A nine-year, $12 million revamp of an iconic Northland hotel was finally completed on Saturday when Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters opened a new wing at the Duke of Marlborough in Russell.
The final stage of the upgrade included a new York St frontage, a 13-room accommodation wing bringing the total to 38, conference facilities, garden bar, gym, offices, staff accommodation and extra parking.
When the current owners bought the historic hotel in 2010 it was unloved, virtually boycotted by locals, and employed six staff. It now employs more than 100, a number expected to grow now the hotel has sufficient rooms and the facilities to host conferences.
With conferences expected to take place year-round, the expansion would also allow the Duke to reduce its reliance on seasonal workers and hire more permanent staff.
Co-owner Riki Kinnaird said the hotel had previously turned away about 40 group bookings a year because it couldn't provide enough accommodation or meeting areas.
The upgrade would bring more tourism business to the Bay of Islands over the shoulder and low seasons, Kinnaird said.
The revamp of the exterior — first by adding first-floor balconies and a turret to the Strand facade, and most recently by rebuilding the previously uninspiring York St frontage in similar style — had been done sympathetically to the building's history and location by working with architect Salmond Reed, Heritage New Zealand and local residents.
"The Duke had been unloved for a long time and wasn't even roofed properly," Kinnaird said.
"The reason it's taken so long to complete the renovation and expansion work is because we were determined to do this grand old lady justice. We wanted to make the local community proud of the result and we wanted to make the old girl future-proof, she deserved that," he said.
"Everyone seems to be happy that The Duke is back to her former glory and that the new wing has replaced the old rubbish shed facing York St. We're proud of what the team has done."
Kinnaird and partners Jayne Shirley, Bridget and Anton Haagh, Dave and Nikki Hurst, and Paul and Jenny Rudling bought The Duke nine years ago with the aim of turning it into one of New Zealand's finest boutique hotels and restaurants.
As well as the Deputy Prime Minister, Saturday's opening was attended by Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, Northland MP Matt King, Mayor John Carter and Deputy Mayor Tania McInnes.
Peters is a regular at the hotel, having used it as his election night headquarters in the 2015 Northland byelection and the 2017 general election.
In a tongue-in-cheek reference to the hotel's motto, Kinnaird described Peters as "quite possibly our most favourite rascal and reprobate".
The lead contractors on the restoration and expansion project was Harnett Builders of Whangarei, while many of the new rooms are decorated with the work of Kerikeri artist Lester Hall.
The builders and cleaners are being treated to a night in the new wing before it opens for bookings on Thursday.
The Duke of Marlborough has existed in various forms since 1827 and holds New Zealand's first liquor licence, issued in 1840. The current building was originally part of the cable station at Cable Bay.