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Roading and Transport

WHAT IF THE SIGNS SAID…

What if this was the sign on SH25 Dalmeny Corner, right near the signage to Hot Water Beach, 309 Road, and both ends of the Whitianga bypass road? What if there was a similar sign on SH25, welcoming all travellers, north or south bound, at the town entrance roundabout that said, “Welcome To Whitianga Thermal Ocean Village”.
 |  The Informer  | 

What difference would that make? What difference would it make to the perception of what is to be found in Whitianga all year round?

At this time the Mercury Bay Business Association is running a survey and information gathering exercise on – How do we describe Whitianga or market Whitianga?

This sign is not up there by the highway yet, but it is something The Informer would support whole heartedly. Very soon, our economic future might demand it.

Suzanne Hansen wrote an article in The Informer, 21 May, 2024 p.13 on the lack of information and lustre regarding the current signage close to Whitianga.

Actually, at the large roundabout at the base of the Coromandel Peninsula at Kopu, there is nothing to describe any of the towns or the beauty, adventure and lure of the Peninsula. The roundabout looks unkempt and like a wasteland.

NZTA (Waka Kotahi) provides information and directions but all other aspects of attracting people with signage are missing. There is a disconnect in terms of attracting travellers. Every town on the Coromandel is affected by this practice. It is not a question of more signs but different signs.

The task of marketing in word pictures, each town on the Coromandel requires action and the assistance of signage experts, to practically facilitate what each town decides as its main message. Destination Coromandel is waiting to hear from the Whitianga community.

Social media and online marketing can enhance and align with what the signs say. We need to rethink. Whitianga needs to face the matter head on.

MY STORY By Alan Hopping

Some years ago, a geothermal spring was established in the village centre of Whitianga, a small town on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. The town was to become forever, a thermal ocean village; one of only a few in New Zealand.

Can we attain international destination status?

It all started with a PATA report. (Pacific Asia Travel Association). The year was 1985. Employed and paid for by TCDC, at a cost of $98,000, five international PATA members came with a simple brief:– Would the Coromandel Peninsula ever grow to a point where it would attain international destination status?

The weather during their visit was superb. The beaches and vistas looked just fabulous.

They, the five members from PATA, were on the Peninsula for a little less than one week.

The Peninsula needs an all year round flow of people

Findings: They presented their findings in all the towns on the Coromandel Peninsula. In essence, they said, “The Coromandel needed an all-year round attraction that was quite unique.

“For example, a ski field with off-season recognising forest weeks (like Abel Tasman, or a geothermal resort town, currently indicating the greatest tourism growth internationally, being able to operate every day of the year.”

My family subsequently took a holiday to the South Island  – a first for the Hopping family. This was in the following year.

As we drove the Lewis Pass, heading to Hamner Springs, we came upon a large sign on the roadside, “18km to Hamner – Thermal Alpine Village.”

We were so excited…a Thermal Alpine Village!!

Up the blind alley we drove – happy people everywhere. There was no commercial skiing there in those days – but there were several boutique hotels, seven campgrounds, a swathe of eating establishments, regular entertainment – all built on the strength of a 150mm hole in the ground. That hole was a thermal spring.

I realised soon after our experience that if we could establish a geothermal spring in the town of Whitianga, we could become a Thermal Ocean Village overnight!!

So, in 1989, water was found at 626 metres and then it was lost three years later.

The next drill hole at 645 metres was dry and abandoned. The next drill hole was six years later (a 300mm casing), this time to 669 metres and that was a success.

It sprung to the surface producing 8,000 litres per hour, with a 9-metre head.

We checked out resorts around the world both online and with visitations. Maui Hawaii was the inspiration.

A dream, a miracle, reality

The Lost Spring opened 22 years after our first test well in 1989.  Many people attended the opening, 8 December, 2008. It was a miracle. We were, and are, so very grateful for the support and kindness shown by so many over the years.

I submit for your interest, a conservative calculation on income modelled on King’s Birthday weekend, at the beginning of June.

The Lost Spring entertained 712 couples. Average spend at The Lost Spring was $210 per couple.

The Lost Spring benefit per couple $210.00

Town and area benefit per couple

Accommodation (two nights average) $400.00

Dinners, drinks, over two days average $110 per day) $220.00

Coffee, lunches, excursions, fuel) $200.00

Multiply this by 712 $719,120 .00

Conservative assessment covering only two nights – some stayed longer.

I spoke to those gathered that day, that we (the town of Whitianga and surrounds) had made it to this point (We had opened with 34 staff.).

Now we could indeed promote ourselves as a Thermal Ocean Village, placing us eventually, alongside New Zealand’s great resort locations, with future international boutique hotels, and an added stimulus for domestic holidayers to spend all-year round time on the Coromandel Peninsula. Simply, any business could include on its letterhead, ‘Whitianga, Thermal Ocean Village’ and that is at no expense to them. This is about all of us.

Over the 28-year build, it was obvious that this vision was not just about The Lost Spring and Alan Hopping, but it was about making a difference in seeing our town and the entire Coromandel Peninsula grow and prosper all year round and into the future.

I have been a tourist operator for 44 years. The future of The Lost Spring is certainly an asset which the town needs to embrace, protect and grow. I extend an invitation to the Mercury Bay Business Association to look at placing one of their members on the Directorship of The Lost Spring, thus making a contribution to the ongoing well-being of our town and the business community, long after my years as caretaker of this peninsula asset.

We are a Pacific Island. This is a resort town. That’s what we are. We are a Pacific Island resort town! We could model our beautiful sub-region on just that view and provide an option for the many New Zealanders who lose two days (airports and travel time) visiting other Pacific Islands. They are becoming expensive destinations and the savings made on enjoying our very own Pacific Island alternative would be the beginning of a new tomorrow for Whitianga and the Coromandel.

Our joint future

Prior to covid, our customer questionnaires indicated The Lost Spring was the main reason for visiting the area – 97%. I believe this performance supports everybody and can do so, day in and day out, year in year out. This all-year-round attraction is the only catalyst for an international boutique hotel or eventually, larger.

We need to establish other braver steps to image and market ourselves.

A Pacific Island resort town, internationals flying into New Zealand and arriving by vehicle or via 20-minute flights to the resort town of Whitianga. The terminology, “Thermal Ocean Village’ raises tourists’ curiosity to discover Whitianga and all the great things the town and the wider Bay have to offer.

With the increasing infrastructural pressures on Hot Water Beach over the year, and its subsequential denigration of the experience, going forward, we need to offer an additional or alternative option and experience.  Bringing attention by signage at or near Delmaney Corner to‘Whitianga, Thermal Ocean Village’ is one important step. Establishing the thinking across the region might take longer.

As caretakers, the team and I need to continue The Lost Spring journey to a safe and healthy future.  To be able to continue this journey, TLS is currently developing our Pacifica Day Spa and other support structures on a $4mill investment which should be complete in one year.

Our ambition is to be number one in Zealand in just over a year, and at that point, I see no reason why, as a town, we should not be as busy and prosperous as the top destinations in New Zealand.

We need to face this and step up to a great new tomorrow.  If we take the Hot out of Hot Water Beach, their businesses would shrink dramatically. The name and the water draw to the sands up to 10,000 visitors per day at peak.

Every geothermal town in the world becomes wealthy. Thus, my submission – Whitianga Thermal Ocean Village.