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Hovercraft venture to open on Lake Pukaki in effort to attract more tourists to the area

Original article : http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/news/84555395/hovercraft-venture-to-open-on-lake-pukaki

A new hovercraft operation set to launch on Lake Pukaki promises a unique tourism experience not seen before in New Zealand.

When H2Explore launches early next year it will be the only commercial hovercraft operating in the country. It will also be the first tourist attraction to operate on idyllic Lake Pukaki. The locally owned business promises to significantly boost visitors to the Mackenzie and has been welcomed as a much needed tourism injection for the district.

H2Explore’s hovercraft will provide a much needed link on the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail. Presently, cyclists begin at Aoraki Mt Cook and much drive around the lake to Tasman Point or make the journey by air. The hovercraft will open up to tourists an otherwise largely inaccessible part of the area. It will also provide transport across the Tasman River for cyclists starting the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail at its official starting point, Aoraki/Mt Cook. Founding director Riaan van der Westhuizen is passionate about the district and saw an untapped opportunity to boost tourism.

“There is no experience like this in New Zealand. This is going to blow tourism out of the water.’’

When H2Explore begins her maiden voyage it will bring to fruition four years of research. This has included obtaining all the relevant consents and approvals to establish this unique operation on the Tasman River and Lake Pukaki both as a tourism activity and transport option for cyclists. Van der Westhuizen has just returned from Saint Petersburg where Russian company Christy Hovercrafts is building the brand-new craft, which will seat 10 people plus the pilot and tour guide.

“This was a very exciting day. We cannot ask for a better hovercraft manufacturer than Christy. The hovercraft is like nothing I have ever been in - it is like a Ferrari on water.’’

Fellow director Rebecca Flannery said the area is recognised as an international film location and has been used in films like Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit Trilogy,The Chronicles of Narnia, and Vertical Limit. She said H2Explore will complement and support tourism beautifully in the district by offering an activity which in turn increases visitor bed nights to Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, Tekapo, and the Twizel area.

“Nowhere else in the world will you be able to ride a hovercraft under the gaze of Aoraki/Mt Cook. It is something new and exciting that has never been done before by any visitor to New Zealand. It also gives visitors a reason to stay and play another day. “With the increasing local investment in the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail, the hovercraft provides a unique and economical option for riders and will encourage then to do the who section of the trail from start to finish,’’Flannery said.

Tourism in the Mackenzie District is on the rise. Latest figures show guest nights are up 12 per cent on last year. The total number of international visitors to the region in 2014/15 was 392,295, and the number of domestic guests was 163,554. These figures do not take into consideration “hosted’’ accommodation (B&B and holiday homes).. Mackenzie District mayor Claire Barlow welcomed the new venture. “Every new tourism product that establishes itself in the district gives visitors more reasons to stay, enjoy the experience on offer and invest in our local economy.

“I think the hovercraft experience that H2Explore are offering will complement the other activities on offer in this outstanding part of New Zealand.’’

The unique environment of Lake Pukaki makes the hovercraft the only ideal transport option. Pukaki is a storage lake for power generation and can vary in depth by more than five metres, meaning the shoreline moves in and out by about 1km at the top of the lake. This makes it unsuitable for power boats. Lake Pukaki is also a scenic reserve. By using a hovercraft the river bed and shoreline will be free of any structures as no launching platform is needed. The hovercraft is the only vessel that can travel between water and land without disturbing the natural river bed and shore line. It is diesel powered, making it a low environmental impact. The area has some of the most extreme weather conditions in New Zealand, from snow to winds of up to 50 knots. The hovercraft is one of the only vessels that can operate in these extreme conditions.

The hovercraft will arrive in New Zealand early next year and H2Explore is looking to launch the business in February.

 

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