Hospo life seems to sit well with former Manuwatu farmers Craig and Blanche Sturgess.
It has been a “learning curve” for the couple, who bought the former Enfield School in 2016, converting the classrooms into a welcoming home, with bed and breakfast accommodation.
“We came from farming, which is not an easy lifestyle, so we’ve never been afraid of work, that’s for sure. And that’s just as well, because it is undoubtedly more work than I had thought it would be, but certainly not more work than we can handle,” Mr Sturgess said.
The business was perfectly placed on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail. Visitors tended to stop off after the long cycle from Kurow, and before the last push to Oamaru the next day.
The couple enjoyed being nearer the end of the trail, as it meant they got to hear everyone’s stories.
Mrs Sturgess said the first year, they thought they were “really busy”.
“But that was nothing in comparison to this last year,” she said.
The Old School Enfield could now sleep 12 people, with the recent addition of two more rooms, and there was an option to sleep a third person in two of the bigger rooms.
With the increase in beds, the couple have come to accept they cannot do everything, and now outsource the linen laundry and have help with the cleaning, when it was required.
They were grateful for the perfectly timed revival of the The Fort Enfield pub a few months after they opened, because it meant their guests had somewhere to go for dinner. Mrs Sturgess was initially providing an evening meal as well as breakfast, but that was not sustainable long-term with the increase in beds.
The Covid-19 pandemic had been a blessing in disguise for the pair, although they felt slightly guilty acknowledging it, because they knew others in the accommodation industry were suffering.
Mr Sturgess said they had initially panicked during the lockdown, but as the business changed, they just had to change with it.
“We lost all our international clients … But the cyclists have stepped up and taken over and added a bit extra,” he said.
Bookings for the warmer months were already busy, with next March almost full. But Mr Sturgess praised winter cycling, saying one of the companies they worked with had just started winter tours, which they hoped to see more of.
“It might take some pressure off the summer; but they’re actually missing a trick, because this week aside .. those frosty mornings, beautiful days, I mean what a great time to be cycling .. just brilliant.”
Mrs Sturgess estimated more than 80% of their cyclist guests were now on e-bikes, which was a big change from 2018. There were also the “brave souls who didn’t have a lot of riding experience”.
“They think, ‘oh I’ve got an e-bike, I’ll be fine’,” she said.
“So my first-aid kit this year has been depleted several times.”
The biggest lesson the couple had learned since the business began was to be flexible.
“We had a plan that we never ever got anywhere near to implementing, because the cyclists have just poured in,” she said.
However, Mr Sturgess was keen to emphasise they weren’t there just for the cyclists. They were also very grateful for the support of local businesses and welcomed corporate clients.
The venue could accommodate board meetings, job interviews and conferences.
“We love cyclists to bits, and we’re very appreciative of that. But we don’t want to label ourselves as just a cyclist destination.”
What they loved most about what they did was the people, he said.
“We meet the nicest people.
“People that do the cycle trail, they’re outdoors people. They want to sit and chat. They’re interested in the history of the area.”