Boomrock owner drives new venture

SAFETY CAMPAIGNER: Jonny Eastwick is taking his driver training programme to two Wellington schools.
SAFETY CAMPAIGNER: Jonny Eastwick is taking his driver training programme to two Wellington schools.

The owner of Wellington corporate retreat Boomrock has a new passion in life – making New Zealand roads safer. Jonny Eastwick talks to Catherine Harris.

A tour around Boomrock with the owner is a bit like taking inventory. Gun range? Check. Helicopter pads? Check. Racetrack?

"Hang on," says Jonny Eastwick as he accelerates his 4WD Mercedes Benz. "We're going to take this corner a little fast."

He presses the accelerator and just as the stomach starts to lurch, the vehicle's automatic stability control kicks in, bringing what seemed like an out-of-control ride right back into line.

This is obviously a showstopper for many of Boomrock's corporate visitors and the view is amazing. Eastwick observes with a smile that this is one of the few racetracks that appears to fall into the sea. It's an optical illusion, of course. Boomrock is perched atop Eastwick's family farm at the top of Ohariu Valley. To the south, Makara's windswept shores. To the north, Mana Island and Titahi Bay.

Eastwick's farm has been in his family for three generations. By all accounts, he is a very private person which is one reason why only staff can drive up there. Everyone else comes in by helicopter or bus.

"I think that we like to use it very much as a family, hence we won't put accommodation in here ... You know it's your own when no-one's here, which is really important to us as a family."

Eastwick did an agricultural degree and always figured farming would be his career. But a downturn in farming 16 years ago led him to start thinking laterally.

"I was brought up that farming was going to be [my] life and then had to fully re-educate which has been the interesting part."

His solution was a luxury retreat with the best of food and adventurous activities which were outside the daily norm. The lodge sits on a family picnic spot.

"In the early days no-one did anything up here because it was too windy, but once we broke away from that thought pattern and could actually get power in ...

"We obviously took a bit of a risk at that stage and honestly, from the day it's gone in, it's given a lot of people a lot of satisfaction."

A racetrack, designed with the help of racing driver Peter Brock, followed. Visitors can also try their hand at helicopter flying, extreme off-roading, knife throwing, archery, golf, claybird shooting, whisky tasting or cooking with celebrity chefs.

However, Eastwick has always wanted Boomrock to be more than a luxury playground. His aim was to be "a brand other leading brands wanted to be a part of".

His partners are Mercedes, which uses the racetrack exclusively as a showcase for buyers and Boomrock visitors, and Beretta, which supplies the guns.

The added benefit of Boomrock for Eastwick are the guests he meets and the ideas they bring. A self-taught entrepreneur, he believes one of the benefits of not having a formal business background is that he has no restrictions. "I've always looked at things a little differently. I'm being educated all the time.

"I personally feel each and every person's got their own opportunity and you've got to make the most of it. Every person who works here is out of their comfort zone all the time.

"We're very, very open to ... investigating other opportunities, and luckily now we get a lot of opportunities put in front of us, which is fantastic."

ONE OF those opportunities, and Eastwick's most recent project, is Fleetsafe NZ, a sophisticated driver education programme.

"We were getting people coming through who were looking at buying fleets of cars and key people were jumping out saying, `Look, I want to put my whole team through here."'

Eastwick had already been thinking about driver safety and, in tandem with researchers, began developing an educational package.

"It's leading edge technology," he says, pulling out a hard black briefcase and several pieces of equipment.

One plugs into the car computer, collecting information about driver reactions, distance travelled and fuel used, as a professional driver puts the trainee through their paces.

Then, using technology from the United States and Waikato University, the trainee gets an assessment of their performance.

"You get a reading out from there whether you are low, medium or high risk. In our research [New Zealanders] are about 9 per cent low risk, so there's a huge problem here."

The next stage is a half-day practical done at racetracks around the country, with NZQA standards.

Professional drivers in Mercedes Benz cars educate the trainees, and all the information is put into a formal report which looks at both the individual driver and the company's performance.

Although Fleetsafe has largely been used by corporates, Eastwick thinks it has much wider applications.

He is about to do a pilot programme with two Wellington schools using racing driver Greg Murphy as frontsman. "What we've got to do is change the culture and you can't just do it with the older drivers, you've got to come at the front end as well."

Eventually he would like to market it to all drivers. Research in Britain has shown similar programmes have reduced crashes by up to 50 per cent and fuel usage by up to 30 per cent.

"There are $3.6 billion associated with road crashes in New Zealand, that's social costs. So we expect substantial savings. That's not just for the Government, it's for everyone. It's for you and I."

Eastwick can see a market for Fleetsafe technology overseas and he'd like to see Boomrock break further into the Australian market – "we do a lot of things which you can't do in Australia".

The Rugby World Cup gave him a helping hand in the form of two Australian film crews that served up an eyeful of Boomrock scenery on primetime TV.

With 80 per cent of Boomrock's business still domestically based, Eastwick admits the recession has had an impact.

But just as he did earlier, he sees diversifying his income as a way to overcome cyclical downturns. "The end of 2010 was definitely a lot softer for us, and we just have to diversify our clientele and we probably do a lot more private functions than we used to do."

I suggest Eastwick's farming background has something to do with his outlook, that opportunities – like land – can be pioneered.

He nods. With Fleetsafe NZ, he says, "we want to make a difference in New Zealand and with Boomrock, we want to give people an amazing lifelong memory ... Everything's about the experience."

Fairfax Media