Internationally-lauded Hawke's Bay tourism attraction Waimarama Maori Tours has been awarded one of New Zealand's top industry accolades after fewer than seven years in business with a history dating back many centuries.
With a focus on the 14th century Hakikino fortress in the coastal hills of Waimarama, and particularly popular with large groups from the cruise liners berthing at Napier Port each summer, the business has been awarded the Qualmark Visitor Activity Endorsement.
Only 10 other tourism activities in Hawke's Bay have been given the Qualmark rating, New Zealand Tourism's official mark of quality.
Co-owner Robert MacDonald said: "We are so proud to have attained this national benchmark. It was a lot of work, but well worth it."
"We pride ourselves on offering an intimate, unique and personal experience for all of our visitors," said business partner Denise Prentice. "This Qualmark is an independent assurance to our visitors that they will also receive a premium tourism experience."
Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas said the endorsement accolade was well-deserved, and added: "Waimarama Maori Tours offer a unique, high quality experience and it's wonderful to see them receive a Qualmark endorsement."
The company started doing private individual tours in 2007 and large group tours for the cruise market in 2008, to share local stories about the fortress, from the history of the area's people - Ngai Tara, Rangitane, Ngati Awa and Muaupoko.
A "Te Mata Peak and Pou" tour was added in 2012, to include the stories of their people at Te Mata Peak and recently-installed carvings, Nga Pou o Heretaunga, in the Hastings Civic Square.
Even Mr MacDonald, whose dream it was to take the story-telling "to another level", is surprised by the success of the venture, particularly as it's an "hour out and an hour back" with two-and-half hours for the tour meaning it is the only attraction most visitors can fit in in their on-shore "window" of often less than six hours.
"It's been pretty meteoric," he conceded. "We were lucky to get 25 people coming out, now we cap them at 150."
At a time when the time-frame meant some other attractions were slowing down "we went the other way", he said.
The punters' response is captured in testimonials republished on the business website. "What a beautiful journey you took us on today," said a visitor from California.
"I will carry the memory with me always." "Fantastic. Educational, and fun," said another from Saskatchewan. "All 12 of us agreed that our Arch of Ancestors tour was truly a highlight of the time we spent in New Zealand and Australia."
Other accolades for the venture were the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Industry Award in 2009, and the Emerging Business Award the following year.
"We believe that going through these award applications puts us through our paces and helps our business grow and improve," Mr MacDonald said.
"To then go on and win the awards when we are up against some of the best in the business is a testament to the commitment and hard work of the staff ..."
Tourism operators licensed to carry a Qualmark rating have been independently assessed against a series of guidelines and procedures and a Qualmark Endorsed tourism business is verified as professional and trustworthy.
Only tourism businesses that maintain the highest standards in all aspects of business practices and meet Qualmark's comprehensive assessment criteria have earned the right to the Qualmark.