Treat yourself to a characterful stay at one of our finest historic pubs to celebrate level 2. Across the North Island they beckon like evocative lighthouses of time-honoured hospitality and guardians of our shared heritage. They are where communities have gathered over many generations, a repository of tall stories and living history. Here's a grab-bag of some of the finest North Islands specimens that are sure to inject some time-honoured charm into your next Kiwi road-trip.
Duke of Marlborough Hotel
The hospitality jewel of Russell, the Duke of Marlborough Hotel is a resplendent establishment, with a front-row seat on the waterfront. Beginning life in 1827 as Johnny Johnston's Grog Shop, the ex-convict quickly changed the name to the Duke of Marlborough and he gained the first liquor licence in New Zealand.
A nine-year, $12 million revamp of the iconic Northland hotel was completed just over a year ago and the Duke is looking radiant. Under level 2, dining and accommodation has swung back into action, although for the time being you can stay the night only from Wednesday to Sunday.
For the ultimate North Island heartland experience enjoy a night in the self-proclaimed Republic of Whangamomona and get your passport stamped at the Whangamomona Hotel. Crowning Taranaki's Forgotten World Highway, it's not only one of New Zealand's more legendary watering holes, it's also one of our most remote. The current establishment dates from 1912, after the first hotel was destroyed by a fire. It's loaded with history and I was intrigued by one story that particularly resonated, given our present environment — the hotel provided its chillers as makeshift mortuaries during the 1918 flu epidemic.
Martinborough is pitch-perfect for an indulgent mini-break and the township's showpiece property is the graceful, cream-coloured Martinborough Hotel. This grand dame was built in 1882 and has been extensively restored to its former glory. The property celebrates its rich history with sumptuous antique furnishings and a wonderful collection of sketches of local personalities from over the decades. Tuck into Chef Adam Newell's delights in Union Square, the hotel's modern New Zealand bistro with a French influence. It is celebrating its level 2 reopening with some salivating stay and dining packages.
Wairarapa's artisan honey-pot of Greytown is ablaze in colonial charm and endowed with two magnificent main-street country hotels. The Greytown Hotel enjoys the rare distinction of never having been moved, it's never burned down and has never changed its name! Affectionately known to locals as the "Top Pub", given its perch at the northern end of Greytown, the hotel was constructed in 1860, upgraded in 1898 and then completely renovated in 2009, making this the oldest surviving pub in Wairarapa. Convivial hospitality and great local food is available on site from the 1860 restaurant.
The White Swan
In the heart of Greytown, The White Swan hotel is another hospo beacon. It actually began life as a New Zealand railways admin block in Lower Hutt. Little did those rail workers know that this big wooden building would one day be a country pub. In 2002 the building was hauled over the Rimutaka ranges in six pieces on the back of trucks. One of the six pieces almost didn't make it, skewing off the back off its truck and teetering on the edge of the hill, closing the road for eight hours. Rescued from oblivion, all six pieces were carefully pieced back together to create the magnificent hotel on Greytown's main street. The stylish suites and effervescent on-site restaurant and bar complete the package.
Art Deco Masonic Hotel
Heading to Napier? Set your sights on the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, which has recently undergone a major interior refurbishment. The first Masonic Hotel was erected on the site in 1861. Today's simple, symmetrical but unmistakably art deco property was erected in the wake of the 1931 earthquake — essentially unchanged since it was first built. All guest rooms explode with colour and flair, like the Anna Pavlova Suite, named after the famous Russian ballerina who stayed at the hotel in 1926. There's also the Royal Suite, where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh bedded down during her 1954 Coronation Tour, and the Jean Batten suite, in honour of the fearless aviator who stayed in 1937. This Napier mainstay evokes and celebrates the city's soul.