A former nunnery, a prison and a castle make up this collection of New Zealand's golden oldies writes Bridget Jones

When it comes to taking a break from life, there is travelling - and then there is time travelling. On your next short break, escape your day-to-day with a look back into New Zealand's rich past and a stay in a historical hotel, because there are plenty of accommodation options all around the country where you can get a sense of history, as well as enjoy a getaway from home.

Chateau Tongariro, Mt Ruapehu

She's the grande dame of New Zealand hotels, nestled between the peaks of Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, in the fourth oldest national park in the world. Chateau Tongariro has maintained a colourful history since opening its doors in 1929, including time as an asylum, a haven for air force personnel returning from World War II, hosting royalty and US presidents, and of course, maintaining the crown as perhaps New Zealand's most recognisable hotel. Full of 1920s and 30s glamour (and maybe a friendly wee ghost or two), it is a glorious reminder of the past, while being just a stone's throw from ski fields, hiking routes, fishing and there's even a nine-hole golf course on site.

Convent Hotel, Auckland

One of Auckland's most unusual historical hotels is so new it hasn't opened yet. Once a community for nuns, the Convent Hotel in Grey Lynn is set to reopen its doors on August 31 as a crafted boutique hotel, with 22 character-filled rooms. The building, which has Spanish mission-style architecture, lets the ornate ceilings, stucco arches, vast windows and history do most of the talking - while offering all the modern, stylish conveniences you could hope for.


The Factory, Kaikōura

As the name suggests, this is the chance to rest your head in the historic Hāpuku dairy factory. Well, in a separate wing full of luxury lodgings you might not expect from such an industrial shell. When you stay here - and it will just be you, with only one party of up to six people booked at a time - dramatic views of mountains will be on one side of you, while the ocean is on the other. Choose between a self-catered stay or the bed and breakfast option, before exploring Hāpuku Beach and making friends with the seals, dolphins, and birds.

Check out any time you like from this former prison: The Jailhouse, Christchurch. Photo / Francesco Piasentin; flickr
Check out any time you like from this former prison: The Jailhouse, Christchurch. Photo / Francesco Piasentin; flickr

Jailhouse Accommodation, Christchurch

People have called this place "home" for 140 years, but these days people line up to stay in this former correctional facility. Built from (very secure) 60cm concrete blocks in 1874, it went on to be used as a jail, women's prison and even a military camp. The prison was closed in 1999 and lay empty until early 2006 when the building was renovated, reopening as a now-award-winning budget backpacker hostel. Things have certainly got a bit cosier, but the bones of the old jail are there for a unique effect.

For Ol' Lang Syne: Dunedin's Larnach Castle on the Otago Peninsula. Photo / File
For Ol' Lang Syne: Dunedin's Larnach Castle on the Otago Peninsula. Photo / File

Larnach Castle, Dunedin

Imagine yourself as royalty at New Zealand's only castle, which was built in 1871 as a declaration of love to the lucky Mrs Larnach. Although you can't stay in the castle itself, Larnach Lodge sits within the grounds and was designed as a re-creation of a colonial farm building, complete with themed rooms (think "goldrush", "Victorian" and "enchanted forest") and stunning views across the peninsula. If you fancy something a little more "of-the-times", the Stable rooms are located inside a 140-year-old Category 1 listed historic building. Better suited to a more budget-conscious traveller (shared bathrooms, etc) a cooked breakfast is nevertheless included - and you get to explore the castle and surrounding grounds. BYO crown.

Princes Gate, Rotorua

Despite being one of Rotorua's great markers of history, this stunning 19th-century building began life 150km away. Built (originally) in Waihi in 1897, the future tourist hotspot of Rotorua was seen as a better location for the stunning kauri building and in 1917 the hotel was dismantled, nail by nail and board by board, and moved by rail to Rotorua, where it was reassembled, renamed and re-opened in 1921. Now, almost 100 years later, Princes Gate has all the modern amenities and luxury you would expect (including two dining venues and thermal pools), while maintaining the pleasures of a beautiful old house.

