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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Tutukaka and Oceans Resort Hotel

Continuing on my Northland road-trip, when I headed for Tutukaka it took me longer than the books says.  The reported half an hour north-east of Whangarei maybe so,  but I was stopping to see waterfalls and great sea views!

Tutukaka is the gateway to the Poor Knights Islands marine reserve. The Islands, 25km off shore, have been rated by the famous Jacques Cousteau as one of the top-ten dive sites in the world – the water is known for its clarity and an abundance of sea life. Sea currents and visibility up to 30 metres underwater allow the diver, (or kayakers and snorkelers) to see a highly populated, rich and diverse tapestry of marine life. The world’s largest sea cave can be found here, a record claim lodged with the Guinness Book of Records. It is an amazing 7,900,000 cubic feet with over a hectare of sea surface area inside the cave itself. (More of these islands and photos in my next blog)

Right on the edge of the Tutukaka Marina is Oceans Resort Hotel and is where I stayed overnight.  I was told that “with a myriad of water-based activities on your doorstep, fabulous beaches and a lush subtropical climate you will feel as though you have escaped to paradise” and I agree. It’s a peaceful setting and I loved wandering around the water front both in the evening and then again in the morning.

Interestingly, I find Oceans is owned by the local iwi (Maori tribe) Ngati Wai who have recently won two well-deserved prestigious awards. (2011 Customer Choice Awards; 2011 Best Emerging Business)

There is a relaxed kiwi-feel to the resort and it is a popular wedding and conference destination – it also has apartment’s long-term rental too. It seems the local pub that was on the site burned down in 2000 and five years later Oceans opened. As well as having a comfortable night and  good service, I also had a great breakfast which was included in the room rate.

Here are some notes I made while there:

  • Compendium says – they have alarm clocks but say they ‘strongly support the use of island time here in Tutukaka.’ (always good advice when vacationing)
  • Lots of local artists work on view and for sale – wonderful that they give space for locals free and with no commission on sales (Well done!)
  • BBQ beside pool for guests use
  • Interesting New Zealand facts in compendium incl. NZ women getting the vote in 1893; Sir Ed and Mt Everest; a kiwi invented the bungee; and that NZ has 6,000 kilometres of coastline with nowhere being more than 120ks from the coast. (translation for my USA readers – 3728 miles of coast and no one lives more than 74 miles from it)

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For more ideas of things to do in Tutukaka keep reading my blogs and of course check out Destination Northland and for a rental car see NZ Rental Cars.

And, to find out about the birds and other creatures in the area see these fabulous New Zealand books: Collins Travellers Guide, Birds of New Zealand 

COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE  by Terence Lindsey and Rod Morris.

photo of oyster catcher birds

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!