Scoop on adventure capitals


I rudely shocked a group of elderly at a Millbrook concert many moons ago.

On hearing they came from Wanaka, I exclaimed: “…God’s best waiting room.” 

In those days, I don’t recall Wanaka had much in the way of adventure attractions apart from skiing and some new buzz called snowboarding. It’s different now.

So much so that American boarder Jeremy Jones dubbed Wanaka “the adventure capital of New Zealand” in National Geographic – and Wanaka’s tourism promotion boss James Helmore was last week flogging it for all he was worth.

With respect to Jones, you can understand his mistake – he doesn’t live here. But Helmore jumping on the bandwagon and banging out a release headed: “Move over Queenstown; NZ has a new ‘Adventure Capital’ – Lake Wanaka!”, isn’t so excusable.

Helmore gloated: “Recognition as the ‘adventure capital of NZ’ from one of the world’s most celebrated and well-known snowboarders is a fantastic tribute to the region, but one those in the know have always acknowledged.”

It was unnecessary and took the gloss off a great accolade for Wanaka – and Helmore should have known better than to trumpet it with a backhanded swipe at his neighbour’s expense.

Helmore doesn’t see that he was bagging Queenstown, but it’s hard to interpret it in any other way.

As for the debate itself, how can a quieter though admittedly as-stunning version of Queenstown be the adventure capital when it doesn’t have a luge, canyon swings or that adventure tourism staple of bungy jumping? Funnily enough, three years ago Helmore, who once had a Queenstown marketing job, unveiled Wanaka as the world’s first ‘lifestyle reserve’, whatever that is. Now it’s the adventure capital too?

It puts Wanaka on a tragic list of other wannabes, like Rotorua and Hanmer, trying to steal a tagline that it’s believed was first bestowed on Queenstown by traveller’s bible Lonely Planet.

Helmore’s bleat is an injustice to Wanaka which is a distinctive destination in its own right that doesn’t need to go around doing the “us too!” thing.

Quite rightly, Destination Queenstown boss Graham Budd spluttered at Helmore’s boasts.

While congratulating Wanaka on its plug, Budd said it was “disappointing and very surprising” his tourism counterpart had referred to Queenstown that way.

Apparently, it’s not the done thing for regional tourism organisations (RTOs) to give backhanded slaps to other areas – let alone the closest of neighbours.

And it’s a bit like the old adventure tourism accident scenario. If there’s an accident, other sectors don’t rub their hands together in glee – because it’s a bad look for everyone.

The reverse is also true – a commendation for Wanaka is effectively great for Queenstown Lakes district and the country.

Sure, Wanaka and Queenstown need to sell separate messages at times, but isn’t it better these two neighbouring alpine resorts work together? Shouldn’t we promote each other as part of an overall package? How about we combine DQ and Lake Wanaka Tourism?

How many other local councils have more than one RTO within their borders? The answer is none.

A combined RTO would pack more punch. But what to call it?

Queenstown-Wanaka Tourism … or should that be Wanaka-Queenstown Tourism?