'Tired' Maruia owners selling up

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 12:36 12/05/2014
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SIGNATURE LOOK: Takako Ogino, left, and Akira Matsushita with their private helicopter.

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When Akira Matsushita discovered Maruia Springs Thermal Resort 23 years ago, it was basically a run -down pub frequented by farmers. Now the slice of Japan in the middle of a South Island national park is back on the market. Abbie Napier reports.

Maruia Springs Thermal Resort is for sale, and the owners are keen for it to be bought by the Government or Ngai Tahu.

Back in the early 1990s, Japanese native Takako Ogino's father purchased the springs as an addition to his Japan-based hotel and hot springs business.

The death of his oldest son a year later eventually led Ogino's father to put her in charge of Maruia.

As a single woman in a foreign country and still in her early 20s, Ogino faced many hurdles to make the business successful - language, financial, culture and gender.

Business partner and director at Maruia, Akira Matsushita, helped her run it.

More than 20 years later, he still has not left.

"We have learned the Kiwi No 8 wire way of doing things," Matsushita says.

"Takako is like a mother duck; this is her baby."

When the pair took over Maruia, it functioned mainly as a pub for farmers in the area. It was run-down, and needed a lot of work.

Over the years it has been through many incarnations, eventually arriving at the Japanese-style springs it is today.

"I think this is the only Japanese-themed hot springs hotel in the country," Matsushita says.

He credits Japanese exchange students and the like for opening New Zealand to Japanese culture.

When they purchased Maruia, New Zealand "wasn't ready" for a Japanese hot spring, Matsushita says.

Today, 80 per cent of their customers are Kiwi, while all but one of the staff is Japanese.

Matsushita and Ogino are known for their helicopter flights in full kimonos and Ogino's love of motorbikes.

However, for Matsushita and Ogino, the time has come to leave it behind. Maruia is on the market and will be sold, but not just to anyone.

"I don't want to see it in disrepair again," Matsushita says.

"We love the place - we are just getting tired."

Matsushita's dream is to see Maruia owned by either the Government or Ngai Tahu, and returned to the people of New Zealand.

It is 1.8 hectares of privately-owned land in the middle of Lewis Pass National Park, and Matsushita thinks it has more potential. He wants to see it as the gateway to the West Coast, linked with Hanmer Springs and Franz Josef glacier.

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At the moment, it caters mostly to Kiwis wanting a Japanese experience, but it could be converted for an eco-tourism springs, with access to fishing, bush walks and the national park.

He is still hopeful he can sell it to a New Zealander. Fairfax NZ

- The Nelson Mail

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