Otago historic pub tour

Two weeks ago marked a wee anniversary and hence justified a long weekend kind of adventure. We looked into tramping options but the weather forecast changed our plans and instead we opted for a historic pub tour of Otago.

We departed Friday morning in heavy downpour, oblivious to how this could evolve into a state of emergency for a number of Canterbury and Otago towns.

As the rain bucketed down and our windscreen wipers ​frantically chased ​the radio’s selection of orchestral classics, we passed through flooded areas and wondered how long we’d last before it got too deep. We arrived in Naseby relieved that we had made it, to discover that roads had been closed all around us.

Situated 2000ft. above worry level (as the welcome sign reads), Naseby was originally a gold mining town and still retains much of that history and heritage. There’s a number of ​original buildings still standing – the post office, ​the courthouse, ​the watchmaker​’s​ ​shop, the bootmaker​’s​ shop and two hotels/pubs.​

​Checking into our first historic pub, Ancient Briton Hotel, we ordered a couple of drinks and reflected on what our responsible selves should have done. Built in 1863, the pub today still tastefully recalls the gold-mining days. There’s pieces of curling memorabilia arranged around the room and old photographs semi-neatly line the walls.

Accommodation is located out the back in the form of simple self-contained cabins at very fair prices. Though we had little expectations of the food, our meal turned out to be fantastic and took away the novelty of eating low quality pub food (which we had prepared ourselves for this trip).

Around the corner from Ancient Briton Hotel is Royal Hotel, also dating back to 1863. With a beautifully photogenic front, inside is warm and cosy with a large open fire, a scattered collection of antique trinkets and a bunch of local beers on tap.

By evening, the sleety rain had turned into snow and by morning the winter wonderland we had hoped for had turned into a reality. The other reality was that if we did get out of this heavily snowed in town, the roads around were still closed from flooding.

Back at the pub, we checked in with the owner for a road update and half an hour later, found ourselves on a minibus with the Timaru curling team. For this friendly, beret wearing, brightly humoured bunch, it was their annual curling excursion to Naseby. We were shown a short how-to video before allowed on the rink for the big game.

Two hours on the rink took my feet to a new level of numb and hatched a new appreciation for the strategy behind this often ridiculed sport. With the snow lightened, we packed our things and took a punt on the road back to Oamaru.

It proved a difficult journey and probably an unwise decision in hindsight, but through Narnia-esque landscape and thirty centimetre deep snow we successfully made it to our final historic pub around 4pm.

The Criterion Hotel dates back to 1877 and is built with beautiful Oamaru stone (whitestone). Located in the heart of Oamaru’s famed Victorian Precinct, the hotel’s history is an interesting one having lived through almost 60 years of Prohibition. The exterior exudes European grandeur and the interior has been carefully restored to character.

Similar buildings are found all around Oamaru (most of which were designed by the one architect, Thomas Forrester). We spent the morning exploring the historic precinct and appreciating the change in weather.

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