In its heyday the two-storey Waiwera Hotel, originally built by Robert Graham in the late 1800s, was popular with the rich and famous as a hot water health spa. In coaching days it was an important halfway spot between Warkworth and Auckland where horses were changed and passengers had their lunch. Sadly on September 27, 1939, soon after the outbreak of war, it was spectacularly burnt to the ground.
The alarm was given by Mr R Darling who lived across the road from the hotel. Awakened by his mother he sped across the road in his pyjamas in an attempt to warn the inmates. The hotel was in darkness but he heard the sound of breaking windows in the ground floor lounge where the fire seemed to have started. With some difficulty he managed to find four young women staff members and got them out of the building with scarcely any of their possessions. By this time the fire was really taking hold with crackling timber and billowing smoke but Mr Darling bravely attempted to reach the upper floor to see if any guests were trapped by the fire. He was however driven back by the smoke and flames. Fortunately the only two guests in the hotel had been awakened by the fire and had escaped via the fire escape (one Auckland paper reported the woman as being seen climbing down a drainpipe).
The only water supply was under the building and could not be reached. Fortunately there was no wind so the various outbuildings on the grounds were not burned although several trees in the grounds caught alight. Residents of Waiwera were woken by the fire and watched the old wooden building burn to the ground. The glow of the fire was reported to be visible in Auckland 30 miles away.
By daylight only charred timber and the brick chimneystacks remained. All possessions had been lost. The safe, which had contained money and hotel records, was retrieved but when opened contained only ashes and a molten mess of metal.
The Licensee, Mr Connell, was away from Waiwera at the time. The freehold was owned by Mr Wenzl Schollum. The buildings were insured for the equivalent of $7000 and the stock and furniture for $2400. The cause of the fire was not established.
Pioneer Village open Sat/Sun, 10am–3pm • 1860s Chapel available for weddings • August 7, 11am – Talk in Chapel: The Boer War, a South African perspective. Entry by gold coin donation