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Historical ‘freaks of nature’ museum pub placed on the market for sale

The land, building and business housing an historic country pub once nationally famous for its museum-like collection of mutant animals - including a two-headed calf, a four-legged chicken, and a pukeko whose plumage replicated the colours of the New Zealand flag – has been placed on the market for sale.

The heritage-rich Kaihu Tavern at Kaihu some 32-kilometres north of Dargaville in Northland sits directly adjacent to State Highway 12 which links Dargaville with the Waipoua Forest – home to the iconic Tane Mahuta kauri tree.

The Kaihu Tavern traces its roots back to the late-1800s in New Zealand’s colonial era when the surrounding countryside was being harvested for its bountiful natural resources of kauri forest and buried kauri gum. During the heyday era for Kaihu, long freight trains would daily transport kauri logs from the region down to Dargaville where they were processed.

Originally known as the Opanaki Hotel, the Kaihu Tavern has a Category 2 Historic Place classification on New Zealand’s Register of Historic Places. The back half of the hotel was previously a small lodge sitting atop nearby Kaihu Hill, and was moved onto its current location when the front two-storey portion of the structure was subsequently added.

The hotel’s popularity waned in parallel to the decline in kauri logging in the lead up to World War One, but the venue found a second wind of life with the opening of the Waipoua Road in 1928, which is now State Highway 12.

Like all classic Kiwi country pubs, the Kaihu Tavern is steeped in legendary tales – dating right back to the pub’s earliest days in the late-1890s. Such as when Prime Minister of New Zealand, Richard ‘King Dick’ Seddon was scheduled to officially open the nearby northern rail line, but failed to turn up – much to the dismay of scores of locals who had journeyed for many hours to witness the formal occasion.

The train line was instead opened by an inebriated Northern Wairoa local who was transported out of the Kaihu Tavern’s predecessor in a wooden wheelbarrow and officially cut the ceremonial ribbon with a pair of borrowed hedge clippers.

The Kaihu Tavern’s most famous landlord, jack-of-all trades Albert Docherty, bought the hostelry in 1916. While simultaneously avoiding the tax-man for four consecutive years – eventually leading to a court appearance and fines – Docherty established the Kaihu Tavern as a museum-like showpiece of rural New Zealand flora, fauna, and cultural curios, all of which were showpiece mounted and hung throughout the pub.

Pride of place in Albert Docherty’s taxidermy menagerie displayed around the pub were a two-headed calf, a four-legged chicken, a pukeko whose plumage replicated the colours of the New Zealand flag and a substantial ball of hair from a cow’s stomach.

The Kaihu Tavern’s bizarre animal-world curios sat alongside Albert Docherty’s extensive collection of kauri gum and Maori weapons such as clubs and spears. Other more mainstream wildlife exhibits adorning the Kaihu Tavern’s public bar walls included several deer heads, mounted trout, and boars’ tusks. A near 100-year-old black and white photograph of Docherty’s bar festooned with its weird exhibits currently sits above the current service counter.

The Kaihu Tavern’s famous collection went from public display when Albert Docherty sold the business in 1951 after some 35-years as its owner. The menagerie of former bar displays are now believed to be scattered throughout New Zealand – held in various private collections and other country pubs.

The pub’s various rooms and lounge spaces are now adorned with a gallery-like display of black and white original photographs and prints showcasing not only the Kaihu Tavern dating back to its earliest days as the Opanaki Hotel, but also illustrating the area’s productive kauri-milling, livestock, and pioneering farming cultural legacies.

Sitting on a 4,816-square metre rurally-zoned site, the Kaihu Hotel freehold land, buildings and going concern hospitality business are now being marketed for sale for offers over $600,000 through Bayleys Dargaville.

Salesperson Lisa Pocklington said the hotel’s current owners, Grant and Raewyn Wikaira had lovingly restored the 620-square metre hotel building during their near 13-year tenure behind the bar, and were now ready to pass the mantle onto new owners to take the historic watering hole to new heights.

Included in the restoration work has been the addition of two ‘secret’ doorways known only to locals, exposing portions of the hotel’s original wood panelling, and creating a stylish art deco space for customers wanting period elegance decore surrounds.

