Newspaper Article 2005 – Special delivery

Special delivery

RURAL delivery work is not for the faint hearted or work-shy and John Hawthorne is living proof that men can multi-task as reporter Juliette Sims found out when she spent a day with him recently on his RD9 run.

John is a dab hand at:
Sorting mail
Folding, packing and flinging newspapers.
Consulting a freight list.
Remembering exactly who out of his hundreds of customers gets milk, bread or both.
Keeping his small workspace organised and tidy while driving, often on gravel roads, snaking to 2500ft above sea level and then winding all the way back down again.

It’s all part of the job for John, who along with his wife Lyn, owns Crownthorpe RD Ltd, Farm Freight Deliveries and is the New Zealand Post Rural Mail contractor for the RD9 district.

The couple have operated the run for seven years. Before that John worked as a relief driver for the previous run holder and altogether he has been involved with the run for 28 years.

The 400km run covers the land-between the Ngaruroro and Tutaekuri rivers, starting at Fernhill and extending to just below the snow line of the Kaweka ranges and includes 375 boxholders.

It’s a truly rural run and, as he wryly observes, travelling that far to get to his customers his day tends to disappear.

At one point, John drives three hours just to be 10 minutes away from where he started. Or at least he would be if it weren’t for an unfortunately large hill.

He points out a row of poplar trees on Flag Range Road and during the course of the next six hours they can be seen from a variety of angles, altitudes and distances, and are a landmark on the run. Needless to say I am bamboozled over where we are exactly!

On average, the run takes six to eight hours to complete, but depends on a number of factors – the volume of mail, the time the daily newspaper is printed, weather and the unexpected.

Lyn covers deliveries to Ohiti and Crownthorpe Road and part of the Taihape Road so John doesn’t have to double back to his own home in the district, which would add even more hours to the run.

This they do five days a week. Saturday’s run is just the newspaper.

John and Lyn’s day begins at 5.30am when they drive from their home to Hastings to begin sorting mail by 6am. Then they collect milk, bread and freight, which can range from groceries, to the occasional four-wheel ATV. John then stops for a rural contractor’s roast – a meat pie – and waits for the daily newspaper to be ready around 12.45pm – usually.

Photo caption – John and Lyn Hawthorne have been delivering the mail to the RD9 area for more than 28 years.

‘Postman Pat’ of rural Hawke’s Bay

“The latest it has ever been finished was 3.55am, which meant finishing the run in the early hours of the morning and in darkness,” John says.

The mailman usually knows everyone, but in this case everybody knows the mailman. John was born in Crownthorpe, went to school in the district and, like many on his run, has returned to live in the area. On his run he passes his childhood home, which is still called the Rabbiter’s Rest after his father, who, with a team of 20 dogs, was the local rabbiter.

As a boy John mowed the lawns of Okawa Stud. He knows the land intimately, its history and, it seems, every resident. But, with the increasing number of lifestyle blocks, he admits he doesn’t know everyone any more.

“Once you get into to Shanley Road, it’s like a small town. Ten years ago there wasn’t even a road there, but it just sprouted.”

John understands the needs of a rural community and will literally go the extra distance to deliver an item if he knows a farmer urgently needs it.

“I always say if I’m late for dinner, I’ll be early for breakfast.”

Just meeting some of his customers on the run, it’s obvious he’s held in high regard and with much affection.

Touchwood Books, in Taihape Road, features his picture in their catalogue in appreciation of his “friendly and efficient” service and to recognise the contribution his service makes to their business.

Another personal touch John has added since taking over the run is a special arrangement with Father Christmas.

It ensures a truly personal reply from Santa for any RD9 child who writes to him, along with a chocolate replica of the man himself, tinsel and “reindeer food” ready for the big night and delivered by his agents, the Hawthornes.

Of all the weather conditions that John drives in, it’s not the wet that worries him, despite two drivers being washed off the road last year.

“At least you can see flooding, but you never know what’s going to happen when it’s really blowing and it can blow pretty hard in some places and rock you around a bit.”

John escaped serious injury when a branch crashed through his windscreen a few years ago.

And, as far as four-legged friends go, he has them everywhere, but he has only once has had a problem with a dog … and has the scars on his elbow to prove it.

“It was a blue heeler and he was so determined to have me he came at me through the window. The next day it completely ignored me.”

Wear and tear on the vehicle is considerable. Any paintwork or edge on the bottom of the van has been well sandblasted and smoothed. A breakdown can mean a long wait for help, but John has been saved by some ingenious running repairs.

“I used to do the run in a Valiant ute, and the gearstick broke off right down at the base,” he says. “I was near a farmer with a good workshop and thought he might be able to help. Well, he got a pair of vice grips and reached down, got the broken end of the gearstick and then welded the vicegrips to it and away I went. It held for a couple of days.

“On another occasion one of my customers just lent me his ute to finish the run.”

Surprisingly electronic mail hasn’t lessened John’s load and, if anything, it has increased and he reckons it must be all the townies moving to the country.

But, there’s one quirk he can be sure of and that’s if there’s a day when the mail is light, the next day he’ll be “loaded to the gunnels”.

There’s a lot you notice when you spend this much time on the road and the people of RD9 can rest assured that once a day – regular as clockwork – the red lifeline to town will appear around the bend.

Photo captions –

Left: Lynne Wilkinson and John went to primary school together in Crownthorpe and, like many others in the area, have returned to live there. Right: For Peter Arthur, left, and Graham Harvey, at Touchwood Books, on the Taihape Road, John is a vital link for the business.

Original digital file


Date published

December 2005

Format of the original

Newspaper article

Creator / Author

  • Juliette Sims


Hawke's Bay Country Scene


  • Peter Arthur
  • Graham Harvey
  • John Hawthorne
  • Lyn Hawthorne
  • Lynne Wilkinson

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