A 230-acre agri-tourism development on the Waikato River will give visitors a taste of rural New Zealand just 35 minutes from Auckland Airport.
The development site, close to Pokeno on land previously designated for use as a quarry, encapsulates lush riverside farmland and will include a showcase working farm, sales of Kiwi produce, accommodation and possibly ferry rides.
While it is still awaiting final consent, major earthworks for the Bluff Road site have been given approval and developer Tata Valley intends to have the site ready for 2021 when Aotearoa hosts the America’s Cup and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
The Pokeno project is being billed as a “window to New Zealand” and is backed by Australasian complimentary healthcare product developer GMP Pharmaceuticals – a sister company to Tata Valley Ltd.
GMP’s corporate affairs manager, Fiona Murray, said clients of the pharmaceutical company often wanted to know more about where ingredients in their products came from and part of the plan was for the working farm to demonstrate the source of ingredients.
“Many of them want to go and look at farms,” she told stuff.co.nz. “It’s really hard to organise farm visits.”
The business is also designed to introduce visitors to the Waikato corridor, which includes the Hampton Downs racetrack and new housing and water adventure park development Te Awa Lakes.
According to Hamilton and Waikato tourism’s Jason Dawson, the development will show tourists “a real farm in action, without feeling like you’re walking on concrete paths and it’s not real”.
Accommodation proposed as part of the development could fill a gap in the market, he said, and there could be an opportunity to introduce ferry rides up and down New Zealand’s longest river.
Mr Dawson said the development would help shine a light on the area’s many attractions, including battle re-enactments around Rangiriri, Māori tourism initiatives in Tūākau and Port Waikato, skydiving in Mercer and artisanal local produce like mānuka honey and wine.
“I think it’s an incredibly ambitious project and I think it’s actually fantastic that they had the foresight to actually pull something of this scale and quantum together,” Waikato District Council Mayor, Allan Sanson told stuff.co.nz.
Tata Valley says it plans to use innovative building techniques to minimise environmental effects.
Potential ecological impacts on foraging bats and wetlands were noted in the decision to allow earthworks to proceed, but overall the development proposal will increase natural wetland habitat.
Iwi was consulted as the site is near Waikato River, and an identified pā site – not within the earthwork area – is on a high ridge nearby. Tata Valley’s application was given written approval from Waikato Tainui chief executive, and some further meetings were held with hapū, the consent decision said.
Erosion and sediment controls will be in place at the site, as well as limits on noise, hours of work, and dust.