A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas
The Cockabully Hunters --- from an original painting by Noel Guthrie

Friday, 4 March 2016

South Rakaia's colourful past

South Rakaia Hotel
This old hotel is still situated at what was originally termed ’South Rakaia’.

As I understand it, the main township was first situated on the northern bank of the Rakaia River where the Canterbury Provincial Railway, the first locomotive railway in New Zealand had its terminus.


South Rakaia however, was recorded as being the place where most business was conducted.  It served as the main social centre for people from surrounding Run’s where cricket matches and race meetings were held and were said to have been well attended.

During the early 1870’s, the first Rakaia bridge was constructed; this was to eventually change the township for ever.

Even though Ashburton was to later steal much of Rakaia’s thunder this little village still retained some prominence.


South Rakaia followed the letting of the construction contract for the railway line south, became railways manufacturing and assembly point for rolling stock.  Not only carriages and trucks were constructed here, but at one stage locomotives to operate the new line were built here as well.

At about the same time as the new bridge was built, I think in 1872, Mr B. Robinson, for the cost of eight hundred pound, built the first part of this old hotel at South Rakaia.

I am led to believe that the foundations came from the tops of the bridge piles when surplus sections were removed.  Timber for hotel’s construction however, was milled on Banks Peninsula and floated across Lake Ellesmere, to be carted the remainder of the journey by horse and dray.

It is said this is one of five hotels and accommodation houses to be built on either side of the Rakaia River in those early years.  Rail and road travellers stayed over at the South Rakaia Hotel, also those who waited for the floodwaters of the treacherous Rakaia to recede.


Some of the more colourful moments in the hotels history are a delight.


It has been known for an occasional saddle horse to breast up to the bar, ridden in there by a thirsty rider, or perhaps it was just for the devilment.  But then the dining room was not to be outdone, once hosting an impromptu blade sheep shearing contest, where they say Kiwi and Aussie shearers battled it out.  


One of the South Rakaia Hotel’s colourful owners was a man by the name of (Flash) Jack McKendry.  He is said to have taken his racehorse to Auckland to contest the Auckland Cup, where his horse, against all odds, won the Cup. 

 On the way home he celebrated his win by purchasing the South Rakaia Hotel.  He must have been well and truly taken with the place, for he stayed all of thirty five years.


Rakaia was definitely renowned for its fishing all over the world and probably for its fishing stories.  One story had me in stitches.  See, it went something like this: -


One of the local identities was in the bar this hot day partaking of a cool beer, when a stranger walked in. 

The stranger ordered his beer and stood there supping away, until a local sidled up to him, ‘Gidday!  I caught twenty fish in the Rakaia yesterday.’

The stranger turned and looked the local up and down for a minute. 

‘Do you know who I am?’

‘Nah, I don’t mate.’

‘Well, I happen to be the District Fisheries Ranger!’

‘Get away,’ smiled the local, plonking his beer on the bar. ‘Good to see you,’ he said puffing out his chest.  ‘Well, I bet you don’t know who I am,’.

‘You’re right there’ said the Ranger pulling a notebook out of his pocket.  ‘Tell me your name.’

‘Me! ____ Mate, me names Ron Mead, and I am the biggest bloody liar in Rakaia.’
Have a nice day

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