Historical Significance or Value:
The history of the Cardrona Hotel forms a significant element of the historic values of Cardrona. The façade has been used as a backdrop for ‘Southern Man’ billboard advertising, promoting the Cardrona Hotel as a form of cultural icon now familiar throughout the country. It is historically representative of the small gold mining towns that were once scattered right through Central Otago, and dates to the time when the Cardrona Valley itself formed a significant gold mining locality.
Aesthetic Significance or Value:
The Cardrona Hotel remains an iconic building on this popular tourist route, and a nationally recognisable image, said to be the most photographed pub in New Zealand, representing the colourful gold field’s past of the Cardrona Valley.
Architectural Significance or Value:
Cardrona Hotel False Front has significance as a representative of frontier architecture. False fronts were a typical vernacular form for isolated gold mining settlements. The building front was essentially the sign for the business. Commercial false fronts were architectural symbols of hope, of the possibility of permanence and success. False fronts represented an attempt to establish an urban scale that would help to retaliate against the vastness of the country and extreme isolation.
Social Significance or Value:
Hotels on the goldfields were important meeting places, beyond the obvious gathering place. Hotels were used for other social functions: as meeting places for groups such as lodges, sporting and cultural groups, and also for coroner’s inquests. The Cardrona Hotel False Front is significant as the public face of the Hotel which has welcomed travellers and the local community for over 140 years.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The history of the Cardrona Hotel is representative of the history of small gold mining towns, and the services that grew up to cater for the needs of the residents as well as the travelling public. As part of the wider network of travellers’ accommodation throughout this isolated area, the Cardrona Hotel illustrates the importance of hotels. As a business that has operated for over 140 years the hotel is an important part of the history of the local community, and has significance. The Cardrona Hotel is associated with the gold mining period, a series of events in Otago’s history which had a profound effect on the history and the landscape of the region.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The Cardrona Hotel is the earlier, and one of only two remaining public buildings of the former Cardrona township, an early Central Otago gold mining settlement. Hence, the façade is representative of this now vanished township, where there were once four hotels and a number of other commercial buildings. It is also representative of other, similar vanished gold mining settlements throughout Central Otago.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
The vernacular style of building, with a flat false front, is typical of many structures of its time. The Cardrona Hotel is now well known throughout the country for this iconic False Front that has been reproduced on billboard advertising in recent years, but is better known by the local community for its history that is associated with the first days of gold mining in the area.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:
The Cardrona Hotel sits on the main street of what was once a bustling mining town, surrounded by gold mining workings. The Cardrona Hotel is an important surviving element in what was a historic townscape. Cardrona is notable for its historic mining landscape, which includes much of the historic town centre.
Summary of Significance or Values:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e and k.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
Maori History in the Cardrona Valley:
While little evidence has been found of prehistoric Maori settlement in the Cardrona valley, it formed part of an ancient route from the West Coast into Otago and Southland. From the Haast Pass and Lake Wanaka, the track passed through the Cardrona valley, continuing across the Kawarau River and through the Nevis Valley. Archaeologist Athol Anderson notes that this was ‘the route of the old inland trail known for centuries to the southern Maori, referred to in tradition, and used until the second half of the nineteenth century by both Maori travellers and Maori guides to European explorers.’
In 1857 - 1858 the early surveyors Alexander Garvie and John Turnbull Thompson explored the Central Otago region, establishing boundaries for pastoral runs. Thompson named the Cardrona Valley after Cardrona House in Scotland. Much of the Cardrona area was once part of the more extensive South Wanaka Station, run number 340, the license for this run first issued to W. Mills in 1859. In the following decades run numbers changed and larger land holdings were broken into smaller lots, especially after the end of the nineteenth century when there was widespread agitation to break up the large runs to create more opportunity for small farming.
The history of gold mining in Central Otago began with Gabriel Read’s discovery of gold in Gabriel’s Gully, near present-day Lawrence, in 1861. The following year Hartley and Reilly left this gully and travelled further into Central Otago. They spent the winter prospecting in the now-flooded Clutha Gorge between present day Clyde and Cromwell, finding enough gold in the area to travel back to Dunedin and lodge 87 pounds with the Gold Receiver. Gold was quickly discovered in other parts of the region, including places such as Arrowtown and Queenstown, and in 1863, at Cardrona.
