A plan to put Kaikohe on the tourist map could jump start the town’s stalled economy.
Northland tourism groups want to extend the Twin Coast Discovery Highway by adding a scenic route between the Bay of Islands and the Hokianga.
Brown and white roadside signs designating the route from State Highway 10 at Puketona to the Rawene turnoff on State Highway 12 could be in place by the end of the year.
Enterprise Northland Tourism Development Group chairman David Perks told a meeting in the town last week that the highway had been an effective marketing tool since it was designated 10 years ago.
The group and Destination Northland were now looking at how the highway could be developed to spread benefits generated by the 1.7 million overnight visitors to the region each year.
"A day route between the two Copthornes will be good for Northland and give Kaikohe a bite of the tourism cherry," said Mr Perks.
The route would allow mid-north businesses to capitalise on the pulling power of the Bay of Islands which tourists ranked second on the list of attractions they wanted to see while in New Zealand.
"We need to use the Bay of Islands, which is a global icon, as a way of distributing people around the region and getting them to stay here longer."
Kaikohe and other communities along the route had the history and people to offer overseas visitors the authentic cultural experiences they sought in their visits to Northland, he said.
"Rather than just be another road on the map, this would become part of the tourism story of Northland."
The route would point the way to attractions including Te Waimate Mission House, Kaikohe’s Pioneer Village and Wairere Boulders and help to drive growth of new tourist attractions.
"As new businesses grow, you’d hope you’d end up with signs every 500 metres," he said.
Copthorne Hotel and Resort Hokianga owner Shane Lloydd said the challenge for communities on the route was to give tourists reasons to stop and spend money.
"Just imagine if you re-established Kaikohe’s old facades. People would stop. That’s your opportunity," said Mr Lloydd who was keen to see Broadway redeveloped as an historic village.
Others at the meeting agreed that Kaikohe’s Maori and Pakeha heritage set it apart from other towns.
"We need to focus on our history, because we are the cradle of New Zealand," said Heather Ayrton who is on the committee that manages the Pioneer Village.
"Ngapuhi history goes back thousands of years," said tourism operator Hone Mihaka pointing out that Kaikohe was the centre of Ngapuhi’s world.
Geothermal resources at Ngawha also made Kaikohe unique in Northland.
"We could be Rotorua," said motelier Perry van Gaalen.
"We had busloads of people going through the cinnabar mine at Ngawha four years ago," said Ms Ayrton.
Real estate agent Darran Hewitt said those who doubted that people would want to stop in Kaikohe should consider how other towns had reinvented themselves to grab a share of the tourist dollar.
Nobody had heard of the Waikato town of Tirau until it established itself as New Zealand’s corrugated iron art capital, he said.
"We’ve got a town that is central and on the road to somewhere. Let’s do what Tirau’s done."
Community crusader Shaun Reilly said a Pacific Kauri Trail connecting the Bay of Islands and the Waipoua Forest was first mooted and promoted in Northern News in 2001.
- © Fairfax NZ News