Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

02 November 2009

Kohatu 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.

Solitary, it stands where the winding road that follows the pretty Motueka River joins the highway from Nelson. It’s at a point where the mind of the southbound traveller prepares tor the rugged bluffs of the Buller Gorge, leaving the gentle orchards of Tasman Bay behind.

You might be tricked by those big flashy bar windows, pseudo shutters and plaster rendering into thinking that the Kohatu Hotel is a modern building but the two-storey front portion of it is over one hundred years old. What’s more, apart from the big fascia board with the name lettered on it, and the absence of one chimney, that part has not changed since 1894 when it was built by Harry Bromell. It replaced the Bromell’s Hotel which his father, Thomas, had erected in 1877 in competition, perhaps, with an older accommodation house on the other side of the river. With the opening of the road over the Hope Saddle, traffic from Nelson had increased and Thomas had wanted to take advantage of obvious commercial opportunities.

Bromell’s became even more important in 1899, when Motupiko Station (the name was changed to Kohatu Station in 1906) became the terminus of the Nelson Railway. It was here that train passengers and freight were transferred to road coaches for the onward journey to Murchison and the Buller. Around then, its name was changed to the Terminus Hotel; what a bustling place it must have been when the trains and coaches met and passengers and horses needed to be fed and watered, accommodated and stabled.

It was from outside Bromell’s, too, that Nelson sheep were taken by drovers for sale in Canterbury - a journey that could take almost a month via Tophouse and Hanmer. Drovers like legendary Ern Robinson (coincidentally a kinsman of my mate, Mac Fairweather) would have known both the old and new Bromell’s Hotels and would have witnessed the coming of the railway and Newmans transition from horse drawn transport to motor vehicles.

The railway failed to survive and you’d have to look hard to find any traces of it now, although the old Glenhope Station still stands, twenty-five kilometres south of the Kohatu Hotel. Or, by chance, you might find someone in the bar with a long memory!


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By Don Donovan