There were an estimated 78 goldfields in Central Otago, boom towns sprung up to service the gold diggings, and disappeared just as quickly as the gold returns for the itinerant miners. Little remains of these places. Historian John Angus writes ‘[w]hen the miners decamped so too did the commercial section of many of the early towns. This pattern was repeated many times, often at remote locations in Central Otago. But some settlements remained, undergoing a sort of metamorphosis to become service centres for the subsequent stages of more stable mining.’
Publicans were important in these developing communities and were among the earliest residents. Goldfields administrator and politician Vincent Pyke wrote that the storekeeper and publican were the start of the community that only became ‘a proper town’ with the government official and the surveyor. Writer Anthony Trollope, a visitor in 1872, commented that there were three successive styles of architecture: canvas, in which residences, business establishments and government ‘buildings’ alike were tents; a corrugated iron period, for it was portable, very easily shaped, capable of quick construction, and it keeps out the rain’; and finally wood and stone. The last were seldom seen in Central Otago towns at the time of his visit.’
Towns developed haphazardly. Historian John Angus writes that gold mining towns were often an ‘incongruous jumble of handsome stone hotels and public buildings, ornate shop facades often masking bare corrugated iron sides, and ramshackle tin sheds.’ These were often ‘frontier towns’: ‘hotels, illicit sly-grog shops, gambling booths and what Europeans called the ‘opium dens’ of the Chinese. Over the towns there often remained an air of impermanence.’ Cardrona was typical of impermanent impromptu development, reflected in its four hotels, of which now only one remains, the Cardrona Hotel.
False fronts were a defining part of such ‘frontier’ architecture. The false fronts recall the American parallel of their gold rush frontier towns which had a similar development pattern to the rushes in Central Otago. Architectural historian Kingston Heath writes about the importance of false fronts in the boom period. Like Otago, the mining towns developed in isolated places. Heath describes the false fronts as a ‘critical indicator of social change’, the move from temporary camps to the appearance of a town, an urban area in an otherwise wild and lonely environment - a ‘pretense’ of a town. The false fronts also provided a flat surface for display. The building front was essentially the sign for the business. The presence of commercial false fronts ‘summoned concepts of a hopeful beginning’ indicating success and the possibility of further growth. Heath writes ‘[by] reproducing the rhythms of urban row buildings, the false fronts represented an attempt to establish an urban scale that would help to retaliate against the vastness of the country and extreme isolation. False fronts were designed to make a place look big and important.
In 1872 there were 220 licensed hotels on the Otago goldfields, one for every 200 citizens; by 1980 there was one for every 2,500. Hotels were an integral part of goldfields life, David McGill notes that it was said that you needed ‘one drinking hole for every thirty miners.’ There were, for example, 22 hotels between Queenstown and Skippers, St Bathans had 13 hotels for its 2,000 inhabitants, Hills Creek had 13 and far less people. Macraes Flat also had 14 hotels, nearby Nenthorn 22. In Southland towns such as Orepuki, Round Hill and Garfield sprung up in the goldfields areas, and disappeared equally fast, overtaken by coal mining and farming. On the West Coast towns such as Stafford had some sixty businesses, a third of which were reported to be hotels, none of which survive, and places such as Brighton (near Charleston) which saw 160 buildings erected in five weeks, including 53 hotels (none of which survive).
Hotels on the goldfields, like those in Dunedin, were important meeting places, and were social centres. Geographer and historian Ray Hargreaves writes that hotels were used as meeting places for groups such as lodges, sporting and cultural groups, and also for coroner’s inquests.
Cardrona Valley and Gold Mining:
The Empire Hotel (as the Cardrona Hotel was originally known) is on the winding Cardrona Valley-Crown Range Road, one of the highest alpine roads in New Zealand, running between Wanaka and the Wakatipu Basin. The town was established during the 1860s gold boom. At its peak in the 1870s Cardrona’s resident population reached 1000 with a predominance of Chinese miners; the town featured four hotels, seven stores (four owned by Chinese), four butchers, a post office, baker, blacksmith, bank, school, police headquarters and a jail. The settlement was relatively short-lived as the initial momentum of the gold boom dwindled, with alluvial mining lasting around 20 years. By the time of the 1878 flood, the population had fallen to only 50 Europeans and 150 Chinese. Cardrona was a convenient halfway stopover on the main route between Albert Town, near Wanaka and Arrowtown.
