Putting ‘Waimate on the map‘ by boosting tourism

It is now or never to make Waimate an attractive tourist destination, local business owners say.

A wallaby park in Waimate. Photo: RNZ/Logan Church.

The small south Canterbury town was off the beaten track – about ten minutes off State Highway One when driving south from Timaru.

Just off the main road into Waimate, 72-year-old Gwen Dempster-Schouten operates a wallaby park, the only one of its kind in New Zealand.

She wanted to get more tourists in town.

“I feel if we don‘t get onto it right now, we are going to lose it,” she said.

“We need better entrances to the town, more signage… The council needs to put more money into advertising Waimate.”

Trevor Joyce runs a collectable model car museum on Waimate‘s main street, housing about 40,000 model vehicles.

“There is certainly a lot more people passing through here, [especially] in campervans,” he said.

The community needed to tap into the increased number of tourists he had seen.

Trevor Joyce runs a collectable model car museum on Waimate‘s main street. Photo: RNZ/Logan Church.

One of the major events each year is the Waimate 50, a street race that brings people from all over the world. During last year‘s event local accommodation nearly booked out.

Organiser Robert Aikman said the annual event cost about $200,000 to put on but pumped about $1 million into the local economy. He believed it could grow even further.

“I think it really puts Waimate on the map and is something really special for the town that no one else has in the country.

“People will come to visit this town to see what it is about and that is what I‘m trying to do – build a bit more of a future.”

The Waimate District Council is in the middle of developing an economic development strategy to boost the town‘s profile, bring in more tourists and improve business.

Waimate town. Photo: RNZ/Logan Church.

Mayor Craig Rowley said until recently economic development had not been high on the council‘s priority list due to pressing infrastructure repairs.

“It‘s all very well spending money on the infrastructure but you also have to look at big picture stuff, and what the town wants to be when it grows up.

“I think it is a balancing act. You‘ve got to do it because if you don‘t plan for the future, you won‘t have a future.”

The council had invested $20,000 into a new marketing website, which saw 6000 more unique visitors than this time last year.