The Mighty Waikato – growing for the future

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It seems like every day we are being approached about a new development, commercial accommodation opportunity, major event or visitor attraction for our region. All economic indicators, growth projections and visitor forecasts are pointing towards the emergence of the Mighty Waikato as a tourism powerhouse over the next 5-10 years.

The proposed developments for the northern corridor from Hamilton to Pokeno are significant and potential game-changers for north Waikato. Large-scale commercial hotel accommodation, new visitor experiences and improved transport connectivity are among those currently being investigated.

There is now Māori cultural product in Tūākau, a skydiving operation at Mercer Airfield and glamping in Mercer. The story of the Land Wars is now actively being told through the Rangiriri Café, the private museum and tours through the remaining battle trenches at the . There is also increased activity at Hampton Downs with the addition of a visitor information centre, coffee roastery, go-karting and other high-speed thrills.

New developments proposed for the area include TaTa Valley in Pokeno which encompasses an eco-themed hotel with an agriculture experience surrounded by a working farm, and the restoration of Lake Kimihia in Huntly (the old Huntly East mine) to create a 1.2km long waterway for use as an aquatic centre for non-powered watersports. There is also the Te Awa Lakes development in Horotiu which proposes a mix of residential, commercial and visitor activities like a water adventure park and a top golf course.

In Hamilton, the development of the $73m Waikato Regional Theatre with seating capacity for 1300, an art gallery, boutique five-star hotel and retail spaces would transform southern Victoria Street, anchored by Embassy Square (the home of Riff Raff) and the Waikato Museum. The Hamilton City Council has also included in its 10-year plan the addition of new gardens at Hamilton Gardens and development of a joint entry precinct between Hamilton Zoo and Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park.

Developments in Waipā include the newly opened Henley Hotel (previously Sarnia Park) which has undergone a major refurbishment and has 14-premium accommodation suites and a refreshed event centre. Hidden Lake Hotel and Apartments overlooking Te Ko Utu Lake domain will open mid-2019 with 33 rooms and apartments, a bar and restaurant, and Waipa District Council have also recently approved the build of a Discovery Centre in Te Awamutu to tell the district’s social, cultural and natural history.

In the south of the region there is a $40m, 120-bed hotel proposed for the Waitomo Golf Club site and the $20m Waitomo Sky Garden proposal incorporating a 70m bungy jump, a helter skelter slide, restored wetland, hot springs and café. Opening at the end of the year, the new three-storey Waitomo Adventure Centre will house an organic café and one of the region’s largest day spas. There is also a redevelopment plan for Otorohanga Kiwi House and new iconic i-SITE visitor information centre planned for Tokoroa.

All these developments are fantastic to see, and they align well with the strategic direction of the Tourism Opportunities Plan developed two years ago by Hamilton & Waikato Tourism. The overall goal of the plan is to leverage the volume of visitors to our region by growing the value of tourism experiences. The benefits of this type of growth also ensure our retail, hospitality, transport and event operators have a sustainable future, providing year-round employment opportunities to cushion the impact of seasonal fluctuations and disperse visitors to all parts of our region.

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About Author

Jason Dawson

Chief Executive, Hamilton & Waikato Tourism