Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

08 November 2009

Hurunui Hotel

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

John Hastie, a man known widely for his kindness, opened the ‘Hurunui Accommodation House, South Bank’ with a licence issued in Christchurch by J.W Hamilton, Resident Magistrate, on 1 June 1860.

There were conditions: ‘All premises to be kept in good repair… Not less than eight beds for travellers in not less than four rooms… Accommodation for at least six horses… A lamp to be kept burning from sunset to sunrise but not to be visible from the north bank of the Hurunui River… The licence to be cancelled if any drunkenness be proved or if spirits be supplied to any aboriginal native’. Hastie was also required to be sworn in and perform as a constable if required.

The limestone building, still standing well into its second century, was constructed of stone quarried from the gentle hills of nearby Weka Pass. Therein, perhaps, lies the secret of its survival for when most other pubs of its vintage, ticking like tinder-dry time bombs, have gone up in flames these thick, white walls remain. That is not to say that the Hurunui Hotel hasn’t faced its perils. There was a mighty flood in 1868 when the river burst its banks and flowed ‘a mile wide’. Although the hotel suffered no damage it was moved, block by block, to its present site in 1869. By then poor Hastie had died of epilepsy.

The hotel was a meeting place for North Canterbury farmers who would ride in for their mail and to catch up with gossip, maybe pausing for a pint while they watched drovers from the north dipping their sheep to keep Canterbury clear of ‘the dreaded scab’. Through the years the pub experienced varying fortunes and there came a period, as with so many architectural gems, when the worth of its heritage was misunderstood and it fell into disrepair. It had reached its nadir in 1980, patronless, beerless and on the point of closure when, at the eleventh hour, a group of locals, after surprisingly little discussion, pledged over $100 000 and set up a trust to save it.

And so it continues its tradition of welcoming travellers on the Lewis Pass and Hanmer road to its shade and hospitality; and is it too much to fancy that in some cool corner of its restful bar the spirit of John Hastie smiles and nods approvingly?


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By Don Donovan