When Maureen and Graeme Crook left their jobs and lives in Reefton to fix up the old Kohatu Hotel, at the turnoff to the Motueka Valley, locals thought they were mad.
The pub, which had been closed and derelict for 3 years before Graeme and Maureen bought the building 9 years ago, was originally built in 1878 by the Bromell family, who still have descendants in the Nelson – Tasman area. The building was known as the Terminus, a hub for coaches.
Nearly 150 years later, the building is a hub for locals and a rest spot for tourists, the Kohatu Flat Rock Café.
Maureen, a teacher, and her husband Graeme, a miner, lived in Reefton, and needed a change.
“We’re true West Coasters, genuine good people,” Maureen laughs.
“We couldn’t believe it when the old Kohatu pub closed down. It was an icon,” says Maureen.
While they knew the business model of a remote country pub could no longer survive, they felt there was a need for something there.
“It’s a great place to stop. We get a lot of people using it as a meeting place, people from the West Coast meeting their cousins from Nelson.”
The couple took over the place 9 years ago and had to completely rebuild it, a project that took 18 months, and have converted it to serve coffee and meals. It’s licensed too, still able to serve drinks.
“It was Graeme who had the vision for the place. Everybody told us we were crazy to start with, but after a few months the locals saw that we could make it work.”
Now, after 9 years of running the business and living on site, Maureen says they are relying on locals to get around them and help the business survive after the obvious restrictions, both recent and ongoing, with the Covid-19 protocols has basically shut down overseas tourists.
“We’ve had a lot of locals coming in who I think had cabin fever and were keen to get out, but it’s early days. I’m not seeing a lot of faces I don’t know.”
Maureen is hoping that more Kiwi’s will travel around New Zealand during the winter and support local businesses, especially ones like the Flat Rock Café which are reliant on travellers and tourists stopping by.
Despite the hard work getting the café up and running again, and Graeme taking up work as a contractor to help support the business, Maureen says it’s worth it for the people.
“As soon as those happy faces started walking through the door, it reminded us why we do what we do – it’s worthwhile.
“My favourite part of the business, even though living and working in the same spot can be challenging, is the people.”
Maureen and Graeme are hoping more Kiwi’s will get out and explore the country and stop in to see them along the way, for a coffee, a meal, or to get to know the locals, even Maureen and Graeme.
“He’s a bit hard case,” Maureen says of Graeme.
“People come from far and wide to be abused by him,” she says with a smile.