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The Hermitage is currently closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but memories of it in busier times live on in the sound archives of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
Tourism in the South Island was pioneered by a man called Rodolf Wigley, who founded the Mount Cook Group of tourism and transport companies, Sarah Johnston from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision told Jesse Mulligan.
“He was one of the first people in South Canterbury to buy a car and in 1906 he was the first person to drive up to Aoraki/Mt Cook and back when there was no sealed road
“He started the Mt Cook Transport Company and he bought these big 9-seater cars and converted them in a garage he owned into 12 or 14 seaters and then used these to transport tourists around the lower South Island.”
In the 1960s, he wife Jesse remembered those early pioneering days.
“Much against his own inclinations he toured New Zealand putting on screen pictures and lecturing on the profit New Zealand would derive from tourists.
“Every man coming to the country leaves his dollar and that dollar stays, he drove this into the minds of the people, but only now, 50 years later has New Zealand wakened up to the value of what is now called tourism.”
The first cars crossing the Lindis Pass caused quite a reaction, she says.
“The first cars going through the Lindis and over the Crown range to Queenstown caused considerable excitement amongst the people, and especially the horses, it’s surprising now to realise the antagonism met by the first cars going through.
“At the lower shot-over bridge a blacksmith threw a sledgehammer from a bank down on one car in his anger, and on certain parts of the road cars were forbidden to go.
“This was serenely overcome by having farm horses meet the cars, towing them over the outlawed sections and then driving on.
“When the first crossed the Crown range and stopped at Cardrona, it was considered such an occasion that the school children were granted a holiday.”
“There was damage from flood, it’s a very harsh environment there and it was destroyed by fire twice.
“Wigley leased it and ran it for 20 years but eventually in the 1950s it came under the ownership of the Government Tourist Hotel Corporation.”
The THC wanted to ensure hotels around New Zealand were up to a standard suitable for international visitors, she says.
“In the 1950s and 1960s these were the last word in glamour in New Zealand really.”
The Heritage had a grand reopening in 1958 after it was rebuilt following a fire. Timaru radio station 3XC was there for the occasion and the presenter painted a vivid word picture of a hotel offering the discerning tourist every possible modern convenience.