A Northland couple didn't want Kaikohe to lose another of its grand old buildings — so they gave up a quiet retirement and sank almost $2 million into its restoration.

The BNZ building, built in 1916 on the corner of Broadway and Park Rd, seemed doomed to fall into ruin when the bank moved to new premises rather than stump up the huge cost of earthquake strengthening.

It was bought in June 2016 by accountant Jack Poutsma and Di Maxwell, a former district councillor and graphic design company owner, who have spent the past two and a half years turning it into a hotel, backpackers and cafe/restaurant.

The couple live in Kapiro, north of Waipapa, but both grew up in Kaikohe.

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''We watched it go up for sale and decided it couldn't be left empty, so we took the plunge and bought it,'' Poutsma said.

''We have roots in Kaikohe and the town has suffered in recent years. We wanted to put something back and create employment.''

Di Maxwell and Jack Poutsma in Mint café, part of a restaurant, hotel and backpackers in Kaikohe's former BNZ bank. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Di Maxwell and Jack Poutsma in Mint café, part of a restaurant, hotel and backpackers in Kaikohe's former BNZ bank. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Poutsma, who is also a business advisor, said a restaurant, hotel or backpackers on its own probably wouldn't survive, but together they could be viable — especially with the increasingly popular Twin Coast Cycle Trail passing through town.

The restaurant (called Mint) opened on November 22 followed a week later by a five-room boutique hotel (Left Bank) and on December 28 a 11-bed backpackers (Safe As). The names are a nod to the building's past life as a financial institution.

Maxwell said if they hadn't bought the building it could have gone the same way as the now-demolished Kaikohe Hotel.

An initial survey put the cost of earthquake strengthening at $380,000 but the final figure was probably more. The total cost of the project was just short of $2m, she said.

''It's way over-capitalised for Kaikohe, we'll probably never see that money back — but as an investment in community it's well worth it. It was never really a decision about money. Having said that, we're not in a position where it can fail. We'll make sure it works.''

The hotel rooms upstairs have been furnished in heritage style with furniture such as antique wash stands bought on TradeMe and 100 years' worth of paint stripped off the native timbers.

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Di Maxwell and Jack Poutsma in the restored building's original 1916 staircase. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Di Maxwell and Jack Poutsma in the restored building's original 1916 staircase. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Downstairs the old bank vault has been turned into a wine cellar while the backpackers, rather than a single dorm, is divided into ''privacy alcoves'' with one to three beds in each.

Maxwell hoped it would inspire other property owners in Kaikohe to step up and restore the town's heritage buildings.

''A couple of tradespeople from outside Kaikohe asked, 'Why on earth are doing this in Kaikohe? Why not in Kerikeri or Paihia?' For one thing, the building is here, and there's plenty going on in Kerikeri and Paihia already. Kaikohe could use the boost.''

The business has 12 staff with all but the two chefs from Kaikohe. They hoped the venture would open up new employment opportunities for their staff in the future.

The restaurant is open from 7.30am-9pm daily which Maxwell said didn't always make financial sense but it was important to provide a consistent service.

After a busy start and a quiet few weeks after Christmas business was starting to pick up again as cycle tourists started to come through.

Maxwell said they had had great support from Kaikohe residents.

''The town doesn't deserve the bad rap it gets. Sure, there are a few ratbags but they are the minority. In two and half years we've had not one bit of tagging or one thing stolen from the site.''

''It's not what we were planning to do in our retirement at all but I'm glad we did.''