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Experiencing history . . . Enjoying their stay at Oamaru's Junction Hotel last week are (from left) Bruce McNaughton, Diane and Sandra Brough, and Rowena Batchem, of Invercargill. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

For a group of visitors to Oamaru last week, the Junction Hotel provided more than just a place to rest their heads.

The landmark Oamaru building inspired intrigue, wonder and curiosity about the town’s history – and they were possibly the first guests the hotel has hosted for more than 100 years.

For the past 10 years, Bruce McNaughton, Rowena Batchem and Diane and Sandra Brough, of Invercargill, have stayed with their friend, Ian Murton, in Oamaru for the Victorian Heritage Celebrations.

This year, it just happened Mr Murton was living in the historic hotel.

“The plumber said to me the other day first guests this hotel has had for probably 100 years’,” he said.

Mr Murton bought the Junction Hotel last year, and is renovating it as his home.

For his guests, staying in the historic building was like stepping back in time.

“It’s nice to stay in the rooms that were the original accommodation bedrooms,” Diane Brough said.

“You just imagine what it was like 100 years ago staying there . . . . when you’re [moving] between the doors with your bustle and things on.

“It just adds to the weekend.”

The Junction Hotel was built for John McKay in the late 1870s and originally contained 34 rooms.

Mr McKay declared bankruptcy not long after the hotel’s opening and in 1885 the property was sold by the Scottish and New Zealand Investment Company to Oamaru hotelkeeper Patrick Corcoran for 1750. It was then operated by a succession of licensees.

In June 1904 there was a fire at the hotel, and damage to the building was considerable.

“Any thoughts of reopening the Junction Hotel following the fire would have been dissipated by the imminent and heated debates about prohibition in the town,” The Heritage New Zealand website reads.

It was later used as a general store, a vegetable store, a bottle store, a second hand bookshop, by a furniture removal firm for storage, and as flats.

But for the past 20 years it had mostly been neglected, despite previous owner Zhang Wei’s intention to restore it to its former glory.

Hosting his friends for the Victorian Heritage Celebrations had been a turning point for Mr Murton – “more encouragement to do a bit more work”, he said.

“It’s still very rustic – there’s a lot of work to do.”

A lot of people were interested in his plans for the building, and how restoration was going.

“It’s amazing how many people are interested in the building,” he said.

“Coming from the south it’s an introduction to the town.”