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The Central Otago family-run startup sustaining the renewable energy dream

Covid-19 or not, renewable energy is the future. That’s why one grassroots business is taking a leap of faith and trusting that the current downturn will eventually yield to an ecotourism boom.

To launch an ecotourism business in rural Otago right now, you’d need to be either a visionary or just a little bit mad.

Rik Deaton may be a bit of both.

With the help of his three sons, Wanaka local Rik and his wife Juliet have launched LandEscape – a sustainable, renewable energy-focused venture that combines the splendour of the Central Otago landscape with the mobility of electric bikes.

Located on the Deatons’ land near the Hawea River, LandEscape has a fleet of 80 electric bikes for hire, eight wood-fired chlorine-free hot tubs to relax in day or night, and nine kilometres of wide, easy trails for guests to immerse themselves in the intermontane wonderland.

It’s a bold business idea in a spectacular setting and it’s invariably tapping into a market with enormous potential. However, a lot can change in six months, and the devastating effects of Covid-19 has forced all tourism operators to refocus their business strategies on one thing – survival.

With many businesses in Wanaka struggling to stay afloat in a market barren of international visitors, the Deatons admit the last few months have not been easy.

“It certainly has been hard,” says Rik. “We had several staff leave in the lead-up to Covid. We used to employ seven people, including Juliet, our son Spencer and myself … [Now] our staff has now shrunk to just the three of us.

“Because we own the land, we have no rent to pay and have tried to put a lid on development costs for now to help get us through. This has definitely been a help, as has the government’s various initiatives and assistance packages. So we are confident of still being here when international visitors start arriving again.”

Rik, Juliet and their oldest son Spencer on e-bikes at LandEscape. (Photo: Supplied)

Having bought the land in 1991, the Deatons’ vision for their rural property has been difficult to put into practice, not least because of resource consent issues. The mere mention of Queenstown Lakes District Council is enough to make Rik’s eyes flash with anger.

“We naively imagined, as a local family trying to save a magnificently scenic piece of rural land from urbanisation and create an energy self-sufficient business based on sustainability principles, that we would be able to engage with our local consent authority productively. That has absolutely not been the case,” he says.

“Scenic rural properties like ours offer untapped potential for the reset of tourism that New Zealand needs and supposedly wants, but local government always stands squarely in the way, for reasons that escape us.

“What we hope to offer here at LandEscape Wanaka is a true travel experience, not just corporate crowd-control tourism. We hope it will be as popular with our wonderful local community as with…

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2020-07-04 23:48:19

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