Visitors' sanctuary in former church

Naseby's answer to Hollywood's Walk of Fame is a modest offering, tucked down the side of a former church building. The path of concrete paving stones next to The Church Mouse on Foyle St is a relatively recent addition to the grounds of the 106-year-old former Sacred Heart Catholic church.

The pavers record milestones in the life of the building and also feature the names of a handful of visitors - some with historic connections to the site, those who have celebrated special family occasions, and others, like Northern Irish actor James Nesbitt who brought a ''touch of Hollywood'' to Naseby. Nesbitt played the role of dwarf Bofur in The Hobbit and stayed in The Church Mouse for a week while filming in the Rock and Pillar Range area in 2011. He praised the accommodation and also had glowing praise for Otago, when the Otago Daily Times talked to him at the world premiere of the movie in Wellington on November 28, describing the province as ''a great part of the country''.

''It's one of my enduring memories of this film.''

Co-owner of The Church Mouse, Phil Flanagan, of Naseby, said it was '' a real thrill'' to host him.

''He said he loved the area and enjoyed the Central Otago wine. Naseby got a good rap from the Hobbit crew's stay. Everyone was warned not to pester them but they mixed in with the local community. James Nesbitt asked to meet the owners of the place he was staying and we met him at the pub.''

The Hobbit actor signed a concrete paving stone, adding ''A happy dwarf '' under his name, to add to the path beside The Church Mouse.

The paver joins those marking a christening, a wedding, and visits by a cross-section of people staying in the accommodation. One couple also notes a ghostly visitor - recording ''a good presence at 3am'' on their paving stone. They told Mr Flanagan and co-owner Susia Farrell they sensed they had company but were not spooked by the encounter, as it was a '' good presence''.

''There's that sense of history surrounding the building. The feeling of serenity and peacefulness remains and people who stay here often comment on that,'' Ms Farrell said.

The building was the third Catholic church in Naseby, after the congregation outgrew the first two churches, built in 1867 and 1874. Prominent architect Francis Petre was commissioned to design the new church and it was built by a local contractor at a total cost of abut 550 and opened in 1906. Petre, a Catholic, was known for his Gothic-style designs and his expertise was used for large city cathedrals, as well as smaller local churches.

Catholic newspaper , the New Zealand Tablet, carried an extensive report of the opening of the ''pretty new church.''

''In its buildings, Naseby presents a strange mingling of decay and reconstruction, of pulling down and building up. And the handsome Catholic church which opened on Sunday is the latest and most emphatic earnest of the hopes of those who `do not despair of the republic' - who believe that there are good and better days in store for the dwindling township that was a name to conjure with in the early days of Otago mining '', the article said.

The newspaper said the Gothic-style church stood on a ''commanding site'' and praised the decorative effect and cost-effectiveness of the stamped metal interior.

''This medium has been employed with such happy results in the new edifice at Naseby that we confidently predict its more extended use in the construction of churches ... in New Zealand in the future.''

The local priest, Father McMullan, told those at the dedication ceremony that due to their ''generous response'', the church was opened free of debt, the Tablet reported.

A picket fence and ''handsome wrought-iron gate'' at the entrance still adorn the grounds more than a century later. The church was deconsecrated at a ceremony by the Bishop of Dunedin, Colin Campbell, on March 8, 2009. The church was part of the Ranfurly parish and over the years, worship became focused on the Catholic church in Ranfurly and numbers at Naseby services dwindled. A Naseby builder, Mr Flanagan, was quick to make an offer when the building was offered for sale.

''I guess you could say I have a passion for old buildings. I'd already owned and worked on several, including the Hartley Arms in Clyde, so was mad enough to offer to buy this one,'' he said. Listed as a Category 2 building on the New Zealand Historic Places Trust register, the church was seen as representing 130 years of Catholic worship in the village.

''I had no intention of changing it in any fundamental way, but wanted to ensure it stayed in Naseby and the building wasn't bought and moved away,'' he said. He spent about six months working on the building ''pretty much full-time''.

''There was lots of painting to be done, inside and out and you can imagine how long that took, standing on a scaffolding to reach it all. We decided on a grey and white colour scheme and as we chipped away the layers, it had once been grey and white.''

Although the couple thought it would make a good base for a cafe, the zoning of the site made it more suitable for use as travellers' accommodation.

''We had to find a use for it, and it just lent itself to this, '' Mr Flanagan said. To become holiday accommodation, it needed some serious work.

''There was no plumbing at all - an outside tap was the only water on the place. But the single major thing it needed was insulation to meet the modern building code.''

Heat pumps were installed and the place was rewired and plumbed.

''Effectively it was like building a new house, except all the original fixtures and fittings were still in place and hadn't been messed with or altered, which was great.

''The original stained glass windows, the pressed tin walls and heart rimu floors - they were all there.''

Redesigning the interior for accommodation was simple.

''Our motivation was to keep it as original as possible and to make sure any alterations were not attached and could all be taken out, to leave the building as it was, at some stage in the future ...

I don't know if that would ever happen, but we didn't want to make irreversible changes,'' he said. The church can accommodate five people. A mezzanine floor was added to create a bedroom upstairs, and another single bed was then ''tucked into the nook under the stairs.''

The former vestry has been converted into a bathroom with a freestanding bath and hand-held shower, while a separate room has twin beds. The kitchen lines part of one wall in the open-plan living area, which also features a dining table and two comfortable sofas near a television and stereo.

''I was looking for some comfortable chairs that weren't too fussy because we liked the clean lines of the church and didn't want to spoil it with too much clutter,'' Ms Farrell said. The couple declined to say how much the conversion cost.

''Let's just say it was a significant amount of money but it was worth it, to end up with a quality product,'' Mr Flanagan said.

''It was a labour of love.''