A Far North hotel with an intriguing history and leading the way in reviving "old school" hospitality has been named New Zealand's best country pub.
The Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell - which has New Zealand's oldest licence, dated 1840, but traces its roots back to 1827 - won the title in the 2012 Hospitality New Zealand Awards for Excellence last week.
It is a fitting reward for the efforts of its owners since 2010, Anton and Bridget Haagh, Riki Kinnaird and Jayne Shirley.
The long-time friends, originally from West Auckland, had been working in high-profile jobs in Wellington and Europe, but wanted to make their mark on an iconic New Zealand hotel.
When they bought The Duke it had been allowed to run down and had been abandoned by locals, leaving it all but deserted in winter.
The two couples spent eye-watering sums replacing the roof, repainting the exterior, and renovating the kitchen and restaurant. Crucially, they also won back the support of Russell residents.
Mr Kinnaird said: "Everyone pulled together as a team for this one. The judges said it was the hardest category to pick this year, so it's a proud moment for us and I'm especially proud of our team," he said.
Hospitality NZ chief executive Bruce Robertson said while many businesses were struggling, others prospered by taking advantage of the discerning consumer dollar.