Santa’s Cave

Santa’s Cave opens 1 December 2017

A seasonal favourite for all ages!

In 2018, the historic Santa’s Cave will be celebrating 100 years of enthralling generations of Manawatū locals every Christmas. It’s a perennial favourite for all ages and walks of life. For some, it’s a magical trip down memory lane. Others find its kitsch-factor totally endearing. There are those who even find it curiously creepy… but all agree, it wouldn’t be Christmas in Palmerston North without the Cave. It is one of our region’s most loved treasures!


Meet Santa

Santa takes some time out of his very busy schedule each year, to spend some time with visitors to Santa’s Cave.

10am – 12.30pm: 1 December – 24 December

2pm – 4.30pm: 9 December – 24 December

Decking the Halls for almost a century!

In 1904, Leo Henry Collinson and John Cunninghame started a clothing store on The Square in Palmerston North. Their partnership was a roaring success, and by 1910 the business of Collinson & Cunninghame Ltd employed more than 50 people. When members of the Collinson and Cunninghame families sold the business to the Farmers Trading Company in 1983, C&C’s (as it had become known) was considered to have been a true family business built on delivering value, quality and excellent service.

Elworthy Doddrell, a young Englishman trained as a hosier (a dealer in stockings and socks), worked in London before migrating to New Zealand with his wife and two children in 1910. He obtained a position with Collinson & Cunninghame Ltd in Palmerston North. According to his descendants, Doddrell suggested to C&C’s management that they open a Christmas Cave in the basement of the department store. Doddrell moved to Wellington in 1912, becoming Superintendant and Assistant Manager at the D.I.C. department store there…but the seed of the idea was planted.


1918 marked the end of the First World War but also the arrival in New Zealand of the influenza pandemic, which swept across the world in October and November that year, killing more than 8,600 New Zealanders. To generate a spirit of optimism throughout the community, Collinson & Cunninghame decided to go ahead with Doddrell’s idea, and the Cave opened on Christmas Eve, 1918. Admission was one shilling. Children under the age of 14 were allowed in from 6.30 to 8.30pm. In the windows of the store, displays included an electrically run toy circus complete with clowns, acrobats and animals.

Santa’s Cave grew enormously in popularity during the 1920s. One of the store’s catalogues recorded that in 1921, 11,000 people visited. Numbers continued to grow as each year a new series of displays was added. When Collinson & Cunninghame was upgraded in 1965, they did not forget about Santa’s Cave. In fact many of the displays you see now date from this period in the store’s history. When Farmers took over in 1983, they continued the Santa’s Cave tradition for 27 years, until relocating to its new store in The Plaza. By that time, an agreement had been reached with Te Manawa Museums Trust to take over the preservation and operation of Santa’s Cave, for the enjoyment of future generations.