Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

01 November 2009

Okaramio 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.

I’m always amused by tenuous claims to greatness. One such was made for Okaramio’s post office (in the days when such institutions were still fashionable) which was described as ‘the smallest in New Zealand.’ I can’t imagine that many people would have come from far and wide to see it, but the Okaramio Tavern is a welcome sight as it comes into view on the Blenheim to Nelson road. It has a jolly look about it which is enhanced by the plump, red lettering of its name which stretches the length of the pub. (For the typographically minded, the lettering style is derived from ‘Cooper Black’; I’ve used it for the cover of this book).

The first hotel on the same site, called the Half-Way House, was established John Dickson in 1872. When it was taken over in 1897 by John Johnston, one contemporary description had it as ‘a pleasing two-storeyed building of thirteen rooms and accommodation for twenty’. It was a dropping-off point for Harry Newman’s four-horse Blenheim-Nelson mail coach and was surrounded by a forty-acre paddock where drovers’ stock could be held over night.

An Irish woman, Teresa Briggs, widowed in Wellington in 1891 by her boot merchant husband, bought the hotel from Johnston in 1902. It burned to the ground one year later. To keep the licence alive, the widow Briggs sold liquor from a ‘tin shed’ (see The Tin Hut at Tauherenikau) until the present pub was built in 1905. Mine-hostess also owned a public hall over the road, which she would hire out for functions; and she ran that small post office, too - clearly a capable woman.
The place thrived under the Woosters during the First World War until they sold out in 1920 to an engineer, John Watson, whose widow Margaret ran the pub after his death in 1931 for fifteen years ‘with the help of an old Scottish sailor.’

It became the Okaramio Tavern in the mid-70s when demand for accommodation declined. But I can’t help feeling that it would be a nice place to stay, here in the green and restful Kaituna Valley (which, incidentally, was explored by Thomas Brunner in 1848 not long after he’d returned from his ‘Great Journey’ which I’ve mentioned in my Owen River text).


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By Don Donovan