Oamaru businesswoman Nora Ngau Chun chooses to look on the bright side of her career move into the tourism industry four months before it was decimated by a global pandemic.
Ms Ngau Chun and her partner, Michael Duval, uprooted their lives from Auckland about 10 months ago, to resurrect what was most recently Oamaru Creek Bed and Breakfast. The Vicarage opened its doors in November and business had been booming.
A family friend owned the Reed St building, but had closed down the bed and breakfast and used it as her private home. The couple visited her in June last year and had been looking for an opportunity to move out of Auckland.
“While we were here, she sort of had a revelation like, ‘why don’t you guys come here?’,” Ms Ngau Chun said.
“I think she realised this house really needs people, you know? You feel it. It needs to have happiness and laughter and it needs to be open. It needs partying. It really does. And I think she realised that.”
By October 1 they had made the move south.
“We made a decision pretty much straight away. My partner stood outside and kind of hugged the elm tree, and he was just like, tale’. It was one of those things we didn’t think about. We were like,
After 20 years running an interior design business, Ms Ngau Chun was excited to get her hands on the 1901 building, and add her own style.
“It was actually nice to have some freedom to do what I wanted to do for a change in a house this size. Luckily there wasn’t much hard work that needed to be done . . but it did need a refresh.”
When it opened to the public, it was a “roaring success” from the get go, she said.
“Probably 80% overseas guests, but we still had Kiwis coming through, for sure.
“It was a fantastic four months, business-wise – and then came Covid.”
Although there was panic at what the future held, Ms Ngau Chun also welcomed the chance to take a breath.
“I was shattered. I’ve never done bed and breakfast before and I was run ragged. I’ve realised since Covid that I do need a balance.
“We’ve come here for a lifestyle change, not to work harder, so in that way, it gave me a moment to reflect. I don’t know where I would’ve been if we hadn’t had Covid. Because I wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”
The Government business relief scheme had been keeping The Vicarage afloat since lockdown, and took “the immediate pressure off” financially, Ms Ngau Chun said.
“There’s still that concern – what happens in another two months when that money has definitely gone? Hopefully, you know, like everything, one thing leads to the next. It does feel like that sort of happens.
“I’m just holding my breath that we will be able to open to Australia. I feel really positive that once we do, that will again bring a bit of an upswing. Things can’t stay closed forever. I mean, it is what it is – we want to be safe but life does go on. We just have to learn to live with this now, don’t we.”
The business had gone from an average of 25 beds booked a week pre-Covid, to three, she said.
“There is no comparison. I would love somewhere in the middle. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
Originally from Sweden and with family still there, Ms Ngau Chun appreciated the position New Zealand was in Covid-wise.
“Sweden is in a real pickle now. The situation is completely different over there. It’s been quite stressful talking to everyone I’ve got over there. They really have no end in sight. They’re really struggling. It’s mad.”
Originally the third manse to the St Paul’s Presbyterian Church, The Vicarage building took about five years to build. It was home to three vicars, the third of whom did not like it, and convinced the church to sell it, Ms Ngau Chun said. It had also been a maternity centre.
The name The Vicarage was chosen because it encapsulated that original use.
All food on offer at The Vicarage was locally-grown or sourced.
“If you’re coming to stay, you really get the experience of what Oamaru has to offer, because that is incredible – the produce is wonderful.”
Future plans for The Vicarage included tapping into women’s wellness-type retreats. A group of friends could book in and she would arrange for experts in certain areas to come speak or run workshops.
“I think there’s a real niche for it. And also weddings.
“I’ve got a few bookings coming up where people have booked the whole property for a weekend. And they’re coming to stay before their wedding and also on their wedding night. I think it lends itself quite nicely to that.”
Ms Ngau Chun was optimistic things were only going to get bigger and better for Oamaru.
“I felt like there’s this bubbling energy here. It is about to change. Because it naturally does, whether you like it or not. Especially with Covid.
“People are looking to move out of the big cities, because don’t want to be stuck in a big city with a huge mortgage, if you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
During her newly-acquired down time, Ms Ngau Chun had been working on her other business, Bangle Baby.
“I’ve been able to redo my website, design some more bangles and place another order,” she said.
“They’re all made in Bali. It’s a business I’ve had for about five years. So it’s given me an opportunity to kind of refocus some energy towards that, which has been nice.”
She and Mr Duval had also been able to make the most of their new surroundings.
“Going on great big walks, and just enjoy life living in a small town. It’s why we came down here.”