Out of adversity, a new business has been born and christened on Lake Dunstan.
Users of the Lake Dunstan Trail, which opened last month, have been able to patronise one of Central Otago’s newest and most unusual businesses, Coffee Afloat.
Owners Jolanda and Richard Foale, of Cromwell, who operate scenic helicopter company Heliview Flights, were hit hard by the pandemic, which all but grounded their operation.
Now they are grinding coffee beans on their floating cafe between Clyde and Cromwell.
So far so good, Mrs Foale said.
“It has been a great start and a lot of hype around the new trail. Everyone seems to love the marvel of engineering [and] accessing such a special new part of the Cromwell Gorge.”
During trail construction, the Foales were involved in aerial geotechnical surveys and even made an appearance in some of the marketing material as models.
They saw an opportunity and the seed of an idea was planted, which grew as the trail took shape, Mr Foale said.
“It was as simple as, what the trail needs is a coffee boat wouldn’t it be a great idea to have a cafe on the river.”
Luckily, there was a barista in the family. Mrs Foale has spent much of her career in hospitality and tourism and has a BSc in international tourism and hospitality management from Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland.
Mr Foale is an ex-British Army Air Corps helicopter pilot and held many aviation roles, including police, air ambulance, aerial filming, VIP charter and tourism and photography.
Foale grew up there but was born in Switzerland.
The couple came to New Zealand in 2001, initially operating a heli business out of New Plymouth.
They re-established themselves in Cromwell seven years ago with daughter Safi (13).
Mr Foale cashed in his air force pension scheme to finance the coffee boat
They decided on an American-style vessel of the type found in the Florida Keys, with an awning and the stability to take 600kg of weight for the battery-operated coffee machine and fridge, making it completely self-contained.
They were limited as to where they could put it and chose Cairnmuir Gully, about 7km from the Bannockburn inlet and 4km from the Hugo Bridge at the Cromwell end of the trail. They use an outboard dingy to get to it.
“Yes, we tell people, we’re making coffee, but just wait ’til you’re round the corner. They’re making pizza there,” Mr Foale joked.
They were frustrated by the way the Government had picked “winners and losers” in awarding Covid-19 tourism sector recovery packages, help that bypassed them.
In February, auditor-general John Ryan announced he would be looking at the Government’s Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme, established in May last year as part of a recovery package to address the impact of Covid-19 on tourism.
The Foales had not ruled out reapplying for assistance, depending on the inquiry.
Despite feeling “kicked in the shins” by the Government, they were soldiering on.
“We didn’t want to sit around just going around in circles. Therefore, it made sense for us to pivot to the coffee boat,” Mrs Foale said
The business uses sustainable, compostable and environmentally friendly products and locally produced food and beverages.
They would keep operating over winter depending on demand.
“But we’re really looking forward to summer,” Mrs Foale said.