GOLOCAL

Constantly called the jewel in Kāpiti's crown, Kāpiti Island is a local tourism hotspot that has gone under the radar during the coronavirus pandemic.

With Kapiti Island Nature Tours and Kapiti Island Eco Experience grounded throughout lockdown, business is not likely to return to normal until after the winter season.

While both tourism operators generally have a limited winter season and an 80/20 split of domestic/international visitors, the bigger groups, schools and special events which keep them busy after summer have not been able to run.

Kapiti Island Eco Experience owner Glen Cooper.
Kapiti Island Eco Experience owner Glen Cooper.

"We had really strong bookings for March and April and with the awesome autumn we've had this has affected us substantially," Kapiti Island Eco Experience owner Glen Cooper said.

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Opening up for commercial operation in level 2, Kapiti Island Eco has been able to open for group bookings on request with a minimum number of eight people to make a trip viable.

"The hardest thing is people contacting us throughout level 3 and 2 wanting to go to the island and support a small local business, but us not being able to take them because it's just too expensive to run the boat over for just two people.

"It's been hard to say we are not operating unless you come with a group and also just the frustration of it being such a beautiful autumn and not being able to get out there on the water."

Kāpiti Island is a must visit for all New Zealanders. Photo / Rosalie Willis
Kāpiti Island is a must visit for all New Zealanders. Photo / Rosalie Willis

There has however been a silver lining for Kapiti Island Eco.

"Through Covid-19 we had the opportunity to pick up a new boat that suits our needs which will mean we can offer around-the-island tours and water activities which have not been done before at Kāpiti Island."

Purchasing the company two and a half years ago, the plan was always to enhance their tourism options to include around-the-island and on-water tours to add to the kayak tours they already offer.

The 10m catamaran will have a viewing platform on the back suitable for a barbecue or jumping off in summer, which Glen believes will transform the company from simply a ferrying and guiding service to an all-rounded eco experience.

For the team running Kapiti Island Nature Tours, the pandemic resulted in all their manuhiri (guests) and crew leaving the island after their last trip on March 21.

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Kapiti Island Nature Tours staff member Vicky Woolhouse, managing director John Barrett, Wayne Spratt and islands operation manager Manaaki Barrett.
Kapiti Island Nature Tours staff member Vicky Woolhouse, managing director John Barrett, Wayne Spratt and islands operation manager Manaaki Barrett.

Normally busy with guests, bookings and a crew of 25 staff to look after, Kapiti Island Nature Tours island operations manager Manaaki Barrett has found the downtime in isolation very rewarding.

"It's given us a great opportunity for reflection and I've enjoyed quieter days and earlier nights than when we're hosting manuhiri," said Manaaki who stayed on the island with a number of family members during lockdown.

"The team has kept engaged and connected through regular Zoom catchups and workshops, and generally have maintained as rosy an outlook as can be expected.

"Cutting two months off the end of this season had a significant impact on the business.

"The support offered by the Government means we've been able to keep our crew onboard and engaged, but it's still a challenge to keep things ticking over for several months with no revenue."

Their focus has shifted to training, workshops, maintenance on their vessels and facilities and looking at how they can engage better when sharing the story of Kāpiti with their manuhiri.

A kereru on Kāpiti Island. Photo / Rosalie Willis
A kereru on Kāpiti Island. Photo / Rosalie Willis

"We enjoy hosting visitors from around the world, but are looking forward to more Kiwis coming over to experience their own backyard.

"Kāpiti tells an important story, and we've always believed that it's a story New Zealanders need to engage with, so we're sanguine about what next season might look like.

"There's uncertainty but we're confident Kāpiti will always be somewhere people want to visit, and as a whanau we'll be here ready and keen to help people experience what the island has to offer.

"We know it's going to be a tough road ahead for a lot of Kiwis, so we'll all need to be flexible in how we move into the new normal."

With both operators telling the story and history of Kāpiti, a visit is not only a chance to experience New Zealand's flora and flora but to experience and learn about Kāpiti's part in Aotearoa's ecological and cultural story.

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