Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

17 October 2009

Opotiki Hotel

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.

Opotiki is in the eastern Bay of Plenty but I feel it has more in common with the real stuff of East Cape than the gentility of its prosperous westerly neighbours, Whakatane and Tauranga. If you’re travelling to Gisborne or the east, Opotiki presents you with two choices: you may either meander leisurely along the sparkling coast and around the hump of the Raukumara Range, or head south through the valley of the Waioeka River and into its forested gorge. Either way brings big rewards.

In this junction town, ever threatened by flooding, three pubs stand out: the Masonic, over-decorated and typical only of a certain architectural extravagance (it has a soul-mate in the Provincial, Christchurch); the sturdy and reliable Royal Hotel and the archetype of colonial pubs, the Opotiki Hotel. In 1868 an Opotiki Hotel was one of two pubs in the town, but it burned down and its replacement - the present pub - was brought in by barge from Thames and erected on the old site. Others obviously share my opinion that it is a typical good old Kiwi pub; it has starred in movies and television shows and has been associated with such good old kiwis as Prince Tui Teka and Barry Crump.

Opotiki towards the end of the twentieth century seems in the last stages of reconciliation for a frightful atrocity followed by excessive revenge. Carl Volkner, the anglican vicar of St Stephen’s, was savagely murdered here in 1865. A local Whakatohea chief, Mokomoko, was wrongly executed and tribal land was confiscated by the British by way of punishment. In 1992, Mokomoko was pardoned. Since I painted St Stephen the Martyr there has been a service of reconciliation and a new sign board now describes the church as ‘Hiona St Stephens’, Hiona being Maori for ‘Zion’, the church’s original name.

There remains the question of the confiscated land …


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By Don Donovan