Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

12 October 2009

Hukerenui Hotel

I wrote and illustrated ‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’. It was published in 1995. It 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.

Kauri gum dominated the economy of Northland in the latter years of the nineteenth century and it was to serve an army of gum diggers that the ‘Huka’, at first a single storey inn, came into existence. Unlike most old pubs, its birth can be dated precisely. At noon on 4 June 1890 a Whangarei lawyer, appearing on behalf of Carl Jorgen Rasmussen, appeared before the Hikurangi Licensing Committee to apply for an accommodation licence. It was granted forthwith but subject to a list of conditions proscribing drunkenness, profiteering and discourtesy and prescribing liquor of good quality, proper maintenance of drains, an abundant supply of pure water and stabling for horses.

Rasmussen and his wife Sarah ran the hotel, which they combined with a store, butchery and post office, until she died in 1894 whereupon he sold out to William and Catherine Woods. During the next eight years they expanded the accommodation and stabling and gained a reputation for honest dealing in the community. They moved on in 1902 and for the next 70 years the Hukerenui Hotel was owned by the Keatley family.

Meanwhile the railway was creeping north from Auckland and Hukerenui became its latest terminus, changing the focus of the town so dramatically that the pub had to be moved from up the hill beside the highway down to the railhead. At a cost of £500 ($1000) using screw jacks and bullock teams, it took some weeks to shift it, during which time the pub was open every day for fear of losing the licence! In the move, the building was turned 180 degrees so that the front faced the railway; that means that today what you might think is the front is really the back but you wouldn’t know unless somebody told you. It’s still a fine looking tavern run by Dennis and Colleen Clark who, with a well developed sense of history, mean to keep it that way.
One of the pub’s nicknames is ‘The Picket Fence’ and while it’s true that little fences now adorn the entrance, I’m inclined to believe the name goes back to days when you could walk out of the public bar through a turnstile and on to the station platform. A photograph taken in 1912 shows a splendid two storey building from the railway side (the front, remember?) with a handsome balustrade along the first storey and, below, the neatest picket fence you ever did see in the whole of Northland.


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By Don Donovan