Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

16 November 2009

North Western Hotel, Palmerston

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.
The first coach travellers from Dunedin to the Otago gold rushes in the early 1860s were treated to a terrifying trip over the flood-prone Taieri Plain and across the hostile hills and valleys of the Old Dunstan Road. Despite the legendary skills of determined coachmen it wasn’t a satisfactory route and so, around 1864, a safer, more reliable alternative was developed which saw Cobb & Co’s coaches bustling up the coast road from Dunedin to Palmerston and then following the Shag River valley ‘Pigroot’ into Central Otago. 

The first North Western which was built in 1863, described by E.M. Lovell-Smith in ‘Old Coaching Days’ as a ‘pretentious wooden building’, became the depot for Cobb & Co. But it burned down and was replaced by the hotel that still stands today.

Built of bricks from a local kiln in 1887, it prospered until 1906 when it was hit by local prohibition. The wonder of it is that the building survived for it was variously used as a boarding house, fish and chip shop and a babies’ clothing shop until a tourist licence was granted almost eighty years later.

In 1989, with a new licensing act in place, it obtained a restaurant licence, but only in 1992 did it become fully licensed once more. Today’s North Western is a handsome structure and, being the only survivor out of fourteen original hotels in Palmerston, is an important remnant - as is the town hall (above) - of this historic junction town; especially as the original stables, essential to Cobb & Co coach travel along the ‘Pigroot’ to the gold fields, are still there.


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By Don Donovan