Two Far North couples are breathing new life into the Awanui Hotel.
The hotel poured its first pint in 1894 and in its heyday in the 1950s and 60s had near legendary status.
In more recent decades, however, like many rural pubs, it has slipped into decline.
The sprawling property was bought by Awanui couple Brad and Tanja Jackson, of Northland Auctions, and Abe and Sharlene Wells of Laser Electrical Kaitaia.
Together they are working on an ambitious plan to revitalise the property and turn it into a hub for locals and visitors alike.
They plan to open the revamped hotel on Awanui Day, the township's biggest day of the year, on November 7.
Brad Jackson conceded that the middle of a worldwide pandemic probably wasn't the best time to invest in a pub.
However, he was upbeat about Awanui's prospects, thanks to its location at the junction of two major highways at the gateway to Cape Reinga and the Aupōuri Peninsula.
They were keen to make Awanui a destination in itself, not just a place to pass through.
As well as revamping the pub they wanted to offer retail, food and accommodation, showcasing Awanui and the Far North.
''We want to give it a wow factor, and make it a place you have to visit before you hit the wide world up to Cape Reinga,'' Jackson said.
''This place [Awanui] has so much potential. It's a Kerikeri just waiting to happen.''
The original settlement date was April 2 but Covid pushed that back to May 1. The previous owner, Betty Guillard, ran the hotel for 27 years.
The property will be renovated in stages with the highway frontage the first in line for some TLC.
The newly created AB Bar — short for 'Abe Brad', not the famous sports team — has been decorated with automotive memorabilia, a vintage petrol bowser and colourful bar stool seats as a quirky wall display. Jackson describes it as ''a men's workshop for drinking''.
The former public bar will be christened the Jug Bar, bringing back its 1950s name, and decorated with large canvas prints of historic Awanui scenes.
Since word got out about their plans long-time locals had been contacting them to offer old photos and stories of the area, Jackson said.
Areas at either end of the building had been split off and would be leased out for retail.
A shop at northern end of the complex is already up and running with Ngāti Kuri operating it as a café and swamp kauri souvenir shop while the tribe's Kā Uri store is being renovated.
Negotiations are underway with two potential tenants for a much larger retail space at the Kaitaia end of the complex.
Tired awnings along SH1 have been removed and the front of the building will be painted as soon as weather allows.
Work started last week on replacing the roof, starting with a building behind the hotel that used to be a wholesale outlet. That would be converted into offices and retail premises, Jackson said.
Further down the track the couples also planned to reopen the backpackers hostel and upgrade a 22-unit motel at the rear of the complex. The motel has been used as temporary housing in recent years though only two units are currently occupied.
''We'll be doing a major revamp to bring it up to standard, but we're going to do it properly. We're not going to rush it.''
Jackson was also looking forward to restoring the garden bar, an ideal venue for outdoor concerts.
''It'll be our summer playground, where you can relax with your kids and soak up the sun with friends. It probably hasn't been used in 30 years.''
The property also includes a pool, likewise in need of repair, and a block of pasture.
While it was a big project, each of the partners brought their own strengths and complemented the others.
With his day job as an auctioneer Jackson had ready access to materials and retro decor items, as well as contacts and labour; his wife, Tanja Jackson, a history buff, was focusing on the Jug Bar and its historical displays. Sharlene Wells had worked in HR in a large company while Abe Wells had the electrical and building skills.
All had worked overseas or in Auckland before coming back to the Far North to raise their families.
''We're locals and we're using locals in everything we do. We're pumping money into it and we're optimistic about the future of Awanui. It's a little forgotten place but it has so much history.''