OPINION: Waitaki flagged as the new Queenstown

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BY JACQUI DEAN

August has arrived and it’s brought with it the true bite of winter.

Temperatures throughout South Canterbury plummeted over the weekend with the first real arctic blast of the season, coming as a shock after so many mild months.

And the polar hit doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon with more ice, sleet and snow in the forecast, making it a tricky time for the region’s farmers in the thick of calving or those with early lambs on the ground. The cold snap has been embraced by others, relishing new snow on local skifields and coming as a relief to operators worried about dwindling tourist numbers.

I believe it is this variety of landscape which has continued to drive our region’s popularity, to the point where the Waitaki is now being flagged as the new Queenstown.

And I am not surprised with our beaches, lakes, wineries, and majestic and diverse setting, I truly believe this district has been a hidden gem waiting to be discovered, with new housing figures suggesting it already has.

The average price for a home in the Waitaki has increased by almost double the national rate, now one of the fastest growing property markets in the country. Over the past four years the median house price in New Zealand has risen by 28.6% while in Waitaki it’s risen by 48.3%. There’s no doubt we are now starting to see the effects of our popularity.

With houses in demand throughout the area, new builds and visitor numbers driving economic growth this can only be seen as a step forward for the district, with new opportunities filtering through to our smaller communities. Filming has just wrapped on Black Christmas, an American horror movie set at the historic Campbell Park, with a team of actors and film crew staying at Kurow’s Waitaki Braids Lodge.

While in Waimate, The Barn has just opened, after a group of entrepreneurial locals realised there was a gap in the market for a new watering hole.

The agricultural sector is also playing its part in the region’s growth with 80 new jobs set to be created following an expansion at Glenavy’s Oceania Dairy plant.

The South Canterbury factory already employs 328 staff, but the development of a new $30 million-dollar laboratory over the next year will see these numbers rise – a welcome boost to the local economy and making a name for area on the global stage.

Almost half of the staff take advantage of the factory’s free bus service which travels daily from Timaru and Oamaru.

Last week I met with another agri-based company hoping to develop a dairy farm training school at Oamaru airport.

Craig Musson from the National Trade Academy already runs courses in Canterbury, which are highly popular especially among Filipino workers wanting to break in to the industry.

He is now working towards establishing a year-long course in Oamaru which would take in and train around 30 international students which will not only see more qualified workers for local farms but bring more families into the area.

With many South Canterbury farms still struggling with a labour shortage and massive processing delays by Immigration New Zealand there’s no doubt a training facility will be well received.

With so much optimism throughout the South Canterbury and Waitaki districts, I just hope the Government will play its part and start to support growth in the regions, an area which has been so far sadly neglected in this Labour-led coalition’s so-called “year of action”.

Jacqui Dean is the MP for Waitaki