Hovercraft venture hopes to open on Manawatu River
Hovercraft rides are coming to the Manawatu River as one Palmerston North man's retirement hobby snowballs into a fully-fledged tourism venture.
Brian Atkinson is in the process of fixing up a second-hand hovercraft which he purchased with a "silly" bid on Trade Me from a man in Haast last year.
Once the five-metre-long machine is fully functional and testing on the river is carried out, Atkinson is keen to offer Manawatu River hovercraft rides starting and finishing at the Victoria Esplanade by the Fitzherbert Bridge.
"You have caught me in the early stages, but I don't see why it won't happen," Atkinson said.
"The river is not always boat friendly but it should be hovercraft friendly.
"We'll be starting testing soon."
The 69-year-old retiree, who moved with his wife to Palmerston North from the United Kingdom four years ago, has so far received full support from both the Palmerston North City Council and Horizons Regional Council for his venture.
Costs for a ride on the three-to-four person hovercraft could be as low as $10 depending on the distance Atkinson is able to safely guide it along the river.
"We will go as far as we can go. Initially it's a feasibility thing.
"When we get out there and testing we may find there are limitations. It's a bit of a wait and see at this stage."
Limitations could include debris in the river and the ever-present Manawatu wind, but Atkinson is confident the hovercraft will work.
His inspiration came from looking at the people-empty river, which he said was an asset not being used.
"There's never anyone on it and it's crazy.
"We love Palmerston North but we get a bit annoyed at the way this place is always put down across New Zealand.
"This could put the town on the map, even in a small way."
Mr Atkinson said the venture was a retirement hobby that had snowballed.
"As long as I can cover costs I'm happy with that.
"I'm not out to become a millionaire and I'm not going to become a millionaire off it."
He is looking forward to driving the Auckland-made, 20 horsepower, 2.0 litre machine - which is based on an American hovercraft design.
He is unsure of the speeds it can reach just yet but said the rides he offered would not be all about adrenalin.
"I'm sure it can go pretty fast, but it won't be about that.
"It's a completely different concept driving a hovercraft. It's like driving a car on ice."
Testing will begin within the next month.