The reopening of New Zealand’s borders is welcome news for Lake Ohau Lodge and Ohau Snow Fields.
It has been a difficult two years for Mike and Louise Neilson, who own the lodge and skifield that overlook Lake Ohau.
While the skifield’s core business came from New Zealanders, it was also popular with Australians, and international workers usually made up about half of the payroll. Outside of the ski season, much of the lodge’s business was international tour groups.
The 2020 ski season ended abruptly, when a devastating fire tore through Lake Ohau Village on October 4, which was supposed to be last day of the season. The fire did not reach the lodge or the skifield, but Mr and Mrs Neilson’s home, and the homes of about 11 staff, were among the 48 destroyed.
Last year’s August lockdown was yet another a ‘‘devastating’’ blow, timed just when skiers and snowboarders were looking forward to the best snow of the season.
‘‘We had all the snow in the world, we had a full house — and then we had a Covid lockdown,’’ Mr Neilson said.
Last week’s border opening announcement was good timing in terms of staff recruitment for the winter season, which was under way, Mr Neilson said.
‘‘The opening of the borders and, in particular, Immigration allowing working holiday visas, will be very helpful,’’ he said.
While he had staff lined up for most departments on the mountain, he was still looking for ski and snowboard instructors. At the lodge, Mrs Neilson was recruiting for chefs, a receptionist, baristas and wait staff, and housekeepers.
Mr Neilson had received many overseas applications for jobs on the skifield, and now he was able to respond to them with some more certainty.
‘‘It looks good now we can get them through the border under a working holiday permit,’’ he said.
‘‘Before that I was just writing emails to them saying, ‘Stand by, I’ll keep you on the list. We’re forever hopeful the Government will allow overseas people to come in to work’.’’
The skifield would open for the season on July 2 this year — a week before the school holiday onslaught — and the lodge had ‘‘very strong bookings’’. A lot of people booking accommodation for a winter holiday were from Auckland and Wellington.
There had already been dustings of snow on the mountain, which was ‘‘very reassuring’’.
‘‘That always tells me that mother nature has not forgotten how to make snow,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m hoping we’ll have another good season, snow wise . .. and not get interrupted by an Auckland lockdown, and then a nation-wide lockdown.’’
Over summer, cyclists on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail had been a blessing for the lodge.
‘‘It’s been very good. It’s kept us afloat, really.’’
The cycle tourism season did not finish until the end of April, and there was still a steady flow of cyclists staying at the lodge. The Neilsons were working on promotions to try to extend the season a bit longer this year.