Turning pure West Coast rainwater into gin.
Reefton Distilling Co. recently opened in one of Reefton’s original buildings which has been carefully restored to accommodate their working distillery, tasting bar and retail store.
They are inspired to provide you with a truly unique West Coast experience; as they share the story behind the crafting of their local botanical gins, fruit liqueurs, vodka and whiskies.
Managing director of Reefton Distilling Co. Patsy Bass answers some questions:
Q. Why did you decide to move to Reefton?
I'm from Reefton, although lived most of my life in Christchurch. We’ve had a holiday home on the West Coast for the last 20 years and had got to the stage where we no longer wanted to head back to Christchurch after enjoying increasingly longer stays in Reefton. We started to wonder what it would be like if we lived here, and our Christchurch home became the bach.
We felt a sense of community here beyond anything we’d experienced before, so we began brainstorming ideas that would create jobs and a tourist attraction, and also keep us busy – Reefton Distilling Co. was the result.
Q. What are the advantages of having a business on the West Coast?
The enormous support from the locals who have rallied around us and done anything they can to help us get started. West Coasters are fiercely proud of their region and were thrilled to hear a new business was coming to town.
They’re also hugely resourceful and handy – whatever skillset we need, there’s someone in town that can do it. Stainless steel welder, master potter, water prospector, botanist, cinematographer – got it, got it, got it, got it, got it.
Being so small, direct relationships are easily made. We had tremendous support from the Buller District Mayor Garry Howard, and the Council – they were real enablers.
We have so much fascinating history here, which we drew on to build our product brands – Little Biddy Gin; Moonlight Creek Whisky; Wild Rain Vodka.
The rain, which is some of the purest water on earth is a key part of our premium spirits.
Q. What are the advantages of living on the West Coast?
The people – they’re genuine, friendly, incredibly optimistic and hardworking.
The rain – it’s invigorating and gives us the lush, green rainforest and pristine drinking water.
The geography – this region is spectacularly beautiful, unpopulated and diverse.
Our mountain biking and trout fishing is some of the best in New Zealand - if not the world.
Home ownership is still attainable; you get to know everybody and crime is low (there’s an uproar if a feisty teen tips out a hanging flower basket on a Saturday night).
Did I mention the whitebait.
Photos: Jase Blair
Unmatched work-life balance.
It’s a place where a stroll along the beach gives you stunning views of Aoraki/Mt Cook’s snow-capped peaks. This is a town where you can appreciate the rich history of the West Coast, hear stories of shipwrecks, gold miners and pounamu hunters, while also enjoying the conveniences of modern life.
The streets of Hokitika are brimming with cafés and an inspired arts and culture scene. There are probably more galleries and studios per capita in Hokitika than anywhere in New Zealand. If you’re interested in genuine experiences and friendly characters that love to share a story then Hokitika is the place for you.
It is not just tourists being attracted to the cool little town of Hokitika, the unmatched work-life balance Hokitika offers is a major drawcard for people looking for a better quality of life.
The Hokitika Sandwich Company
Joseph Walker has been a firm West Coast convert since moving to Hokitika.
Having been involved in the hospitality/restaurant industry his entire adult life, Joseph has opened successful restaurants in both the Marlborough Sounds and the USA.
“After four years living in downtown Denver with a very urban lifestyle, my wife Anna and I decided we wanted a cleaner, healthier and safer environment to start a family so we packed up and came back to New Zealand.
“After looking at land and houses in every region of the country we fell in love with a small lifestyle block and villa in Kokatahi about fifteen minutes from Hokitika. This area ticked all the boxes for us, we were close to mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, an airport and the cool little town and community of Hokitika. Not to mention only a short flight or drive to Christchurch when we craved some city life,” Joseph says.
Wanting to give Hokitika a fresh and affordable lunch option and add another layer to the local food culture, Joseph opened the Hokitika Sandwich Company.
“Having run a very successful sandwich shop in Denver I already had the blueprint, so I went about sourcing the best local ingredients to put between two slices of bread.”
Joseph says there are many advantages to having a business in Hokitika.
“The local council was very supportive in getting everything up and running. Our food safety officer was eager to see a vibrant community with great dining options and was supportive every step of the way.
“Commercial rent is cheap which minimises the financial risk. There is a great tourist flow with a million people passing through the region annually. The commute is stress-free unless the neighbours are moving their cows. The town itself is humming and has a great seaside vibe.”
