A new cycle tourism venture aims to persuade Kiwi travellers who can't head overseas due to Covid-19 to spread their money around the Far North instead.
Kerikeri businessman Mike Simm started Northland Experiences, which specialises in all-inclusive e-bike holidays, after meeting a group of South Island orthodontists who had taken a week off to ride the Twin Coast Cycle Trail.
After three days, however, they didn't know what else to do in Northland so they went to Auckland and spent the rest of their money on Waiheke and in the casino.
Simm realised Northland was missing out on vital tourism dollars and there was a market for top-end, fully-organised tours built around the cycle trail.
His five-night Cook to Kupe tour has groups staying in Paihia, Horeke, Ōmāpere and Russell, and visiting lesser-known attractions such as a bike trail in the hills above Kohukohu.
Simm, who used to own Fullers Bay of Islands, said he wanted to replicate the kind of all-inclusive holiday Kiwis often booked overseas, but instead of taking a cycle tour in France they could explore a new part of New Zealand.
Such tours were already available along the Otago Rail Trail but not elsewhere in New Zealand.
''Because the trip is put together by locals and includes places tourists normally wouldn't get to, it's a much more fulfilling experience than if they'd organised it themselves. It also makes sure they spend the money they've allocated for their holiday instead of, as often happens, hiring a bike, completing the trail, and going home with money still in their pockets.''
Simm said his aim was to get people involved in different aspects of Northland tourism and spread their spend across the Mid North instead of just the Bay of Islands.
The business targeted active retirees who typically took a winter holiday in the Pacific or further afield, but now couldn't leave the country due to Covid-19 restrictions.
''So we're trying to make sure they spend that time and money on a similar and possibly more exciting holiday in Northland.''
The use of e-bikes opened up cycle tourism to a wider market and meant almost anyone could ride the trail, Simm said.
The business started just over a year ago with the first post-Covid customers a Kiwi family normally based in Suva but sitting out the pandemic in Wellington.
Chris O'Neale, who heads ANZ banking operations in the Pacific, said they chose an all-inclusive tour so they could leave the organising to someone else and because they weren't sure what would be open after the lockdown.
''It was nice to have someone like Rob (tour leader Ropata Hardiman) to make sure we didn't miss anything. We wouldn't have known about Wairere Boulders or stayed at Horeke Hotel if we'd done it ourselves.''
Wife Jeni O'Neale said highlights included the boulders — ''we thought it was going to be something like Moeraki Boulders but it was much more than that'' — along with Arai Te Uru (South Hokianga Head) and the bike boardwalk at Horeke.
Chris O'Neale said the high point for him had been seeing Tane Mahuta.
''It's like Taj Mahal. You hear so many stories about it, you expect to be underwhelmed — but when you see it for real it exceeds expectations. And it's great to have someone like Rob who can tell us about stuff from a Māori perspective.''
The O'Neales are considering returning with their extended family.
Pou Herenga Tai Twin Coast Cycle Trail stretches 87km from Ōpua in the Bay of Islands to Horeke in South Hokianga. Much of the route follows a disused railway corridor. The first section, from Kaikohe to Ōkaihau, opened in 2011. After many setbacks the full trail opened in 2017.