Taupo Council organised a meeting in Turangi last week, to investigate another new “Destination Brand” for Turangi’s future. It was completely unnecessary. For almost one hundred years Turangi have enjoyed an enviable famous reputation as the “Trout Fishing Capital of the World”. For a tourist destination brand, the message was clear and concise and proven to be very successful, but recently TDC (Taupo District Council) appeared determined to change it. Consider the evidence…
Since the meeting, in a well-publicised interview over the new co-governance system appointed for Turangi (now on TRM’s facebook), the Mayor insisted on referring to Turangi as the “Gateway to the National Park”? Really? Perhaps it might have been too late for the meeting as it appears Turangi’s revised new destination brand has already been decided?
So hopefully this educational TRM blog explores what happened to change Turangi’s “destination image” after the “Host” for the Council meeting spent about 40 minutes introducing himself without any mention of the local tourist history. Indeed, he seemed unaware of it and unwilling to discuss it.
Regular readers of entertaining TRM blogs will know this already but Council needs reminding. Turangi has been established and recognised worldwide as a trout fishing destination for over one hundred years. The Tongariro River became world-famous in the early 1920’s after American writer Zane Grey raved about it in his book – Anglers Eldorado. Even earlier, from 1920, NZ’s Governor General, Lord Jellicoe, (Admiral of the Fleet) started a wonderful tradition for over forty years with most subsequent GG’s following up until Lord Cobham in 1960’s. The Government might have been paying for them all to congregate in Turangi every year to fly-fish for trophy trout in the Tongariro River. Their vice-regal patronage added considerable historic prestige to the quaint little village before the new town of Turangi was built in the 1960’s-70’s. Prior to that the smattering of holiday homes along Taupahi Road (also known then as River Road) was known as Taupahi. So why ignore the history and change a good thing?
Then the “Royals” further enhanced the importance of trout fishing in Turangi. In 1927 the Queen’s mother fished the Tongariro River (Then known as the Duchess of York photo above – still remembered as the Duchess Pool where they built her holiday accommodation which was then transported to become the trout centre) followed by the Queen, followed by Prince Charles. They added even more status to Turangi’s claim as being the trout fishing capital of the world. No other NZ town could boast of such a pedigree, so why would Taupo Council want to review it or change it?
Taupo must have been dismayed as the GG’s regularly stayed at Taylors Camp in Taupahi Road so often that several famous pools were named after them – Admiral’s Pool – named after Lord Jellicoe, Jellicoe Pool (down river – now inaccessible to the public), Jellicoe Point on Lake Taupo, Cobham Pool (at the confluence of Dan’s Creek, also down river – also now inaccessible to the public. Back then the anglers could drive to the delta.) They added so much historic character to our town and established the enviable reputation as a trout fishing venue for over eighty years – it should never be ignored.
Historically, the new name of Turangi for the hydro town was already synonymous with trout fishing. After the new hydro town was developed in the 1970’s the new road signs confirmed the status – “Welcome to Turangi – The trout fishing Capital of the world”. This was so important as it established a unique identity and provided Turangi with a distinct competitive advantage, a point of difference in marketing terms, that no other tourist town in NZ could hope to match. So why would Taupo Council even dream of reviewing it?
When DGLT (Destination Great Lake Taupo are the Council’s tourist promotion team, more recently also known as “Love Taupo”) appointed an enthusiastic young General Manager from Christchurch, he was determined to leave his mark by redesigning and rebranding everything in Taupo region. The town’s entry signs were changed to “Welcome to Turangi, Source of the Lake”. (?) Turangi was not impressed. Fortunately for Turangi, these signs were eventually removed and he resigned.
To try to maintain the trout fishing reputation, to the delight of Turangi folk, a little loyal motel (who prefers to remain anonymous) re-erected the original sign “The trout fishing Capital of the world” on their SH1 corner – see 2010 photo. Taupo Council then removed it, promising to replace it with a new sign to include their new council logo.
After waiting for over a year, in 2015 the motel eventually erected its own new sign with the same wording – “Welcome to Turangi The trout fishing Capital of the world”. The very next day Taupo council fined them $300. Following that they fined TRM again $750 for adding directional signage (see below – “TURN LEFT & TURN RIGHT”.) Taupo Council then removed the offensive (?) wording. Then TDC demanded $1500 (resource consent) for replacing and refreshing signs that had been in place for over fifty years – long before the council had been appointed to administer Turangi. How encouraging!
That should explain how Taupo council’s compliance department wallies deliberately went out of their way to encourage tourism in Turangi. Some sceptics imagined Taupo did not want Turangi to prosper.
