A new tourism initiative that focuses on Northland road-based journeys is expected to pump an extra $20 million into the region's economy annually and could revitalise some small towns such as Hikurangi.
The way Northland is marketed to visitors is about to change with regional tourism and economic development body Northland Inc this week launching the first three new road-based journeys as part of the "Northland Journeys - the Byways" initiative.
Tourism is worth more than $1 billion annually to the region.
The first three byways on Northland Journeys - the Byways are:
* "Where Giants Gather" - the journey from Whangarei Town Basin to Whangarei Heads.
* The "Ancient Kauri Trail" - the journey from Maungaturoto to Omapere.
* "Into the Wide Blue Yonder" - the journey from Whangarei Falls to Tutukaka and on to Hikurangi.
The development is expected to bring an extra $20m to Northland's economy through visitor expenditure from 2020, Northland Inc says.
Chief executive officer David Wilson said Northland Journeys - the Byways is a cornerstone project within the Northland Economic Action Plan, and aims to help revitalise the Twin Coast Discovery Highway a 16-year old touring route that connects Auckland with Northland's east and west coast highways.
"Best practice and experience from marketing other journeys such as cycle trails and train journeys in New Zealand shows that Northland could benefit from promoting distinctive sub-regions and expanding the touring route from one highway into a set of distinctive byways, encouraging visitors to experience more of what Northland has to offer," Mr Wilson said.
The byways project, which is funded by Northland Regional Council, is a culmination of engagement with local tourism businesses, communities and promotions groups with a focus on building authentic and interesting visitor experiences.
Northland tourism leader Jeroen Jongejans said the byways were great news for the region and the "Into the Wide Blue Yonder" byway had the potential to revitalise Hikurangi and give the opportunity for visitors to get the full story on a place's history, and get them to stay longer.
"This is just the thing somewhere like Hikurangi needs. Hikurangi has a lot of history to tell - its coal mining background, Lake Waro and the limestone formations, its cultural history and its wonderful museum - and the byway will direct tourists straight into Hikurangi and there are opportunities there for people in Hikurangi to tell those stories," he said.
"Research tells us that visitors want to learn far more about places they visit. This is excellent for Northland and for Hikurangi it could bring jobs, but certainly economic benefits for the town and its businesses."
Hikurangi Historic Museum Society Treasurer Bessie Faithfull, who has lived in the town for 60 years, welcomed the initiative, saying it's just what Hikurangi needed with many of the shops closed in the once-thriving town.
"Hikurangi will welcome more visitors and hopefully it will help some of those shops reopen."
She said the museum told the story of the town's mining history, but its committee was ageing and the museum was open only three days a week from 10am to 11.30am so more tourists would help.
"Hikurangi has a good story to tell and more visitors would be good for the museum and the town."
Mr Wilson said tourism is one of Northland Inc's priority sectors and the byways are a key to improving the return for Northland from tourism.
"They will effectively revolutionalise the way Northland is promoted to our visitors.
"We know that tourists are now more interested in deeper engagement with the destination and its hosts and all it has to offer. Byways give us the opportunity to deliver on that promise."
Mr Wilson said maps have been designed to conceptualise the new byway journeys, and the byways will also have a presence in visitor publications as well as digital touchpoints including tourism websites and a newly developed mobile App.
Northland Inc will continue to work with local promotions groups and business associations to ensure information on places to visit is kept up to date and that marketing activities are well coordinated. New Zealand Transport Agency is also involved through its focus on regional and seasonal dispersal as well as roading resilience and safety.
Northland Inc will roll out at least another five byways this year with more to come later.
The first set of three new byway maps are available online at www.northlandjourneys.co.nz.