The West Coast town that got a new pub light after 150 years

A close up of the pub light. Photo / Supplied
A close up of the pub light. Photo / Supplied
The West Coast town of Reefton - the first place in New Zealand to be lit by electricity - has a new pub light for its 150th birthday.

The lantern-shaped light with gold lettering was formally opened yesterday by the mayor of Buller, Jamie Cleine, outside Wilson's Hotel, which has been pouring drinks since 1873.

Gwen Gardner, a fourth generation resident of Reefton and driving force behind the project, cut the ribbon to "go down in history" as one local put it.

"I don't know if I will ever walk past it and not feel emotional. Everybody loves it. It looks fabulous.

"My great grandparents came to Reefton about 1888 and the thought of them being around the light is pretty special," Gardner told the Herald.

Reefton, which became a thriving gold mining town after the precious metal was discovered nearby in 1866, was the first town in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere to get electricity, which was generated by the Reefton Power Station.

Gardner said in the 19th century every hotel had a kerosene-lit pub light as a condition of the licence to show a bit of life after dark.

Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine and Gwen Gardner at the opening of the pub light. Photo / Supplied
Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine and Gwen Gardner at the opening of the pub light. Photo / Supplied

She said the idea for the pub light came when she and a friend were looking through photographs of shops from the 1870s and 1880s and spotted a photo of the Southern Cross Hotel with a "great monument" in front of it.

They discovered it was a pub light and decided to replicate as part of the town's 150th anniversary this year.

The Southern Cross Hotel was demolished in the mid-1960s and it was decided to put the pub light outside Wilson's Hotel, one of a handful of early hotels still standing in the main street.

Gardner said people loved the idea, donations, large and small, poured in towards the $15,000 cost and local historian Allan Archer did a "brilliant job" researching photos to come up with a design for the new light.

Local tradies helped to build the structure, purpleheart hardwood posts were sourced from the North Island, the frame was made in New Plymouth and a retired printer from Hokitika, Tony Arnold, applied the gold lettering.

Cleine said the pub light adds to the heritage features of the inland town, which has a population of 1000 people.

"The heritage elements are drawing people to Reefton for that reason. Domestic tourism has gone crazy in Reefton. Businesses are reporting it is the busiest summer they have ever had," he said.

An early photo of the Southern Cross hotel showing the original pub light. Photo: Supplied
An early photo of the Southern Cross hotel showing the original pub light. Photo: Supplied

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