Te Arawa buys major thermal tourism park

By kristin.macfarlane@dailypost.co.nz, Kristin Macfarlane

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Te Arawa has just bought its first tourism business following its Treaty settlement with the aim of making a mark in Rotorua's tourism industry.

Te Arawa Group Holdings, the commercial arm of Rotorua-based Treaty of Waitangi settlement organisation Te Pumautanga o Te Arawa, has bought Waiotapu Geothermal Wonderland. The group already has stakes in the forestry and agri-business industries.

The tourism attraction has a variety of features including the world famous Champagne Pool, volcanic craters, the Lady Knox Geyser, steaming ground, naturally coloured hot and cold pools, sinter terrace formations, the country's largest bubbling mud pool, natural bush setting, walking tracks, a visitor centre and retail and cafe facilities.

Te Arawa Group Holdings officially took over the business from the Sewell/Leinhardt family on Thursday, in time for the attraction's busiest period, which was between November and March.

It is estimated more than 1000 people visit the tourist attraction daily during its peak season.

Chief executive Roger Pikia said they were pleased to have entered into the tourism industry with Waiotapu. He said tourism had been a part of Te Arawa for more than 100 years, so it was fitting Te Arawa now owned a business in the industry.

"It's an iconic business and a top performing attraction," Mr Pikia said.

He also said the group had been wanting to buy into the tourism industry for some time.

"It's always been our intention to buy local. "This is our first tourism business," he said.

South Island iwi Ngai Tahu is already in the Rotorua tourism industry with Rainbow Springs Kiwi Wildlife Park and stakes in Agrodome and the Lakeland Queen.

Mr Pikia said Ngai Tahu had shown an interest in Waiotapu but he had discussions with representatives who decided to pull out of the equation to allow Te Arawa to get into the industry.

"We're thankful to them for that," Mr Pikia said.

He said he was glad it hadn't become competitive between the two iwi and said he would prefer to work with them, rather than against.

Mr Pikia said the Waiotapu deal had taken eight months to secure but he would not reveal how much Te Arawa Group Holdings had paid for the business.

He said there were no plans to change Waiotapu and wanted it to run as usual.

He said they planned to feel it out for between three to five years before making any future decisions.

"We've retained the management team here.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Mr Pikia said the group hoped to increase its prominence in the industry in the future if opportunities arose.

He said new developments of Waiotapu and new business developments wouldn't be carried out without looking into options carefully.

After that time the group would look towards enhancing existing facilities but no major developments.

"We'll look to where the opportunity arises, to perhaps enhance the attraction here in terms of development."

Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland had been jointly run by the Sewell/Leinhardt family for 30 years with Alex and Cheryl Leinhardt solely managing the business for the past 10 years.

Mr and Mrs Leinhardt would continue to manage the business.

Mr Leinhardt said he and his wife had joined the company 27 years ago with his in-laws Allan and Jan Sewell.

In that time they had seen the business grow from small beginnings to the major international tourist attraction it is today.

The family said they enjoyed owning and operating the business and looked forward to helping Te Arawa Group Holdings to continue to develop the geothermal visitor attraction.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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