When Mark and Claire Wickham open their business each day they don't have to go far.

They operate Whanganui Scenic Experience Jet and Canoe Hire from the family farm right beside the Whanganui River just upstream from the tiny settlement of Parikino.

Mr Wickham started the jet boat tour business 16 years ago and since then its grown with the arrival of 20-seater jet boat along with a canoe hire operation.

And recently the Wickhams collected the trophy for best small business and were also runners-up in the tourism category in the Whanganui Chamber of Commerce regional business awards.


It was the first time they had entered the awards.

"We were very surprised to get the award. We thought there were so many other great businesses which had entered," she said.

Mr Wickham said they thought they had a better chance in the tourism section but were more than happy to get a highly commended recognition.

Whanganui Scenic Experience Jet started out with a little four-seater jet boat but has since bought a 20-seater jet boat to cater for larger tour parties.

"Without a boat that big it would mean we'd have to have at least two smaller boats on the river to handle the numbers and that means having more staff," he said.

They said the business was growing slowly but Mrs Wickham said there were some challenges.

"One the most common comments we get from customers is if they'd only known about Whanganui and what it has to offer they would have stayed longer."

She said getting Whanganui a greater profile is one of the reasons that prompted her to get involved with Visit Whanganui, an arm of Whanganui and Partners which is the district council's economic development body.

"We want to try and drive that message and attract more people to Whanganui. That's the biggest challenge for any tourism business here. We keep hearing that tourism numbers are growing, and they are nationally but not so much in the regions. It's the same challenge all regions face outside of the main tourism areas.

"Taranaki was named by the Lonely Plant as the best region in the country but if you ask operators in that province they'll tell you they face the same issues as we do," Mrs Wickham said.

Their tours offer a variety of options but on all of them they stop and explore historic and cultural places of interest.

Trips are fashioned depending on how much time customers want to spend in the river valley. These include short trips through the Atene Bush, canoe expeditions, a full day trips to the Bridge to Nowhere, or three-day tours exploring the length of the Whanganui River as far north as Taumarunui.