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Graham Brothers - tourism pioneers

Peter and Alec Graham were experienced mountain guides and excellent hotel managers.

In 1903, Peter left Franz Josef to work as a guide at The Hermitage, Mount Cook. One of his most famous clients was Freda du Faur, one of finest woman alpinists in New Zealand’s alpine history. With Peter as her guide she became the first woman to summit Aoraki/Mount Cook in November 1911. Alec was also an exceptional climber and he was part of the team of the first to ascend Mount Aspiring.

Peter returned to Franz Josef in 1911 when his brothers Jim and Alec bought the Waiho Hotel. The original building was under threat from the Waiho River, so they used a series of runners and hand winches to move the entire building to a new site. Today this site is used by the Westland Tai Poutini National Park DOC Visitor Centre & i-SITE

Peter focused on the administrative tasks of the hotel, Rose and Jim ran the kitchen, bar and housekeeping team, while Alec managed the outside operations. He oversaw the farm, sawmill and the Tatare Gorge electricity scheme. In 1914 forty guests could stay at the hotel and there was a formal dining room, two sitting rooms and a smoking room. By 1929 the hotel had 120 beds and clients were guided on the Franz Josef glacier, the Copland-Graham Saddle and on overnight trips to Defiance Hut.

The guiding business was so successful that in the early 1930’s the Grahams implemented a seasonal guiding structure by employing university students during their summer holidays. The Great Depression had little effect on the tourism numbers and in 1937 3,500 people stayed at the hotel. There was now a General Store and Post Office on site. During World War II nearly the entire guiding team joined the military, world-wide travel ceased and visitor numbers dropped.

After the war the Grahams continued to run the hotel until 1947 when they sold it to the Government Tourist Department. That year the hotel had over 5,000 guests and was too big to be run by just one family. The Grahams received many awards for their services to both guiding and tourism. Their lasting legacy is the many tracks and huts they both helped to build, and the part they played in the development of South Westland as a unique visitor destination.

See also:
Alex Knob Track history

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