Portage receptionist Mya Hopkinson welcomes Queen Charlotte Track walkers Karin and Luke O’Brien, of Sydney.
The new managers of Portage Resort, in the Marlborough Sounds, are promising to bring back the good times.
Richmond-based Capstone Hotel Management took charge of the Kenepuru Sound resort in September. The resort is owned by a consortium of 42 investors who bought units in a time-share type arrangement.
Nona Jackson, Capstone marketing manager, acknowledged the resort had gone through rough times but the company planned to “steer the ship in the right direction” and “put the lodge back on track”.
Lodge manager Asheigh Rigby promised “good food, good service and a warm welcome”.
A keen tramper, fisher and artist, Rigby said menus would cater to trampers hungry at the end of a big day on the Queen Charlotte Track and foodies seeking a fine dining experience. The Snapper Bar would continue its tradition of welcoming locals, especially on Friday nights.
South African-born Rigby qualified as a dietician, then worked in hospitality, including running exclusive lodges in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Her husband, Kade Burn, also worked at Portage as maintenance manager.
“Locks were fixed, windows replaced, holes in floors filled, and hot water restored to 15 rooms. Rooms are now clean and comfortable but more refurbishing is needed,” she said.
Twenty-one staff had been employed to work through until April/May, all housed on-site.
Maria Baxter, of Sounds Connection, said on a visit to Portage last week it was good to see the place looking loved again, with grounds maintained, the pool cleaned and filled, and buildings restored. Covid and the closure of roads due to storm damage had been rough on businesses in the Sounds, including Portage.
Gary Orchard, whose family has run commercial charter boats in the Sounds for four generations, said Portage was now a peaceful retreat, whereas, in the past, it was a summer hotspot.
The busiest time was the 1950s when people sailed from Wellington to Picton on the Tamahine, then caught a launch to guest houses in the Sounds.
Orchard’s first memory of Portage was collecting its mail with his father, as a 4-year-old. At 15, he worked there for a summer, washing dishes and taking away empty bottles. That New Year’s Eve, he counted 127 boats in the bay.
Hi-jinks included a Mr Weber pulling up in his whale-chaser boat, swimming to shore in his jeans, then waiting on the wharf until they dried off before coming up to the bar. He took staff tobogganing (aquaplaning) behind the boat.
In the mid 1980s, many adult children of original families returned to the Sounds, as mussel farming and tourism boomed. In 1987, 5500 revellers celebrated New Year’s Eve at Portage. After that, numbers were limited.
Orchard and his wife Ellen started Pelorus Tours in 1987, keeping busy from Labour Weekend until summer’s end, picking up and dropping off people and taking them fishing and diving. Today their tours included a two-and-a-half hour cruise for Portage guests who got to hear local stories, explore nature and learn about the greenshell mussel industry.
In 2011, the Portage Resort Hotel, as it was then known, was put into receivership then liquidation. In 2012 Rotorua-based Barry and Salina Walters of Tirohanga Group bought the resort, spent $1.4 million on upgrades then put it on the market, in 2014.
In 2019, THC Group took up management plus purchased its accommodation units and hospitality outlets. In October this year, THC Portage Ltd was placed in liquidation. November 20 is the last day creditors can make claims.
Staying at Portage Resort today costs from $179, for a double room. A unit sleeping up to five people costs $420. Catering is offered for weddings and events for up to 30 people.