Food, weddings & accommodation at “the Duke”

The Duke of Marlborough is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand. Russell, (formerly known as Kororareka) was one of the first European settlements in New Zealand, and “The Duke” here in Northland has featured significantly in its colourful history including holding New Zealand’s oldest pub license. (NOTE Sept 2012 – The Duke has just won the Hospitality Association “Best Country Hotel’ )

Seems that may have come about by having friends in high places! Having lunch with the current Duchess, Jayne Shirley, I’m told some of the history:

It seems the Duke started out in 1827 as ‘Johnny Johnston’s Grog Shop” – Johnny was an ex-convict and his grog shop served the hundreds of whalers and sailors and who had upset Darwin with their lawlessness.  In a marketing exercise the grog shop was renamed after the richest man in the world – The Duke of Marlborough.

After the 1840 Treaty (of Waitangi) was signed New Zealand’s first government was formed lawlessness began to be controlled and grog shops licensed – with friends in high places, Johnny got the first one –the ex-crim is now respectable!

The “duchess” joins us for lunch

So, as the Dukes slogan and T-shirt says, they have been ‘refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827’. With such a beautiful building in gorgeous surroundings, I’m not all surprised to hear the Duke is a popular wedding destination too.

The hotel was owned by Johnny’s’ family  until  1878 and the current owners (2 couples) bought it from a Frenchman (Arnould Kindt) who had renovated the accommodation areas significantly and lifted its star rating. The current owners are continuing to not only improve the hotel, but also integrating it into the community.

The menu, designed by their award-winning chef, focuses on fresh seasonal produce – and my fish meal was wonderful.

Seems Jayne and the other 3 owners fell in love with the Duke and the area while they were holidaying from Otago University and they’re now living their dream in Northland – they recently celebrated their first two years at “The Duke”. (May 2012)

Another big ‘thumbs-up’ I would give this place is for their ‘no surcharge’ policy on public holidays: well done.

See some of my photos of the Duke (below) and check out their website for more information. They are also on Facebook and Twitter (@DukeofM) if you want to get in touch with them via social media.

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You may like to check out a little more of the history of ‘the treaty’ mentioned earlier in this YouTube clip I was sent on Twitter

yet more photos

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‘Hell-hole of the Pacific’ rants Darwin

After 3 days of national commemorations for NZs Waitangi Day in the Bay of Islands it’s now time for me to catch a ferry for the short ride over to Russell from my base in Paihia.

Often considered New Zealand’s finest maritime playground, the Bay of Islands also has much to do on land and Russell is the centre of all that Northland offers.  Darwin called it the hell-hole of the Pacific because of the drunken, rowdy whalers and sailors, this area is the cradle of New Zealand’s settler history: Russell was formerly known as Kororareka and was one of the first European settlements in NZ.

At the south end of the tree-lined waterfront is Pompallier House, site of the first Roman Catholic Mission to New Zealand. Established in 1842 ‘to teach the Maori to pray the Catholic way” as one of the guides there said, it’s now been beautifully restored to its original French style and is the only one of its type in the country. I enjoyed watching a demonstration of leather making, printing and bookbinding here – and the gardens are lovely too.

It was interesting to hear that saying such as ‘skiving off’ and ‘cut to the chase’ came from the leather and book binding industry.

I wander around the township enjoying the museum and well-kept streets before heading off to ‘the Duke’ for a look at it, and lunch.  The Duke of Marlborough is one of the most historic hotels in New Zealand, and “The Duke” has featured significantly in NZs colourful history and holds New Zealand’s oldest pub license. Number one.  After a meal, on the veranda, overlooking the bay where dolphins had been seen from the ferry only minutes earlier it’s time for me to head off on a one-hour tour of areas not easily seen on foot.

‘The best thing about Paihia’ says our Russell Mini Tours driver ‘is you can sit on the beach and look across at Russell’.  He also tells us “the Maori came here some 900 years ago, Captain Cook in 1769 while he arrived 198 years later – on a school trip from Auckland!

Flagstaff Hill gives us 360° views of the Bay of Islands and we are shown the oldest church in New Zealand, (1835) built ten years after the Battle of Kororareka.

Darwin hated every minute of his 3 weeks here: 50-70 ‘grog’ houses, 1500 people. Many of whom were deserters, and no law – as our driver continued – ‘this is a blood and rum drenched place.’

My one day here was not long enough – but it was time to head back down to the wharf and step back in time aboard the R Tucker Thompson, a replica tall ship for a taste of life under sail.

See more about ‘the Tucker’ and ‘the Duke’ in a future blog – in the meantime … check out the links I’ve provided.

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Russell, New Zealand: Darwin proved wrong!

Darwin hated his three-weeks in Russell so much he called it the “hell-hole of the Pacific”. Locals, and time, have proved him wrong – very wrong Smile I left my rental car parked up for the day, caught the regular ferry to check his assertions.

I have just spent the day there – and like everything I’m doing and seeing in Northland, I wish I’d had more time. From the historic Pompallier Mission (where the French were – ‘teaching the Maori to pray the Catholic way”) through to a one hour mini-bus tour (with Fullers GreatSights)  the day has been great … as shown by taking over 400 photos today ( bringing my total in less than a  week to about three thousand pictures: actually I think that alone says a lot about Northland – Te Hiku o te Ika a Maui- the tail of the fish of Maui.

The ’hell hole’ is now a popular wedding destination, especially at the Duke. ‘The Duke’ is the local name for The Duke of Marlborough and where I had lunch today – a delicious Thai beef salad!  I had a look around the hotel and the new owners have lived up to their goal of refreshing everything … more in another story of course.

My day was completed by sailing from Russell to Opua on the  R Tucker Thompson  – a fabulous replica tall ship where tourists can take a step back in time and sail the seas under canvas. Two young boys tell me that last time they went out with the ship they saw a hammer-head shark as well as dolphins: this ship will feature in a  full piece when I get back to the ‘head of the fish of Maui’.

Finally, just for you golfers: the views of the islands of the Bay of Islands must feature as one of the best golf-course views in the world!

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Many thanks as always, to Destination Northland for helping arrange my itinerary and Rental Cars New Zealand for the vehicle for this road trip: I can recommend both!