Otematata Holiday Park & Lodge owners Brent and Kirsty Cowles have just bought the Otematata Lakes Hotel.

New Owners upbeat about valley’s future

Otematata Holiday Park & Lodge owners Brent and Kirsty Cowles have just bought the Otematata Lakes Hotel.

Otematata Holiday Park & Lodge owners Brent and Kirsty Cowles have just bought the Otematata Lakes Hotel.

Brent and Kirsty Cowles believe the Waitaki Valley area is about to grow dramatically. The Otematata Holiday Park & Lodge owners have this week taken over the Otematata Lakes Hotel. North Otago reporter Rebecca Ryan catches up with them about their venture and their love for the small Waitaki Valley village. 

Taking some time out in Otematata after an ankle operation in 2012, Brent Cowles and his wife Kirsty started talking about the potential of the Otematata Holiday Park & Lodge, which was, at the time, closed, overgrown and boarded up.

The couple had both holidayed in Otematata since they were children and some of their fondest memories were made in the town.

At the time, they were living in Dunedin - Mr Cowles was working for a computer company and Mrs Cowles was looking for work.

Seeking a new lifestyle, a whiff of opportunity saw them ask some questions of the holiday park owner and put together a proposal on the iPad on their way home.

Five weeks later, in November 2012, they were calling Otematata home.

They have done a considerable amount of work on the Otematata Holiday Park & Lodge in three years and over summer they have to turn people away.

The town can swell from about 186 permanent residents, according to the 2013 census, to more than 5000 people in summer as holidaymakers come to enjoy the lakes and outdoors.

But the winter months are tough - ”to the point that over the core winter months we could almost just close down,” Mr Cowles said.

Taking on the Otematata Lakes Hotel, which will also experience challenges in winter, will provide them with more cash flow throughout the year.

They expect the two businesses will complement each other and allow them to use staff across both sites.

Mr and Mrs Cowles took over the hotel with four full-time staff.

They expect to need at least six and are on a recruitment drive for more, including a head chef.

Once the business is developed, they expect that to grow to eight or nine permanent full-time staff.

”Over the summer season that’s probably going to be 12 to 13 staff, so it will bring a considerable amount of employment,” he said.

”That’s part of the driving factor for us as well - the more permanent residents we can see in Otematata, the better it is for all businesses.”

They have bought the hotel, with the 10 self-contained rooms attached, and the car park.

The previous owners retain the remaining units, which they plan to convert into apartments to be sold on individual titles.

At the restaurant and bar, the Cowles have a number of plans - short and long term.

Their driving factors are food and entertainment.

By December 1, they aim to have a kitchen built where the gaming area is at present, a new gaming room, and to have given the hotel a tidy-up and a lick of paint, and to create a rustic and local theme.

A new menu will be introduced and as well as a new line-up of beer and local wines.

Stage two includes moving the bar, creating a new bottle store and developing a courtyard area and a small cafe.

”We intend to open the walls up where the bar was into a sheltered courtyard dining area allowing natural light and warmth into the bar,” he said.

Other plans include a name change and gutting the mezzanine area and developing it into a functions centre, available for boardroom, reception or any private functions.

”We hope this will help us attract new business to the region including an untapped corporate market.”

Most work will have to wait until the off-season in the winter months.

”It’s really exciting. It was a big decision, it was a big move, but it just feels right,” he said.

The couple also own the Lake Waihola Holiday Park, which they plan to sell to better focus on Otematata.

They took their role in promoting the Waitaki Valley seriously, Mr Cowles said.

”In a small town where there’s only a handful of businesses, it’s quite a big responsibility taking on another one.

”It has an impact on the entire economy and we’re really hoping we can make a positive impact,” he said.

”In a small place like this you can actually make a difference. You can give to a community and see changes.”

Built as a base for the construction of the Aviemore and Benmore dams, Otematata has seen many changes over the years.

It is being reawakened now by tourism, in particular that brought by the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.

Plans for hotel accommodation were in line with what tourists, particularly Alps 2 Ocean Cyclists, were looking for, Mr Cowles said.

”I believe right now the area is about to grow dramatically,” he said. Mr and Mrs Cowles’ passion for the region, comes from its beauty and relaxing disposition.

”You drive up the valley and the stress levels drop,” Mrs Cowles said.

”You just chill and that’s what it’s all about - relaxing and enjoying the area, the beauty and everything it has to offer.”