Seventy kilometres south of Cape Reinga is the Houhora Tavern, the most northerly pub in New Zealand. It stands in a loop of what used to be the main highway before it was re-aligned to facilitate the passage of coachloads of tourists, rushing headlong to click their camera shutters at the lighthouse that presides over the restless confrontation of the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean.
Being sidelined suits the Houhora pub, which frames up artistically beyond the macrocarpa, where it rests peacefully overlooking the harbour. It started life as a trading store set up by the Evans family in 1888 to supply the kauri gum seekers who came to range across the northern peninsula with rods and spades and big thirsts. The store was licensed in 1892 and, sometime later, it was given status when the old, two-storey building was dragged here by bullock cart from Ninety Mile Beach where it had been the Hukatere pub.
Bill Evans is famously associated with Houhora, where he was not only a farmer and landlord of the inn, but also ran the store, post office, billiards room, stables and dance hall. To cap all that he was a Justice of the Peace. As James McNeish records in ‘Tavern in the Town’, one of Evans’s drunken defendants protested ‘… you has a store, then you has a licence, then you sells me booze - and now, so help me, you fines me for drinking it!’
Evans, being something of a lord of the manor around these parts, had a reputation for toughness but fairness; he helped out many a hard-up digger. So it’s not surprising to learn that, when the ‘Elingamite’, a steamer on the trans-Tasman run, foundered on one of the Three Kings Islands in 1902 with a cargo of gold bullion, he sheltered the forty or more survivors who landed from a lifeboat near the Houhora pub until they could continue their journeys.
Bill died in 1952 and was succeeded by his nephew Fred who sold the pub in 1964. A new bar wing was added in 1971 after which the pub was sold again and the old part became somewhat neglected. Happily, the latest owners, 'Crunch', Jennie and Robert Bradley, have upgraded the grounds and are intent on restoring the original building and its bars. Meanwhile the ghost of Bill Evans dwells in the rusting dance hall and cinema, built of horizontal corrugated iron, that stands forlorn in the next paddock.
© DON DONOVANdonovan@ihug.co.nz