A friendly country pub, the “Ellesmere Arms” (now known as “Tai Tapu Hotel”) has been the local watering hole since the 1860s. It was originally a stagecoach inn, complete with stables and forge, on the road to Akaroa.
Originally the Ellesmere Arms provided accommodation and sustenance to drovers moving stock on the three-day trek from Banks Peninsula to Addington Market. Meals could be had for one shilling (10 cents) and board and lodgings were £1 ($2) per week. It was also a popular stop for travellers, especially sportsmen on their way to Lake Ellesmere.
It was first a hotel, built in 1856 when Edmund Shakespeare built what was then known as “Shakespeare’s Accommodation House”. Shakespeare’s care to build a sturdy building is evident today with the timbers still being in remarkably good condition. The front of the hotel was built of kauri, black pine and totara and it most likely had a thatched roof. The stables were built shortly after the hotel for the convenience of travellers.
In 1861 the hotel was granted its first liquor licence and became known as the “Ellesmere Arms Hotel”, the name it retained until 2003 when it became “Tai Tapu Hotel”. In the 1860s the hotel was a popular stop for the Cobb & Co coach on its daily return trip from Akaroa to Christchurch.
In 1875, Shakespeare added to the original building and soon after, it became fully licensed.
A couple of licensees later, Joseph Judge built a slaughterhouse at the rear of the main building and ran a butchery in conjunction with the hotel.
In 1883, John MacKenzie arrived in New Zealand from Orkney Islands (Scotland) and bought the hotel off Judge for £553 ($1,006). The hotel went through three generations of the MacKenzie family in the 70+ years they owned the business.
Norm and Marge Fisher were the 10th owners and operated the hotel for 15 years. Legend has it, they moved 152kg of horseshoes from the backyard when they took over. Norm represented New Zealand as a lightweight boxer at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He was a very popular host with a wide circle of friends. Norm and Marge were ideal Kiwi hosts. "The Fishers made the Ellesmere Arms feel more like a home than a public house... they are people who like people."
Like most country pubs, the Ellesmere Arms Hotel has a “horse-in-the-bar” story. It is said that Wendy, a well-mannered pony, would knock at the public bar door before entering and drinking the odd pint of best bitter - until it was obvious she was with foal and her drink of choice was restricted to water.
In the early days there was a grim side to the hotel. It was where the bodies of people who had either drowned or died in an accident, were brought for identification. Thankfully, this didn’t happen very often!
The hotel once had 16 rooms - 10 bedrooms; four sitting rooms; dining room that catered for 60 people; as well as the bar. The original bar had a wooden top about three metres long and was always scrubbed spotlessly clean. The bar was altered in 1949, but the hotel itself, is still one of the few relatively unchanged since pioneering days.
After Norm, the hotel changed hands several times with the current owner, Murray Smith, becoming involved in 2008, and purchasing it outright in 2018. Murray has made significant changes to the business and its grounds in the time he has owned it. The restaurant, bar and function room are busy with locals and visitors all year round. The grounds play host to live music in the summer months. It is well known that you need to get in quick on a Sunday if you want to secure one of the 60 picnic tables on the lawn to enjoy the music in the sun! There is even a playground and two bouncy castles for the kids to enjoy.
The standalone function room and grounds, built in 2016 hosts many fabulous private events including weddings, birthday parties, winter balls, conferences, christenings etc. There is even enough room for a helicopter to land on the function room lawn.
There’s really nothing the Tai Tapu Hotel can’t cater for – whether it be at the venue, take-a-way deliveries to your door or out-catering at a location of your choosing. We can do it all! The Hotel is as popular today as it ever was, and we look forward to seeing what the next 100 years brings for it.