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Ruth Shaw’s hobbit-type hobby, a tiny bookshop next to her house in Manapōuri. Photo/Mike White

Inside Manapōuri’s cool little bookshop

At the edge of Fiordland National Park is a tiny little store.

Opening a bookshop these days is a brave move, many would tell you. But then, Ruth Shaw’s 45° South and Below bookshop in Manapōuri is only small. Really small. So small that it didn’t need a building consent (under 10m2), and so small Shaw sometimes finds herself having to sit outside while visitors browse the shelves, because there’s not enough room. But big enough to hold 700 new and used books, specialising in southern New Zealand, the subantarctic islands, and nautical and natural history.

Shaw and husband Lance used to run a charter boat, Breaksea Girl, in Fiordland and further south, and Shaw had a small shop in their office so customers could buy books about what they’d seen. When they sold their tourism business and the boat, she missed dealing with books and book-lovers. “So Lance said, ‘For goodness sake, love, just get something built and open it.’”

The couple had a space next to their house that was perfect, and Shaw designed the shop to have a hobbit-type feel to it. She officially opens from September to Easter, but anyone can ring the bell – saved from Breaksea Girl – and she’ll pop over. The books largely reflect her love of New Zealand’s far south, and the environment she’s fought hard for decades to preserve. But there are two shelves of lighter “holiday reading”, the proceeds of which she gives to the Blind Foundation and Te Ānau’s hospice. “It’s only a hobby, so I don’t need to make money.”

The bookshop doesn't take up much space at 10m2. Photo/Mike White

To that end, Shaw also pots up native seedlings from the bush at the back of their property, and puts them out for passersby to help themselves. And she’s just added another tiny hut, with a metre-high door, full of books and toys and games for children whose parents are browsing in the other bookshop. Travellers can even borrow children’s books or toys overnight while they’re in Manapōuri, returning them before they leave – a “sleepover library”, as she calls it.

This may well be New Zealand’s smallest bookshop, but Shaw says the size suits her perfectly. “And when I finish, they can just pick up this little cottage because it came on the back of a trailer.” 

Related articles: Saving Manapōuri: The campaign that changed a nation | A former masonic lodge in Southland is transformed | A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing hops

This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of North & South. Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email for more great stories.