Rotorua’s Rainbow Springs will close and its animals be rehomed by September

Rainbow Springs is confirmed to close, but some in the city remain hopeful its doors will one day reopen.

After going into hibernation in April 2020, the owner of Rotorua’s Rainbow Springs Nature Park announced the proposed closure of the attraction last month.

Confirmation from owner Ngāi Tahu Holdings came yesterday.

It also confirmed it was in preliminary discussions with a collective of Ngāti Whakaue entities on the potential purchase of Rainbow Springs.

The National Kiwi Hatchery would continue to operate at Rainbow Springs while plans to move it to the Agrodome were developed.

Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard said the Rainbow Springs business was one of the first, and hardest, hit by the closure of the borders.

“In two years there has been no respite.”

He said it was predictable and sad.

“It’s been there as long as old people like me can remember. It’s quite distressing.”

He feared it would not be the only casualty, but could not predict what foot traffic would be like in coming months as international borders began to open. There was a lot of nervousness, he said.

As a keen fisherman, he had always enjoyed going to the “iconic” attraction and enjoyed seeing the “whopping great trout”.

“Hopefully someone can recover it and get it back into production.”

He said it would be “delightful” to see Ngāti Whakaue take on the site.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the park would be very much missed by locals and visitors.

“We all have a great love for this long-standing local tourism icon so it is sad to see it closing, although we are pleased the kiwi conservation programme will remain in Rotorua.”

She said it would be great if there were any future opportunities for the park to reopen.

“We will remain hopeful about that and will watch future plans for the Agrodome, another of our loved iconic attractions, with interest as we look forward to tourism coming back online in the future.”

Rotorua MP Todd McClay said it was hugely disappointing the attraction would close, and was a huge loss for Rotorua.

“Ultimately, if there was a hope others might step in, it would be into the same challenges. They would have my full support.”

Ngāi Tahu Holdings Corporate Services general manager Jo Allison said the decision was made after a thorough consultation process with staff.

The park was opened as a tourism experience in 1931 and Ngāi Tahu Group had owned it since 2004.

Allison said all options were explored in the context of long-term sustainability and closure was not chosen lightly.

Although a much-loved attraction for the community, she said it also had substantial operating costs, which Ngāi Tahu Tourism has had under consideration for a long time.

Coupled with the current restricted and uncertain climate, it had become clear the park was not financially viable, she said.

“We evaluated all options including changing the price point, offering a modified experience, and catering to the domestic market only – unfortunately, the unique environment of Rainbow Springs Nature Park has been prohibitive.”

She said the international market was key to the attraction and though there had been moves towards fewer restrictions on international travel, it was not expected tourism levels will be back to their pre-pandemic levels for years to come.

“We empathise with the nostalgia that the Rotorua community has with Rainbow Springs, and we are sad that the current restrictions, high operating costs and ongoing uncertainty, meant that things were not sustainable for the future.”

All wildlife would be rehomed by September.

Allison said it would focus on supporting kaimahi (staff) and ensuring the welfare of all animals during the transition period.

She had previously said there were 3.25 permanent kaimahi and three casual kaimahi.

Ngāti Whakaue representatives have been contacted for comment.

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