John Priest at the Waimeha Camping Village which is set to open in June.

By Gerald Ford

A mostly dry stream bed on the South Wairarapa coast has become the symbol for a new tourist venture, opening up hosted accommodation less than 2km from Ngawi.

Coastal farmer and cray fisherman John Priest is preparing to launch Waimeha Camping Village – a 30-person camping ground with cabins, powered and tenting sites.

The venture will be officially launched on Saturday, June 3.

Waimeha can be translated as “water that tries” according to Mr Priest’s partner Sissy Pickering, who teaches Te Reo Maori at nearby a local school.

The cabins, which are being completed in stages, will sleep four to six occupants – and also being constructed are a separate office, bathrooms, kitchens and potentially a common area, subject to consent.

The venture also has the potential to increase to 50 guests in future.

A third-generation farmer in the area, Mr Priest himself lives on the site, in a farmhouse shifted there from Whangaimoana.

Several years ago he researched the landscape which includes the family farm, with a view to subdividing a block for the purpose.

This required some care checking for potential sites of archaeological significance, to avoid including them in the subdivision.

Historically an area of Maori settlement, there are middens, rubbish sites and other signs of this period of history nearby, but not on Mr Priest’s 4ha block itself.

Mr Priest is a sheep and beef farmer but now spends much of his time cray fishing on a leased quota.

He is no stranger to tourism business, often hosting volunteers such as WOOFers, (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and a shorter-term equivalent.

He has also constructed the “Carbecue”, a built-in barbecue in the back of a stationwagon, having obtained a food licence to sell fresh food down on the beach or at social functions. The vehicle comes complete with sound system.

Waimeha, however, is the biggest venture Mr Priest has attempted.

It has involved getting numerous consents from South Wairarapa District Council, who are “doing their job, and want to get it right”.

“The wastewater took the longest”, Mr Priest said. The European system involves a series of sediment tanks and the discharge of treated effluent to land to be recycled back into the system.

Freedom campers often come to the South Wairarapa coast, and Mr Priest sees his venture as providing an alternative.

The tourism venture has approval from the council’s Maori Standing Committee, and from residents of Ngawi.

“The support from locals was really good,” Mr Priest said.

David Hancock, chief executive of Destination Wairarapa, said he had visited Waimeha with Pixie Tipoki, team leader of the Masterton and Martinborough i-SITE Visitor Centres.

“We were pleased to be able to offer some suggestions on the segmenting of the product and making the most out of the various levels of accommodation,” Mr Hancock said.

“The i-sites are constantly pointing visitors to the south coast and we’ve seen the popularity of the Lake Ferry Hotel and Campground and the Gateway Motel & Holiday Park.

“This property’s size and style are just right for the market and will be a valuable addition to the handful of holiday house style properties which currently make up the accommodation inventory down there closer towards the Palliser Lighthouse and Ngawi.

“There are already thousands of tourists heading down there who can now stay with this added capacity.

But there are also other user groups like surfers and people fishing.

Mr Hancock said the development could encourage an operator of a Maori cultural experience in the area.

“There’s certainly a wealth of stories to work with down there.”