Change a town through tourism

This RNZ Country Life feature (11 May 2018) on Marvellous Murupara explains how up to four times a week over summer a big orange bus with 'Stray' written on its side glides into Murupara.

It's carrying about 30 young international travellers who've come for a New Zealand adventure off the beaten track.

When they get to Ngati Manawa country about an hour south-east of Rotorua, they're touching base with real New Zealand.

The tourist operator who hosts them overnight says they get to see the region "warts and all".

And that means a drive through Murupara with its graffiti, burnt-out building and closed shops.

It's a drive through a town that 40 years ago was thriving because of forestry, but died overnight when large forestry companies mechanised and jobs disappeared.

But it also includes New Zealand's oldest cave rock carvings, carbon-dated to 1050AD, going eeling at night, weaving a food basket, learning the haka and watching a hangi get put down.

Nadine Toe Toe says she finds her town and its people beautiful.

"I explain to our visitors that sometimes you have to look a little harder to find the real beauty of the place you travel to... Sometimes it's not about how high you can jump or how fast you can swing ... sometimes it is in the story of the people and the story of survival."

Nadine and her husband Karl gave up city jobs and a nice lifestyle to return to his hometown four years ago.

Their tourist venture is based around five words, she says – Change A Town Through Tourism.

And the change is happening.

As a result of partnering with people like the Stray bus company, other tourist operators and Air NZ, along with some of their own profits, they've injected $400,000 into the community.

They offer employment at their Kohutapu Lodge, award education grants, and enable a classroom of children to tour New Zealand every year.

The many leftovers after every hangi meal are taken to children and elderly people in Murupara who don't get enough. 

The Stray groups also visit the Murupara Area School and the interaction with the pupils is wonderful, according to principal Angela Sharples.