One of Mangawhai Tavern’s new owners has reclaimed a bit of family history.
Rick Smith spent the first six months of his life living in what was then called the Commercial Hotel Mangawhai. He’s also grown up hearing a lifetime of stories from his family, who owned and managed it for three decades from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Plus, Rick’s made plenty of his own memories as a tavern patron over the years.
The Tomarata dairy farmer admits nostalgia was a reason for buying the pub, to restore its former glory and make it a hub for the community. So when the opportunity came up to buy back some family history, he rallied together his cousin Angela Ferrier and friends (a consortium of three couples with properties in Mangawhai).
He also knows it’s a good opportunity.
“It’s a great venue, there is so much scope.”
The sale went through just before Easter, and they have already started sprucing the place up for its official re-opening on April 26 with a lick of paint in the main restaurant lounge bar and toilets. It’s just the first step in a five-year plan for renovations.
The first vision is to make the most of the Mangawhai Harbour view and move the games into the TAB part of the tavern.
“We want this to be the best place around to eat right by the water, instead of at the car park. It’s a no brainer really.”
While they want to attract visitors and keep it as a popular concert venue, Rick says they want to accommodate the locals first and make it a place for the community to use. They are starting with a fundraiser for the Mangawhai Heads Surf Lifesaving at the opening.
“You’ve got to involve the people who are here, let them take ownership of it.”
He wants to eventually restore the outside of the tavern, showing the original kauri, and fixing it up. That’s made his mother, 88-year-old Elizabeth Smith, particularly pleased.
The two-storey hotel has had a colourful history as a hub for Mangawhai. The first pub was built in 1859 and catered for kauri bushmen and ship passengers. When it burnt down in 1861, it was replaced with the current building which opened in 1862.
Elizabeth was 10 years old when her father, Lou Nelson, purchased it in 1936. It was on the main route to Whangarei, and the only other lodgings were in Warkworth. But during the war it was quieter and, because of petrol rations, it was used as a meeting point for out of town accountants, banks, lawyers and dentists. She also recalls a large gathering after World War II when the soldiers returned.
After marrying, Elizabeth moved to Dargaville but later returned to Mangawhai to help her parents. She raised her two eldest daughters at the hotel for eight years and Rick for his first six months. After her father died in the hotel, Mrs Smith and her husband continued to manage it, before the family leased it out and eventually sold it to Lion Breweries.
She also recalls that it was hard work, something her son is not afraid of.
“He saw an opportunity and grabbed it, but he likes a challenge and I admire him for that. I think it’s cute.”
She has only been back a few times, and has never been back upstairs where she lived.
“I’ll be quite pleased to go back, even if I have to drag myself up the banisters.”