Glacier Country Helicopters began in 2014 in Franz Josef with husband and wife team Gus and Poppy Gordon.

With their unique local knowledge around New Zealand’s mountainous terrain and the West Coast glaciers and their skill set as commercial pilots, the company quickly thrived in a growing tourism market, offering an experience showcasing some of New Zealand’s most spectacular scenery.

Glacier Country Helicopters has been actively trying to diversify its company for some time, but it comes at a large cost in aviation to gain the skills and knowledge required and with the dip in the current tourism sector diversification seemed almost out of reach.

Poppy Gordon talks about how Upskill has helped the business during this difficult time.

“With the help of the Upskill team from Development West Coast, through MBIE training funds, Glacier Country Helicopters has been able to get the training needed to diversify our predominately-international tourism helicopter company and build on other opportunities for work.

“Having the support and expertise from Tania and Hannah at DWC has been hugely beneficial to our company.

“Gus has recently completed his night cross-country rating. This has had an immediate effect on the company, as we have been able to gain frost protection contracts with South Island vineyards. I have also been granted upskilling support for recurrence training. I am also a qualified commercial pilot but I have spent the last three years raising my two young daughters Claudia and Bonnie who are two and three years old.

“I am extremely grateful for the support to get back to work and in the sky doing scenic flights. The support is allowing the other pilots to go and pursue other contracts. Our other senior pilot and training manager Jay Grift is going to carry out advanced sling training. This will enable both pilots to be deemed suitable for firefighting operations, a crucial skill set for the South Westland region if ever there is natural disaster to occur.

“We extend our appreciation and thanks to DWC and MBIE. The support is keeping our employees in a job and our dream alive. We were unfortunate not to have received any support through the Strategic Tourism Assets Protection Programme (STAPP) and it was a hard pill to swallow. Having support from Upskill has really given us the tools to reshape our small little family owned company and venture into new revenue streams.”

Find out more about Upskill

2020 11 24 Glacier Helicopters Upskill

In central Hokitika, the long awaited Hokitika Dental is almost ready to open.

The building is finished, specialist equipment is being installed, and Hoki Dental is taking appointments for the brand new, revolutionary dental surgery.

Angelo Ioanides, founder and Director of Hoki Dental has been working with DWC's Upskill team to recruit new staff for the team.

Angelo says “Upskill West Coast have been a God-send. Not only were the team instrumental in helping us find and recruit four full-time team members for our brand new dental surgery, without their subsequent funding to train and upskill our team, there’s no way we would have been able to employ a full complement of employees from the outset.”

“What’s more, thanks to Upskill’s funding, we’ve secured internationally-recognised experts to come to Hokitika and train our team in-house on cutting-edge processes that will not only serve the health and wellbeing of Coasters, but will also attract patients from outside the region to come to Hokitika to receive this exclusive level of care.

“There’s absolutely no way we would have been able to achieve this level of skill and sophistication without the expertise from the Upskill team and the funding made available from The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment."

Find out more about Upskill

2020 11 24 Hoki Dental

Inspiring business pitches marked the celebration night for the latest graduates of DWC’s Co.Starters business start-up and development programme.

Co.Starters is a nine-week programme designed to help you find the best approach to starting and growing a business and collaborate with others who share your entrepreneurial spirit as you work through your business model.

The latest programme held in Greymouth was facilitated by Phil Johnston-Coates and Hannah Fitzgibbon. During the graduation night, the participants pitched a range of startup and developing businesses, including a jade carver, toy maker, dog kennels and holistic therapy.

Astiana Trouland took home the ‘best pitch’ award for her presentation on her wellness business Hauora Coaching.

If you would like to start your own business, develop your existing business, or explore and develop an idea or project then register your interest for an upcoming Co.Starters cohort at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

2020 11 24 CO.STARTERS

From left: Phil Johnston-Coates (co-facilitator), Jeremiah Maniago (Toys for Ages), Laksmi Duyvestyn (Moonlight Healing), Paula Kerr (New River Kennels), Astiana Trouland (Hauora Coaching), Ana Krakosky (Jade and Form) and Hannah Fitzgibbon (co-facilitator)


The West Coast's regional employment and training scheme, Upskill, was launched in July to support a robust and resilient West Coast economy that can respond to and recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

The Upskill project is managed through Development West Coast, and is supported by funding managed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's Provincial Development Unit.

The Upskill team consists of Project Manager Tania Washer, Employment and Training Consultant Hannah Bailey and Recruitment Coordinator and Administrator Alice Moynihan.

The team are experienced in recruitment, staff training and people development. Targeting skills shortage areas across the region, the team has been working with employers, employees and job seekers to create sustainable employment opportunities, and develop current staff to keep both people and businesses in the region.

The services and support the Upskill team provide includes workplace training support, funding for training of new recruits and working closely with the Ministry of Social Development. Upskill also provides human resource support recruiting unemployed West Coasters into new job opportunities.

Since July, Upskill have had over 200 people register their interest in the initiative and over 80 West Coast businesses are registered.

“Our team has been absolutely flat out working with all kinds of businesses across the West Coast from Karamea to Haast," says Project Manager, Tania Washer.

"So far, we have provided funding and coordinated training plans for 40 people to develop into new roles and progress in their careers.

"We have a further 15 candidates we are in the process of finalising employment placements and training plans for. The benefits of investing in employee training and development are well known, giving our West Coast companies a competitive advantage over others.

"It has been good to build a strong relationship with the industry-training sector of Tai Poutini Polytechnic, as well as bringing in specialist industry trainers as required to the region," says Tania.

DWC Economic Development Manager, Jo Birnie, says: "the Upskill team are making a great impact and assisting businesses to rethink their staffing development for the growth and retention of their business."

Find out more about Upskill

Upskill case studies:


1. Upskill

The Upskill team, from left: Tania, Alice and Hannah 

The pool of leaders on the West Coast has had another boost with the graduation of DWC’s Governance Programme.

The four session programme was run by Richard Westlake and Vaughan Renner from Westlake Governance, with sessions held in Hokitika, Westport and Greymouth.

The graduation ceremony at Speights Ale House in Greymouth was attended by Buller District Mayor Jamie Cleine and DWC chair Renee Rooney who are both alumni of the West Coast Leadership and Governance programme.

Ms Rooney said: "Not only have these participants made an investment in themselves through their own professional development, they have also made an investment in the future success of our West Coast Region through the learnings and the contribution they will bring to any boardroom, organisation or leadership position they are involved in."

DWC also hosted a community governance workshop this month in Westport. This full-day workshop facilitated by Westlake Governance was targeted towards community organisations looking to improve their governance capabilities.

2020 11 24 WC Governance Programme

From left: Renee Rooney (DWC Chair), Richard Westlake (Westlake Governance), Anna-Marie Thompson (Agfest West Coast), Heath Milne (DWC), Anita Halsall-Quinlan (WCDHB - sponsored by Buller Electricity), Matt Kunzmann (DOC), Melanie Anderson (Destination Westland), Casey Scanlon (Mitre10 Westport), Nicole Kunzmann (DOC), Stuart Brown (DWC), Jenny Keogan (Westland District Council), Vaughan Renner (Westlake Governance) and Buller District Mayor Jamie Cleine.