Matt Horder, chief skipper of luxury catamaran Tiua, on the mammoth sailing journey he took to start up his luxury tourism business. Horder talks about operating from Rotorua's Lake Rotoiti and what's next for his business Pure Cruise.

A brief description of the business
Pure Cruise is a luxury sailing vessel available for private charter which started in 2008. We offer unique experiences for small group tours and private trips for couples, families and international guests. Everything we do is exclusive hire so we tailor every trip to the clients' needs on the day.

Our experiences can be as active or inactive as people want. Some people want to relax and see the lake, and then others want to jump off cliffs, help sail the yacht and go rainbow trout fishing. Other experiences we offer include visiting secluded hot pools, paddle boarding, exploring the lake and fine dining.

Why did you start Pure Cruise?

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I used to work on large yachts overseas, in the Mediterranean and Caribbean mostly, running yachts for their owners, and coming back to New Zealand to get out of that was a good opportunity to use those skills in a tourism business here. I saw a gap in the market in the Rotorua-Lakes region to share the lakes with visitors.

How big is your team?

We have two full time employees, one part timer who does sales and marketing, and four casual employees that work through the busy season.

Tell me about the physical journey you took to start the business?

When I came up with the idea to start the business I got in touch with some friends and we came up with a plan to bring a vessel into the country. We found the vessel in Grenada, in the Caribbean, but it was in quite a state.

We flew over and repaired it to a certain degree, and then sailed it back home through the Caribbean, Panama and down through the Pacific to New Zealand. It took us four months to sail back and then we refitted the yacht in Tauranga, which also took four months. We then trucked the yacht down to Lake Rotoiti.

How much do your experiences cost?

The retail rate for the yacht is $590 an hour, and there's a minimum of three hours for a charter, which is $1,770 - that includes the yacht, skipper and crew. We can host up to 35 guests in any weather - and a maximum of 50 - so if there are two people or twenty people, the price is still the same. We also offer food options such as a gourmet BBQ or a high tea, and there's a bar onboard.

Pure Cruise director and chief skipper Matt Horder.
Pure Cruise director and chief skipper Matt Horder.

How long did it take to complete the yacht's refurbishment?

It was a big transformation and took us four months to complete.

We spent the best part of $180,000 on the refit once we got it here, because we knew we couldn't start a luxury business with something that looked shabby. We gutted the interior - all pretty much done by me and a couple of friends - and then we got the professionals in to work on the technical bits.

We repainted the entire yacht, reshaped the outside slightly, and built a new roof for the cockpit.

My father and I built the doors in the cockpit area, and the timber tables. Part of that was because we didn't have a lot of money and part of it was that we wanted to put our mark on the boat. We went for clean lines, light colours, stainless steel and lots and lots of high-gloss timber.

What are the benefits of having the yacht on a lake, and not elsewhere?

A large lake such as Lake Rotoiti at 38km2 is a fabulous place to explore, there are so many bays and coves, sandy beaches, thermal pools, open sailing opportunities and sheltered corners that it's never gets boring.

We don't experience waves on the lake that affect the yacht, and the catamaran doesn't keel over - so everyone is comfortable whatever the wind and weather. Fresh water looks after the yacht so well, too, and is refreshing to swim in as the water for four months of the year is over 22 degrees.

How does seasonality play in to your business?

We're really quiet in the winter and then super busy in the summer. A busy day in the summer means the yacht may be out for 10 hours - two or three charters per day. Our charters are between three and five hours typically. During the middle of winter we usually have one or two charters per week, but our season is long. We start to pick up in business in October and start to drop off in May.

Pure Cruise's catamaran was bought in the Caribbean and sailed to New Zealand.
Pure Cruise's catamaran was bought in the Caribbean and sailed to New Zealand.

What's the best thing about running a luxury tourism business?

The best thing about running a tourism business is seeing clients having an amazing time here in New Zealand. The team we have work really hard to make sure the experience each guests has with us on the water is so much better than they ever imagined, and we all get a real buzz out of that. Interestingly, thirty per cent of our work is domestic, and the rest is international visitors.

What's next for Pure Cruise?

What we're finding with the yacht is that when we're busy through the summer months - we actually can't sell many more experiences with a single vessel - and so we're looking at other vessels and other lakes as well. We have the skills and the staff now, so we just need to use those guys to expand into other areas.

What advice do you give to others thinking of starting a business?

Go for it. Tourism is filled with a lot of great people and is a fun and challenging environment, but be sure that you're happy to work long and anti-social hours to make it work. Ensure you have done your market research on your product and if it is actually wanted by your suppliers.