Books, books, a barn full of books


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?

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.

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(Above) The Book Barn at Chert­sey in New Zealand and packed with books in­side (right).

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