Established in 1863 the Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels. Situated on the spectacular Crown Range road between Queenstown and Wanaka, the hotel is one of only two remaining buildings from the Cardrona Valley gold rush era. The historic hotel facade is representative of this now vanished town and is an important part of New Zealand’s history.
The Story From 1863
The Cardrona settlement began in the 1860s as hundreds of prospectors flocked to the area chasing the miners dream. Word of gold in the hills quickly travelled and within three years a prosperous settlement had developed. The Cardrona Hotel was built during this time and was one of four hotels in the township, offering accommodation, livery services and a coaching-stop for gold miners and itinerant travellers.
Cardrona remained a significant commercial hub through the 1870s and 1880s, although its fortunes waned as the initial momentum of the gold boom quickly dwindled. Some men stayed on and although the mining days were over, a small settlement of farmers raising cattle persisted in Cardrona well into the 20thcentury. By the 1890s only the Cardona Hotel and the All Nations Hotel remained, along with two stores and a blacksmiths. With a shortage of timber in the area, most of the remaining sound buildings were transported to the growing township of Pembroke, later renamed Wanaka.
In 1926 James Patterson purchased the hotel and became a local legend. Patterson, known as Jimmy, owned the hotel until his death in 1961 at the age of 91, making him the longest serving publican in Cardrona. He was famous for his attitude to serving alcohol, controlling the amount patrons could drink depending on which direction they were travelling. Men travelling over the treacherous Crown Range road were only allowed one drink, while those travelling to Wanaka were allowed two. Jimmy preferred not to sell any alcohol to women. Every winter Jimmy travelled to Christchurch and simply shut the hotel doors, leaving a note – ‘Beer under counter- help yourself.’ Legend has it that Jimmy still remains in the hotel; any strange occurrence is quickly dismissed as the stirrings of an old publican.
Since 1961, the hotel has had several owners. In 2002 the hotel underwent a significant refurbishment and extension, adding a new accommodation wing and extending the bar and dining area. As a heritage listed building, every care was taken to retain the objects and artefacts that represent a significant slice of Central Otago history. Today the hotel remains an iconic building on a popular tourist route and is said to be the most photographed pub in New Zealand.