to fame: the Clifton County Cricket Club. Suresh Menon, editor of Wisden India, who once remarked that it was the most beautiful cricket ground he had visited anywhere in the world.

Surrounded by small, shapely hills, it nestles in this natural bowl, its own attractive amphitheatre — so perfect that it looks as if it were created for a movie.

This is one unique cricket ground, the scene of sporadic and relaxed 'village cricket' style matches. Yet the charming setting at Te Awanga Downs Farm — close to the ocean, signature vineyards like Elephant Hill and showcasing the best of Hawke’s Bay — is only half the reason.

Te Awanga farm

When the Clifton County Cricket Club started in 1985, it was during the peak of New Zealand Cricket’s first great cricketing era. New Zealanders couldn’t get enough of the game, and among them was the Nilsson family — who owned this Te Awanga farmland. 

The family thought a cricket pitch set aside in a special spot on the family sheep farm would be a great way to bring family and friends together for some special “backyard cricket” on Sunday afternoons. But when word spread of the stunning little private cricket ground, even 1980s New Zealand captain Geoff Howarth made his way to Te Awanga to experience it. 

Spirit of the game

Today, Mark Greatbatch — who played for New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s — is proud to don his turquoise cap as one of 250 Hawke’s Bay families who are members of the Clifton club. The turquoise represents the nearby Pacific Ocean, and the pride comes from the country club’s dedication to celebrating the “giving” spirit of the game. 

After the 1980s, the club went through a quiet spell. Then, in 2012, a younger member of the family, Chris Nilsson, and his friend Sam Howard — who had both played on the sidelines as children when the club first started — dusted off the dream to grow Clifton into a “proper cricket ground” on a two hectare site.

Fond memories 

So many Hawke’s Bay locals had fond memories of the club from the 1980s that when Nilsson and Howard started talking about it, within weeks they had 150 people offering to pitch in and help them. 

Five hundred truck-and-trailer loads of free topsoil for the playing surface, an irrigation system to survive the dry Hawke’s Bay summers, a pavilion — it all became reality with help from the cricket-mad local community. 

Not only that, but 7000 native trees have transformed the surrounding riparian area after the club embarked on a visionary conservation project that will see native birds repopulate the area, walking tracks and a cycleway developed.

Natural charm

Besides adding to the natural charm and beauty, the ecological area is used to educate local schoolchildren — as well as club members — about how farmers can contribute to the environment and conservation science, says Howard, the club chairman. 

It’s typical of the club’s ethos. From day one, it was always about creating something for others to enjoy. All thanks to a family who generously decided to share their farmland for the love of cricket.