Rob Allen and Janelle Harrington have gone all out with Featherston’s Royal Hotel interior. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER


Kiwiana, heritage, steam punk and luxury have merged at one of Featherston’s most loved historic buildings, which is reopening this week.

In all its glory, The Royal Hotel will be back in business from Wednesday, after an extensive two-year makeover.

Owners Rob Allen and Janelle Harrington bought the prominent Revans St building when it came up for sale in 2015.

The couple has put in considerable effort to ensure the hotel reflects both its own roots, and the history of the town.

Inspired by the town’s rail history, the hotel has tapped into the steam punk genre, while also embracing the coming together of Maori and Pakeha, as well as the town’s military history.

The hotel’s 12 upstairs bedrooms each have its own “personality”, themed on a unique character.

Most have elegant ensuites, in which the basins have been cleverly crafted with vintage sewing machine bases.

The largest room “belongs” to King Tawhiao, who was leader of the Waikato tribes and was the second Maori King.

Other rooms are themed after Victorian writers, such as Jules Verne (author of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), classic children’s books, and inspiring people of the past, such as Meri Te Tai Mangakahia, a campaigner for women’s suffrage in New Zealand.

Ms Harrington said the hotel had been at the heart of Featherston since not long after the town was founded, and locals felt they owned it.

The couple wanted to ensure residents invested in the building were well served, by incorporating into the design Featherston’s character and iconic features — the Fell locomotive engine, the Rimutaka incline and rail trail cycle way, the Featherston Military Training Camp and the Booktown status.

“A way to pull that together was to have a steampunk theme,” Ms Harrington said.

“We wanted to add this feeling of frontier . . . where the sort of people that had been here were adventurous, rebels and explorers.”

The Royal Hotel was first built in 1868 and opened the following year.

The large two-storey building was extensively damaged by fire a few years later and was rebuilt in 1893.

The couple fell in love with the “grand old lady”, regularly driving past it on their return to Lacewood at Tuhitarata Estate, their wedding venue at Kahutara.

Ms Harrington said their two venues were roughly from the same era and would complement each other, with the newly restored hotel boosting accommodation capacity for wedding guests.

And having a full-time chef running the Royal’s kitchen meant they could now cater all weddings themselves.

The Royal Hotel will be open late, seven days a week, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Argentinian chef Dante Moren has spent months getting to know Wairarapa suppliers and producers, from where all ingredients will be purchased for the menu that was “designed around local, wild meat and local produce”.

Craft beers and Wairarapa wine will be served at the bar.

Mr Allen said the venue would cater for small weddings, conferences and private functions.

Complex woodwork features, crafted by local man David Reynolds, were one of the highlights inside the building, he said.

Ms Harrington said the aim was to “capture history” and the “many inspiring stories” of early New Zealand.

“When people come inside we want them to feel like they’ve walked into a big, old house that’s serviced especially for them.”