Most travellers to the Inland Patea on the Napier Taihape Rd would be unaware that just before they cross over the Ngaruroro river and traverse up the 736m steep hill known as the "Gentle Annie", there was once a thriving settlement at Kuripapango, 78.6km from Napier.
Kuripapango, which means "spotty dog" in Māori, would become an important location for pack horses and later bullock drays from Inland Patea to stop on their arduous journey with the wool clip from the 1860s to the early 1900s. It also served as a resting point for supplies being brought into Inland Patea.
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In 1880, the Hawke's Bay County Council engaged C D Kennedy (Kennedy Rd, Napier is named for him) to survey a road from Napier to Kuripapango, to replace the packhorse trail. It opened in January 1881.
Two hotels (pictured) were opened at Kuripapango in 1882.
Alexander Macdonald owned the one on the western side of the river, and J G Kinross on the eastern side.
The Daily Telegraph said in November 1881: Kuripapango a few months ago was a desolate spot on the track to Inland Patea, but has now assumed quite a bustling appearance. The erection of the bridge was the first work that broke the stillness of that wilderness, and now there are two public-houses and two blacksmith's shops in course of erection.
When the wool clip was being brought out, three or four hundred pack horses could be seen in the paddocks adjoining the hotel, while inside packmen and bullockies (bullock dray drivers) washed the dust of the road from their throats.
Alexander Macdonald advertised Kuripapango as "A health resort where, according to the British Medical Journal, the atmosphere is eight degrees drier than in Napier [with] plenty of fruit and trout [and] fishing and shooting [with] horses and buggies for hire."
There was also a tennis court next to the hotel.
As historian Kay Mooney noted, "The Kuripapango Hotel became a noted holiday resort. Its bracing air was considered favourable to people inclined to tuberculosis. Ladies and children with peckish appetites were whisked up to Kuripapango to have their gastric juices stirred up by the mountain air. It was the in-trip socially of the 1890s. It had the modish air of Londoners retiring to the country for the month of August."
Alexander Macdonald appears to have run a good establishment, as a satisfied traveller wrote that it was good to have "clean napkins that hadn't previously mopped soupy moustaches as those in Napier hotels often had".
Kuripapango Hotel was an unusual mixture of gentile health resort clientele and the tough men transporting the wool clip and farm supplies back and forth to Inland Patea.
Lester Masters, in his Tales of the Mails, gives an idea of what it was like at Kuripapango from a discussion with George Lord.
George had worked at a farm called Erewhon in Inland Patea and left around 1884 on his horse, with his belongings in swag bag, to return to his family home in Taradale. At that time groups of navvies (labourers) were forming the road up the Gentle Annie.
"On the eastern side of the Gentle Annie, George stopped to take in the view down to Kuripapango. After the isolated life he had been used to at Erewhon, the scene below presented a stirring picture.
"The wool wagons and pack trains were in, and there below, foregathering about the hotel and store in that green Kuripapango basin in the heart of the grim ranges, were the packmen, wagoners, navvies of the road construction gangs, shearers, wool scourers, shepherds, wild dog and pig hunters, and other outback workers of those wild colonial times."
The Māori owner of the land Alexander Macdonald had leased for his hotel declared prohibition so that no alcohol could be consumed on his land. Alexander then purchased Kinross' hotel and moved his own across the river to sit alongside it. Together these buildings became known as the Kuripapango Hotel.
Alexander Macdonald also established a coaching business which his son operated.
The hotel was still owned by Alexander Macdonald when it was destroyed by fire of an unknown cause one night in February 1901. Guests, most still in their nightclothes, were transported back to Napier in coaches.
The hotel had been put up for a mortgagee sale in January 1901, together with land totalling 630 acres (254ha). Fire insurance was received of £2450 ($468,000).
The licence to operate the hotel was put up for lease in June 1901 by Henry Lascelles of Napier. The Kuripapango Hotel licence lapsed however in September 1901; therefore, the hotel was not rebuilt.
A bar was established in a converted horse stable for some months after the fire. The six outbuildings on the property were shifted to one location to form a house, which appeared as a "long, gabled, red roofed structure set amid a garden".
The property of Alexander Macdonald stayed in the family until his granddaughter Rosie Macdonald sold to Rod McRae in 1965, which was bought off him from the New Zealand Forest Service in 1982.
Michael Fowler (email@example.com) is a contract researcher, and writer of Hawke's Bay history.