Inside the revamped Theatre Royal Hotel
There are only about 350 people living in Kumara on the Great Alpine Highway. On the way from Christchurch to Westland, you might once have passed through it without realising you had been there. Not anymore. In the main street, the revamped Theatre Royal Hotel, is a real attention-grabber. Once again, and as it was in the old days, it is the centre of life in the old gold mining town. The hotel was built in 1876 at the beginning of the Kumara gold rush. The provided entertainment that took place within its timber walls hauled in patrons from far and wide. It had a reputation for the ‘dancing’ girls who cavorted with the miners. One room was apparently sound-proofed with sawdust to muffle the sort of cavorting that was not to be seen in public. If the walls could talk, I bet there’d a be a story or two. A little later, the theatre was built alongside to provide a venue for visiting performers from as far away as England and America. But the good times rolled by and when current owners Kerrie and Mark Fitzgibbon bought the old building in 2010, it was derelict and vandalised. They worked on it for two years and the end result is a striking, authentically finished and furnished Victorian Hotel. This year (2016), is the 150th anniversary of the arrival in New Zealand of the ebullient Richard Seddon, New Zealand’s longest serving premier. A boisterous, sociable man, he was often seen at the hotel and known for taking to the theatre’s stage to sing or pontificate. It wouldn’t be surprising if, at times, his ghost was seen wafting up the stairs, imbibing at the bar or tucking into a King Dick’s big breakfast in the dining room. The hotel serves high tea on Wednesday and Saturdays 2pm-4pm, and the cafe is open every day offering well-known West Coast lunch dishes such as whitebait sandwiches and pork sliders on the menu. The chef uses produce grown on the property whenever he can and most food is New Zealand-based. There is plenty of room for self-contained motorhomes and caravans to stay on the property overnight. The dancing girls cavort no more but travellers are welcomed into the hotel like the miners of old. Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.