Whitianga missing its golden festival trade

Last updated 05:00 01/01/2014

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The loss of a major Coromandel music festival is taking its toll on Whitianga, which is unusually quiet for this time of year.

Families browse the shops and fill cafes. The liquor store on the corner is doing a modest trade.

But by late afternoon on New Year's Eve, there is little sign of youthful mischief or overindulgence.

The seaside town has been one of the country's hottest New Year's locations for the past four years, with two-day music festival Coromandel Gold attracting about 10,000 people to the area.

But the festival is taking a hiatus this year and most businesses spoken to by the Times are feeling a sense of loss.

The level of excitement and business over summer had dropped, Tuatua Restaurant and Bar owner Dave Johnston said.

"It's not just about having the extra people in town for a couple of weeks, it raises the profile of the town the whole year round," he said.

"The young people are always on that high at this time of year, everybody's buzzing. When that energy is in town you can really feel it."

He said business had been affected "a little bit" as his gourmet burgers and pizzas were popular with younger people, and breakfast service had dropped off significantly. He would welcome Coromandel Gold back in a heartbeat.

Coromandel Gold event director Peter Campbell said he would like to return to Whitianga with a new event, but there were no concrete plans in place.

Smitty's Sports Bar and Grill manager Liana Johnston said the absence of the festival crowd meant "a way more responsible vibe". "I don't mind the New Year's buzz, but it's kind of nice not having to monitor all of the young ones."

She also said the return of a music festival would be positive for the town.

"I like it better when people come to town because they're bringing all their money and they're spending it here."

Black Bull Liquor manager Prashant Sharma said young people would line up outside before the store opened in previous years.

"There was no space to even come in, but I do not see any of that madness happening here," he said. "I believe that's because of the Coro Gold not happening . . .You hardly see people in the store."

But Whitianga Sports manager Derek Collier, who has lived in Whitianga for 51 years and been in business for 28 of those, said the town was better off.

"I think you'll find that most general retailers that probably aren't in the food or alcohol business have found that without Coro Gold things have probably improved," he said.

"We pretty much just had a lot of late teens, early 20s who were here just to have a party and to have a great time, and that's fine. But they don't spend money in shops like ours."

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He said a lot of families chose to avoid Whitianga in previous years because of the music festival crowd and most locals were "quite happy for it not to be here".

On the Beach Backpackers Lodge manager Sally Cruickshank also said the loss had affected business in the town.

"I think it's a real shame we haven't got a lovely festival with lovely New Zealand music this year," she said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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