Fire & Flood
The history of the Waikino Hotel is as winding as the road it sits beside. Raging fires, devastating floods and a game of hotel musical chairs make for a tale worth its weight in gold.
The First Hotel
Our story starts in on July 10th 1893, when the Thames Star reported that Mr. W. N. Stehr
“ Who for the past few months has been favourably associated with the Owharoa Hotel, has sold his interest to Mr. AW. S. Montgomery, a gentleman of much experience in this line.”
Mr Montgomery ( You’ll be seeing that name a lot ) applied for a publicans licence and settled in at Owharoa, advertising the “ civility, attention and good liquor “ of his hotel. Now you might be wondering why we’re talking about the Owharoa Hotel which was, unsurprisingly, in Owharoa. Well…
By January 23rd 1896 Mr. Mongomery had announced his intention to relocate! The Victoria Battery was growing and there were plenty of workers without accommodation. Montgomery transferred his publicans licence and tenders were taken to construct a new hotel. The new hotel would be built one mile due east, at the very site you’re standing on now, for the sum of 1290 pounds.
The New Owharoa Hotel - also known as the Montgomery Hotel, due to the publican’s name emblazoned on the front – opened in Waikino on June 2 1897. Described in the Ohinemuri Gazette as a “very fine, commodious and attractive structure” the new hotel boasted 12 bedrooms, 2 dining rooms, a sitting room and a parlour, as well as a 20 foot long bar to cater to serve the increasing number of thirsty miners.
The Montgomerys owned several hotels and businesses in the area. They were a wealthy and popular family, so much so that when Mr. Montgomery’s son Ralph was married Miss Sloane, he decided they had too many friends to write invitations for, and placed an open invitation in the Ohinemuri Gazette instead.
A year later Mr. Montgomery and his daughter departed for England to attend the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. Ralph was left in charge of the Montgomery Hotel.
But things didn’t go smoothly for Ralph. On May 5th 1906 a terrible blaze began in the hotel’s lamp room, spreading quickly through the billiard rooms and stables. With no local fire brigade the inferno devoured the hotel and several nearby shops before a hose could be extended over the river from the Victoria Battery. The flames carried a high price tag, Ralph Montgomery was terribly under insured, as were the hotel’s owners.
The Second Hotel
Now the Montgomery Hotel may have been gone, but the miners weren’t. With the Victoria Battery growing there was a desperate need for accommodation, and money to be made. Just four months later Ralph Montgomery announced that the 50 room Waitekauri Hotel would be moved to Waikino. The contents of the Waitekauri Hotel were auctioned off, it was dragged to its new home by bullock team and renamed as the first ‘Waikino Hotel’.
In February 1908 Ralph transferred his licence to a new publican – Herbert Florence Cameron. Mr. Cameron at some point handed the Licence over to a Mrs. E. Brown and the hotel stayed an immensely popular bar and boarding house until prohibition saw the sun go down on the former Waitekauri Hotel.
The Ohinemuri Council voted ‘dry’ in 1920. Unable to sell liquor, hotels became far less profitable and the Waikino Hotel was sold to an unnamed buyer. The Waihi Company, concerned about the disruption caused by evicted employees, attempted to purchase the hotel. They were unsuccessful.
A magnificent grand piano and a fireproof safe were listed among Hotel’s contents, which were auctioned off April 1920. The Waikino Hotel itself was demolished and its Kauri timber was taken to Hamilton for building cottages.
The Third Hotel
The once bustling site sat empty for six years before prohibition was lifted and a new hotel stood in Waikino.
The building you stand in now was originally the Mackaytown Hotel. Moved to Waikino in April 1926 the hotel was cut in two and towed on rollers by bullock team through the gorge. Mr John Rowe of Onehunga – The Hotel’s original builder – was called in to modernise, alter and extend the building to hold 22 rooms.
Aucklander William John Selwood applied for re-establishment of the Waikino Hotel publican’s licence. The licence was granted on July 8th 1926 and the new Waikino Hotel opened for business.
But Mr. Selwood would learn first-hand the trouble liquor could cause. On Saturday July 24 three young men entered the hotel bar and started drinking.
They returned after the public bar closed at 6pm, trying to buy more alcohol. Selwood said no.
The three men tried to rent rooms in hope of buying drinks in the guest bar. Selwood Said no.
Nonplussed the three men left, only to return later that night.
They kicked the hotels’ doors, swearing and yelling for Selwood to open up.
When he eventually did, thinking there might be a legitimate customer stuck outside with them, the men assaulted him badly. Local residents came to his aid, a doctor was called to tend to his injuries, and the three men were charged and fined.
The Waikino Hotel licence changed hands yet again in December 1927 when William Selwood transferred the publicans licence to a Mr. H. Hewitt. Hewitt seemed to have issues with the local law enforcement, or they had issues with him. He was charged with trading outside of liquor sale hours not once, but three times in the next three years. While he always had a good explanation the local magistrate wasn’t having a bar of it, stating
“They gave an explanation which, if accepted, would be a valid excuse; but I am not prepared to accept it.”
On June 2 1932 Hewitt transferred his licence to Frederick John King. This may have been a result of Hewitt’s after hours trading, but Mr. King fared no better. 12 months later he too was accused of unlawful trading. The charges against King were dropped, but the police did find evidence of previous illegal liquor sales and kept a close eye on him.
The King family returned to Auckland in March 1934. Two hundred people farewelled them with a grand party in the Victoria Hall, where Mr King presented the Waikino Cricket Club with a silver cup, to be played for annually by the clubs’ ‘gentlemen players’.
Publicans came and went, the ghost stories grew and so did Waikino. Little mention was made of the Waikino Hotel in newspapers until 1981. Torrential flooding hit our roadside town, destroying everything but the hotel (then the Waikino Tavern) and the Victoria Hall, which still stands today. While houses and businesses were washed downriver some tenacious locals kept drinking, moving the grog upstairs when floodwaters rose too high!
More publicans and owners passed through and by 2017 the Waikino Tavern was worse for wear. Flood damage, neglect and constant shaking from trucks thundering past had left the once proud hotel unstable and worn down.
Determined to save the hotel and restore it to the community hub it once was, owner Campbell McCulloch and publicans James and Jaimee Beck committed to a massive restoration project. Closing on July 16th 2017 the hotel underwent a nine month renovation to replace crumbling foundations, walls, wiring and plumbing. Like all historic buildings, the hotel had big surprises in store for the build team, pushing the restoration time out by months!
We think it was worth it. Now using its original name, the Waikino Hotel bar & kitchen is a favourite dining spot for locals, travelers and those heading out on the Hauraki Rail Trail, set to stand for another 120 years of history and tall tales.
Read All About it!
We've been around a long time. Here's the proof.