Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

14 October 2009

Puhoi 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.

Captain Krippner, a Bohemian who owned property near Orewa, hit on the idea of getting the government to offer parcels of land to some of his countrymen back in Staab, south-west of Prague, with the view to expanding the slowly growing European population with some much needed new settlers.

The result was that in February 1863, about fifty families variously composed of farm labourers, shepherds, miners, dairy maids and domestics, sick of the feudal miseries of a care-worn continent and filled with seductive tales of a golden land over the seas, set sail for New Zealand. They arrived in Auckland in June of that year and were promptly transferred north to the mouth of the Puhoi River and then upstream, in small Maori-propelled craft, to their new home.

They arrived to find their 40 acre sections overgrown with the primaeval bush and almost impenetrable vine that clothed the precipitous hillsides and razor backed ridges. There was hardly a flat piece of land anywhere. But over many years those hardy and resolute settlers carved out, from a jungle of dismay, the charming, leafy township that stands today on the banks of the river. In its lower reaches the sluggish, meandering stream was once navigable to steam boats which were by no means rare in the early days for Puhoi was remote and the best access for trading goods was by sea.

Despite its having been ‘discovered’ by city folk looking for alternatives over the last few years Puhoi’s origins still figure strongly in the town; I have been told that even now it is possible to detect a slight German accent in some older residents. To the casual visitor, the first clue to its beginnings is the wayside calvary shrine that stands on the hill overlooking the village. Beyond is the tavern, classically colonial.

The first pub, ‘The Baby Saloon’ was set up in 1873. It closed when, in 1879, both John Schollum’s ‘German Hotel’ and Vincent Schishka’s ‘Puhoi Hotel’ were opened. Then, when Schishka’s enterprise failed, Schollum took over the name ‘Puhoi Hotel’ which has remained, except that the pub now has just a tavern licence and the old accommodation rooms form part of a museum.

Puhoi, and its welcoming tavern, are at just that critical a distance from Auckland to make it mecca for weekend drivers, bikies and family picnickers all of whom, on most occasions when they find themselves together, seem to benefit from a certain local air of tranquility.


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By Don Donovan