Calling all Kiwis: French settlement of Akaroa open for business

Calling all Kiwis: French settlement of Akaroa open for business

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF
Akaroa is used to seasonal tourist numbers, but now it needs domestic visitors.

No cruise ships, no international visitors and a tourist town full of baches for rent. Can locals prove Akaroa's lifeline this winter? JODY O'CALLAGHAN reports.

Suffering Akaroa businesses fear the Banks Peninsula town will "die" without domestic winter visitors and are pinning their hopes on an influx for Queen's Birthday Weekend.

The seaside township usually starts to slow down in May when cruise ships no longer bring thousands of visitors, and summer-inclined international tourists head to warmer shores — but coronavirus meant that came earlier this year.

Blue Pearl gallery manager Ilona Pawlowski says they lost a few months of ''buffer'', including five or six Covid-19-plagued cruise ships banned from entry, which would usually help businesses through the winter.

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''That's a lot of money. This town is going to die without those numbers [in future]," she says.

"We're in the s..., every single business here is in the s....''

Blue Pearl's main business — 90 per cent — is from deep-pocketed international tourists, mainly cruise ship passengers disembarking at its doorstep.

The main wharf in Akaroa is usually a hub of activity during the height of the cruise ship season.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
The main wharf in Akaroa is usually a hub of activity during the height of the cruise ship season.

"Like most New Zealand businesses in a rural setting, Akaroa usually shuts down in winter. June, July and August are our ghost months.''

The gallery had two customers on the first day of level 2, nine the next, then 16. Its biggest daily takings have been $94.

Locals say the town has always had naysayers about the influx of cruise ships and huge tourist numbers.

But those voices are quiet now, as the town figures out how to retain its livelihood without them.

Blue Pearl Gallery manager Ilona Pawlowski says Akaroa won't survive without domestic tourists.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Blue Pearl Gallery manager Ilona Pawlowski says Akaroa won't survive without domestic tourists.

The warm autumn weather has so far lured domestic travellers, but ''come mid-June we're going to be a ghost town'', Pawlowski says.

The town has no skifields or hot pools, but does have scenery, dolphins and beautiful walks.

Opening the Australian border would help, she says.

As Stuff leaves the gallery, her sister, Magda Pawlowski, gets off the phone excited to say they made a sale. A repeat customer from California.

Magda Pawlowski, of Blue Pearl Gallery, has not seen her husband and two small children in Taiwan for months.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Magda Pawlowski, of Blue Pearl Gallery, has not seen her husband and two small children in Taiwan for months.

She has taken to promoting more online. But the $2000 price tags usually leave customers wanting to see them in person before buying.

Magda Pawlowski hopes the borders open for another reason. She had already been away from her children and husband in Taiwan for seven months when the border shut and her flight home was cancelled. 

She has busied herself helping her family business, but hopes she can fly home in July since Taiwan has been case-free for 32 days, and never needed a lockdown.

Fiona Bannan, bar manager, left, and Corola Barrera, at Bully Hayes, Akaroa.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Fiona Bannan, bar manager, left, and Corola Barrera, at Bully Hayes, Akaroa.

Further along the waterfront, Bully Hayes bar manager Fiona Bannan says she feels positive.

The restaurant is quieter without international tourists, but Cantabrians are returning to their baches at weekends.

Like other Akaroa businesses, she hangs hope on Kiwis spending their holidays, and money usually spent abroad, here.

With lockdown lifted, there is a feeling of local camaraderie buzzing in the air.

Akaroa Dolphins owner Hugh Waghorn believes even the dolphins are happy to see humans back out on the water.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Akaroa Dolphins owner Hugh Waghorn believes even the dolphins are happy to see humans back out on the water.

Akaroa Dolphins owner Hugh Waghorn now only takes one boat out a day. With the capacity to carry more than 50 passengers, the most they have had post-lockdown is 18. 

But even the local Hector's dolphins have been excited to see humans back.

''Akaroa relies on tourists.

''We can only work day by day at the moment.''

Waghorn wants the mass tourism naysayers to put their money where their mouths are.

''For a long time, a lot of people have said Akaroa can't cope with tourism and cruise ships. Now's the time for them to come and support us.''

The Christchurch City Council has helped support businesses by waiving wharf and footpath seating fees. And the wage subsidy also helps, he says.

''It's nice to know we are not alone.''

Stuff spoke with a few visitors from ''over the hill'' — the town's new target market.

Christchurch residents visit Akaroa.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Christchurch residents visit Akaroa.

Christchurch resident Ling Chen visited Akaroa for the first time ''for the views''.

She planned to buy lunch out, have a look around, and would ''definitely come again''.

Her friend Chris Gu last came in February, when the town was so busy he could not find a park. 

''It's very quiet [now], few people, and many things closed.''

Monique and Ronald Uitdewilligen​ came from Dunsandel for the day to celebrate Ronald's birthday.

Why? A sweep with his hand towards the shimmering harbour is all the reply needed.

''It's a bit different from the plains. We love the water.''

They would also buy lunch, and maybe a gift.

Pot Pourri gift shop owner Georgie Rhodes says she was encouraged to see domestic visitors to Akaroa in the first weekend of level 2.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Pot Pourri gift shop owner Georgie Rhodes says she was encouraged to see domestic visitors to Akaroa in the first weekend of level 2.

Pot Pourri gift shop owner Georgie Rhodes found it ''encouraging'' that opening weekend was busy with Cantabrians breaking free of the lockdown and heading to their baches.

''We're just hoping that Akaroa is going to become a big destination for New Zealanders seeing their backyard.''

Airbnb bach owner and local Amy Stronach had bookings coming in as soon as lockdown lifted.

She lifted a ban on pets, to make it easier for Kiwis to get away.

''One family booked from Wellington for the school holidays, bringing their dog.''

Akaroa i-SITE manager Doreen Machnick says June will give a better idea of how far the support goes.

Most Cantabrians visit Akaroa ''spontaneously'' on sunny days.

Unfortunately all the ''beautiful weather'' struck when Kiwis were in lockdown.

''But we are open for business and happy for people to come and explore the area.''

Akaroa Airbnb owner Amy Stronach says domestic bookings started when lockdown lifted.
John Kirk-Anderson/Stuff
Akaroa Airbnb owner Amy Stronach says domestic bookings started when lockdown lifted.

Darren Angus, owner of Akaroa Village Inn on Beach Rd, says they are roughly 75 per cent full for Saturday with most visitors from Canterbury.

"It seems like the trend at the moment is deadly quiet during the week and picking-up at the weekends.

“I suppose everybody has just had seven or eight weeks away from work, and they are expected to be back there so there's less midweek bookings."

He said the situation in the town was good “for this time of the year and considering the circumstances”.

“The great thing about Akaroa is that it isn’t activity driven, people don't come here to go bungee jumping and jet skiing, all our attractions are natural and here all year-round.”

The Press

Source : Stuff.co.nz

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