The Centennial Highway (State Highway 1), extends from the Ngauranga Gorge through to Paekākāriki. Nowadays the stretch between Pukerua Bay and Paekākāriki is still referred to as the Centennial Highway. It was opened November 4, 1939 by Bob Semple, the Minister of Public Works. The opening coincided with New Zealand’s 1940 centennial year celebrations.
Previous access to the Kāpiti Coast was via the Paekākāriki Hill Road. The Kaka Tea Rooms run by Mrs D’Ath stood at the summit of the old hill road and was a popular refreshment stop for travellers.
Mrs D’Ath feared visitor numbers would be greatly reduced because of the highway, so she appealed to Bob Semple to support moving the tea rooms to the new Centennial Highway. The Ministry of Works purchased the site where The Fisherman’s Table is currently situated.
The Centennial Inn was constructed using an old cottage removed from Pukerua Bay to make room for the motorway, and parts of the old Kaka Tea Room.
1940 was a busy year for the Inn. Newmans buses made daily stops and visitor numbers were good. Wartime petrol rations slowed trade until the arrival of the American Marines to Paekākāriki in 1942. Mrs D’Ath remained proprietor until 1946.
Here’s an excerpt from New Zealand Boyhood Memories by Tony D’Ath:
“The tearooms were entered from a broad flight of concrete steps leading up from a bitumen parking area into a roomy vestibule. Here customers could hang their coats, hats etc. before going into the dining area to place their orders…All the tables seated four with paua shell ashtrays on each, and there was always a good view to be had across the sea to Kāpiti Island.”
The Ministry of Works was a reluctant landlord. The upkeep was expensive and rates could not be generated because the land was designated roadside. The Department of Lands and Survey took over the management of the land and building in the mid-1950s and the land became the property of the Crown. This meant the site could be leased in perpetuity.
The Centennial Inn became part of The Fisherman’s Table franchise in 1977, and is a hugely popular family restaurant.