Dunstan House a jewel in Clyde's crown

Cobb and Co coaches delivered customers to the front door almost 150 years ago, but these days it is bikes that bring most visitors to Dunstan House in Clyde's main street.

Maree and John Davidson have called the building home for the past six years and the property doubles as a boutique guest house.

Their main trade is from cyclists on the Otago Central Rail Trail, which stretches from Clyde to Middlemarch.

''The rail trail has given this part of Central an identity and something to feel proud of. The trail is so professionally done and it's good to be able to add some local flavour,'' Mr Davidson said.

''The feedback we get from people who are doing the trail is that it's world-class.''

The couple, both in their 50s, are ''born and bred'' in the district.

John was born in Poolburn and Maree (nee Small) was raised in Moa Creek, and they are proud to be descended from several generations of Central Otago residents.

Clyde is one of the gems of the district, along with the Dunstan House building, which is ''an absolute star'' , they say.

''We never get sick of showing people around and sharing its colourful history,'' Mr Davidson said.

The building goes back to 1863, when the original Dunstan Hotel, ''The Dunstan'', was built on the site.

It was constructed from weatherboard and included a dining, drawing and smoking rooms, as well as a theatre. The hotel even boasted its own brass band and team of dancing girls.

There is still a trapdoor from the current dining room into the cellar, which dates back to 1863 and was part of the original building.

In the early days of the hotel, the cellar also opened on to the street outside, so kegs of alcohol could be easily rolled into the cellar to be stored.

''Apparently, the dancing girls would also emerge through the cellar trapdoor into the hotel, and you can imagine the impact that had on the patrons,'' he said.

The stone-lined cellar, 6m by 2.5m, remains in its original condition and is used today as a wine cellar.

''It stays at a pretty constant 8 degrees, winter or summer, and only changes by a few degrees.''

The hotel catered for gold miners, as well as passengers on the Cobb and Co coaches making the three-day trek from Dunedin to Arrowtown and Queenstown. It was also a booking office for Cobb and Co.

It was rebuilt in 1900 in schist from the rock face at the gorge end of the town, and the stables at the back of the building were also rebuilt in stone.

The Georgian-style double-storey building, believed to be the first of its kind in Central Otago, was built for a Mr Alderdice, of Dunedin, by Thomas Wilkinson, a St Bathans builder who worked on the restoration of Edinburgh Cathedral before coming to New Zealand in search of gold.

He was assisted by Clyde stonemason John Holloway.

Albert Fountain was responsible for the joinery and the spectacular central staircase.

''People come here and they rave about the workmanship on the staircase in particular, as an example of Albert Fountain's work, '' Mr Davidson said.

A triangle of brass features on the inner corner of the stair treads, to save maids having to clear the dust that would otherwise gather there.

A lamp from the building's early days hangs at the top of the stairs, below a stained-glass skylight.

The warm-toned wooden floors and ceilings are another special feature of the property, with rimu used for the ceilings and matai for the floorboards.

''There's no way you could rebuild something with the character this has, with its wooden floors, the odd squeaky floorboard and the tales from its past,'' Mr Davidson said.

''You can't build 'new' old.''

The original fireplaces add the finishing touches to the rooms, with a kauri one in the downstairs living room and stunning tiles surrounding them in the bedrooms.

Dunstan House has 13 rooms, including the stables, which the Davidsons converted to accommodation.

They adjoin the main property and Maree and John live in that part of the house, shifting to a rental property when the demand for accommodation
peaks.

The stables open out on to the back garden of the property and a schist wall on the section boundary features horse hitch rings dating back to the early days of the hotel.

The sign painted on the side of the building offering ''Good Stabling'' is another memento from that era.

The property has changed hands many times.

As the gold rush finished and the number of patrons declined, the hotel closed in the 1930s, surrendering its licence to the former Commercial Hotel, several doors along.

The building was used as accommodation for a while and then only for storage.

In 1968, Fleur Sullivan bought and restored the building and gave it a new lease of life as a bed and breakfast business.

After selling it in 1974, she developed Olivers restaurant across the road.

''Fleur says she had to replace one of the treads in the staircase when she took over Dunstan House, as apparently a horse was taken up the stairs on the night the hotel closed, and it put its hoof through the tread,'' John said.

Since that time, the property has had several owners and been used as a restaurant and a guest house.

The Davidsons have installed central heating throughout and ''endless hot water'' for the comfort of residents, but have kept the history and original character of the building alive.

Photos of several former owners of the hotel are dotted around the walls and new generations of those families are thrilled to find the links with Clyde remain.

Maree and John say they have been won over by Clyde, as well as by their gem of a home.

''What's special about Clyde? The people, the house and the village,'' Mrs Davidson said.

''It's got such a buzzy feel about it. We love living in Clyde and you can be yourself here.''