High spirits: Former hotel comes with ghost on top floor

The former Tunnel Hotel in Port Chalmers comes with its own ghost called Mary. Photo: Supplied
The former Tunnel Hotel in Port Chalmers comes with its own ghost called Mary. Photo: Supplied
Two historic hotels on the Dunedin waterfront are for sale. One reportedly caught the eye of Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking. The other is haunted by a ghost called Mary.

The former Port Chalmers Hotel in Dunedin, known as the Tunnel Hotel, is on the market.

For the asking price of $650,000 for the pub building on 22 Beach S, brave buyers will get a semi-stripped out shell of the building, some big dreams – and a ghost.

The place comes with its own yarns – some verifiable, some not so much. Whilst most recently the former pub was run as a boarding house, Harcourts agent Jim Packer, who is marketing the property, said some buyers have told him tales of former brothels, but his vendor’s ghost tales are well-known in the area.

The vendor told OneRoof he has been assured by local ghost hunters that the pub hosts its own phantom, a “ghost called Mary who hangs out in Room 8 on the top floor”.

“They’d wanted to come and film and record and everything, but I didn’t have time for that,” he laughed.

Packer can verify that in its heyday the pub was popular with wharfies, although as the port trade dropped away and drinking laws changed, the traditional after-work swill crowds dwindled.

At one point the port had six hotels and watered not just the workers but also the sailors and fishermen from the three large ships docked at port, adding some 500 thirsty souls to the population at any one time. Opening hours were from early morning until late at night, with a handy back alley way, conveniently hidden from the neighbouring police station, for entry after the then-legal 6pm closing time.

The Tunnel Hotel interior has been stripped out in preparation for conversion to luxury...
The Tunnel Hotel interior has been stripped out in preparation for conversion to luxury apartments. Photo: Supplied

The three–storey brick and masonry hotel was built between 1875 and 1876 on a basement of local Port Chalmers bluestone. It replaced the original 1840s building, said to be the oldest pub in the south, and was built right next to the tunnel for the new railway that came out to the port a couple of years earlier – hence the name.

At the time, locals described it as “a remarkable and stately landmark”, but by the time it changed hands in 2021, it had fallen on harder times, and was most recently a boarding house.

The vendor, an experienced heritage building developer, is selling the place because he’s focusing on another restoration of an even older hotel, The Empire, in Dunedin city. The Tunnel Hotel comes complete with a stack of gib board and plywood, and architect, fire and earthquake engineers’ plans but no consents as yet.

“The development plan was to create four generous apartments (64sqm to 122sqm) with two smaller units (20.5sqm and 45sqm) on the ground floor and first floor. The second floor is to be self-contained Boarding Unit comprising large living/kitchen area, five single rooms, two larger rooms with ensuites and two bathrooms,” Packer’s advertising said. His vendor planned to rent the apartments, but other buyers may like to sell them as individual titles.

So far, the owner has stripped out some of the upper floors of the pub, revealing the sturdy brick walls and old fireplaces, and double-glazed some of the windows, but is yet to get council consents for the new building plans. The pub, which overlooks modern wharf warehouses, has a Category 2 Heritage listing, which protects the exterior.

Local ghost hunters have tales of a resident ghost, Mary, who lives in the upper floor. Photo:...
Local ghost hunters have tales of a resident ghost, Mary, who lives in the upper floor. Photo: Supplied
OneRoof records show the 760sqm property on a 911sqm site has a 2022 rateable value of $476,000, and that it changed hands in late 2021 for $400,000.

“People will have to do their own due diligence, including obtaining council advice prior to purchasing the property,” Packer noted.

Remarkably, a second Victorian pub is also for sale the next bay around from Port Chalmers, on Otago Harbour at Careys Bay.

The two-storey bluestone Georgian-style pub at 1/17 Macandrew Road, while almost the same age, has had a much happier history.

The thriving restaurant and bar business is being sold by tender along with the land and buildings, closing November 1, marketed by LJ Hooker agent Pam Mulder, who said she’d been told of Hosking’s plug for the pub on his breakfast show a week or so ago.

Careys Bay Hotel was restored in 2005. Photo: Supplied
Careys Bay Hotel was restored in 2005. Photo: Supplied
The historic pub was famously bought and meticulously restored by heritage fan Cushla Martini and her husband, then owner of the National Business Review, Barry Colman in 2001. Although Martini died before her project was finished in 2005, Colman carried on with the pub before selling it to the current owner’s parents, John and Mary Kidston in 2008. Martini had restored several other heritage buildings in the historic town.

At the time he sold the pub, Colman removed the valuable paintings by local (and patron) Ralph Hotere, a priceless collection of 13 works, considered one of the most significant collections of his work.

The Kidstons’ daughter Joanna bought the pub in 2016 and oversaw a luxurious renovation of the upper floor into a four-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment for herself and husband Steve Little. It includes a stylish kitchen, a formal dining room, library and lounge while a lush private garden was added over lockdown.

Martini’s meticulous restoration of the old pub revealed many Victorian architectural gems, with the heritage layout providing room for a snug, a private lounge and a conservatory bar, as well as the main bar and garden bar.

Mulder said the summer trade, already boosted by the 120 cruise ships which visit Dunedin, is seeing an even bigger boost with the opening of the Dunedin biking and walking track.

The agent could not be drawn on the likely price of the building and business (OneRoof records show the 696sqm building on its 1146sqm section has a 2022 rateable value of $1.39 million) but expects it to appeal to a range of potential buyers, including somebody wanting a harbourside apartment to live while leasing the business to another operator.

“I’d be happy to take a call from Mike Hosking and show him through. He’d love it,” she joked.

 - OneRoof