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An Operator’s View: Rafting NZ’s Pianika Boddington

17 Oct 2019  By Contributor

Rafting New Zealand’s Pianika Boddington on partnering with Ngāti Tūwharetoa, recent PGF funding enabling training courses, the difficult winter season, and the environmental issues that are affecting business.

Pianika Boddington

My husband Luke Boddington and I are co-owners of Rafting New Zealand – a Turangi- based white water rafting company that has been operating since 1991.

Along with Lukes mum and dad we have worked hard over the  last 11 years driving the business forward. We’ve  grown the business through various different ventures nationally. We’ve operated rafting experiences in Rotorua, on the Wairoa and Mohaka Rivers and in Taupo where we opened a store. The tourism industry is very fragile and offers great challenges at times, but from passion and hardwork the business has kept growing.

In February this year we formed a partnership with Lake Rotoaira Forest Trust from Ngāti Tūwharetoa. We created a new company and Ngāti Tūwharetoa own 39% and we are majority shareholders with 51%. We have also brought on two long-time employees, with a 5% shareholding for each.

As a result of the partnership, we have now returned to our roots and will be focusing on operating rafting activities in our rohe (area) We offer grade 1 – 3 rafting experiences: Grade 1 on the Waikato River Float and up to Grade 3+ on the Tongariro River.

It is exciting that Ngati Tuwharetoa’s commercial arm are acquiring an increasing number of  businesses in the tourism industry – offering experiences in our special places. This is exciting and creates job opportunities for Ngati Tuwharetoa descendants and is a part of our role as Kaitiaki (land protectors) as we aspire to provide a prosperous future for our youth today and tomorrow.

We have a staff of 10 during the winter and the team grows to around 20 during the summer.

Our target market are FITs. We have seen an increase in bookings from IBO operators – they seem to be very interested in making bookings outside of the tourist hot spots. Summer has traditionally seen more domestic visitors but we are noticing a change with more international visitors coming to the region.

Winter has been a different story; we’ve had a terrible winter due to the bad weather, with the warmest July on record coinciding with the school holidays. The start of the season saw a lack of snow and then we had a storm cycle for six weeks which saw very few fine days.

The mountain has struggled and so have we, and other tourism operators in the region, as a result of reduced visitors to the area. We’ve not had the usual volume of Australian visitors here and I suspect, from the feedback that we’ve been getting, that will be the case for the next year or two. We’ve heard that many visitors decided to go to Queenstown instead for their skiing and snowboarding.

Weather is by far our biggest challenge.

We’ve recently received $500,000 funding from the PGF to assist us with training river guides and growing our business. We run a 16-week course to train new river guides for the operation, attaining a National Grade 3 Raft Guide Award at the end of the course. We are very grateful for the funding, it’s the first time anything like this has happened for Turangi, and it provides great opportunities for our youth here.

Another set of challenges we face are issues surrounding the environment. We have so much litter along the road side and around our region. I honestly think it has had an effect on declining tourism numbers. We’re a little island on the other side of the world and people think were are pure New Zealand but when they get here, it’s not so pure. I believe this is our biggest struggle that we need to approach as a whole industry. There needs to be more accountability and this needs to be led by council and government.

Another issue we are dealing with in the region is inflated pricing during peak season. We’ve managed to get more tourists here but when they get here the prices are often horrendous. Accommodation providers inflating prices massively over the peak season has definitely affected our region, particularly our domestic market. New Zealanders will find Fiji more affordable than the $300 per night cabins in our region.

Overall, I’d like to see our government and councils leading change in educating people in schools and in the community about the environment and legislating how we can take care of it. Regarding the worsening litter issue, I believe there should be fines.

The Tiaki Promise that Tourism New Zealand have introduced is awesome and I think it should be embraced by everyone. I think the tiaki focus should be on the environment and looking after it for future generations but also it should be about us all looking after each other, within the Tourism Industry. It is a competitive market, but we are a small island and I think everyone should look after each other and working together. Tiaki Tatou. Mariora!

If you’d like to contribute to our An Operator’s View column, contact the Ticker’s Jane King at


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