Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

12 November 2009

Hilltop Tavern, Banks Peninsula

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.

There aren’t too many Kiwi proprietors who can say their pub has been in the family as long as Joy Tarling’s has. These are her words about The Hilltop:-

‘First built in 1872 by James Garwood. Burned down April 7th, 1931. The hotel was a stopover in the coach and horse days. Then the drovers stayed when they brought stock out to the rail at Little River. My grandfather, Harry Bell, bought the licence on 15th November 1920. The freehold has remained in our family ever since. 

Prior to 1920 there had been eight owners. My parents lived here until 1951 then it was leased out. Now we have been here since 1990. My children are the fourth generation of our family to live here’.

And why, I ask, would anybody want to live anywhere else than on the rim of this ancient volcanic crater of Akaroa Harbour where the air is clean and clear as crystal?

The tavern lies just below Barry’s Pass, which was named after a shepherd who settled in the bay at the foot of the hill in 1847. In those days Banks Peninsula was largely covered in stands of native timber, but by the turn of the century it had been virtually clear-felled and milled, mainly to supply lumber for the buildings of Lyttleton and Christchurch. But what we’ve never seen we can’t miss and I love the peninsula the way it is; one of New Zealand’s magic places with its secret valleys, remote bays and the old stock routes that trace the contours of its scoria hills.

The coach road from Christchurch to Akaroa, completed in 1871, was opened the next year to Cobb & Co’s coach service which soon added Hilltop Hotel to the string of other coaching inns along the route. Then the railway came to Little River in 1886 and that boosted the hotel’s business further, bringing many travellers to the peninsula settlements. I’ve seen a historic photograph which marks the decline of the stage coach era. It was taken in 1910 and shows a coach with its horse outside the old Hilltop Hotel (a pretty building, I should have loved to have painted it). The first motorized transport service over Barry’s Pass started that year.


Tourism brings ever more visitors to the tavern. These days coach loads of camera clickers and videotapers, arrive daily, intent on recording the unchanging panorama that has kept Hilltop in the same family all these years.

© DON DONOVAN

donovan@ihug.co.nz
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Blurb

RANDOM SAMPLINGS F...
By Don Donovan