From post offices to shepherd's huts, Jessica Wynne Lockhart finds a wealth of historic places where you can rest your head.
As international borders slowly begin to reopen, travellers worldwide are facing the reality that the way we used to travel will never be the same. This isn't new. The standards of travel have always been changing and evolving. After all, when was the last time you saw silverware in Economy Class?
That doesn't mean that it's not possible to revel in what it was like to explore the world 10 or even 100 years ago. New Zealand's best historic hotels can evoke a distinct sense of time and place, all without sacrificing the modern amenities we've come to expect from great accommodation.
Here are just 13 of the best historic inns, bed and breakfast and hotels you'll find across the country.
1. The Heritage Hotel Christchurch
Christchurch was once renowned the world over for its beautifully preserved core. That changed with the 2011 earthquake and today, much of the CBD is all things shiny and new. Juxtaposed against all the gleaming steel and glass is the Heritage Hotel, a stately reminder of what the city once looked like — and how far it's come.
Just a stone's throw from the new earthquake-proof Tūranga library and the soon-to-open Te Pae Convention Centre, the circa-1913 building emerged from the disaster relatively unscathed. Now, it continues to welcome guests into its one, two and three-bedroom fully self-contained suites, starting from $187.
2. Theatre Royal Hotel
If the walls of Kumara's Theatre Royal Hotel could talk, you might ask them to quieten down. With a history of all things bawdy and bold, the inn was built at the beginning of the gold rush to host events running the gamut from confirmations, to "dancing girls" (whose performances weren't just limited to dancing).
Despite its location on the notoriously wet West Coast, the Theatre Royal's fully refurbished interior means that you'll stay toasty and dry. Supposing you do feel a draught, it's safe to assume it's a ghost. Rooms start from $145, but the brave and budget-conscious can opt to stay across the street at the former undertaker's for just $30 a night.
3. The Last Church in Āpiti
When Kiwis Jemma and Alexander Robertson decided to leave the US and buy their first home in NZ, they couldn't have predicted that they'd find it in a rural village church in northern Manawatū. Over the last two years, they've fully renovated the property and now welcome guests to stay in the Sunday School — which features two bedrooms, a large wood-burning fireplace, a piano and plenty of quirky op shop finds — for $140 a night.
Visitors also have access to the church and its original wooden pews, but if you fancy worshipping celestial bodies of another sort, a soak in the outdoor cast iron bath is the prime spot for stargazing.
4. Rutland Arms Hotel
Dating back to 1849, the Rutland Arms is one of the only city hotels in Whanganui to remain on its original site. While this may not seem particularly notable, consider this: In its 150-year history, it's been damaged by earthquakes, destroyed by fire no less than four times, and even narrowly escaped demolition in 1993.
You can pay your respects to this grand old dame by checking into one of her standard studios ($170), deluxe studio ($185) or twin studio suites ($195). Thought to have been originally built to cater to thirsty soldiers, today you'll also find an impressive range of craft beers and gins at the pub downstairs.
5. Te Anau Lodge
Te Anau Lodge is one of the many inns across the country housed in a converted convent. Only a 15-minute walk from the Te Anau township, the 1936 Sisters of Mercy Convent (rooms from $225) has been lovingly restored to highlight the architectural features of its era, including rimu battening and polished timber floors.
What sets it apart, though, is that the main convent isn't the only historic accommodation on the property. Guests can also opt to overnight in the 1912 Fiordland Carriage ($275 including breakfast) from the Taieri Gorge Railway in Dunedin. It's full of charm and character, complete with a clawfoot tub positioned in the middle of the carriage.
6. Ōwhango Old Post Office Lodge
One of the newest accommodation options in the Ruapehu region is also one of the oldest. This century-old seven-bedroom lodge near National Park Village was completely transformed this year with a Great Gatsby-inspired renovation. Now heavy on the jewel tones and velvet textures, it features two fully equipped kitchens, an outdoor fire pit, a hot tub spa pool and a traditional Finnish sauna cabin.
