History, Life at No.22, Weekend Walk

Weekend Walks – 4th Avenue, Tauranga

What’s so special about it? Head down to the end of the avenue, turn right, and look towards the Waikareao estuary and Mauao; then look up into the sky, and imagine, as one woman, in particular, did many years ago.

The name, Fourth Ave, may not be earth-shattering though the area was the home of an extraordinary woman who had a significant impact on our aviation history. She owned a pocket of land overlooking the reserve and the Waikareao tidal estuary and just happened to be the first British woman to obtain a pilot’s certificate.

The plane came to land on the makeshift runway. Photo credit: NZ Archives

Her life started off as a vicar’s daughter; she then trained in art and nursing, eventually marrying the successful author Maurice Hewlett and becoming the mother of two. Although she was always fearless and practical, unconcerned with comfort and convention, it was not until 1909 that her life took a genuinely remarkable turn. She attended an airshow in Blackpool, and as she stood in a muddy field, mesmerised by the ‘one foot of space which grew more and more between the aeroplanes wheel and the ground, she obsessively in love with flying.

In 1910 she left the family home and went to France intending to learn to fly. At a great personal and financial cost, she bought a plane and became the first Englishwoman to hold a pilot’s license, gaining that distinction in 1911 at Brooklands. Aviation was in its earliest days and there was pioneering work to be done, so she it, forming a partnership with french enthusiast Gustave Blondeau. It was a time of hardship and camaraderie that made her extremely happy. Together they ran a flying school at Brooklands. Her own son Francis, a Royal Navy officer, was one of her pupils and then bought a factory and went into business building aeroplanes. During WW1, Hewlett & Blondeau had Government contracts and employed 300 people. When workmen became scarce because of the war, they trained women for required roles.

Between 1928–29 Hewlett closed her aviation company in England. After her third trip to New Zealand, she settled in Tauranga with her daughter.

With all the world to choose from why on earth would she choose Tauranga? For her, it offered the peace and freedom she craved, along with such excitements as big game fishing and camping her other long-time interests. As Hilda explained, “the urge to escape from the three Cs – crowds, convention and civilisation – became strong”.

Her next step was the purchase of four sections on Edgecumbe Road overlooking the estuary, though, of course, this area has now been redeveloped and looks completely different.

A part of our existing highway, which was once an airstrip, only to be used around low tide.

She loved the area and, unlike most residents, had a motivating reason for her purchase, and that was to turn her bit of dirt into the town’s flying field, which was used for eight years. Landing and take-off could take place only for an hour or so on either side of low tide. She was also the inaugural president of the Tauranga Aero and Gliding Club. In 1934 Jean Batten, touring New Zealand after her celebrated flight from England to Australia, was welcomed to Tauranga and hosted by Hilda. Hilda Hewlett’s extraordinary life ended in 1943.

30 thoughts on “Weekend Walks – 4th Avenue, Tauranga”

    1. Anabel, you aren’t alone in not knowing about her. I wonder how many other women have lived and achieved much outside the conventional “square box”?.

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  1. Thank you for this. I confess I hadn’t heard of Hilda until now but she really should be better known. What amazing determination she should, and what a lot she achieved as a result!

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    1. Well, her daughter moved to New Zealand with her so perhaps their relationship wasn’t so damaged at all. I would imagine that hopefully, they inherited her spirit, though I think they did.

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  2. Changed beyond recognition but still ravishingly beautiful, Suzanne. Your opening photo is peace itself. What a very extraordinary lady! And imagine an airstrip where you could only land at low tide! I love it.

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    1. Totally agree, Jude. Though not so sure there are many places in N.Z. that capture all those Cs. I do wonder sometimes what Hilda’s generation would think of our world today.

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    1. You’re welcome, Janis. I have forgotten how much history there is around our small city. Plus, how many women made an impact throughout our history.

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