Golden days ahead for Te Aroha

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 08:16 08/02/2014

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The fortunes of Te Aroha are on the rise and confidence is growing as tourists begin to flock back to the former boom town.

A century ago they came by river boat and then by train but now visitors grind through the gears on the Hauraki Rail Trail cycleway to reach their destination. Business association head Shaun O'Neill said that showed the town was looking up.

"We're moving in that direction, the confidence is there now," he said.

O'Neill said latest figures from the Hauraki rail trail trust showed a near 50 per cent lift in cyclists using the Te Aroha section in January this year, compared to the same month last year.

He has just expanded his own higher-end accommodation business after a year in operation to cater for the swelling interest in the town and bookings are coming in thick and fast.

"We've just completed two new chalets and it's starting to fill up now.

"We are optimistic and all of the signs that we can see are that the cycleway and other local industry around Te Aroha, with the likes of Silver Fern Farms, Fonterra, Tatua dairy factory, New Zealand Pork, is all shaping up to keep things moving in the right direction."

He said the town boasted the "most complete Edwardian architecture" in New Zealand and Te Aroha's heritage was another reason to love the town.

The increase in day visits was greater than the overnight stays, and cafes - also bars and restaurants - were winning, but he said more investment was needed to take advantage of the trail.

"It brings people here and they see the lights of Te Aroha and they go back and tell people. It's building a momentum."

But Te Aroha has boomed before and suffered through a resultant bust.

Old shafts on the mountain point to a mining history and people flocked to the town to bathe in the town's thermal springs.

The bottom fell out of the gold industry and interest in the baths slowed during and after World War II but O'Neill said investment from primary sector giants Silver Fern Farms, Tatua Dairy, Fonterra and New Zealand Pork would give the town durability.

"It's a really good backbone for the town of Te Aroha, as well," he said. "That's a lot of money to go into a small town and there is a lot of business confidence and we are riding that."

Silver Fern Farms completed work on a $67 million plant in 2012 after its old Te Aroha factory burned down. It now employs 452 staff in Te Aroha. Regional livestock manager for Waikato and Bay of Plenty Brett Devane said they were committed to the region.

"Te Aroha is the hub for our Waikato operations," he said. "The $67m rebuild is the largest single investment our company has made in its 66 year history. It is our flagship beef plant."

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The pick up in trade has been noticed in the halls of power, too. Matamata-Piako Mayor Jan Barnes said her council was committed to growth for the region. "There is a real opportunity to further develop the rail trail and connect it to the Te Aroha domain and . . . take cyclists through the rest of the district," she said.

Barnes said MPDC applied for their own funding when the initiative was first mooted by central government but they didn't get all they were after and ended up joining the Hauraki DC plan and extended the trail to their town.

The plan to extend to Matamata was halted last September, just before the local body elections."I think there has been a win-win there and that shows the government that we can partner, councils can work together.

"If we get it to Matamata we can link up to the Waikato River trail, we've got Hobbiton, we're international here and it's very exciting."

- Waikato Times

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