Don Kavanagh discovers old pubs that wear age like a badge of honour

The Kentish Hotel, in Waiuku, still has a copy of its licence signed in 1853.It's often said that age and treachery beat youth and enthusiasm every time and, in the bar game, there's a lot to be said for an old establishment.

Old bars tend to be good by their very nature, because you don't get to be an old bar unless you are very good at what you do. I've had a few in pubs so old that when they were young, the Dead Sea merely had a bad cough.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in England are marvellous old pubs that wear their age like badges of honour and manage to cater to a modern clientele without feeling the need to replace old timber with chrome and neon.

The Brazen Head in Dublin dates back to 1189, which makes it prehistoric in New Zealand terms. The prosaically titled Sean's Bar in the central Irish town of Athlone claims an even longer pedigree, boasting of serving drinks since the year 900, although how much of that claim is verifiable is very much a subject of debate.


Here, in New Zealand, you'd think it would be easier to say categorically which is the oldest bar. We've only got about 179 years of hospitality history, so it wouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to work it out.

Or so you'd think. Several bars claim to be the oldest in Auckland, although they tend to make their claims in different categories.

The Riverhead lays claim to being the oldest riverside hotel at 153 years old, and the Queen's Ferry, with a licensed history dating from 1865, is the oldest surviving bar in the city centre.

There are other claimants. The Moutere Inn near Nelson has been serving beer since 1850, making it a firm favourite for the title of the country's oldest pub. That is challenged by Wellington's Thistle Inn, which still has a set of stairs from the original building, dating from 1840.

Whether a few steps means it's the same pub is interesting and I have to say, I don't reckon it does.

Back up north, the recently refurbished Kentish Hotel in Waiuku claims to be the oldest continuously licensed hotel in the country. Its licence was the 47th issued in New Zealand in 1853 and, given the other 46 were more likely to be for tents in goldfields, its claims stand up best to scrutiny. There's still a copy of that original licence on the premises.

It's well worth a visit. A beautiful structure overlooking the water, it's the ideal spot for historical research, and the beer is worth a taste. It's a nice drive, with a pleasant promise of ale at the end of it, so why not go for a spin one weekend and check out a little local history?