Visitors, campers in bigger numbers

North Otago tourist attractions and holiday parks are experiencing a bumper holiday season this Christmas and expect the region will continue to benefit from boosted visitor numbers well in to the new year.

The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, the Waitaki Waters Holiday Park in Oamaru and the Otematata Holiday Park and Lodge have all reported visitor numbers are noticeably higher than last year's.

Penguin colony manager Jason Gaskill said visitor numbers had been ''steady and encouraging''.

''Our total numbers are up on this period last year. Total day visitors are up approximately 35%, and evening viewing numbers are up nearly 20% for the New Year period [December 21 to January 2].

''We have been at, or near, capacity for the general stand three or four times, while we have been at or near capacity 11 times for the premium stand.''

Work to build a new $200,000, 60-seat grandstand at the colony was completed in June, and Mr Gaskill said the new premium stand had inspired ''almost universally positive comments and a high uptake by visitors''.

''People appreciate the closer proximity and the walk through the breeding area to access the stand,'' Mr Gaskill said. Further upgrades to the viewing area, which would include interactive touchscreens, online applications and web cameras, were also expected to be finished soon, Mr Gaskill said. Waitaki Waters Holiday Park owner-operator Derek Chapple said the holiday park had been full to capacity over the whole week between Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Mr Chapple said the park also looked set to remain busy well into January.

''Going into December, things were quieter than normal, but since Christmas we have been absolutely flat out.

''We have certainly had a busy run and it's by no means quietening down yet.''

Mr Chapple said the holiday park had ''stepped up'' its game this year by increasing the amount of family activities on offer.

''Our return guests that keep coming back expect something different each year. We have put on family activities throughout the day, we had jumping castles, we had a big marquee up here, bonfire and we had a 10-minute firework display. So a lot of people were booked in for that.''

The Otematata Holiday Park and Lodge had also reported having to turn people away.

Co-owner Kirsty McLeod said despite only taking over the park in early December, the Christmas and New Year period had been ''awesome''.

Miss McLeod said the park had been at full capacity for the whole period, and added that ''the next wave'' was due to arrive today.

''From all reports from the campers it's been far, far busier than last year,'' she said.

- andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz