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Hotel's glory days recalled

By Peter de Graaf

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Karen Fletcher with a photo of the Kaikohe Hotel in better times. The aerial picture was taken by the RNZAF in 1968. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Karen Fletcher with a photo of the Kaikohe Hotel in better times. The aerial picture was taken by the RNZAF in 1968. Photo / Peter de Graaf

The demolition of one of Kaikohe's landmarks has unleashed a flood of memories of what was once the town's finest hotel.

Originally built in 1894 but altered many times over the following 120 years, the Kaikohe Hotel was once flash enough to host a brief visit by the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

After a decline in recent decades it is now being dismantled, plank by plank.

The demolition has brought back memories for the daughter of former manager Colin McKenzie. Karen Fletcher, who now lives at Ohaeawai, spent her teenage years at the "really buzzing hotel".

"I feel sad to see the old girl the way she is, and my father would be sad to see the way it's gone. But I think he'd understand why." There were so many liquor outlets now "you don't have to go to a bar".

In the 1950s and 1960s the hotel was full most week nights with commercial travellers and during weekends it was full of tourist groups, many visiting the nearby Ngawha hot springs.

The hotel had a vast vegetable garden supplying the kitchen and many staff.

"I was a teenager, and you know what teenagers can be like, but the staff were so good to me," she said.

It was the days of 6 o'clock closing when police would visit daily on the stroke of 6pm to make sure the public bar was shut. A police "flying squad" from Whangarei would make random visits after hours to enforce the law, but word they were on the way spread quickly from publican to publican.

A tie was required in the lounge bar and dining room. "Even I had to dress up to go into the dining room, which I hated. It was quite formal, and there was no nonsense." Mrs Fletcher moved to Taheke when she married at age 20. The reception, needless to say, was at the hotel.

In 1965 Mr McKenzie was appointed the first manager of the Waitangi Tourist Hotel, now the Copthorne, but later returned to Kaikohe to run the hotel until he retired.

The prime Broadway site was bought last year by Te Runanga-a-nui o Ngapuhi for just over $280,000. Ironically Mrs Fletcher's nephew, Ken Rintoul of Okaihau, has the contract for demolishing the hotel.

The Kaikohe Hotel is being farewelled with prayers and speeches at 3pm today, followed by drinks and an auction of hotel memorabilia at the nearby Bank Bar. Tickets to the auction, which include three drinks and nibbles, cost $20 and must be pre-paid at Maypark Print or Hidden Treasures on Broadway. All proceeds will go to St John Kaikohe.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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