“While Grant and Raewyn have turned the hotel into a warm and inviting location for tourists, families, and locals, they have left plenty of opportunity for any new owners to take the ‘grand old lady of Kaihu’ to new levels,” Ms Pocklington said.

“Among the business prospects they have identified is the creation of a motor-home park on flat car parking land to one side of the hotel, and the creation of an upmarket ‘glamping’ camp site to the rear of the premises on the flat block which was once the hotel’s tennis court but which has subsequently reverted to grassed pasture.

“Much of the necessary infrastructure for either of these enterprises is already in place – with underground electrical supply running to the boundary of the property, and a currently unused room in the main building plumbed up for waste water drainage to sustain a self-contained shower and bathroom unit.

“The ’glamping’ option of say a Mongolian yurt tent would be a direct nod to Kaihu’s rugged pioneering founders who spent years under canvas while they logged kauri or dug for gum. That sort of uber-comfort camping could be a real tourist attraction for the hotel – which of course would derive income from not only the accommodation offering, but also from the service of food and beverages to overnight guests as it is the only place for miles to have dinner.”

The Kaihu Tavern also generates revenue from its off licence bottle shop, and from a stand-alone purpose-built laundromat facility adjacent to the main hotel building - consisting of a coin-operated washing machine and gas-powered dryer unit. The laundromat is hugely popular with locals – with most residential dwellings in the district plumbed on tank-water supplies, while the Kaihu Tavern however draws its water from a fresh water spring.

“It’s also given a lot of blokes the perfect reason to pop down to the local during the evening on the premise of dropping off the washing, and catching up with their mates at the same time over a beer,” Ms Pocklington said.

“The hotel currently opens evenings seven days a week. Utilising the existing food and beverage service amenities, there is the potential to develop a café trade during the morning and lunchtime periods serving coffees and muffins or panini – pandering not only to customers utilising the laundromat and finding themselves with an hour to kill, but also creating a stopping point for the passing tourist trade driving between the Hokianga to the north and State Highway One to the south.”

In addition to its two owner/operators, the business employs two part-time staff on Friday and Saturday evenings. One of the staff members has been with the business for more than a decade.

Ms Pocklington said the Kaihu Tavern’s interior layout consisted of the main bar with a multitude of leaners and stool seating, three smaller lounge rooms, and a large al-fresco outdoor area leading onto the lawn. Traditional short-order ‘country pub grub’ food and beverage such as steaks, chicken, fish and chips, and hamburgers were served nightly in all areas from the commercial-grade kitchen with its combi’ oven, gas hob burners and deep fryer. The kitchen equipment also included multiple stand-alone ‘fridge and freezer units, and a commercial-grade dish washer.

The upper floor of the Kaihu Tavern consists of a four-bedroom/one-and-a-half bathroom owners/manager’s residence accessed by an internal stairwell. Ms Pocklington said that like many small country hotels throughout New Zealand, the Kaihu Tavern had evolved from serving just the rural local clientele, into catering for a much broader demographic drawn in by its ambience.

“Over the past couple of decades, New Zealand’s heritage-rich colonial pubs have become tourist destinations in their own right – from the Duke of Marlborough in Russell, the Puhoi Tavern and the Riverhead Tavern both just north of Auckland, through to the Theatre Royal in Kumara and the Blackball Hilton on the West Coast of the South Island, and of course the iconic Cardrona Hotel midway between Wanaka and Queenstown,” she said.

“The Kaihu Tavern is ready to join their ranks. It just requires the right marketing approach and desire to take on the baton from Grant and Raewyn.”

Ms Pocklington said the hotel’s immediate local population catchment area included five marae – which combined to ensure a steady and regular flow of guest numbers visiting the hotel after attending funerals and weddings.

Demonstrating the Kaihu Tavern’s cornerstone involvement to the community, an old photo from the early 1960s portraying a large group of hunters and their sons posing outside the hotel proudly showing off a good day’s duck and pheasant shooting, and now hung on a wall in the main bar, features Ms Pocklington’s father as a young lad.

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