Hoping to keep their tavern
“A rural settlement where a quaint tavern overlooks a high-country valley dotted with several lakes,” is how a tourism website describes Tiniroto and its tavern. But now the tavern is up for sale many locals don’t want it to lose its place, not just as a public hotel, but a community hub. Mark Peters has a chat with a lifetime local . . .
A raupo whare at the bend in the road above the Hangaroa River was Tiniroto’s first hotel. Originally built at a site known as Bar 20, the hotel passed through several iterations and locations until 1925 when the hotel known now as the Tiniroto Tavern was built.
When the tavern’s operator decided not to continue in the role, the building’s owners Robbie and Teresa Dale — who bought the tavern and its chattels little more than two years ago — chose not to seek a new operator but to put the property on the market.
The building’s future will be decided by its new owner once it is sold, but many in the community see the tavern as much more than a public hotel and want it to continue.
Among them is tavern regular Greg Law.
“It’s absolutely a community hub,” he says.
“It is our post office as well. The Gisborne Herald drops off the mailbags and newspapers for lots of Tiniroto residents.
“Obviously you’d have a couple of beers and chat while you were there.”
Greg has a long connection with Tiniroto and its tavern. He has lived in Tiniroto all his life, is a third-generation farmer of Law land and his great-grandfather used to run the hotel.
“The road through here used to be the
main road. I think stage coaches used to come this way.
“The building was a proper hotel for wayfarers.”
After the raupo whare at Bar 20, the next incarnation of the Tiniroto hotel is thought to have been a timber building that was relocated in 1884 from Pohaturoa to Tiniroto. Proprietors in the early years were Corrigan McMurray, Arundel and then JS Cooper, who were there at the time of the 1886 Tarawera eruption.
Situated on meandering scenic routeThis hotel burned down in 1898.
A new hotel was built on a site below where the Tiniroto Tavern now stands, and was used as a stop-over for coaches between Waerenga-o-Kuri and Marumaru.
Lanterns or candles close to the curtains are believed to have caused the fire that burned down the hotel in 1923.
The Lake Hotel was built in 1925 and later became known as the Tiniroto Tavern.
Fridays were always the tavern’s big nights, says Greg.
“You would have these discussion groups where fencers or shearers and their managers would hold a bit of a forum. The tavern was a level playing field.
“When Shane Cameron went to the Commonwealth Games in 2002 the Tiniroto community ran a fundraiser that was centred around the tavern. The funds were presented to him there.”
Stagecoaches might have faded into the lake-mist of time but from its elevated site, the tavern still sees plenty of visitors rolling up the road.
“In recent years a lot of campervans have stopped there,” says Greg.
“We get a hell of a lot of these visitors dropping in for coffee there. It’s a midway point between Gisborne and Wairoa. A lot of motorbikers do a round trip. They follow the main road past Morere then loop and come back down the inland road. It’s not uncommon to see 30 to 40 motorbikes parked out front of the tavern.
“Even in winter you get a lot of tourists.
“Shearing gangs come through, so a lot of shearers call in there too.”
In 2017 the tavern posted on Facebook an encounter with a Cambridge couple.
“The gentleman was 93 and his wonderful wife 88. They felt like a drive and headed out in their campervan all the way to Tiniroto. Tea for two 400km from home. The gentleman opened the door for his wife, and they waved goodbye as they headed out.
“It was a privilege and a true example of love, can-do and you are never too old to do anything you want.”
The inland route is more isolated than State Highway 2, and follows a sealed but narrow, winding road through hill country.
On the way are attractions such as Doneraille Park, a sheltered river valley and a Gisborne District Council reserve that offers summer camping beside the Hangaroa River.
The meeting of the Hangaroa and Ruakituri rivers cascades 35 metres over a waterfall and then funnels through a chasm to a small lake below.
These are the Te Reinga Falls, another attraction for visitors who choose to take a meandering, scenic route that includes the tavern for refreshments.
The rural way of life means the tavern has a strong community function, including its role as the township’s civil defence emergency centre.
“We had a really heavy snow event happen a few years ago and the road through the Whareratas was closed,” says Greg.
Several drivers took their chances on the Tiniroto Road though.
“People tried to get over the Tiniroto hill above the tavern and most got stuck in the snow, or decided it was too dangerous, turned around and parked up at the tavern. We had about 30 odd people who in the dark of night had nowhere to go.”
The tavern and farm-stay cottages put them up for the night and fed them dinner and breakfast.
“The floor at the tavern had mattresses and blankets everywhere, with the fire blazing — it was quite a sight.”
The Tiniroto Tavern used to cater for day-to-day needs as well. If locals ran out of milk, bread or other basics they could pop down to the tavern for supplies. It also provided fish and chips once a week for Tiniroto School children.
“The school would ring with orders in the morning and the school lunch monitor would go down and pick them up just before lunch.”
The tavern was also the base for the Mahia hunt, which is held twice a year. People rode out from the tavern, then after the hunt returned to it for breakfast.
“Even if the pub closes, the hunt will continue,” says Greg.
“We’ll miss it but we still might get it back again.
“Fingers crossed someone will buy it and make it permanent.”