Friday, July 5, 2013

Waitomo Caves Hotel

Postcard of the Waitomo Caves Hotel.

Tourism reached the glow worm caves at Waitomo in the late 1880s, around the time the tourist boom was beginning here in New Zealand. Accommodation though was a privately run affair until October 1905, when it was reported (Marlborough Express, 31 October) that the government had taken over both the caves and adjoining property, including accommodation run formerly by W Rattan. The cost of erecting a new accommodation house (£2500) was including in the estimates in 1907. T E Donne of the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts called for tenders 17 October 1908, and that of R C Humphreys was accepted in the following January at £2076.

So popular have tho Waitomo caves become this season that the existing accommodation has proved wholly inadequate for visitors and numerous tents are now in use. The contractor for the new house of 20 rooms is making good progress with the building, which will no doubt be greatly appreciated by the increasing number of tourists who now visit Hangatiki for the caves at Waitomo and Ruakuri.

Evening Post 6 February 1909

In reply to Mr. Poole, the Minister in charge of tourist resorts said that the new accommodation house at Waitomo Caves will be furnished this week, and the House will be ready to receive visitors almost immediately. The roads leading, to the caves are also much improved. 
 Auckland Star, 18 November 1909

The new accommodation house at Waitomo Caves is now completed. It was erected by the Government at a cost, it is said, of something like £5000 for the convenience of tourists visiting the famous caves. The building stands on a hill overlooking the Waitomo Valley. It is fitted with modern conveniences, including electric lighting. The caves are five miles from Hangatiki, on the Main Trunk line, and visitors are conveyed from the railway to the caves accommodation house by a coach over a road that is moderately good for a country road during the summer months, but for fully eight months in the year the coach has to be hauled through a quagmire. It is said that the prospects of making the accommodation house pay so long as the road remains in its present condition are hopeless. 

 Evening Post, 3 February 1910

Then, in the late 1920s, the hotel was extended.

As finally approved, the building of roughcast concrete, will have a frontage which trebles the present size of the old building, which will appear as a small annexe. The Government architect, Mr. Mair, has planned the building on modern hotel lines, each room being heated with warm air and all bedrooms having wash basins and hot and cold water laid on. A special feature of the new portion will be the spacious balconies, which have an aggregate superficial area of 1800 feet, and are wide enough for dancing. Care has been taken to place the new building so that every bedroom will get the sunshine and there will be beautiful views to the westward from the back balcony. Additional bedroom accommodation is provided for over 50 persons, and a number of these rooms are spacious bed-sitting rooms. The new dining room will be 67ft x 30ft. The hall is 17ft by 35ft, and there is a large lounge smoking room and sitting room. The kitchen will utilise electricity, but standby cooking arrangements, using coal or wood, will be provided. 

An additional building will contain a well-fitted steam laundry, while the basement of the hostel will contain provision for changing boots, etc., when guests visit the caves. From the large quantity of rock which had to be removed in making the site there has been saved sufficient to provide the aggregate for the concrete needed to construct the new building. 

Auckland Star 18 December 1926

The new hotel, incorporating the old one in the top image, was completed by mid 1928.

G B Scott image of the Waitomo Caves Hotel, 1960s. Ref 996-214, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

Now, the Waitomo Caves Hotel  is on a list of haunted buildings in New Zealand. Sorry to all the paranormal fans out there, but -- what matters most to me is that the building is at least registered Category 2 with the NZ Historic Places Trust. Their summary here.

Update 28 August 2014: Very nice of a commercial rental car site to include a link to this on their blog post about the hotel.

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