15 Sep 2021

Covid-19: Mt Ruapehu businesses missing Auckland visitors

12:39 pm on 15 September 2021

Businesses around Mt Ruapehu are missing their Auckland visitors with the supercity still at Covid-19 alert level 4.

In nearby town Ohakune, the effects of alert level restrictions were expected to hit like an avalanche but most seem to be weathering the storm.

There was a flurry of excitement among those trudging around the base of Mt Ruapehu's Whakapapa ski field, ready to hit the slopes.

But despite crisp blue skies, only the top car park had vehicles in it.

Alert level 2 restrictions meant numbers were capped at 3000 for Whakapapa and 2500 at Turoa ski field on other other side of the maunga.

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts chief operating officer Travis Donoghue said the lockdown could not have hit at a worse time, having a "significant impact" on the business that only operates "for four months".

Donoghue's kept mum on the economic impact but acknowledged the weeks lost in August, and Auckland still being at alert level 4, was challenging.

That said, given the current circumstances, he was pleased with the numbers that had come through for the first week of alert level 2.

Donoghue said there had been good demand so far and they were working to near-maximum capacity, which was easier to manage without the Auckland crowds.

In the nearby town of Ohakune, local district councillor and business owner, Janelle Hinch said the move to alert level 4 last month was hard for a lot of people.

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Local district councillor and Ohakune business owner Janelle Hinch said it was tough not having the Auckland crowds in town. Photo: Supplied / Wikipedia

She knew of accommodation providers going from being fully booked to empty in a flash, having to refund customers who likely would not return this year.

Hinch said it sounded like a "first world problem" talking about the impact of the ski fields being closed.

"But there's a lot of businesses around here that that's the lifeblood of their business."

She said it was "the equivalent of a farmer losing his crop".

Hinch said it was tough not having the Auckland crowds in town - but noted the supercity was doing its own hard mahi at the moment.

She said the upcoming school holidays could be make or break for some businesses and was hoping more alert level changes would happen before then .

Hinch was "really, really, really hoping that everybody's getting their vaccinations, getting the tests done, so that we just hit this thing on the head."

"Hopefully everyone will be free by the school holidays - we'll have a bumper October."

The owner of local store TCB Ski, Board and Bike, Ben Wiggins, was keeping a high level of optimism but knew he had already lost a lot of key business.

He said "probably the most upsetting bit" since the August lockdown was "being here, in Ohakune, and looking up at the mountain daily from your house, with 70-centimetres-plus of fresh, dry, fluffy powder - sunshine every day - and not being able to go up".

But Wiggins was taking things in his stride, helped along by lower North Islanders doing a bit of, what he called, "revenge shopping".

"Everyone comes straight out of lockdown, they're like 'we've got to go do stuff!' and everyone gets excited," he said.

"We definitely saw a sharp spike of people come down over the weekend."

Although it is headed into the back end of Ruapehu's ski season, the main message from locals was for all of Aotearoa keep working towards Covid-19 elimination so more people could get a last blast of winter fun.

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