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Hurunui Hotel, Hawarden

Owning one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand is a responsibility not taken lightly by Rodger and Nola Strong. The two-storey limestone building has been seismically strengthened, ensuring it will remain a local landmark for years to come.

The historic Hurunui Hotel in North Canterbury

The earthquake-prone historic Hurunui Hotel was damaged in the 2016 Hurunui/Kaikōura earthquakes and closed shortly after.

Thanks to the work of heritage specialists, and Rodger’s knowledge of heritage buildings as a retired builder, a seismic strengthening solution was developed to protect and strengthen the building’s precious heritage elements.

A 19th century country hotel

Built in 1868, the Hurunui Hotel holds one of the oldest operating licences in New Zealand. The Category 1 historic place is constructed from layers of local hand-hewn limestone blocks packed with a mixture of tussock, clay and lime.

The hotel was built as part of a chain of accommodation houses for travellers on the main route between Canterbury, Nelson and the West Coast.

New Zealand Heritage List entry - Heritage New Zealand website

Getting expert help and funding advice

“We wanted to repair the building, but financially things didn’t stack up. We were feeling frustrated and uncertain about hotel’s future. We needed expert help,” says Rodger. 

The local council were keen to see the 150-year-old building restored and put the Strongs in touch with engineer Win Clark and architect Dave Pearson.

The pair, both with significant experience upgrading heritage buildings, considered a number of strengthening solutions.

At the same time, Mike Frew from Heritage EQUIP had been in touch to discuss potential funding options.

“We weren’t aware of the funding available for privately owned heritage buildings,” says Rodger.

From there, engineering investigations and funding applications began.

A $16,000 grant from Heritage New Zealand’s National Heritage Preservation Incentive Fund enabled Rodger and Nola to get engineering advice.

A further grant of $132,503 from Heritage EQUIP was secured to help fund the strengthening work.

Developing a structural scheme to protect the heritage fabric

Hurunui Hotel exterior with strengthening works underway

A detailed engineering evaluation (DEE) had been completed in 2013, and an assessment of earthquake damage and cost estimates for remedial work completed in February 2017.

Win and Dave used this documentation to develop a detailed plan for seismic strengthening.

Their plans addressed the hotel’s critical structural weaknesses - unreinforced stone masonry walls and gable ends.

“A number of strengthening solutions were considered, but the option we selected enhanced the capacity of the existing fabric to withstand earthquake effects, without adding significant new structure, thus protecting the building’s heritage appeal. This option also meant locally available materials and skills could be utilised,” says engineer Win Clark.

The strengthening scheme included:

  • tying the first floor into the perimeter masonry walls
  • installing a plywood diaphragm at the first floor
  • fixing the timber top plate to the top of the masonry walls
  • repairing and fixing the east and west gable ends
  • installing masonry ties to tie the inner and outer wythes together
  • installing masonry ties to tie each corner back into the body of the masonry walls
  • installing masonry ties to stitch cracking in the outer wythe of the masonry walls
  • fixing the four southern gables into the exiting roof framing

In reviewing the Strong’s funding application, the Heritage EQUIP panel praised the upgrade solution for being ‘sympathetic to the heritage values of the hotel.’

Community support for a local landmark

In a letter supporting their funding application, Mayor Winton Dalley stated the building was ‘a significant and prominent landmark’ for the region, ‘much admired and used’ by visitors and locals, and that ‘holds a special place in the history of the district.’

With work now completed, the Strong’s are planning to retire and either lease or sell the hotel. Whatever its future, the couple feel optimistic about the building’s future.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the hotel re-open, and once again providing a meeting place for both locals and visitors to Hurunui,” says Nola.

Top tips for other building owners

Rodger and Nola offer the following advice to building owners in a similar situation:

  • Source as much information as you can about your building – especially about its structure and heritage value.
  • There are lots of people out there who can help you. Talk to your local council to see what assistance they can provide. Do they offer funding? Can they put you in touch with heritage building experts?