Helping Kiwis discover hidden gems in their own country is the philosophy behind a new company born during the travel drought of lockdown.
Nelson residents Phil and Jane Harris and Silvana Gottini have combined their travel industry tour guide backgrounds to create boutique campervan trail company Roving Kiwi.
Roving Kiwi combines the benefits of self-contained hired campervan accommodation with organised nightly dinners. During the day clients make their own choices on what to see and visit but each night they enjoy the camaraderie of the group and share tales of their adventures over dinner.
Phil says Kiwis have spent their lives driving too quickly from A to B without taking time to explore down the side roads. In creating itineraries for their new tours the trio have discovered plenty in their own backyard, especially on the South Island’s West Coast which he describes as “unbelievable”.
The trio have just hosted their first customers on a 12-day South Island tour.
Most of the group were retired folks who were new to campervan driving and travelling.
Phil says they are thrilled with the response and many positive comments from clients.
Recent research conducted by market research agency Kantar for Tourism New Zealand shows there has been a notable improvement in perceptions of what New Zealand holidays have to offer, with a further opportunity to strengthen messages around unique experiences.
Facing up to a crisis
Roving Kiwi’s story began in March during lockdown.
“Here we were, three experienced tour hosts and guides suddenly not able to take our wonderful travellers overseas for the foreseeable future,” says Phil.
As the three had worked together for more than 25 years at World Travellers Motueka (which Phil and Jane own and run), Phil says it
just seemed to make sense to try and combine our new and exciting travel ideas as travel is the thing we have always been most passionate about”.
“There were already many tours out there and more by the day, as borders looked like they would stay shut. We found many Kiwis were a little reluctant to do a ‘group’ tour in their own country. Others felt they already knew their own backyard well enough.”
Brainstorming via zoom
After many zoom brainstorming sessions, including keen caravaner friends from Christchurch, they started to form a vision.
- Something unique and exciting that was not already available in New Zealand.
- A hosted (not guided) holiday, which would give clients opportunities to explore on their own. But structured so all the research has been done for them, and all they needed to do was choose their activities for each day.
- Where everyone could meet up at the end of the day to enjoy the camaraderie of the group and share tales of their adventures.
- To craft authentic high-quality campervan experiences with the opportunity to stay and engage with locals in farm stays, marae, and other unique locations.
- Offering flexible daily itineraries and the security of connecting with a group of like minded travellers.
Phil says it had to be small groups, “as that aligned with our philosophy of creating unique, intimate experiences for our guests.
It also meant we could stay in some amazing places along the way. We found that hosted campervan trails would offer exactly what we were looking for.”
The trio believe their concept is unique in New Zealand and were encouraged by finding someone already doing the same in Australia.
One of the first challenges was securing suitable fully self-contained smaller campervans. After approaches to larger companies, they found the support they needed at Kia Ora Campervans in Timaru which have a Christchurch depot.
Phil and Jane’s caravanning friends in Christchurch introduced them to Blenheim’s Doug Avery, creator of the Resilient Farmer.
Farming connections opened doors
Doug’s connections in the farming industry helped put Roving Kiwi in touch with farm and high country stations owners keen to take part, providing campervan parking areas and farmhouse evening dinners.
Phil says farmers have been particularly keen to share their passion for what they do.
Phil, Jane and Silvana created a round trip from Christchurch to Aoraki-Mt Cook, Queenstown, through to the West Coast and back to Canterbury. They extensively explored the route and wrote an itinerary with lots of information about attractions to visit on the way.
Highlights are a farm which produces high quality merino wool for the Icebreaker brand, a deer farm, heli flights, Earnslaw cruise and dinner at Walter Peak Station near Queenstown, a pōwhiri and marae visit at Hokitika and dinner at the Otira Hotel near Arthur’s Pass.
They used their existing client databases to promote the new venture to potential customers.
Apple growers Paul and Coral Heywood were some of the first Roving Kiwi clients.
“The immediate interest of such a tour travelling in a motorhome, a new experience for us, was the access to several high country stations . . . I found the enormous size of the high country stations unbelievably large, even when taken for a flight,” Paul says.
Being hosted in their homes by the station owners was a special privilege. The knowledge gained was enormous but the family commitment over generations was similar to our own circumstances.
“Continuing down to Queenstown before travelling up the West Coast across Arthur’s Pass back to Christchurch provided a round trip with fellow campers who enjoyed each other’s company at day’s end. A few beers and wine with biscuits were always a welcome social gathering.
“As usual Phil and Jane Harris were the perfect hosts, making sure everyone was catered for and clear on next day’s travel details. Phil and Jane are always so enthusiastic, always positive, nothing is too much trouble.
“It is of great credit to them both that with the devastating effect of Covid-19 on their business they have shown great initiative and innovation to explore and develop a new business under the name of Roving Kiwi. We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and highly recommend it.”
Phil says the long-term aim is to attract overseas clients when New Zealand’s borders open.
In the meantime they also have plans to create other South Island tours and also put together North Island options.
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For more information:
Roving Kiwi website