You might say that ‘The Royal’ is a scene unfolding out Matawhero ways these days, in the premises formerly known as The Jolly Stockman. A scene indicated by a black sign with a crest and the words ‘THE ROYAL’.

Such a name and grandeur of signage might give the impression that someone is harbouring aspirations of an aristocratic nature, that a very ritzy kind of scene awaits beyond the sprawling carpark.. 

But five minutes of talking to Nate Skelton, who has been casually pulling this scenario together over the past few months, it is clear that to the contrary, The Royal is less about ritz, and all about relax; not at all about aristocracy, but all about the people.

The name ‘The Royal’ is a nod to Matawhero’s first public house, the Royal Oak Hotel, built in 1872 and sold for demolition in 1955. And while ‘heritage’ is a word that comes up often in relation to this project, Nate seems intent on creating a new kind of place in which for community to gather and spend time, a starkly different kind of space to the Public Houses of old.

 Out here Nate (who many of you might know from Raglan Roast on Wainui Road) is blurring lines, opening doors, lengthening tables, and basically refusing to be tied down to doing any one thing in particular. The guiding principal behind The Royal is to create a space where anyone feels comfortable and relaxed whether you’ve got a tie around your neck, are in your high vis or straight off the farm. The spaces are all set up for the collision of humans (in a metaphorical manner).  All of the tables are long and the seats are of the bench variety so you’ll often end up sitting or standing next to people you may not know, at least not very well – by design. If Nate has his way, and he certainly seems to have achieved this at Raglan Roast in Kaiti, you’ll end up having a yarn to the person who’s parked up next to you. 

‘Hub’ is another word Nate uses often, although he doesn’t want to and wishes aloud for a better word every time it slips out. The Royal isn’t a pub, though there’ll be alcohol of course. The Royal isn’t just for coffee, though there’s a plenty of that. The Royal opens early in the morning, and it will be open throughout the day and into the night. You can grab a meal, and there will be barbeque, and there will be music, and ‘good music’ at that, and it will be a place to take your families, and there will be markets, and there are fourteen rooms for accommodation in the offing.. but Nate is quick to point out that the focus isn’t on any specific one of these things. 

There’s something quite lovely about Nate and his wife Georg knocking about out here in this solid 1950’s build and all its out houses hanging on around the edge.  There’s a great circularity of narrative with Nate and Georg’s own story having started at the Pool Table at The Rivers, where Georg, Gizzy-born and bred, was spending an evening with her family. Nate was hanging with a friend and keen to claim the pool table for a few rounds for themselves. That plan was scuttled when Georg beat Nate (as the story goes) and well, the rest is a small history since then. Now they live just down the hall from another pool table, and while Georg hasn’t beaten him since, there might be more time for that once the renovations are done and The Royal has settled into its new skin. 

As these two set about creating a space which brings together heritage, a bit of nostalgia, some of what’s gone before, with the values of these times, they’re also infusing the place with some of themselves.  Nate’s great grandmother he is told, used to live above a shop that sat on the opposite side of the intersection, and now Nate has set up a barre in the suitcase room where he does private tutoring in dance, passing on skills he acquired in his 10 years dancing and choreographing for the world’s largest touring ballet company, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and his years teaching outreach with underprivileged kids in the UK.  

The pair are enamoured with certain ‘groovy’ aspects of the building itself. Georg has much appreciation for the glorious green bathroom tiles in the accommodation wing of the main building, and of course the secret Narnia closet that came complete with fur coats and an old fashioned key. When she’s not outside laughing with the customers and giving a bit of cheek, she’s inside studying for her Bachelor’s in Teaching. 

Things are feeling pretty upbeat out here in Matawhero. Nate and Georg move in and out of conversation with the many different peeps coming and going and it feels very much like things are on target with that overarching vision of a place for the people. It will be great to  see what evolves over time but for now this special little something is surely a very welcome addition to life out here on the fringe.

Story & Photographs by Sarah Cleave