Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

01 November 2009

Okaramio Tavern

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.

I’m always amused by tenuous claims to greatness. One such was made for Okaramio’s post office (in the days when such institutions were still fashionable) which was described as ‘the smallest in New Zealand.’ I can’t imagine that many people would have come from far and wide to see it, but the Okaramio Tavern is a welcome sight as it comes into view on the Blenheim to Nelson road. It has a jolly look about it which is enhanced by the plump, red lettering of its name which stretches the length of the pub. (For the typographically minded, the lettering style is derived from ‘Cooper Black’; I’ve used it for the cover of this book).

The first hotel on the same site, called the Half-Way House, was established John Dickson in 1872. When it was taken over in 1897 by John Johnston, one contemporary description had it as ‘a pleasing two-storeyed building of thirteen rooms and accommodation for twenty’. It was a dropping-off point for Harry Newman’s four-horse Blenheim-Nelson mail coach and was surrounded by a forty-acre paddock where drovers’ stock could be held over night.

An Irish woman, Teresa Briggs, widowed in Wellington in 1891 by her boot merchant husband, bought the hotel from Johnston in 1902. It burned to the ground one year later. To keep the licence alive, the widow Briggs sold liquor from a ‘tin shed’ (see The Tin Hut at Tauherenikau) until the present pub was built in 1905. Mine-hostess also owned a public hall over the road, which she would hire out for functions; and she ran that small post office, too - clearly a capable woman.
The place thrived under the Woosters during the First World War until they sold out in 1920 to an engineer, John Watson, whose widow Margaret ran the pub after his death in 1931 for fifteen years ‘with the help of an old Scottish sailor.’

It became the Okaramio Tavern in the mid-70s when demand for accommodation declined. But I can’t help feeling that it would be a nice place to stay, here in the green and restful Kaituna Valley (which, incidentally, was explored by Thomas Brunner in 1848 not long after he’d returned from his ‘Great Journey’ which I’ve mentioned in my Owen River text).



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.