Swapping debt for building probably the best thing

October 31st, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Wellington ratepayers will never be repaid a cent of the $10 million they loaned wildlife sanctuary Zealandia for its new visitor centre.

Instead, the building will be sold to Wellington City Council for the loan amount under a proposal by Zealandia, leaving ratepayers with the keys and a multimillion-dollar debt for a centre that failed to pay for itself.

The council says the handover will not affect rates.

While Zealandia had balanced its books in recent years, it had not started to pay back the $10.38m interest-free loan as planned.

Karori Sanctuary Trust board chairwoman Denise Church said on Tuesday its small profits meant it would never be able to pay off the loan or cover its interest.

“We’re producing an operating surplus – in the last year $31,000, and the previous year $25,000. We have no capacity with those figures to pay interest on the loan or to pay it back.

“We’ve advised the council over the last two years that we don’t see that situation being likely.”

If the council took ownership of its building and exhibition space, opened in 2010, the sanctuary would lease it back, which would pay for ongoing maintenance costs.

It’s good that Zealandia has now mad a surplus for the last two years.

The visitor centre was a horribly expensive white elephant that should serve as a warning to the Council over other projects such as the airport runway, that a policy of build it and hope they come is flawed.

It is obvious Zealandia will never make enough surplus to pay back the loan. Hence the Council has three main options:

  • The status quo – loan never paid back
  • Close down Zealandia for unpaid debt
  • Swap the loan for the building

The last option seems the best (of a bad bunch).

Zealandia drops prices

October 22nd, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Zealandia has announced:

General Admission has been reduced significantly. Adult entry, previously $28.50 for entry to the valley and exhibition, is now $17.50 and Family Admission has dropped from $71.50 to $44 (two adults and up to three children). A new “come back tomorrow” system will include a complimentary next day return, allowing visitors to explore the many experiences available even when their time in Wellington is limited. 

That’s a great decision, and I hope the reduced charges will lead to enough increased patronage to recoup the income.

$57 for a couple to visit was priced too high. At $35 a couple, that is much more reasonable and certainly I’d now consider going on a spare weekend.

Too expensive

August 30th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Zealandia could cut ticket prices as the embattled sanctuary tries to reverse falling visitor numbers.

Latest figures show a second consecutive drop in visitor numbers, with the sanctuary again failing to meet its targets in the past financial year, despite halving its expectations.

The fall is the latest in a series of problems for Zealandia.

Low visitor numbers have seen it battle with the books since it opened in April 2010, forcing ratepayers to prop it up.

But marketing and sales manager Peter Laurenson said paying visitor numbers were holding steady, and it was locals with memberships who were tailing off.

Now the sanctuary was looking at a number of strategies, including dropping admission prices and a membership drive, in a bid to get more people through the gate.

The cost of entry has often been cited as a barrier to people visiting Zealandia. A family pass for both the exhibition and sanctuary is $71.50.

I have a choice of going around Otari Wilton Bush for nothing, or paying mega bucks to Zealandia. It is an easy decision.  Zealandia is great to visit, but over-priced.

Zealandia v Zoo

April 4th, 2012 at 8:57 am by David Farrar

An interesting op ed by Zealandia Chair Catherine Isaac:

The zoo is asking for a further $59 million of ratepayers’ money over the next 10 years. Its annual grant this year is $2.8 million.

Ratepayers pay $14 per visitor to the zoo, compared with 43 cents per visitor to Zealandia. …

As the editorial notes, the proposal is also anathema to many of the 450 Zealandia volunteers who currently care for the sanctuary, whose time is worth about $900,000 a year. If, as the editorial suggests, the council takes over tending the valley, it would also bear that additional cost.

Volunteer time is but one of the huge donations made to Zealandia.

Over the last 17 years we’ve raised $16 million (not including council funding). In the past year, we’ve raised $400,000 and pared costs back to the bone. Staff and managers are all ‘hands-on’, with a strong volunteerism ethos. It is hard to imagine how a council- controlled organisation would fare running a community project of this nature.

So where are the savings to be made from the proposed ‘super’ CCO and what do these organisations really have in common? Your article suggests Zealandia could grow visitor numbers by using the “zoo’s marketing know- how and database”. In fact Zealandia and the zoo could hardly be more different, in terms of target markets, products, supporters, objectives, culture and relevance to Wellington’s reputation as an ‘eco-friendly’ city.

