Barely recognisable . . . Frewen’s Commercial Hotel in Omakau in an undated photo illustrates just how much the building, now called Omakau Commercial Hotel, has changed. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/CENTRAL STORIES MUSEUM

The News continues its series looking at how Central Otago’s old buildings have changed and, in some cases, how they have evolved.

Some are no longer used for their original purpose, while some are, although slightly modified.

This week we take a look at Omakau Commercial Hotel, a building that has stood the test of time, longer than any other building in the town. Alexia Johnston reports.

The Omakau Commercial Hotel is not what it used to be.

It started out as a small schist stone building, built in 1898 by William Leask, whose descendants still farm in the area.

Initially, it was used as an accommodation house, which he called Pomona House after the area of the Orkney Islands where he was born in 1836.

The building was later transformed into a licensed hotel called Frewen’s Commercial Hotel.

The original accommodation house still stands, but has become the centre of the building following extensions.

Located south of the hotel is McKinnon’s Stables, which was also built by Mr Leask to house his work horses during the late 19th century.


Modernised . . . The Omakau Commercial Hotel, as it looks today, has been added to over the years. PHOTO: ALEXIA JOHNSTON


Part of the stables was also used as a woolshed and, in the 1990s, featured in a TV advertisement for Speight’s.

Mr Leask grew up in Scotland, but set sail for New South Wales in 1856, aged 20, on board Conway as an assisted immigrant.

He settled in New Zealand in 1862 when he joined thousands of gold prospectors along with brother Samuel.

They arrived in 1863 at the Blacks Diggings, now called Ophir, where he became a successful gold miner.

Following his success, he sent for his girlfriend, Ellen Corrigall, also of Orkney Islands, and they had five children.

Many images illustrating The Commercial Hotel’s transformation over the years are framed on the walls throughout the bar and restaurant.

Information supplied by William Leask’s descendants and Central Stories Museum.


Built tough . . . One of the iconic Speight’s beer ads was filmed in the McKinnon Stables, which neighbours the hotel along Leask St. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/ CENTRAL STORIES MUSEUM
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