Rotorua theme park to shut down after 90 years

By Will Trafford

Ngāi Tahu will likely be forced to shutter its iconic Rotorua Nature Park, Rainbow Springs after more than 90 years in business, due to mounting losses from the pandemic.

The home of Kiwi Encounter and the Big Splash was put into hibernation alongside the Iwi’s other institutions including Shotover jet in April 2020, it had outlasted World War II and the economic crisis of the the 1980s but ongoing border restrictions mean the Iwi’s commercial arm’s developed a proposal to shutter it altogether.

"Unfortunately, Covid-19 has significantly impacted the Rainbow Springs business, which relied heavily on international tourism," Ngāi Tahu Holdings GM of corporate services Jo Allison said in a statement.

"After careful consideration of all possible scenarios, Ngāi Tahu Holdings is proposing to permanently close its doors and rehome the wildlife."  She added.

Ngāi Tahu says since the business was closed to the public it has been operating at a loss with a skeleton staff of just 3 permanent and 3 casual employees, it says it will likely offer an extended notice period so staff can help with the rehoming of wildlife and to find future employment.

"We will be focused on supporting our impacted kaimahi and ensuring the welfare of all animals in this transition period. Allison said.

The National Kiwi Hatchery housed at Rainbow Springs - where visitors can see kiwi incubated, hatched and reared will transition to the recently reopened Rotorua Agrodome, also owned by Ngāi Tahu Tourism.

Ngāi Tahu’s Rainbow Springs announcement comes the same week as a ‘gloomy’ outlook was signalled by the Chair of Māori Tourism, arguing the industry was already particularly hard hit and even amid staged border openings starting mid-March, a return to pre-pandemic tourism numbers was a way off.

“they are not getting the people through the door and it is a real struggle” Chair Dale Stephens told Waatea.

Ngāi Tahu Tourism says management will finalise the decision to shutter Rainbow Springs after the proposal has been fully evaluated and staff consulted.