Mark Ebrey: Taumarunui 100% pure bargains

The town's poor showing in property report is disappointing considering its lifestyle opportunities.

Taumarunui has more to offer than people think - although making a living through tourism is tough. Photo / Greg Bowker
Taumarunui has more to offer than people think - although making a living through tourism is tough. Photo / Greg Bowker

It was somewhat depressing to read in the Herald's Property Report this week that Taumarunui was the only location that recorded an average property value of under $100,000.

It was no comfort either to read that Taumarunui was only the fourth worst regional performer with a 24.9 per cent decline in average property values since the 2007 peak. And this well after the worst effects of Rogernomics, which gutted the town and sent it on a downhill spiral.

The only good news was the fact the town did not appear in the Quarter Sliders table, signifying perhaps that it has bottomed out - and that things can't get any worse. What makes its puzzling is why it should occupy such a low ranking on the tables, given the abundance of lifestyle opportunities it provides for people of all ages. Except, of course, the lack of jobs.

The much-vaunted jobs initiative - the National Cycleways project - is well rooted in the Ruapehu District, with two iconic rides developed there - the Timber Trail and the Mountain to Sea network of rides that are creating opportunities for some tourism operators but they are a long way off from generating widespread economic benefits for the town.

And the recently developed Forgotten World Adventures rail cart operation on the disused Stratford to Okahukura railway line has also turned into a success story, albeit still limited in its wider economic benefit.

Ruapehu District Council believes tourism is the panacea for many of Taumarunui's ills but, as most people know, it is a low-income seasonal occupation which, in this district, encourages more transient workers from overseas than creating full time employment for the town's locals.

Any entrepreneur looking to set up a business of any kind in Taumarunui needs to be cash rich, because the banks are chary about lending on security that continues to decline in value.

And this is where regional development initiatives have failed in the past - there is nothing to encourage entrepreneurs to risk their capital in job creation ventures, whether in industry, tourism or manufacturing.

The Government invested more than $3 million, along with local bodies, in the Te Kahui Tupua major regional initiative to create and accredit "authentic" tourism activities in the Ruapehu, Wanganui and Rangitikei areas but what has this investment returned? Very little tangible growth, although it does give another promotional leg for existing operators. And the whole project is now virtually moribund because, having spent the Government's money, local government is reluctant to pick up the ongoing tab.

The failure, in my view, was the doctrine that public money could not be used to directly assist an individual or business to make money for themselves and the project was limited to "capacity building", whatever that is. It was easy to get funds for training programmes to "teach granny how to suck eggs", but there was no money available to help tourism businesses individually with one of their greatest costs - marketing.

Forget tourism - the real growth opportunity for Taumarunui is in catering for the ever-expanding seniors market, where people are finding it harder and harder to survive on their national superannuation while living in properties now approaching seven figures in value.

For those in their sunset years who are in good health and active, Taumarunui offers a lifestyle that they can only dream about - a golf course rated as one of the best in New Zealand and a range of other recreational and sporting infrastructure that many larger towns are envious of.

And they don't need to worry about losing contact with their children and their grandchildren, because once they realise their grandparents are living only 45 minutes from the Whakapapa skifields, trout fishing and water skiing on Lake Taupo and riding the new iconic cycleways, and minutes from the Whanganui River, they will become regular guests with built-in babysitters while they tackle some of the best outdoor recreation in the country.

If they want to get away themselves, Taumarunui is only two hours from Hamilton and Rotorua, three hours from Palmerston North and New Plymouth, and four hours from Auckland and Wellington.

Selling a house in Auckland and buying one in Taumarunui may be considered trading down in property terms, but when it comes to lifestyle there's no comparison.

Mark Ebrey is a tourism operator who lives on a lifestyle block 10km south of Taumarunui.

- NZ Herald

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