The Zealandia vision, once thought barely credible, is now being proposed as a national vision, as described in the final lecture of our trustee, the late Sir Paul Callaghan. It is difficult indeed to see how the council’s proposal to merge Zealandia with the zoo could either support and advance that vision or set the sanctuary on a sustainable economic footing.

I didn’t realise the zoo subsidy was so great. Catherine makes some valid points in her op ed. I was mildly supportive of the CCO proposal, but I think her argument about the probable loss of volunteer labour is quite persuasive as to why it should not happen.


December 15th, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

Zealandia wildlife sanctuary has asked Wellington City Council for nearly $3 million so it can keep its doors open.

The council has already provided funding of about $10.7m based on projected visitor figures that have never been met, and it is hesitant about providing a bailout of $950,000 a year over three years.


I like Zealandia, but it has devoured far far too much ratepayer money.


September 20th, 2011 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Dave Burgess at the Dom Post reports:

Wellington ratepayers could become Zealandia’s owners, as it struggles to attract tourists, and it must find more money or be shut.

The Karori Sanctuary Trust has painted a bleak financial picture in its 2011 annual report, which shows the wildlife sanctuary would use its $1.79m cash reserves within the next few years. The financial crisis comes on the back of dire visitor numbers for the June year when just 89,643 people went through the sanctuary’s turnstiles, against a budgeted 140,000 visitors.

This is not a surprise. Here’s why.

Concerns that fewer visitors would visit the sanctuary were raised in March last year, when entry prices almost doubled from $15 to $28 for adults, $7 to $14 for children and $37 to $70 for family passes. The cost of entering the 225-hectare valley, without a trip to the visitor centre, jumped $3 to $18.

This is how the real world works. You double the price of something and numbers visiting almost half.

What is amazing is people think this doesn’t apply to the labour market. You increase the minimum wage, and increase the cost of labour, and it is no surprise that fewer people get employed.

Dunne v Zealandia

October 29th, 2010 at 6:00 am by David Farrar

Peter Dunne has done a PR:

Zealandia’s proposed rotenone poisoning of the upper lake and tributaries of the Karori wildlife sanctuary is quite literally “short-sighted, ideologically driven extremism”, UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said today.

“The fact that Zealandia – with the backing of DoC and Wellington City Council – is poised to flush a waterway system with rotenone within the city boundaries in the name of conservation is almost beyond belief,” said Mr Dunne.

“To poison a lake and all of its tributaries in order to kill some introduced trout, which most people see as a positive recreational resource, just because they are an exotic species is just crazy.”

It does seem over-kill, literally.

Free entry to Zealandia this weekend

October 14th, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Zealandia, also known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary has announced:

Admission to Wellington’s world-first wildlife sanctuary, ZEALANDIA, is free for all locals this Saturday and Sunday!

We are now 15 years into an incredible journey to restore a corner of NZ as closely as possible to the way it was before humans arrived. To celebrate, entry will be FREE for locals* between 11am-5pm this Saturday and Sunday. There will also be FREE boat rides, FREE ranger talks, FREE tours of the weta cave and FREE kids’ activity packs all day.

ZEALANDIA is New Zealand’s most well-established fenced mainland ‘conservation island’ and a flagship educational facility. Explore the brand new exhibition, where NZ’s extraordinary conservation story is brought to life with state-of-the-art multimedia exhibits. Then step outside into the sanctuary valley where you can see tuatara, saddleback, kaka and dozens more iconic native animals in the wild.

I’m in Sydney on Saturday still, but might visit on Sunday and see how it has changed since my last visit.

Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

April 1st, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Wellingtonian editorial:

The Karori Sanctuary, rebranded last year at a cost of $25,000 as Zealandia for reasons that still remain elusive, is entering dangerous waters by raising its entry prices so steeply. …

Will the price rises cause visitor numbers to fall, and if so by how much? Is Ms Mcintosh-Ward being wildly optimistic when she says she expects visitor numbers to increase from about 70,000 a year to 190,000 over the next three years.

Ms McIntosh-Ward told The Wellingtonian last week the price rises were necessary to cover the cost of the new $17 million centre.

In addition, annual costs were expected to double to $4 million.

She said prices had to rise to reflect the value of the new experience offered.

But that value is strictly subjective.

