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Preserving Treasures Of The Past - 6
The Mainline Station Restaurant, Domett, North Canterbury

Dorothy - 22/12/99

The Mainline Station Restaurant today
The Mainline Station Restaurant today
You're driving along the main north road between Christchurch and Picton and approaching Domett. You're growing hungry and thirsty and hoping that soon you will see somewhere to stop for a cuppa or for lunch. Then you see a sign and what, if you are an adult Kiwi, looks amazingly like the old railway stations of your youth. Does that make you think of fighting in a crush to be served thick, rather dry, sandwiches and solid cups of strong tea which had to be consumed in a frantic hurry before the whistle went for the train to depart?

No, it's not like that at the Mainline Station Restaurant. I recommend stopping and sampling the good food from a varied menu nicely served at a table indoors or out under the sun umbrellas in an attractively laid out garden with pleasant farmland beyond. Chat to one of the owners about how this restaurant came into being.

The story of the restaurant
I talked to Judith Hewett and found it a fascinating story. Her husband, Gordon Hewett, had the idea of developing a small off-farm business and he and Judith joined with Jo and Emiel den Haring in a feasibility study of the idea of opening a restaurant. Judith and Gordon are farmers at Domett and Jo and Emiel live in Cheviot where Emiel is the workshop technology teacher at Cheviot Area School.

An old railway station used for farm storage

The dilapidated station is taken across the railway line for restoration on its new site
The dilapidated station is taken across the railway line for restoration on its new site

A building was the first requirement, but a new building was very expensive. Gordon thought about the Domett Railway Station which had been sold to his uncle after the Railways sold it in 1982. It was being used as a farm storage shed. Gordon bought the station and moved it to a site on the front corner paddock of the farm, right on State Highway 1.

History of the restoration
The following is a copy of the history of the restoration that was submitted with photos to the Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand for entry in its Railway Building Restoration Award.

"Submitted by Emiel and Jo den Haring and Gordon and Judith Hewett, joint owners and business partners of the Domett Railway Station, and who together moved and fully restored this building to its present day condition.

"The Domett Railway Station was tendered off for removal by the Railways in 1982 and from that date saw service as a farm storage shed. In 1996 and prior to its move to its present site, the building was in a very derelict state as the enclosed photos will attest to. Animals, birds, and vermin were calling the building home and wood rot was starting to set into exterior woodwork, especially around badly deteriorated windows and doors. Had the building not been restored, it was likely that within another ten years it may have become beyond economic repair.

The station on the bare site before restoration and landscaping
The station on the bare site before restoration and landscaping

"Restoration took the partners six months to complete and with the exception of the electrical and plumbing installation was all their own work. All woodwork repair of the native timbers was completed by recycling (where possible) the existing timbers. The challenge of rebuilding and repairing sash windows and kauri doors was left to one of the partners who holds an advanced Trade Certificate in Cabinetmaking. With minimal compromise to allow for a Health Department regulation kitchen, the station has retained all the character and ambience of its former days. Both the interior and exterior have been painted in "Heritage Colours" and the building, situated on State Highway No. 1. is a visual attraction for tourists and locals alike.

"Since opening as a Cafe and Gift Shop in October, 1996, the building has had many visitors, including tourists and many former New Zealand Railway employees and previous Domett residents who have praised our efforts, and enjoyed a nostalgic visit to the past.

"We feel proud of our combined efforts, and hope our business is a success, and enjoy showing people through the station and relating a piece of important North Canterbury history. Hope you can share this with us too."

This article was printed in 1997 to accompany our entry with the Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand.

Merit Award
The Rail Heritage Trust of New Zealand gave Mainline Station a Merit Award in the Railway Building Restoration Awards in December 1997, the only one awarded in the South Island that year.

Domett railway station dating from 1907
The Domett railway station was opened in 1907, by the Acting Premier Mr. Hall-Jones, although the building was not completed until after this date, as photos of the official opening show. It was the Railhead for the Cheviot area, and its opening led to the demise of the local Port Robinson. It was four years later that the railway was pushed through to Mina, which then became Cheviot's main station.

Judith comments, "The business was three years old on 13 October, 1999, and is going from strength to strength. It was all very new to us all and called on all our skills. The advantage of a business partnership like this was the strength that comes from a shared work load and the gathering of ideas to be pooled and discussed. Most of the restoration work was done in our spare time, holidays and evenings, with the help of our family."

Why the Mainline Station?
The name was chosen because the restaurant is situated on the corner of the Main Road (SH1) and the Old Main Road, and the main trunk railway runs past on the other side of the Old Main Road.

Railway, History and Country
The Restaurant has three themes - Railway, History and Country. The colour schemes and fittings were chosen to suit the age of the building. Visitors notice these details and one was heard to say, "Oh wow, it's still got its old lights!"

Patrons chat to the staff while selecting from the varied menu
Patrons chat to the staff while selecting from the varied menu

The stock for the gift shop is purchased to fit the Old, Country or Railway theme. Customers can browse in the shop while their meal is being prepared. The kitchen looks like a farm kitchen and people can see the preparation of the meals and chat to the staff while they bake, often talking about recipes and "what Mum or Grandma used to make".

Pet lambs, tame sheep and ducks
As part of the country theme there is a pet lamb on the lawn for young and old to bottle feed, and the older sheep who remain as "pets" live in the paddock behind the station and will come when called all year round. This enables guests to see sheep up close and touch them. The owners have also developed a small lake where the resident ducks live and wild ducks and the occasional blue heron visit.

Catering and tours
Mainline Station offers catering services on site or elsewhere in the district. They have catered for a range of functions including lunches, dinners and weddings. Quiches, muffins, carrot cakes, birthday cakes and wedding cakes are among their specialties, all made on the premises.

Tour parties are offered morning tea and/or lunch and a guide to accompany the group in the bus as they tour the area, providing a commentary on the history and features of the area.

I enjoyed a recent group tour with Gordon Hewett as guide. After morning coffee and tea at the restaurant we drove to Manuka Bay where Ashley Smith organised a display of his paintings and the work of other craftspeople in the area. We drove through Gore Bay to Cheviot where the staff of Mainline Station provided lunch in the Cheviot Community Hall. After visiting the beautiful garden of Mr and Mrs R Morris at 'The Gums' in the Leamington Valley we drove through the valley and back to Christchurch - a pleasant and interesting day tour.

A period piece of railway history
The owners of Mainline Station have worked as a team to create the authentic atmosphere in the old station and the good food adds to its appeal in this age of world wide nostalgia for anything to do with railways.

Normal business hours 9.00 - 5.00 p.m.
Open seven days (closed Christmas Day)
Phone (03) 319 8776
Fax (03) 319 8116
Contact Judith Hewett or Jo den Haring

New Owners at the historic Mainline Station Cafe, Domett, North Canterbury

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