By Emily Norman

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Eketahuna is quickly gaining traction as a rural hospitality hotspot among overseas visitors.

A “phenomenal” 750 guest nights were recorded at the Eketahuna Camping Ground in January, with more than 400 of these being stays from overseas visitors.

While they say it hasn’t been their busiest summer due to “unsettled” weather, camp ground managers Loreen and Kerry Cunningham have confirmed the number of overseas visitors is growing year-on-year.

“Overseas visitors are increasing and they tend to be younger and really into the whole camping experience,” Mr Cunningham said.

“They like staying in the camping ground surrounded by all the green and the river, making a camp fire, drinking a bottle of wine at night, that sort of thing.”

He said the key attractions in the area for visitors were Pukaha Mount Bruce, “and the cheesemakers down the road”.

People were also increasingly coming to Eketahuna for trout fishing in the Mangatainoka river and the Makakahi Stream, he said.

The high amount of guest nights at the camping ground was a talking point at last week’s Eketahuna Community Board meeting, with members raising questions about how Eketahuna businesses and individuals could best harness this economic growth potential.

Board member Sharon Shannon said the efforts of the camping ground managers were yielding great results for the community.

“As a town though, looking at economic growth, are we capturing the most out of these people?” she asked the other board members.

“Is there an opportunity to keep them longer in town? We need to find out what they want to see, what we can provide in town that they can utilise — or are they just coming because it’s a great camping ground?”

Tararua Mayor Tracey Collis said the guest numbers were indicative of great tourist potential for the town.

She said she had recently gone down to the camping ground to ask if any visitors wanted to see her dairy farm – 11 accepted the offer.

“It surprised me how many took me up on that,” she said.

Mrs Shannon said embracing this concept of personalised rural hospitality was key to providing the best experiences for the many foreign visitors to the town.

“Being invited to experience another country’s way of life makes for some of the best experiences that you hold with you,” she said.

She told the board members about a foreign cyclist who was touring through Eketahuna on a rainy day this year.

“The cyclist was wet through, and so a local took her in for the night.

“This rural hospitality is something that is never forgotten.”

Mrs Shannon suggested that businesses in town needed to form a network and “bounce off each other” to encourage visitors to stay in town longer and shop.