Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

07 November 2009

Lake Mahinapua 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.

Not so long ago it stood on a quiet back road. Now the main highway runs right past the front door, which suits New Zealand tourists with long memories who want to see for themselves this pub made famous by a television advertising campaign. Advertising themes are notoriously short-lived but the clever use of nostalgia, personified by a grumpy old man and given location by the almost ramshackle pub made those Mainland Cheese TV commercials rather more memorable than most.

When I painted the pub and its wild west sky the advertising campaign had developed to a point where the Mainland people, in return for cheesy wrappers sent in by consumers, were giving cash to a good cause - the establishment of a protected area where penguins could make love in peace. But things arc seldom what they seem; that grumpy old man didn’t live within cooee of Lake Mahinapua, he was an actor from Wellington; and the habitat of the Hoiho, or Yellow Eyed Penguin, is over the alps and far away, somewhere between Oamaru and the Campbell Islands!

A Mahinapua Hotel was built in 1905, close to the lake, eleven kilometres south of Hokitika. It was described as a ’solidly built house’, containing twelve accommodation rooms, and offering a ‘moderate tariff’. The proprietor, James Henderson, a Scotsman from Edinburgh, had spent time in Otago and, later, on the West Coast as a miner and dredge worker.

It would be interesting to know whether he was familiar with or had worked on the Phillips Dryland Dredge. Unlike most gold dredges, which were waterborne, this one was operated from a railway line. The first gold dredge in Westland County was a Phillips and it first operated on the sandy foreshore of Lake Mahinapua between 1897 and 1902.

In gold mining days, on the shallow lake which is only one metre above sea-level, steamers and barges plied its seven kilometre length conveying the constant flow of gold-seekers rushing from from one strike to another, as rumours of riches flew up and down the coast. It’s now a favourite spot of yachties and picnickers, much prized for its clear, colourful reflections from the surrounding bush.



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By Don Donovan