River rafting at the locals' back door

TRACEY CHATTERTON
Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012
ROUGH STUFF: Norm Brown says Mohaka Rafting can offer a mix of scenic rafting and riding out the whitewater.
ROUGH STUFF: Norm Brown says Mohaka Rafting can offer a mix of scenic rafting and riding out the whitewater.

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When Norm Brown heard that two local rafting companies were winding down he spotted a gap in the market.

Now in its fourth season, Mohaka Rafting is sending hundreds of tourists down its namesake.

Brown was working as a rafting guide in Ottawa, Canada, when he realised a business opportunity had opened up back home in Hawke's Bay.

A "couple of young fellows" who had recently graduated with business degrees wanted to gain some experience, so they came to New Zealand to set up the business with Brown.

It was a tough task trying to attract their first clients to drive 40 minutes north of Napier along State Highway 5 for a full day of scenic rafting. About 500 people navigated the rapids in Mohaka Rafting's first season, which runs from mid-October to mid-May.

Marketing was crucial, Brown said. He and his two-man team spread the word "wherever and whenever" they could.

"We didn't limit where we went. The world was open to us so we used it."

They launched a website, joined up with Hawke's Bay Tourism, and advertised nationally and internationally. They also run a Facebook and Twitter account.

These marketing avenues soon pulled in the international visitors, with tourists making up 80 per cent of business.

The local market was the toughest to crack, Brown said.

"It's a worldwide thing - the grass is greener on the other side of the hill. We get more Aucklanders coming here than locals. Wellington is just starting up now."

Mohaka Rafting promoted itself as a scenic raft trip giving a different experience to the "adrenaline runs" often offered in other parts of the country, Mr Brown said.

However, Mohaka does offer a grade 5 rapid ride with a mix of scenic rafting and riding out the whitewater.

Five permanent guides and a couple of casual staff now take about 1500 people down the river each season. Most people opted for the scenic day trips but Mohaka Rafting also offered multi-day excursions, including three days raft ing through the Kaweka Forest Park.

The longer trips give people an option on how they want to shape their adventure. They could start their trip with a helicopter ride over the Kaweka Range or make time for a spot of trout fishing.

Mr Brown believed the key to his success was "treating clients properly and putting them first".

The aim now was to keep building the business and establish more of a tourist route between Napier and Taupo.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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