The historic Chatto Creek Tavern, in Central Otago, has new owners from Auckland.
Some Aucklanders visiting the South Island might buy a fridge magnet for a souvenir. Grant and Fiona Sutherland bought two donkeys and a pub.
The couple will become the owners of the 134-year-old Chatto Creek Tavern on the Otago Central Rail Trail from November 3.
The tavern comes with two donkeys, a local population of 15 people, and retiring proprietor Lesley Middlemass.
“We had that many people want to come and buy it, but 99 per cent of them I hated. I wasn’t even that nice to them,” Middlemass said.
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“But when Grant and Fiona turned up I thought ‘this is who’s going to buy it’.”
Grant Sutherland lost his job as a tour bus driver when Covid-19 closed the country’s borders in March, while his wife had recently left the “rat race” world of advertising.
They took advantage of post-lockdown campervan specials to visit his mother in Invercargill and tour the South Island.
A friend sent them Stuff’s story about Chatto Creek Tavern being for sale and joked they should buy it.
The couple talked about it but carried on driving up the West Coast, reaching Greymouth before turning around and driving nine hours in the opposite direction to Chatto Creek, just north of Alexandra.
They fell in love with the people and the place after just one night, and soon signed a deal to buy the pub for just under the listing price of $595,000.
Real Estate agent Adrian Chisholm said the couple were a classic example of the kind of interest he was seeing for tourism businesses in smal town New Zealand.
“They’re a new class of buyers, either ex-pats returning home and looking for a job or people who have been made redundant effectively buying themselves a job.”
There were 67 registered buyers for the pub and a five party multi-offer.
He is marketing about 100 businesses including the Garston Hotel in Southland, motels, and a Central Otago gold mining experience.
“When Covid hit I thought I was going to put my feet up for a few months but I’ve never been busier,” he said.
Bar manager Nikki Payne, who is Middlemass’ daughter, said many pubs in the area had changed hands or been freshened up recently.
The Otago Central Rail Trail had been a lifeline for them all and was proving popular with New Zealanders.
The Wedderburn Tavern was on the market and the Vulcan Hotel at St Bathans had been taken over by a shareholder.
Grant Sutherland said running Chatto Creek Tavern would be a huge lifestyle change for the couple.
They had never run a bar nor a restaurant before, and had never looked after donkeys.
They did not plan on making any big changes in the first year but had already purchased a machine to make real fruit icecream, a food cart and a courtesy coach.
Regular events such as a dog barking competition, hunting competition and knitting club (where nobody does any knitting), would continue, he said.
Alert Level 1 is now in full force for most of the country, so things can return to the ‘new normal’.
Middlemass, a widow who turned 70 on Friday, was looking forward to putting her feet up after running the pub for 21 years and suffering a stroke 18 months ago.
Under her leadership, the tavern was named the best country hotel at last year’s Hospitality New Zealand Awards for Excellence.
“I’ll probably come and do the dishes or pick up stuff off tables sometime,” she said.
“I’ll miss the locals. The community has been really good to me over the years.”