Joseph says living in Hokitika and the West Coast is all about the quality of life, access to the natural environment and minimal financial pressure.
“We are lucky to have clean air, plenty of fresh clean water and a very safe living environment. Our house is close to some of the most incredible natural features you can imagine, like the Hokitika Gorge and Lake Kaniere. We can go swimming in a lake then watch the sunset on the beach.
“The community is warm and welcoming. The cost of housing is cheap which means low mortgages and minimal financial pressure and stress.
“The Coast is going through a bit of a renaissance and has so much untapped potential, while other markets are saturated with competition there are many opportunities here for new types of businesses in the tourism, manufacturing and production sectors.”
Photo: Stewart Nimmo
An untamed natural wilderness as inspiration.
Advances in digital technologies and an inspiring backyard are making the West Coast a hub for creative artisans. Nestled between the snow-capped Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea, the West Coast is an area renowned for its inspirational natural environment.
“From pounamu carvers to booker prize winning authors, the West Coast landscape has long attracted and inspired creative people,” says Development West Coast chief executive Chris Mackenzie.
“Advances in digital technologies are opening new opportunities, enabling people to live where they want, and do business with the world. This has led to a new generation of pioneering artisans who have chosen to live on the Coast for the lifestyle, while selling their products online to wider markets,” he says.
Photo: Jules Anderson
Tessa Lindsay’s business, Nuzzle Baby, is a perfect example that geography is no-longer a barrier to doing business, especially when talent, passion and the internet are involved.
Tessa and her husband were born and bred in Queenstown but were looking for a change. When her sister-in-law encouraged them to move to Westport they jumped at the opportunity.
In 2014 they welcomed their first child, who was born with severe breathing and feeding issues.
“I wanted to make sure that what he played with was safe and enjoyable for him, organic and free from toxins, so it wouldn’t affect his breathing at all,” she says.
Tessa started designing products that would be safe, engaging and nurturing for her son. Seeing the enjoyment he was getting laid the seeds for her business, Nuzzle Baby.
Tessa began making eco-friendly baby toys while her son was sleeping and selling them online.
“Being an online business means you can live wherever you love and for us that’s right here in Westport. We want to bring our children up in a relaxed small-town environment. And being able to draw inspiration from the nature and landscape around me has been a huge influence in finding my unique style,” Tessa says.
Blue Spur Milk and Honey.
Sick of the city-life, Miriam Rees and her family moved to the West Coast. They eventually purchased a lifestyle block just outside of Hokitika in Blue Spur.
Their property soon became home to an array of animals: goats, sheep, ducks, geese, chickens, bees and their dog Zeb.
Miriam became busy taking up new hobbies. She learnt beekeeping and would use her goat’s milk to make cheese and soap.
She started experimenting, adding honey from her hives to her goat’s milk soap and making solid hand lotion bars using her beeswax. With the help of her goats and bees, she found she could craft many different natural products and so her business ‘Blue Spur Milk and Honey’ was born.
Miriam now handcrafts a range of rustic beauty products that encapsulate the untamed natural wilderness she is surrounded by. She avoids plastics, only using environmentally friendly packaging.
“There’s no point making a beautiful natural product and then wrapping it in plastic! The charm of the West Coast is its raw natural beauty, and we want to keep it that way,” she says.
Kira Birchfield Jeweller.
After nine years away travelling and studying, Kira Birchfield moved back to the West Coast with her husband. From her home workshop south of Hokitika, she has setup a new business – Kira Birchfield Jeweller.
“My pieces reflect my connection to this unique landscape. I immerse myself in the West Coast surroundings – the rugged landscapes create incredible silhouettes, patterns, inspiration!” Kira says.
“I am passionate about the art of the hand-made. I melt, form, roll, drill and polish precious materials to make unique artworks. Making work that is connected to the West Coast is important to me.
"Having the freedom to work from home with such inspiring surroundings is something I am grateful for. Being able to head out for a morning horse ride along the beach before heading into my workshop is just magic," Kira says.
According to Chris Mackenzie, the ability of these artisans, and others like them, to carve out their own niches is a testament to the West Coast’s appeal as a digitally connected region, allowing people to run successful businesses remotely “all while enjoying the superior West Coast lifestyle."
Relocating from Auckland pays off for family.
By Lisa, Jayne and Harper Bronkhorst-Barrett.
Our story may sound familiar to many people who have lived in large cities.
We are a family of three, and regardless of Auckland’s growing unaffordable property market, we managed somehow, to find ourselves on the property ladder.