Perfect for your next overnight murder mystery party, the Old Post Office Lodge accommodates up to 18 guests and can be booked by room ($75), wing (starting from $125) or exclusively for the night (starting from $500).
7. Corbett House
What's in a name? Nearly 100 years of history. Since 1925, the Corbett family has been welcoming visitors to their Arts and Crafts-style heritage home (known locally as "The Big House") north of Paeroa.
A popular wedding venue, the two-level home has three character rooms (starting from $200, including breakfast), a cedar hot tub, a swimming pool and a full-size billiards table. Not getting married? Even if you're flying solo, you'll still feel giddy with bliss when you come downstairs and see the breakfast spread, which includes buttermilk pancakes and freshly baked croissants.
8. The Clarence Hotel
Notable for its distinctive architectural design and town clock, this 1905 building houses two of Tauranga's best restaurants: the Italian-inspired Bar Centrale, and the splurge-worthy Clarence Bistro. The good news is that once you're stuffed to capacity, you only need to wander upstairs to the Clarence Hotel to loosen your belt.
Once the city's main post office, the rooms have been decked out in Art Deco furnishings (think marbled bathrooms, colourful wallpaper and chrome accents throughout), resulting in a historic stay with a cosmopolitan edge. Rooms start around $240.
9. The Stables
Whoa Nelly! If you're after a historic hotel, it may be hard to rein in all your desires in Dunedin, where there are countless refurbished inns on offer. Not sure where to place your bets? Our insiders' tip is to put your money on the Stables.
Used to house racehorses owned by Scottish businessman Sir George McLean in the early 1870s (you can find his portrait in the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum), this hotel has seven studios and apartments ($150 to $225). Exposed bluestone and brickwork showcase The Stables' origins, but the underfloor heating, keyless entry and smart TVs are decidedly modern.
10. Olivers Lodge & Stables
For those looking to be transported back in time, a trip to the village of Clyde in Central Otago is a must. The perfectly preserved gold mining town has managed to pack several museums, eateries, art galleries and boutiques into its few tiny streets. It's also where you'll find the traditional schist stone exterior of Olivers, one of Otago's most significant heritage residences.
Originally built in 1869 by a merchant, it's since been restored into boutique 11-room accommodation, complete with a restaurant and craft brewery. If this is the starting point for an adventure along the Otago Central Rail Trail, make sure to stop by Olivers' delicatessen and bakery for cycling supplies.
11. Lake Hawea Station
Earlier this year, Lake Hawea Station was named New Zealand's first certified carbon-zero farm, but owners Geoff and Justine Ross's ambitions don't stop there. They'd like the 6505-hectare high-country farm near Wānaka to become 10X carbon positive. It may sound new and progressive, but the station's roots are deeply historic, which is made evident by a stay in one of the two shepherds' huts on-site ($400 to $600 per night). They seamlessly blend modernity (such as the crisp white kitchens with deep farmhouse sinks) with a sense of time and place (some of the walls feature notes and mustering times written by shepherds dating back to 1941).
Backcountry 4WD experiences and e-biking are on offer, or you can sit back and relax in the hot tub and enjoy the uninterrupted views of Lake Hawea.
12. Hulbert House
Just a short walk from Queenstown's restaurants and activities, this six-room luxury inn boasts several awards, including TripAdvisor's 2020 Traveller's Choice Award.
Each room in the restored Victorian villa is individually decorated and named for a prominent individual from the property's 150-year history, such as the Boult Suite (named for Philip Burbage Boult, who was granted the land in 1876). Each, however, shares opulent features such as antique furniture and ceramics; colourful drapery and custom-milled carpet; and plush king-sized beds.
13. South Street Cottages
The construction of wooden cottages along Nelson's South St (then known as "Town Acre 456") began as far back as the 1860s. Today, many of these cottages remain, making this New Zealand's oldest fully preserved Victorian heritage street. The cottages are privately owned, but a handful (including Harriet's Cottage and the Looking Glass Cottage) are available for hire on Airbnb or Booking.com.
However, if you plan to stay the night, be prepared to make passers-by jealous. Pre-pandemic, it was estimated that up to 200 people took a trip down this memory lane daily.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz