The Kauaeranga Hotel was opened some time in the early 1880s and finally closed in 1945. During its history, the main building was burned down twice. It served a growing and thriving community, based initially on gum-digging, then farming and kauri logging.
From Thames, follow the Kauaeranga Valley road for approx 1km past the Mangakirikiri bridge. As the road swings around a left-hand bend immediately before heading down the hill to Devcich's bridge & ford, an old section of road loops off to the right (downhill, towards the river). Follow this loop on foot & after approx 25m, the remains of one of the hotel buildings (probably the stables) can be seen on the uphill side of the road loop. The site of the main hotel building is on the downhill side of the loop (identified from the 1917 photo at Figure 1 below).
The GPS waypoint for the site is: NZMS 260, Sheet T12, Thames, 1:50,000, Easting 2742452, Northing 6448641.
Berry (2007 pp.113-114) provides a brief history of the hotel, including a list of known licensees. The first was John Lea Stevens in 1882, and the last was Len Ward (1944-45). The hotel was burned down in 1937 and service continued in the stables until a new hotel was built. The hotel was again burned down in 1945, and although a temporary bar was opened, service finally ceased that year.
The hotel was used extensively by American servicemen on leave during World War 2, and there are two other interesting stories recounted by Berry (2007). One involved a Maori gentleman by the name of Nopera, who was carrying the body of an old Maori woman in a sack, to Thames for the tangi, and stopped for a drink at the hotel. When asked what he had in the sack, he revealed the contents and was asked to leave forthwith. The other involved the water replenishment tank for the locomotives on the Kauaeranga tramway, which was opposite the hotel on the far bank of the river. Reputedly, when the crews were approaching the water point, they tooted the whistle a number of times, reflecting how many bottles of beer they wanted, and someone would deliver the order; wading the river on foot or on horseback.
The general location of the hotel was known from the map provided by Hayward (1978), reproduced by Berry (2007). A detailed description, including the existence of the old road loop, was provided by Peter McKinnon, a long-term resident of the Kauaeranga Valley. The site fits the 1917 photo, including the ability to see the prominent rocky outcrop known as 'The Maori Chief', which is at the lower end of the Hihi valley.
The concrete remains of an old building, opposite the main hotel building site, were found, and thought to be those of the stables. These would have most likely been on the side of the road, and apparently weren't harmed in the fires.
The site is visible from road reserve (TCDC). As the main hotel building was on what is now a residential property, with a contemporary house only about 30m away, the survey was limited to observation from the old road loop.
Berry, A. (2007). The Kauaeranga Valley, Allan Berry, Thames.
Hayward, B. W. (1978). Kauaeranga Kauri, Lodestar Press, Auckland.