Once home to one of Nelson's colonial archdeacons, Muritai Manor underwent a dramatic resurrection in the late 1990s. Lynda Papesch reports.
Today Muritai Manor at Wakapuaka stands tall and proud; a two-storey Edwardian mansion opening its doors to paying guests. Just over two decades ago, however, time and a tide of owners and occupants had taken their toll.
Muritai [Maori for sea breeze] was built in 1903 by a local builder, John Dollimore. In 1905, the home and surrounding land was purchased by Archdeacon Alfred Cecil Wright who arrived in Nelson with his family to manage the parishes of St Peter's in Atawhai, St Andrew's, Hillside and St John's at Hira.
Archdeacon Wright died in 1909 but his family continued living in the house until the 1920s. Research by subsequent owners shows that for the next five decades the land behind the house – part of the property – was farmed by two local families, the Dodsons and the Frosts. Over time the land was divided and sold off, eventually leaving the house sitting on a block of about 3000 square metres.
By 1995 it had seen better days, with little upkeep or changes, aside from one or two extensions. Its character and charm were underlying, however, and that convinced Nelson couple Jan and Stan Holt to take a chance. In 1995, the Holts bought Muritai Manor with a view to turning it into a bed and breakfast establishment and two years later completed the first major renovation.
"Aside from one or two extensions, it was still very much in original condition," Mr Holt recalls. "There was still scrim on the walls and a lot that needed doing to turn it from a private family home into a commercial B&B."
The couple extended the house by about a third, initially creating three of the four ensuite rooms, Rotorua, Brough and Buxton, as well as separate accommodation for the hosts. The Tasman ensuite room, an upgrade of the guest lounge and new front steps followed in 1998 and the following year the Garden Room, originally the hay barn and implement shed, was created.
Local builders and joiners undertook the work, which included making several new "old" doors. Where possible original doors and windows were sourced.
"We wanted to keep it in the Edwardian style, Mr Holt said.
Some aspects of the renovation proved easier than others. "We were lucky that the doors, for instance, had not been painted."
Made mainly of matai, with rimu, heart rimu and kauri (fireplaces), the house originally featured plaster ceilings but these were replaced with gib board, but retaining the original 3.5-metre stud.
Other original features include rimu flooring discovered under hardboard and lino, a dado rail in the guest lounge and a magnificent carved staircase.
Ownership of Muritai passed to Julia and Alex Hunter in November 2006.
The British couple came to New Zealand on holiday in 2003 and decided to emigrate. Settling in Timaru, their long-term plan was to own a B&B, so they started their search.
"We had a number of options but none had really jumped out and grabbed us," said Mrs Hunter.
"While we were thinking about making a decision, we had a weekend in Nelson and found Muritai Manor was for sale."
She was sold on the brochure. "It was an older style home, very English; I knew it was the one."
Since taking over, the couple have upgraded the Garden Room to include its own kitchen facilities and a new ensuite shower and tackled the dilemma of replacing three open fires with gas while retaining their Edwardian character. Then there's the ongoing maintenance that goes hand-in-hand with owning an older home.
"We've got the painters in at the moment, working on one wall," Mr Hunter laughs. "When that's finished we'll move on to the next."
Two years ago they remodelled the garden, which proved a steep learning curve for Mrs Hunter. "It took a while to learn about some of the plants; which were plants and which were weeds." With guests, gardens and a gracious old manor to look after they're kept busy, but they love it.
"It's paradise here," Mr Hunter says.