The lure of the stunning Aoraki Mount Cook region has seen new General Manager Nigel Harper return to The Hermitage Hotel after more than thirty years.
Mr Harper took up his new role today (Monday December 12) having gained a wealth of experience at management level in the hotel business throughout New Zealand and Asia.
John Davies, chairman of Aoraki Mount Cook Alpine Village Ltd which owns the iconic New Zealand property, said he was delighted to welcome Mr Harper to the position.
“Apart from his obvious breadth of knowledge and experience in the hospitality industry, he brings with him the knowledge of operating in the special environment that is Aoraki Mount Cook and has a strong focus on management and operations,” said Mr Davies.
Mr Harper has spent many years with global hotel company Accor in Asia in roles encompassing all aspects of hotel management and operations, and also spent more than ten years with Southern Pacific Hotels, based in Sydney, during which time he was director of operations for Australia and Asia.
Most recently he was General Manager at Scenic Hotel Southern Cross in Dunedin, and area manager for the company’s three hotels in Otago.
He previously ran The Hermitage for seven-and-a half- years in the 1970’s, and has run other key tourism properties in Tongariro National Park, Queenstown and Taupo.
Mr Harper said he was very much looking forward to living and working in the mountains once again.
“To some extent it feels like coming home,” he said. “Of course there have been some physical changes since I left in 1978, but it’s a stunning property to be working with and I’m looking forward to getting the word out there about the diversity of our product.”
From its modest beginnings in 1884 as a 12-bed ‘cob’ building to the 217-room combined hotel, motel and chalet complex of today, The Hermitage Hotel has played a huge part in New Zealand’s pioneering history. It’s been a home away from home for climbers like the late Sir Edmund Hillary, and hosted innumerable guests, dignitaries and celebrities from around the world.
The first Hermitage was built in 1884 under the direction of Frank Huddleston from Timaru.
Access was initially by horse-drawn coach service from Fairlie (a two-day ‘bone shaker’ which now takes a smooth 90 minutes) which later progressed to service cars.
After nearly 30 years, bad weather and floods took its toll on the original Hermitage building and a series of floods destroyed it beyond repair while the second Hermitage was under construction.
By the time it opened in 1914, service car provider The Mount Cook Motor Company was expanding to keep up with visitor demand. Keen to keep The Hermitage open throughout winter, in 1921 it took over the lease and developed camping facilities and package tours.
In 1944 the lease expired and The Hermitage was returned to the Government. Disaster struck in September 1957 when the second Hermitage was razed to the ground in a spectacular fire. The third and current Hermitage was built and operational by May 1958 and was run by the Government-owned THC (Tourist Hotel Corporation).
The original accommodation wing, now known as the Mount Cook Wing, still stands today. Numerous additions have been made since, notably:
1967 - Glencoe Lodge
1969 - Panorama Restaurant
1973 – Chalets
1975/76 - Motels
1977 – 40-room Wakefield Wing
2001 - $20 million makeover to all public areas and new 60-room Aoraki Wing.
2008 – $10 million Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre opens.
The hotel’s range of facilities makes it a popular venue for weddings, conferences and parties, where two restaurants and a café have floor to ceiling views of Aoraki Mount Cook.
In 1990 the hotel returned to private ownership and is now jointly owned by Trojan Holdings, a company owned by the Davies family of Queenstown and the Valentine family of Dunedin.
Today The Hermitage is an icon of superior accommodation and dining, and a world-renowned tourist destination.