A timeless stay in the Cardrona Hotel. Photo / Mark MItchell
A timeless stay in the Cardrona Hotel. Photo / Mark MItchell

Cardrona Hotel, Central Otago

It doesn't get more iconic than this. The Cardrona Hotel, sitting between Queenstown and Wānaka is rumoured to be the most photographed building in New Zealand. True? Maybe, but what is certain is, since starting business in 1863, it remains one of only two remaining buildings from the Cardrona Valley gold-rush era. Beyond the beer garden and restaurant, the Cardrona Hotel offers a selection of room types that balance history with comfort - all within spitting distance of Central Otago's natural playground.

The Duke of Marlborough in Russell is proud of its past. Photo / File
The Duke of Marlborough in Russell is proud of its past. Photo / File

The Duke of Marlborough, Russell

The original Duke began its colourful life in 1827 as Johnny Johnston's Grog Shop, run by ex-con Johnny Johnston (who apparently helped translate the Treaty of Waitangi to te reo). Johnny soon renamed his fine establishment after the world's richest man and managed to snag New Zealand's first liquor licence in 1840 - it still hangs behind the bar, underneath the hotel. There have been numerous fires and subsequent rebuilds of the pub and hotel, but the Duke remains, standing proud on the shores of Russell, complete with light, bright waterfront accommodation overlooking the bay, some with direct access to a wonderful shared deck where you can sit and soak up the views and start exploring the Bay of Islands.

Wains Hotel, Dunedin

One of the great southern city's oldest, the Wains Hotel is currently having a major spruce up, giving it a modern lease on life - and making it Dunedin's only five-star hotel. With 50 rooms, it is a heritage-listed building dating back to the height of the Otago gold rush. Outside, the hallmark is an impressive Victoria facade, complete with carved figures of Bacchus, Neptune, and mermaids perched on ornate arches, that was apparently so grand it was soon famous in Australia. Inside, the new-look hotel maintains a rich sense of warmth and boutique character paying homage to Dunedin's history, right in the heart of the city.

Looking Glass Cottage, Nelson

In Nelson, you can, quite literally, step back in time, along New Zealand's oldest fully preserved street. A picture of Victorian times, South St began in the 1860s and although these days the cottage interiors can be modernised, any exterior work has to be kept in line with the character of the street. Visitors can stay in the enchanting Looking Glass Cottage, a two-bedroom home with all the mod-cons, but a bucketload of quaint historic charm.

Kings Lodge in Okahune is a classic ski hotel. Photo / Supplied
Kings Lodge in Okahune is a classic ski hotel. Photo / Supplied

Kings Hotel, Ohakune

Welcome to the oldest hotel in the central North Island. Established in 1913, the hotel was built in a spot that took prime advantage of some stunning views of Mt Ruapehu. These days, it has added its own bar and restaurant to the mix and offers a variety of accommodation options in the grand building, including single, twin queen and triple rooms, and a private apartment that sleeps nine, perfect for that group ski trip.

The Left Bank Hotel, Kaikohe

Originally a Bank of New Zealand building built in 1910, Left Bank is now a boutique hotel in Kaikohe truly embracing what it means to be a heritage-listed building. What was once the main bank has been turned into a restaurant, complete with original arched top windows, polished matai floors and ornate ceiling. Upstairs, the former bank manager's residence has been transformed into five boutique rooms, updated with modern en suite bathrooms, but furnished in keeping with the era of the building. Left Bank makes for an excellent base for cycling the Twin Coast Cycle Trail as the trail is downhill in both directions from Kaikohe.

Art Deco Masonic Hotel, Napier

As our Art Deco capital, you'd expect Napier to come through on the historic hotel front. At the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, you'll find a colourful history - and a building that doesn't shy away from embracing all the extravagance that comes with the era. The first Masonic Hotel was opened in 1861 but almost 40 years later was destroyed by fire - for the first time. Rebuilt, it was razed again in the 1931 Napier earthquake - again by fire, rather than the quake itself. A year later, the Art Deco Masonic rose from the ashes in all its Deco glory, and externally, little has changed in the almost 90 years since. But inside, the hotel has undergone an extensive refurbishment, transforming the 43 rooms into a stylish display of character and colour, with all the conveniences a modern hotel needs.
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