One of Whanganui's best-known tourist destinations has been sold after a long search for the right buyer.
Rory Smith has lived and worked at Tamara Riverside Lodge on Somme Pde for the best part of 26 years.
As experienced backpackers themselves, Smith and his Canadian wife Barbara Charuk reckoned they had the right stuff to run a lodge of their own in Whanganui.
"Our son Max was a baby when we walked into 24 Somme Parade in 1993 and walked straight out again.
"It was dingy and it stank of cigarette smoke."
At the time, the premises was a hostel for single men and had been a maternity home named Cambrai.
"We decided to go back for another look and it was then that we saw what it could be."
The spacious villa built in 1904 had plenty going for it, including river views and proximity to the central city.
They set to work renovating the property which now offers 14 bedrooms, a detached block of four units and a beautiful back garden with fruit trees and barbecue areas.
Smith met his wife when they were travelling in Italy and a couple of years backpacking together made them pretty certain they could get along.
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"Travelling together is such a good test for a relationship - you have to learn how to compromise and it is a make-or-break experience.
"Sometimes, when couples have arrived at Tamara, I could tell they were having a stressful time and it was important to let them know they had arrived at a safe place where they could relax for a while."
It is the kind of hospitality that has kept visitors coming back year after year.
Smith said there had been some memorable regulars.
"Photographer Ans Westra enjoyed her first stay at Tamara and came back several times.
"I remember that she had a fairly anxious assistant with her on one visit but he relaxed when he saw that she was comfortable staying with us."
Travelling artists, musicians and athletes have been among the regulars who have packed out Tamara each year.
'I remember bands like the Mint Chicks and Trinity Roots staying when they played here.
"We had regulars coming each year for Vintage Weekend and every second year for the Masters' Games.
"There have been some excellent friendships made and we would look forward to seeing the regulars and hearing what kind year they'd had."
Then there were the memorable one-time guests like the man who had been the victim of a shark attack in the Chatham Islands.
"He had the most incredible scars that made me wonder how he was still alive yet he'd come to Whanganui especially to visit a mate who was in hospital here."
Travellers make for great company, Smith says.
"You meet people when they are at their best and it makes you want to be at the top of your game in terms of service provision."
Former MP John Tamihere visited Tamara after the 2004 floods and was photographed with Smith and Whanganui MP of the day Jill Pettis on the upstairs balcony.
While the visitors flocked in, Smith and Charuk were busy raising Max and his younger brother Barnaby, who was born at Tamara.
There has never been any question of leaving Whanganui or moving to Canada, Smith says.
"Barb has always felt at home here.
"When we met, she told me that she'd had a dream about living in New Zealand when she was 12."
And what has it been like living and working in the same place for so long?
"It's been a wonderful ride and we weren't tired of it either," Smith says.
"We wanted to sell Tamara while we still enjoyed it but could happily pass it on."
"For 26 years, apart from a few breaks away, I've started work at 7am and the day would not end until around 10pm but I still had time for other things because there's a lot you can do in the middle of the day.
"I am grateful to the wonderful staff we have had working for us over the years as well."
Smith has served on a number of boards and committees, coached rugby and run his Whanganui River Road Tours business.
"Before we bought Tamara, I was a wool classer and worked for the NZ Wool Board.
"It was a great job in many ways but I damaged my back."
The risks involved in running a business with an unpredictable income never bothered him he says.
"I think a lot of people are just too risk-averse.
"You have to trust your instincts and go with them and if a project fails, you can try something else."
Although born in the Wairarapa, Smith is committed to Whanganui and promoting its attractions.
He continues to serve on the Chamber of Commerce and Vintage Weekend boards and has stood for election to the Whanganui District Council several times but says he won't stand this year.
"I'd like to see some real go-getters elected because I think the current council is complacent about our tourist numbers.
"Yes, there has been an increase in visitor numbers but it's a modest increase and we could do a lot better.
"The community needs to hold Whanganui and Partners to account because they are falling short in developing our social and economic wellbeing."
The sale of Tamara does not spell the end of hosting Whanganui visitors for Smith.
He and Charuk have purchased a property just two doors away and plan to offer guest accommodation on a smaller scale there.
The modern house on the corner of Somme Pde and Ingestre St was built not long after they purchased Tamara.
"We watched the place go up and, because I love old villas, I thought it was pretty ugly."
Now he appreciates the comfort of the interior which has upstairs living areas that provide the same views he's enjoyed for years.
"I'm going to develop the downstairs areas into studio apartments for guest accommodation."
He is proud of the business he and Charuk established and proud of Max, who is living in London, and Barnaby, an industrial designer working at Pacific Helmets in Whanganui.
"They are a bit sad about Tamara being sold but they have a lot of good memories."
A number of those memories include Spud - the charming terrier who befriended many Tamara guests over the years.
Spud succumbed to old age earlier this year and his ashes are waiting in a wooden box for Max's next visit home when they will be interred.
Tamara's new owner is Trish Tamarapa, who will introduce herself to the Whanganui community in due course.