Despite living within close proximity to work, we were still not living the kiwi dream. Our two bedroom townhouse had no garden for our daughter to play in, and the Auckland traffic managed to affect the lifestyle we desired.
We decided to have a family meeting about moving out of Auckland, and residing in a lesser populated community. This was with the view of improving our lifestyle and being able to spend more quality time together as a family. We ensured our four year old daughter was included in the decision making process.
We are both Registered Anaesthetic Technicians, so our first challenge was to find employment in a smaller town. An opportunity arose on the West Coast at the District Health Board (DHB). We investigated further, and the response we received was very warm and friendly. It was this reaction that led us to apply for the position.
The West Coast ticked many boxes that we sought after; affordable housing, less traffic, a close supportive community, and good primary schools. However, the deal clincher for our daughter, was the promise of owning a home with a garden big enough for a trampoline!
The West Coast DHB was instrumental in making our move here as stress-free as possible. Over the last 10 months, our transition and integration into a smaller community has been pleasantly easy, and very welcoming.
When we told our friends we were moving to the West Coast it was met with some scepticism. One of the major concerns seemed to be about the amount of rainfall the West Coast is renowned for. We have however been pleasantly surprised with the weather. Yes it rains and when it rains, it rains a lot, but we do have a lot of sunshine too, and this allows plenty of opportunity to enjoy all of our outdoor activities.
We are currently building our new home, and our daughter has happily settled into school life with thanks to the wonderful staff at Paroa School.
Our lifestyle has greatly improved. As a family, we are able to do more together now, as we have more time to spend doing the things we like. The outdoor lifestyle suits our family very well, and we enjoy spending time on our bicycle’s exploring the stunning West Coast Wilderness Trail. There is so much to do and see, and we never grow tired of the rugged, untouched beautiful environment we have on our door step.
Overall, our move to the West Coast has been a huge success and one that we would recommend to anyone considering a change for the better.
Photo: Stephen Roberts
Escape the concrete jungle.
The days of needing an office “in the city” are long gone and many companies are eyeing the regions as workers seek cheaper housing, family friendly lifestyles and that feel of New Zealand as it used to be.
Advances in technology now allow people to live wherever they want and for some that is among the truly stunning landscapes of the West Coast. This gradual migration of workers from the traffic jams and stress of the city will likely find work with unemployment levels on the West Coast well below the New Zealand average, at only 3.3 percent. This means business owners are always on the lookout for skilled staff.
Data from Statistics NZ shows Aucklanders spend about 450 hours a year in a car. Why waste your life stuck in the traffic when instead that valuable time could be spent on the West Coast with your family cycling, fishing, hiking, surfing – or just sitting back and watching a glorious sunset.
“The West Coast is no concrete jungle,” says Development West Coast chief executive Chris Mackenzie. “There are no traffic jams, no motorway congestion - but nor is it isolated. It has high speed internet, two airports and good roads and rail. Those who live and work here are easily connected to their clients and customers around the country and the world.”
Development West Coast works closely with local and central government, other economic development organisations, and business support providers, to encourage and support business to set up in the region and to promote sustainable employment. The assistance the agency gives ranges from commercial finance to business support and capability development through business mentoring, workshops and training assistance.
“The West Coast is home to thriving industries in IT, manufacturing, agribusiness and so much more,” Mackenzie says. “Thanks to the region’s natural beauty and rich history, it is one of the fastest-growing tourist areas in New Zealand.”
Coasters are renowned for their pioneering spirit: they have always led the way in New Zealand, from goldmining to blockchain mining. Now, digital technologies are allowing the Little Region That Can to be competitive in international markets: software for many leading gaming companies such as EA and Disney started here, and can-do locals are carving out niches for successful online businesses.
You don't need to be a maths wizard to see the advantages of moving from a big city to the West Coast. Auckland's median house price is around a million dollars. In comparison, on the West Coast the quarter-acre section is still a reachable reality. Median house prices hover around $200,000 and each window is likely to offer a view of magnificent mountains, primeval forest, deep and silent rivers and dramatic coastlines.
This is a region that boasts what are arguably some of the New Zealand’s most stunning landscapes: a drive up the coast towards the world-famous Punakaiki Rocks on the edge of the magnificent Paparoa Regional Park will offer a different perspective and mood every time. Life is simpler on the West Coast and it is easy to see why people love to live and work here, says Mackenzie: “You can live by the sea and still have views of the snow-covered alps – with thriving cafes just a walk away.”