G. Bond (in one article the proprietor is listed Mrs G.B. Bond) was an early proprietor and may have built the hotel. Local historian Irene Roxburgh states that the Empire Hotel ‘was the centre of Cardrona’s fast community life, which continued throughout the sixties into the seventies.’ There was an accommodation annex on an adjoining section (section 9, then Crown Land) where the groomsmen who attended coach horses stayed. The horses were housed in stables at the rear of the hotel.
By 1877 the settlement was reduced to three hotels and three stores. A flood in the spring of 1878 dealt a blow to the remaining miners, with the Cardrona River in flood causing major subsidence in the valley and the collapse of mines. However, a number of men continued to work, sluicing small claims, and several dredges worked the Cardrona River in the 1890s and the 1900s. The township persisted through these changes. For example, in the 1880s bread baked in the Cardrona bakery was sent to Wanaka for sale, and visitors travelled from Wanaka, Albert Town and Macetown to attend concerts and balls. Although the mining days were over, a small settlement of farmers, raising cattle persisted at Cardrona well into the twentieth century.
Land title information records Bond’s widow, Rebecca Bond, as proprietor of the hotel in 1876. In 1884 Rebecca Bond sold the hotel, and a year later this buyer sold again to Thomas Willoughby, who would own the hotel from 1885-1926. Willoughby, a blacksmith and Sunday School teacher, reputedly bought the hotel in order to control the drinking because he was appalled at the amount of alcohol consumed there in the days when Cardrona was the scene of many races and balls.
The town declined further in the 1890s. In 1890 there remained only two stores, a butcher and a blacksmiths. Of the hotels only the All Nations and the Cardrona remained. In an area like this where timber was in short supply, the good wooden buildings were shifted to Luggate, and Pembroke (later renamed Wanaka).
In 1926 James Paterson purchased the hotel, and became a local legend. Paterson is said to have moved from Oamaru to Cardrona in about 1890, where he later married Ettie La Franchi, the daughter of another local hotelkeeper, and worked a gold claim for about 40 years. Paterson owned the hotel from 1926 (Ettie died in 1936) until his death in 1961 at the age of 91. Writer McNeish recounts stories about Paterson, whose attitude to the sale of alcohol in the pub appeared to be little different from Willoughby’s, and whose long tenure and attitude led to people calling in just to meet him. Paterson liked to control the amount of alcohol he sold to his hotel patrons, dispensing either one or two glasses of beer to men depending on which direction they were driving across the Crown Range (travelling towards Arrowtown the road zigzags steeply down the Crown Range), and preferring not to sell any alcohol at all to women. McNeish states that every winter, when he travelled to Christchurch for the Grand National, Paterson left nobody in charge, simply closing the door. Sometimes he left a note, ‘Beer under counter - help yourself’.
In the 1950s, Paterson’s hotel license survived two threats from the Licensing Commission, concerned that he was not providing either food or accommodation along with alcohol, as the legislation required: his office check for the previous six months showed ‘guests, nil; water closets, nil; bathrooms, one.’ Paterson (and his license) survived the 1951 Commission meeting (when ‘What was left of Cardrona in 1951 put on its town clothes and went with him’ in a show of support) with McNeish describing it as a historic verdict, that the a hotel ‘though practically falling to bits, might sometimes be greater than the sum of its parts - that it might be a necessary social centre.’
Paterson’s license survived another Licensing Commission hearing in 1958, with the local doctor and local policeman visiting the commission and telling them if they took Paterson’s license away they would kill him. According to McNeish the Commission issued a statement:
‘The licence of the ‘Cardrona’ Hotel is not to be cancelled - though there appears no real need for it. The licence is not to be transferred. It has been in the ownership of the present licensee, James Dunlop Paterson, for 32 years. His is almost 90 years of age and the Commission will not disturb him in his desire to retain the hotel.’
