Kurow and Duntroon have emerged as jewels on the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail and as a shining example of Rural Tourism in small communities. As a true entrepreneur, Kate White turned up in 2016 and miraculously converted a junk shop into an elegant accommodation and eatery that would fit well anywhere in NZ. Taking on a challenge of this size is inspirational and her story needs to be told, so we caught up with Kate to ask her a few questions about her journey.
What does Waitaki Braids accommodation provide for the Kurow community and the A2O trail as a whole?
Waitaki Braids try to provide the ultimate experience for the cyclist on the trail. We have seven ensuite rooms within the lodge all with their own private conservatory area, and we also run a house 700 meters away in a secluded cul de sac that has two queen rooms and a twin that share two bathrooms. At the front of the Waitaki Braids building we have an elegant cafe where cyclists that are staying enjoy a 3 course set menu in the evenings. We have large sharing tables for groups and small tables for the more intimate meals or special occasions. Breakfast for cyclists is served in the cafe before we open it to the public, and we send cyclists off with our special home baked packed lunch. All our food in the cafe is homemade, using as many local ingredients as we can. We are proud to be a member of the “Allpress” coffee family. Surrounded by local wineries local wines we show case a great selection, selling only one wine that doesn’t have grapes grown in the Waitaki Valley.
Tell us about yourself?
I came into Waitaki Braids reluctantly. Initially I was only an investor but the other partner decided early on it was too big a project so I took it on, on my own. From many years working in the film/TV industry I was used to organising things. When I married Pete – who was born here and followed in the family footsteps of a beekeeping business, I found I had to reinvent myself a number of times. From starting a Preschool (a necessity while working in the film industry when my children were young), to being the ambulance manager for several years, and a honey exporter as well. Probably the biggest challenge I undertook here was in 2002 – 2004 when along with a small group of like minded people we challenged Meridian Energy when they decided to put 8 dams on the Waitaki River between the Waitaki Dam West of Kurow and the sea. This project would have destroyed the communities along the Waitaki and completely decimated the amazing braided river. Braided rivers are rare in the world and amongst natural history enthusiasts the Waitaki is often described as the “Cinderella” of braided rivers world wide.
What was involved in the renovation? (We have been through this building when it was owned by the original hoarder when we did some filming inside.)
We bought the old junk shop (The Braids) in April 2016 and I engaged a local builder Shane Emslie to undertake the project and his team began in September of that year. The Waitaki District Council were very strict on us and didn’t make things easy (we are now friends!!!!!). Shane worked from November to the February without a day off (not even Christmas Day). The building was originally built in 1885 so is Historic Places Trust listed which added to the red tape, and it also needed to be earthquake proofed. The first guests were booked for the 9th February 2017 and I remember Geoff Gabites knocking on the cafe door (which was still a construction site) at 3pm and saying “I thought you had guests booked tonight?” … the film industry teaches you how to wing things and thats what we did. The guests sat down to a three course meal at 6.30pm in our furnished cafe (the food was cooked off site as we still didn’t have a kitchen!).
How have you enjoyed this new challenge and what impact have you seen the trail bringing to Kurow and the region?
I’m not a hospo person and I have found running the cafe during the day and peoples expectations and demands hard work. But I love the evenings and the cyclists and I’ve have met some incredible people, from the doctors that run the medical practice in NZ poorest suburb, to those who work to volunteer, to politicians and well known sportspeople. The trail has bought these people to our town and this wouldn’t have happened without it. Kurow back in 2016 was looking dowdy but now most of the buildings in the town are painted and theres a level of pride in our town. Its still very quiet in the winter months and for this reason the Braids is closed over that period.
What gets you out of bed in the mornings?
The biggest thrill for me is providing a “surprise” for people coming to Kurow and hearing the guests when they see their rooms and meals. I love it when we have a boogie before they head to bed (usually around 8:30pm!). I have very loyal dedicated staff a couple of which I have given a start in their working life and that is the best thing ever. I’m not sure this is my last project and I suspect I might reinvent myself again in the future. I’d rather build Habitat for Humanity houses than win Lotto!!!