Faced with having to fork out so much for a family outing, many parents may now elect to take their children for a stroll through the nearby Otari-Wilton bush reserve, where the birdlife and greenery are impressive and entry is free.

I love Otari-Wilton bush and first discovered it in the mid 90s when the soc.culture.new-zealand Usenet newsgroup had a picnic there. It was a fabulous day.

Anyway the editorial reminds me I have had in my inbox a guest post from Phil Lyth, a volunteer guide at Zealandia. Phil says:

“Nice” said the Dominion Post on Friday. That’s not how I describe ZEALANDIA. “Nice” is what I said about the raspberry lamingtons at Kirkcaldie and Stains last month.

“Magnificent” is the right word to describe Karori’s wildlife sanctuary, a place that now ranks alongside Te Papa as a must-see destination in my view.

And, contrary to the impression given by your headline, it is available to every family in the Wellington region for only $8.25 a month. The family membership of $99 for the whole year allows people to visit as often as they want for no extra charge. (The equivalent Wellington Zoo family membership is nearly double, $175 for two adults and three children)

I have been a volunteer guide for ten years, talking to visitors and the wildlife and the project. I am attracted to the valley because of the vision – to restore the place to be “typical of Wellington pre-European settlement.” That is a bold goal, and one that is making a tremendous difference to the 250 hectares within the pest-proof and pest-free fence.

Since 2000, I have seen tremendous changes. At the start there were almost no visitor facilities, few native birds insects and reptiles. We charged $5 per adult for a 90 minutes guided walk, talking mainly about what was to come.

The Visitor Centre opening at Easter is a spectacular facility, but is just the latest of many that have been installed over the years: the wetland at the head of the lower lake, the mid-valley toilet block, the restoration and opening of the Morning Star gold mine (now home to our living treasure the cave weta), the tuatara research area, the upper dam Discovery Area, the upper lake viewing hides, live-cam and video of kaka and saddleback chicks in their nests, and much more.

Then there is the bush restoration. Over 30,000 native trees shrubs and grasses have been plated including the forest giants that will in time tower 30 metres high: totara, rata, miro and matai. My favourite, the northern rata specimen 75 metres from the Visitor Centre, has grown from 1.5 metres to 5 metres. The flora is growing at a rate of knots, because there are no browsing pests: none of the goats, pigs and possums that devastate Wellington bush outside the fence.

Native wildlife is breeding after releases of over 15 species. Visitors can see kaka, North Island robin, bellbird, saddleback, stitchbird, falcon, silvereye and tui. On the water, there are shags, brown teal, and scaup. Reptiles include tuatara and gecko, and three species of the creepy-crawly weta are for the adventurous. North Island brown kiwi are heard and seen at night.

A walk to the upper dam is easily within the ability of visitors, and some choose to walk the 28km of tracks beyond that point. For myself there are still tracks not yet walked: one day I will enjoy the Tui Glen Track and the Rain Gauge spur.

I haven’t even touched on the Visitor Centre opening at Easter with two floors of interactive exhibitions created in Wellington by some of the world’s best designers, CGI specialists and model makers.

(And for the record, the total $17m spend includes far more than the Visitor Centre. It encompasses, for example, car parking at Appleton Park on Karori Road, and the Waiapu Road upgrade with retaining wall. Still for the record, ZEALANDIA is operated by a non-for-profit trust which must and will be financially sustainable over time, and which enjoys outstanding support from a tremendous number of Wellington businesses, community organizations, and individuals.)

There is far more at ZEALANDIA: the Karori Sanctuary Experience, that can be done in one visit or one day. The one-off admission of $28 compares favourably with the prices I would pay if I travelled within New Zealand: Auckland’s Kelly Tarltons in Auckland asks $31.50 per adult and the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch $55. Even a boat ride to Kapiti costs $55.

I recommend ZEALANDIA to anyone as one of the great New Zealand experiences, and attest that it is value for money.

For any Wellington family, $99 is excellent value for membership allowing one year’s unlimited visiting. And my friends from out-of-town will be encouraged to contribute $28 to experience a grand adventure of which I am proud.

Over 420 active volunteers are backing the sanctuary. Over 12,100 current members are. Positively Wellington Tourism is.

Will you?

It’s been a year or so since I have been to the sanctuary. Normally I take out of towners there, so will await my next international visitor, and will check out the new visitor’s centre, to see if it is good value for money.