Treat yourself to a characterful stay at one of our finest historic pubs, to celebrate Level 2. Across the heartland, they beckon like evocative lighthouses of time-honoured hospitality and guardians of our shared heritage, keepers of the past and bridges to the present. They are where communities have gathered over many generations, a repository of tall stories and living history. Here’s a grab-bag of some of the finest North Islands specimens that are sure to inject some time-honoured charm into your next Kiwi road-trip.
Could there be a more salubrious way start to your day than by gazing out at Russell’s Pohutukawa-fringed shoreline, at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel? The hospitality jewel of Russell, the Duke of Marlborough Hotel is a resplendent establishment, with a front-row seat on the waterfront. Beginning life in 1827 as Johnny Johnston's Grog Shop, the ex-convict quickly changed the name to the Duke of Marlborough and he gained the first liquor licence in New Zealand. A nine-year, $12 million revamp of the iconic Northland hotel was completed just over a year ago and the Duke is looking radiant. Under Level 2, dining and accommodation has swung back into action, although for the time being, you can only stay the night from Wednesday to Sunday. The hotel is closed on Monday and Tuesday. www.theduke.co.nz
For the ultimate North Island heartland experience, enjoy a night in the self-proclaimed Republic of Whangamomona and get your passport stamped at the Whangamomona Hotel. Crowning Taranaki’s Forgotten World Highway, it’s not just one of our legendary watering holes, but one of the most remote. And it’s back in business. The current establishment dates from 1912, after the first hotel perished in a fire. The hotel comfortably sleeps 34 people, while two years ago, the adjoining Whangamomona Lodge opened, comprising higher-end ensuite double rooms. Loaded with history, I was intrigued to learn that the hotel provided their chillers as makeshift mortuaries during the 1918 flu epidemic. Thankfully, no encore performance has been required! https://whangamomonahotel.co.nz/
Martinborough is pitch-perfect for an indulgent mini-breaks and the township’s showpiece property is the graceful cream-coloured Martinborough Hotel. This grand dame was built in 1882 and has been extensively restored to its former glory. The property celebrates its rich history with sumptuous antique furnishings and a wonderful collection of sketches of local personalities from over the decades, adorning its walls. 16 individually designed rooms open out onto the wide verandah or flower-filled courtyard. For destination dining, tuck into Chef Adam Newell’s delights in Union Square, the hotel’s modern NZ bistro with a French influence. They’re celebrating their Level 2 reopening with some salivating stay and dining packages. www.martinboroughhotel.co.nz/
Wairarapa’s artisan honey-pot of Greytown is ablaze in colonial charm and endowed with two magnificent main street country hotels. The Greytown Hotel enjoys the rare distinction of never being moved, it’s never burned down and has never changed its name! Affectionately known to locals as the “Top Pub”, given its perch at the northern end of Greytown, the hotel was constructed in 1860 and upgraded in 1898, and then completely renovated in 2009 making this the oldest surviving pub in Wairarapa. As was customary with early New Zealand buildings that ‘grew’ over the years, the hotel has had extensions carried out over the decades, creating a range of rooms in differing styles and even with different floor-levels. Publicans Tom and Ursula Murphy purchased the hotel five years ago, renovating the traditional country hotel style accommodations. Convivial hospitality and great local food is available on-site from the 1860 restaurant. https://greytownhotel.co.nz/
In the heart of Greytown, The White Swan hotel is another hospo beacon. It actually began life as a New Zealand railways admini block in Lower Hutt. Little did those rail workers know that this big wooden building would one day be a country pub. In 2002 the building was hauled over the Rimutaka ranges in six pieces on the back of trucks. One of the six pieces almost didn’t make it, skewing off the back off its truck and teetering on the edge of the hill, closing the road for eight hours. Rescued from oblivion, all six pieces were carefully pieced back together and fully restored to create the magnificent hotel that now takes pride of place on Greytown’s main street. The stylish suites and effervescent on-site restaurant and bar complete the package. https://thewhiteswanhotel.co.nz/
Heading to Napier? Set your sights on the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, which has recently undergone a major interior refurbishment, now sporting a variety of room styles including a two bedroom self contained apartment, Emporium Eatery & Bar and Emporium The Lounge. The first Masonic Hotel was erected on the site in 1861. Today’s simple symmetrical but unmistakably art deco property was erected in the wake of the 1931 earthquake – essentially unchanged since it was first built. My favourite guestroom, which all explode with colour and flair, is the Anna Pavlova Suite, named after the famous Russian Ballerina who stayed at the hotel in 1926. There’s also the Royal Suite, where the Queen and Duke bedded down during her 1954 Coronation Tour, and the Jean Batten suite, in honour of the fearless aviator who stayed in-house in 1937. This Napier mainstay evokes and celebrates the city’s soul. https://masonic.co.nz/
Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.