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.




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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.