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The Hermitage celebrates 125 year milestone

Press release from The Hermitage Aoraki Mount Cook

4 June 2009


The Hermitage celebrates 125 year milestone

There were hugs, laughter and tears of joy as 250 people reunited from around the world to celebrate the landmark 125th  birthday of a Kiwi icon.

Generations of Aoraki Mount Cook’s close-knit community caught up with old friends and workmates at a huge three-day birthday bash on Queen’s Birthday weekend.

They were there to pay tribute to The Hermitage Hotel, the ‘grand old lady’ that holds a special place in the hearts of those who have ever visited or lived in Aoraki Mount Cook Village, located deep in the Aoraki Mount Cook National Park and World Heritage area. 

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 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.

However, for past and present Aoraki Mount Cook residents what brought them back to their roots was the sense of community that has forged lifelong links.  The Hermitage has not only been the lifeblood of local employment, it’s been a hub for the good times and bad - parties, romances, weddings, wetting of babies’ heads, mountain rescues and memorial services. 

The tiny community is one of the only places in New Zealand where only those who work there are entitled to live there with their families.  You can’t buy a house (all houses are owned by concession holders) and you can’t retire there - a difficult concept to accept for those who fall in love with the place.

Generations of families have worked - and still work - at Aoraki Mount Cook.  Its isolation and picture postcard turquoise lakes, glaciers and snow-capped mountains make it one of New Zealand’s most romantic spots and the community is certainly testament to that, with countless romances and marriages over the years.  Even current hotel manager Denis Callesen met his wife Christine at a hotel dance in 1979 and brought up their two sons in the village.

Mr Callesen is thrilled so many people made the effort to come to the 125 year reunion.

“It was a fantastic weekend and everyone enjoyed renewing old bonds and reliving memories - so much so that we’re talking about doing it again in 10 years.  There were some great yarns, lots of laughs and plenty of hijinks, just like old times.

“They even got a good dose of typical Mount Cook weather - we had perfect sunshine one day, were clagged in the next and the last day it snowed,” he says.

Reunion attendees also enjoyed exploring what’s new at Aoraki Mount Cook – not least the Sir Edmund Hillary Centre, which celebrated its official first birthday on the same weekend.  For many it brought back personal memories of the man they considered a friend and mentor.

The Centre is designed to educate, entertain, and pay tribute to Sir Ed as a legendary Kiwi, humanitarian, ambassador and one of the world's greatest explorers.  The 3D movie, planetarium, museum, and stargazing deck showcase the region and its people, and there’s a dedicated Hillary Gallery depicting Sir Ed’s longstanding connection with the region and his achievements,, expeditions, and life’s work.

The hotel has undergone a number of significant additions, renovations and innovations over the past 125 years, and technology has improved with a newly upgraded website providing a wealth of up-to-the-minute information, hot deals and social networking integration.

That means that those who were unable to attend the reunion can catch up through regular updates to The Hermitage’s reunion blog, Facebook group, Twitter and YouTube channels.

For more information visit




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