One of the Wairarapa’s oldest pubs is back in business with a new team at the helm.

For many travelling on State Highway 2, the The Tin Hut at Tauherenikau is either a welcome break before tackling the Rimutaka Hill – or a  chance to unwind after driving over it. So when it closed late last  year, there must have been a collective sigh of relief when it was bought by Kate Sullivan, a local keen to carry on its tradition as a family-friendly venue.

When she bought the 159-year-old pub, it had been more or less stripped of all chattels, giving Kate the chance to do a six-month makeover.

Inside, memorabilia hangs on the walls, reminding you of the pub’s long history. None of the character has been lost in the refurbishment but  the interior has been lightened and brightened with soothing duck egg blue walls in the dining area, and well-crafted furniture and furnishings throughout.

“We have tried to source furniture and furnishings locally - it’s as competitive as anywhere else, and everything we needed was here,” says Kate.

The ‘go local’ philosophy applies just as much to food, beer and wine. Of the 28 wines available, 19 are from Wairarapa vineyards. Local craft beers represented include Martinborough Brewery and Carterton’s Regent 58.

Kate says she took on the pub license because she enjoys a fresh challenge. Although she doesn’t have a background in hospitality, she’s backed up by her daughter Marie Webb, who has worked in the industry for 20 years. Previous owner Marcus Darley, who bought and renovated the old pub in 2004, has been on hand as Kate’s mentor.

“I’ve enjoyed learning the business. I don’t think you should ever stop learning throughout your life,” says Kate.

“I come from a family where having 20 or 30 people around the table for dinner is nothing to worry about, so hospitality is part of my life. And I have done a myriad of other things, usually working with people,” she says.

Chef Martina Waru is a key part of the new team. Previously part of The Gladstone Inn’s winning team in the Wairarapa Gate to Plate contest, she says her food is country style, using local ingredients wherever possible. It’s an ever-changing, seasonal menu, including Pinot-braised lamb shanks, crispy pork belly,  and New York baked cheesecake on the winter menu.

One of the diners’ faves is the The Tin Hut Burger, served with all the trimmings – and they really mean that. It’s stacked so high with goodies that it defies most people’s ability to eat it held within one hamburger bun. “Though some guy managed to do it last week,” says Martina.

Open since June this year, the pub has already developed a following among locals with plenty of group bookings well into the Christmas season. Kate has plans to get the extensive, sun-catching rear garden ready for summer.

And then there’s the pub’s 160th anniversary celebration to plan for next year.  From here on, The Tin Hut team will be coming up with ideas on how to celebrate the old pub’s big birthday.

The Tin Hut, SH2, Featherston, Wellington 5771

For opening hours go to www.tinhut.co.nz