After another new General Manager was appointed to DGLT, the Council held a meeting to announce Turangi’s exciting new “destination image” – changed again to “Gateway to the National Park”. Many in Turangi were naturally curious about Taupo using their town to promote the Ruapehu region. Then the council promotional signs heading into Turangi were changed from fishing or rafting to skiing – even in the middle of summer. What a surprise! Perhaps understandably, Taupo Council may have been trying to protect their ratepayers’ $ millions invested in Whakapapa ski field sky-waka development. It was considered a strange strategic investment as the Whakapapa ski field is over 100 km – over 90 minutes drive time – south of Taupo. The Ruapehu District must be still rejoicing at Taupo Council’s generosity and gullibility. Taupo ratepayers have been so generous, subsidising them to promote skiing in the Ruapehu District instead of trout fishing in the Taupo region.
But there was some good news. Soon after the new GM resigned to return to DOC, a new GM for DGLT, Jane Wilson was appointed. She had the perfect background experience to understand the importance of trout fishing to the region. Hers really is the best appointment for promoting Turangi as a destination. Trout fishing had been ignored in Council’s tourist publicity for the previous 20-30 years. Since her involvement, trout fishing has been promoted much more. Turangi businesses are so grateful as the Taupo fishery managers – a Government Department known as DOC – had also failed to promote trout fishing – confirmed by falling fishing licence sales.
Turangi is unquestionably primarily a “tourist town”. If you doubt this or need further evidence, look at the garden art around town. The trout fishing theme is everywhere – on houses, on footpaths, on fences, on letterboxes, big and small features on private properties, everyone embraces the trout fishing history. They show the very soul of Turangi – a proud tradition that Council has deliberately ignored.
It is remarkable for such a tiny village (with a resident population of around 3,000 and still steadily declining from its peak of about 8-9,000 during the Tongariro Hydro Scheme development), to provide ten motels, nearly 100 b&b’s (pre-covid), plus fishing lodges and backpackers accommodation and camping grounds to cater mainly to anglers needs. Despite the temporary setbacks during Covid – (i.e. pre-covid, Turangi had four fishing tackle shops, Taupo had two.) trout fishing tourism is still the most important industry for Turangi’s future prosperity. Jane Wilson understands the regional importance of Turangi promoted as the “The Trout Fishing Capital of the World”. Sadly, judging from the evidence above, it appears the council does not want to recognise or capitalise on Turangi’s historic competitive advantages. They still prefer Turangi to be marketed as the Gateway to another even more remote region.
During this period of Council’s marketing confusion over the last 12 years, another exciting new tourist activity has emerged. Tourist recreational biking trails have developed throughout NZ. They could save Turangi. Following the huge success of the Otago Rail Trail, every city and town and district developed bike trails for tourists. The Tongariro River Trail loop was developed when the 100-year-old anglers’ access tracks were linked up about twelve years ago, but it desperately needs to be extended north to Taupo and south to link with the Pillars of Hercules and Tree Trunk Gorge trails (also DOC-managed) to attract this new breed of modern biking tourists. Particularly since the introduction of e-bikes, the number of tourist bikers has increased significantly.
The obvious future tourist bike trail is to link Taupo and Turangi, following SH1, around the lake edge. The likely viability is a no-brainer. Taupo recognised the demand and commissioned a feasibility report (cost about $25,000 about six years ago) on the T2T (Taupo to Turangi) trail and another report on the Economic Development Strategy for Turangi (cost $55,000 about five years ago). What a coincidence – the same “independent consultant” used for those reports happened to be the “host” at the Destination meeting last week. Their 2017 strategy report made clear recommendations for Turangi’s future survival. The first priority – described as “transformational” for Turangi’s future survival – was the T2T. Since then the T2T has been included in the Council Long Term Strategy report and in their application to be part of the next Great NZ Walking track – see brochure above. The host forgot to mention that.
Since the reports were published nothing more has been achieved. Yet Taupo Council and MBIE (Ministry of Everything) helped fund other bike trails in remote locations over fifty km from Taupo – i.e. at Waihaha. They claimed these were “tourist” trails but they are far too remote and too physically demanding for modern tourists. So Turangi missed out again. It is basic logic that any tourist bike trails need to extend from where the tourist accommodation is located – like the Tongariro River Trail and Huka Falls trails, but they missed that point.
So why does Taupo insist on wanting to investigate another change from a proven historic winning destination brand? Very curious. If you are still not convinced, watch this youtube…