There are an estimated 10,000 places to eat in New Zealand. A surprisingly impressive number of these places have the added bonus of telling a tale, being a part of New Zealand’s history by virtue of their location or age.

Built on whalebone foundations in 1847, The Gables in Russell in the Bay of Islands, is New Zealand’s oldest operating restaurant. At the time it was opened the area was known as “The Hell Hole of the Pacific”. Before converting to a restaurant, The Gables was a brothel, a shop, bakehouse, and Salvation Army Boys’ Home. With kauri panelling, open fires, original maps, prints and early photographs, it is now listed as a heritage building. I have eaten there and noted the atmosphere was heavy with its colourful history. It had an almost serene feel which I put down to the inherent sophistication created by that very history.

Just a few steps along the street from the Gables, the Duke of Marlborough Hotel began its life in 1827 as “Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop,” It was renamed Duke of Marlborough and gained its first licence in 1840 after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The current building began life in 1875 as accommodation for telegraph workers in Cable Bay, and was shifted to Russell in 1932.


Built in 1851 by Edward Constable, the Kentish Hotel in Waiuku, a small town close to the Manukau Harbour, lays claim to being New Zealand’s oldest licensed pub. Its licence was granted on 10th January1853 and that same licence continues today making it the longest continuous operating liquor licence in New Zealand. The hotel has hosted influential men from early NZ history such as the Māori King, Sir George Grey, Richard Seddon, Sir Joseph Ward and William Massey. The Hotel became an early Auckland icon thanks to advertising on the front page of the New Zealander, the most popular newspaper of the period. Travellers began recommending the establishment and it grew to be immensely popular. Located on a major trading route between Auckland and the fertile lands of the Waikato, the Kentish Hotel thrived. It even managed to survive through the Maori Wars of 1862-1863. In 1926, the hotel nearly burned down when a fire destroyed a block of wooden buildings opposite. As the wind fanned the flames desperate volunteers poured water and hung wet sheets over the facade saving most of the building from significant damage.

Confusingly, the Moutere Inn near Nelson claims to be the oldest pub in New Zealand. This is because it is still operating from its original 1850 building, which hasn’t changed much since it was first built. It’s recognized today for its 13 varieties of craft beers with all wines sourced from within 10km of the inn. It was built by Cordt Bensemann, an early settler from Germany and is part of the Moutere Artisans’ Trail that was set up to sell the work of local artists as well as offering the culinary delights of the area.


Established in 1851 by French missionaries, Mission Estate is New Zealand’s oldest winery. It has survived everything from floods to earthquakes. The building is the original but it actually moved sites when it was realised that the ground was liable to periodic flooding. In 1909 it was physically cut into eleven sections, rolled on logs and pulled by traction engines to its current Taradale site. The winery is widely known as a unique concert venue. Over the years, Sting, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Ronan Keating, Barry Gibb, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Lionel Richie among others, have all performed at this Hawkes Bay venue making it an important part of the area’s arts calendar.


Because Otago has a major role in early European New Zealand history, it stands to reason that there are more historic eateries in this province than in any other in the country.

The Cardrona Hotel is one of only two remaining buildings from the gold rush era in the Cardrona Valley. Located on the Crown Range between Queenstown and Wanaka, it opened for business in 1863 and, along with the Dunedin Railway Station, is one of New Zealand’s most photographed buildings. I have written in detail about this lovely old building in an earlier blog recalling my experience of visiting it on a number of occasions. In summer, the heat of the day amplifies the sweetness in the air which is unique to this part of Central Otago. I have also stopped there on cold winter days when snow covering the ground, gave the building a story book appearance. The restaurant at this hotel was Supreme Winner of the Excellence Awards in 2018. It is noted, like many restaurants in historic Central Otago buildings, for serving the best of local produce, often created by experienced overseas chefs.

Cardrona Hotel (cardronahotel.co.nz)

Merchant Benjamin Naylor opened the Victoria Store in Clyde in 1869 and is now recognised as one of Otago’s most significant heritage buildings. It has a New Zealand Historic Places Trust category one classification. Naylor opened his store to provide provisions to the many miners who flocked to the nearby goldfield. The Victoria Store is now Olivers Restaurant and the Victoria Store Brewery. The property passed through the hands of several owners but it was Fleur Sullivan who launched it into national prominence in 1977 when she opened a highly successful restaurant in the historic store naming it Olivers. A prominent business and tourism identity, Fleur had earlier restored the old Dunstan Hotel in Clyde’s main street, and re-opened it as Dunstan House. She also created Olivers Lodge accommodation in the existing outbuildings and homestead and is credited with revitalising boutique tourism in the area. I have dined at Olivers on many occasions when Fleur was running the place. It was always full and I fondly remember the unique atmosphere of this special restaurant. Although Fleur moved on to open a restaurant in Oamaru and an internationally renowned seafood restaurant in the seaside town of Moeraki, Olivers remains popular for its fine dining at night as well as daytime cafe-bakery-delicatessen foods.

The Royal Hotel in Naseby was built in October 1863 but was wrecked in a storm two years later and was rebuilt and reopened in 1865. The building is a perfect example of nineteenth century colonial hotel architecture where accommodation was an essential part of business in small goldfields towns. The restored false front is typical of goldfields architecture which presented a respectable front to hide the temporary structures behind. The Royal Hotel represents the importance of hotels in small isolated gold mining communities, and is still used for the same purpose today. Today, guests are reminded of the building’s colourful history by the gallery of historic photographs on the walls around them.


Dunedin has a number of eateries with historic significance. I have written about the glorious Savoy Restaurant in a previous blog. Perhaps the other best known historic places to eat are Larnach Castle and Carey’s Bay Hotel, Port Chalmers. High tea at Larnach Castle which dates back to the late 1800s, is popular with visitors to the city. Eating home-made sandwiches, slices, scones and cream cake under the high ceilings of the Ballroom Cafe definitely transports you back to a bygone era. The famous ghosts that haunt the castle are an added attraction for many people too.

Established in 1874, Carey’s Bay Hotel no longer offers accommodation but it is well known in the area for its food. Located in a cute little bay just a short walk from the activity at Port Chalmers, and 10 mins from Dunedin, the stone built hotel overlooks a small fishing base and is one of the few restaurants in New Zealand to offer such a peaceful seaside setting. I have had the pleasure of experiencing a sunset over Otago Harbour from an outdoor table at the Carey’s Bay Hotel.

These are just some of the many interesting eateries in NZ that have historic significance. There are also a number of recently established restaurants and cafes located in historic buildings around New Zealand but that is material for another blog.

Ceidrik Heward

Speak Your Mind