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Aranui to Picton

The Story Behind New Zealand's Early Motels
Mark Aitchison - 02/08/02

The Aranui Motor Camp in Christchurch with its novel attractions and the American Luxury Motels in Picton, the first modern motels in New Zealand, were the brainchild of Horrie Papps and changed the pattern of New Zealand holidays from the 1950s till the present day. My grandfather, Horace (Horrie) Papps, must have been the world's expert on every aspect of having a good vacation. Some of my best memories are of camping with my grandparents by the sea at Oaro, or spending the Christmas holidays on his 40 foot launch in Takamatua. All sorts of people would turn up, perhaps with fish, perhaps just for a good yarn. As well as caravanning and boating he loved to go tramping in very isolated parts of the country, and went on world cruises to the opposite extreme. Not only did he enjoy all this himself, he knew better than anyone how to make the occasion perfect for those with him.

That obviously helped when he established his own holiday businesses. He turned an old estate into the extremely popular Aranui Motor Camp in Christchurch soon after the Second World War, and went on to build the "American Luxury Motels" in Picton. The "Luxury Motels" were different from Mr L. Bird's holiday cottages already built in Picton in 1953, and different from his own Aranui cottages; they were based on motels he had seen in the United States a few years earlier, more luxurious than typical cabins of the time... one of the earliest examples of the modern style of motels we see around New Zealand today.

Modern motels are a far cry from the holiday accommodation of half a century ago; they are certainly more well-equipped, but we have also lost some of the fun.

New Zealand Camping in the 1950's
Whether staying in a holiday cabin or your own tent, you'd have to take a lot of things with you - cutlery, bedding and much of what we now take for granted in motels. Some camps, such as Aranui, provided many attractions - movies, talent quests, a shop, a small zoo even! But often a camp was simply a convenient, well-drained and hopefully picturesque spot you return to regularly to relax and catch up with other regular campers that have become friends. Even those staying for a short time, perhaps in the middle of touring the South Island would mix with other campers in a way that is foreign to modern motel privacy. The distinctive friendly atmosphere of these camps seems to have stayed on in caravan clubs years after many of the greatest motor camps have gone, and this is what I can remember best, as a child in the 1960s.

camping
Holidaying at its best in the early 1950s
The American Luxury Motels
My uncle, who went on to build two motels of his own, recalled his father deciding to build motels in Picton when they passed through in about 1956. Within two years the units were built - but others, twenty seven in all according to Henry Kelly's history of Picton, were also built at this time. Although the Cook Strait roll-on, roll-off ferry service had not yet begun Picton was becoming a popular holiday destination for several reasons. Of course the introduction of the Aramoana Wellington-Picton ferry in 1962 caused an even greater boom in tourism, but the growth was already there in the late 1950s thanks largely to improved road access and a population that had discovered motoring holidays.

Motels
The author at the American Luxury Motels, circa 1958
The name came from their being styled on the North American motels of the time, and the new level of luxury they offered. Here "luxury" means things like floor coverings, kitchen utensils and beds that are ready to sleep in! The main attraction, and something that enabled more people to conveniently take a holiday, was the great reduction in things you would need to cram into your car for the holiday.

Later, after they were sold, the name changed to Americano Motels, and they are still going strong in the small Marlborough town.

Horrie Papps didn't stop with building the motels. As with the Aranui Motor Camp, he realised all facets of the stay were important, so he set about finding a solution to the local sandfly problem, he tried to get local shop keepers to lower their prices (by pooling resources to reduce high transport costs, for instance), and he was responsible for a sound shell being built on the foreshore.






 
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