Paterson died in 1961, aged 91. In June 1961 the furniture was auctioned the bar-room closed, with the licence lapsing shortly afterwards.
After Paterson’s death, Jack Galvin, the descendant of local identity Paddy Galvin, owned the property. According to one newspaper report Galvin purchased the property (which included also an attached house, an annex of six rooms, and a stable’ for sentimental reasons, so that visitors to the district would be able experience the link with the past. During these years the hotel sat empty until Edmund and Rosemary Jones purchased it in 1975.
The Joneses restored the hotel, keeping the original Baltic Pine façade and the bar, but adding concrete foundations, a recycled timber tongue and groove floor, and largely rebuilt the structure. The extensions to the building used recycled windows from early Wanaka farm buildings. The original bar was relocated into the billiard room.
Since then the property has changed hands several times, with owners continuing to develop the facilities - the facilities at that time provided accommodation for 18 guests in 5 rooms with shared bathroom facilities.
In 2002 the hotel was extended into a major accommodation complex with 21 bedrooms added, the dining room and bar extended. The False Fronts of the buildings to the road remained unaltered. The former stables were relocated, reconstructed and incorporated into the facilities. The adjoining residence, post office and annex were also included in the new complex, adapted for visitor accommodation. Later reports indicate that the stables and barn may have been demolished.
The former township is now well known for its ski field, and recent subdivisions have sprung up because of the area’s popularity. The hotel has become a popular venue for skiers as well as travellers on the Crown Range, and its façade has been seen recently on billboard beer advertising, and the associated ‘Southern Man’ slogan. The Cardrona brand has been used in Auckland hotels.
An archaeological assessment of the Cardrona area in 2007 identified the Cardrona Hotel as ‘a key element of the identity and character of the Cardrona Valley’ and recommended a ‘thorough study of the Cardrona Hotel complex should be carried out to determine how much of the original fabric remains.’
In 2011 the Cardrona Hotel remains a iconic building on this popular tourist route, and a nationally recognisable image (thanks to Speights Southern Man and Pride of the South advertising campaign) said to be the most photographed pub in New Zealand, representing the colourful gold field’s past of the Cardrona Valley.
The Cardrona Hotel stands on the west side of Cardrona Valley Road at the small settlement of Cardrona. Cardrona is located in the valley between Mt Cardrona on the west and the Criffel Range on the east. This is a spectacular alpine landscape. The position of the Cardrona Hotel marks the site of the former bustling mining town, now marked by a few scattered buildings, of which the large complex associated with the Cardrona Hotel is the largest and most prominent.
The false front is constructed of Baltic pine weatherboards. It features a symmetrical configuration of three timber double doors alternating between four six-paned double hung windows, beneath a parapet displaying the hotel name.
The weatherboard false front is representative of many similar structures that once lined the main streets of hurriedly built towns in Central Otago as well as other parts of the country. In many cases wooden false fronts such as this one concealed temporary structures built only out of canvas and framing, imparting a settled air to what were essentially early frontier settlements.
First hotel building and false front constructed
Hotel purchased by James Paterson
Hotel closed after Paterson’s death
Hotel reconstructed, using original façade and bar
Further development of accommodation facilities
2001 - 2006
Major redevelopment of site, extending the bar, and constructing new accommodation wing. Original false front retained.
28th September 2011
Report Written By
James McNeish, Tavern in the Town, A.H. and A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1984 [first published 1957]
Ng, James, Windows on a Chinese Past, Volume 1, Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin, 1993
I Roxburgh, The Wanaka Story, Reed, Wellington, 1977
Richard V. Francaviglia, Hard Places: Reading the Landscape of America's Historic Mining Districts, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1991
Queenstown Lakes District Council
Queenstown Lakes District Council
Chris Jacomb and Richard Walters, Archaeological Assessment of the Cardrona Village Rural Visitor Zone, Report prepared for the Queenstown Lakes District Council, January 2007
McGill, 1997 (2)
D. McGill, Ghost Towns of New Zealand, Reed, Wellington, 1997
A fully referenced report is available from the Southern Region office of NZHPT.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.