Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

27 October 2009

The Tin Hut, Tauherenikau

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995 and was a snapshot of some New Zealand pubs as they were at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

My first experience of Tauherenikau was on a hot summer’s day at the nearby racecourse where a friend’s horse won its race. Later, under shady trees in the gardens, we celebrated with a champagne picnic out of the boot of his cream Chevrolet Impala (the one with the gold seats) and felt ourselves to be quite special. Heady days!

Many years later, while cruising down State Highway 2, two things about the Tauherenikau Hotel stopped me in my tracks. One was the bold brilliance of the lettering ‘THE TIN HUT’ on the roof, which screams itself halfway up the Wairarapa; the other was that fascinating door to nowhere with its Parisian canopy. It used to lead to a first floor balcony that became unsafe: now (it still opens) it’ll lead to a broken ankle if anybody’s daft enough to walk though it.

The first licencee, in 1857, was Thomas Hales, who also ran the ferry across the Tauherenikau River. It was quite a large establishment, having eighteen rooms. From around 1865 the hotel became inextricably entwined with horse racing. At that time the Ferry Reserve, which eventually became the site of the race course, was covered with scrub and holes made by the 1855 earthquake, and was considered ‘a dangerous piece of land to ride over’, but Robert Rowe, lessee of both the hotel and the reserve, reckoned that if it could be made safe for racing both the district, and the hotel, would benefit. Trustees were appointed but nothing much happened until a new owner of the hotel, C. Potts, offered to form and fence the course for them in return for a lease of the ground for 21 years at a small rental. His offer was accepted, the course was finished and the Wairarapa Racing Club had their first meeting at Tauherenikau in 1874.

Publicans came and went, a motley bunch. One, Robert Lucas, who was clerk of the course, is buried where the horses gallop; another, John Barlow, ran a hotel that was ‘badly conducted’ with ‘accommodation very indifferent’; and James Barber took off in a hurry leaving ‘numerous creditors’. On the other hand, in 1896, James Cress, an ‘all round sport’ owning ’several racehorses, his colours being blue and gold’, ran a popular hotel, ‘large and commodious’, at the back of which he had a substantial bottling establishment.

A big fire happened in 1925 and in order to maintain the licence a ‘Tin Hut’ was erected from which customers could be served until the new pub was built. This was a common practice, most such temporary arrangements were conducted from tin huts, but in the case of Tauherenikau, the name has stuck to the present day.
Tauwharenikau is the proper spelling of this place. It translates as ‘the whare [house] whose walls and roof are thatched with nikau fronds’. I’m quite sure that was never a description of the pub, even when it had a bush licence.



Blog Archive

Hits Counter


Loaded Web

Blog Directory for Albany, New Zealand


Blog This Here

Blog Flux

Commentary blogs


  • <$BlogCommentAuthor$> // <$BlogCommentDateTime$>


By Don Donovan

About Me

My photo

Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.