Opening a new tourism business can be hard enough without cyclones, flash flooding, slips causing road closures and construction price hikes due to Covid-19 disruptions.
But a new Northland caving business and nature park has had to battle it all before its official opening.
Waipū Caves Farm Park owners Ian and Cindy Fox wondered where everyone was when they opened on February 25.
They had not realised a flash flood the night before had washed out an access bridge at Langs Beach, leaving parts of Northland totally cut off.
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The main road, State Highway 1 at Brynderwyn Hill, had already been cut off thanks to slips caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, drastically cutting the number of visitors to the area, Ian Fox said.
“This summer, there has been almost no cars on these roads.
“It’s a fraction of what should be here.”
The road the farm park is on, Waipū Caves Rd, plus nearby Shoemaker Rd also have slips, adding a small detour for visitors.
But the Foxes did not want to let slips and cyclones stop the opening of the 130ha farm park, which has taken five years to develop.
“It’s a little bit more of an effort [to drive here] than it would usually be but our feedback from people is they’re absolutely stunned by how wonderful it is and how well set up,” Ian Fox said.
The premier attraction at the park is a guided cave walk through a cave filled with stalactites, where visitors are taught about cave conservation.
In nearby public caves, people breaking off the formations over decades has impacted the quality, he said.
“A lot of people don’t notice because they don’t know what they’re supposed to look like – it’s like a tourist coming here and looking at all our gorse flowers.”
The park also offers walkways, cycle tracks, rock climbing and abseiling walls.
It also hopes to open a campground at the end of April once “box-ticking” is complete, Ian Fox said.
The business’s challenges began with Covid-19 disruptions, which made it difficult to get contractors and hiked the price of construction materials.
This delayed the opening from early summer to February 25.
But Fox is confident the business will become a premier tourist attraction in Northland, which is already well-known for its natural attractions.
Business support organisation Northland Inc would have preferred Tai Tokerau tourism businesses wouldn’t have to open amongst road closures and flooding, general manager destination Tania Burt said.
But in the past month, Waipū Caves Farm Park has opened along with Kā Uri in Awanui – an iwi-led redevelopment of the Ancient Kauri Kingdom.
The resilience of the industry continued to impress Burt.
“I’ve been surprised for years now, right through all these challenges we’ve had, how our industry just keeps going and growing.”
The bad weather and road closures were “really challenging” for tourism businesses – not only those directly damaged but also due to the lingering perception of tourists that the area was closed off, Burt said.
Slips and detours meant people had to allow a bit more time to get to Northland – but SH1 is now open for northbound traffic at the Brynderwyns, power has been restored and the north is well and truly open for visitors, she said.