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New Zealand’s Largest Inflatables Park Adds New Challenges

Emily Rutherford at Kiwi Water Park

The buzz is building in Central Otago and amongst summer visitors to the South Island tourism mecca as Kiwi Water Park readies for its fourth and biggest season yet, which opens on December 1.

Young businesswoman Emily Rutherford, just back from being a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year New Zealand awards in Auckland last week (November 15), says there are two new challenges being added to the park outside Cromwell this year, and she plans to keep Kiwi Water Park open through early March, 2024.

“We have a brand-new Mega Tower that was bespoke made for us that is 9 metres high with two great slides and a brand-new cliff jump,” she said. “It will be the highest tower in New Zealand and one of the highest in the world.”

The other new challenge is what Emily calls The Big Red Balls and consists of five huge inflatable balls with an inflatable platform at each end. Visitors to the water park attempt to run from one side to the other without falling into Lake Dunstan, and they are similar to challenges seen on the Ninja-style reality tv obstacle courses.

Both of the new additions have arrived at Lyttleton to be transported to Lowburn, where divers started mooring the massive inflatables on Friday (November 24). Lifeguards have been hired, bookings are busy, especially for family and season passes, and school and work groups are planning their visits.

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With a Splash Palace on the beach with ankle-deep water for children aged 18 months to 6 years, the park offers something for everyone -- daredevil teens and dads, young children and mothers, and older children who might not be ready for the Mega Tower yet but will still find plenty of bouncy, lakeside fun on tamer parts of the park.

“The smaller slides are good for younger children,” Emily said.

The park also caters for people who are differently abled, with physical disabilities, or who are neurodivergent.

“We have had groups of blind people, people on the spectrum, some with missing limbs, and children with cancer,” Emily said. “Anybody who likes going in the water, who likes trampolines, it’s great fun for all.”

It was those passions that led Emily and her mother, Janet Rutherford, to co-found Kiwi Water Park, opening their first season on December 27, 2020.

Janet and Emily’s late father, Robert, ran a scenic flight company for 25 years, until Robert’s accidental death in 2018. Emily, who has a Masters in Business from Otago University, was running her own entertainment business in London when Covid-19 disrupted the world’s plans.

“I was very homesick and mum was very lonely so when Covid hit and events were cancelled everywhere, I came home and we started planning Kiwi Water Park,” Emily said.

Emily had thought about the idea for several years after experiencing similar parks overseas, and the pair started planning seriously in April 2020.

“I think nobody really believed we were going to do it,” Emily said. “At the time, other people were shutting up shop.”

She speaks of being invited to speak at the Cromwell Promotions Group three or four weeks prior to the planned opening in December, and being asked if she had the inflatables yet (the answer was “no”) or if everything was ready to open (also a “no”). She was told later that the general consensus was that the park would not open that summer.

Opening day was set for Boxing Day 2020, but postponed for one day because of bad weather, and Kiwi Water Park opened on December 27.

“The opening day was beautiful weather, and we had the newspapers, we had radio, we had television,” Emily said.

“The day after opening day, we were completely sold out, and the day after that, and the day after that for two weeks.”

There have been changes during the seasons, with the park moved to a more sheltered bay near Lowburn Inlet in Season Two, and Season Three looking unlikely as Waka Kotahi and Land and Information New Zealand required a right turn bay to be installed on State Highway 6 at a parking area already popular with freedom campers and boat owners. The turn bay was put in, and Season 3 went ahead.

This year, as Emily, Janet, and staff ready for another season and the new inflatables are due in Lyttleton early this week, bookings are increasing daily, with families, school trips, work groups and previous visitors reserving their places on the towers and slides, divers booked to moor the inflatables and lifeguards and customer service staff preparing for a summer of busy fun.

As for Emily, despite all the inflatables she is juggling, she is always looking ahead to how to improve and grow her family business, with further plans to be announced soon.

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