The Story of Wilsons Abel Tasman

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The Wilson family’s association with tourism in the Nelson region began in 1977 with John Wilson rowing passengers ashore at Torrent Bay in Abel Tasman National Park from Matangi, a boat he had built himself. The family business evolved as a model for sustainable tourism, including boats, lodges, walking and sea kayaking, leading to John Wilson being honoured in 2008 with a Queen’s Service Medal for services to tourism.

Back in 1979, after the only boat operating a commercial service in the National Park was wrecked in a storm, local residents started to hitch rides with John to Torrent Bay. To take on the responsibility of a regular passenger service, the Matangi was surveyed to commercial standard to operate for a summer season that lasted only two weeks.

At that time, John with his wife Lynette and four infant children spent their summer holidays at their small cottage on the edge of Torrent Bay beach. Lynette sold her paintings and local crafts from a tent in the garden of the "bach". She welcomed visitors ashore with a cup of tea and an invitation to browse.

As the children grew, they started showing visitors around "The Bay". In 1982, the family worked with Department of Conservation to create the first guided walk concession to operate in Abel Tasman National Park. The cottage on Torrent Bay beachfront had its first rebuild and extension to enable visitors to stay overnight in the Park. Tourism wasn’t considered a suitable investment by public banks so the family relied on private benefactor, (Sir) Roy McKenzie, to loan them the capital to start their business.

In the early 1990s, the Wilsons were looking to extend their guided trips to include the length of the Abel Tasman Coast Track from Mārahau to Tōtaranui. Lynette inherited land at Awaroa where, in 1884, her great grandparents had built a grand homestead, Meadowbank, so the family decided to rebuild the homestead in 1994. This enabled them to preserve diaries, letters and photographs covering five generations of family stories as well as allowing them to extend their guided trips.

Over the years, the Wilson family has continuously upgraded their lodges, boats and services as technologies are developed to provide modern conveniences with minimum impact on the environment. Guided sea kayaking was introduced in 1995. The state-of-the-art Vista Cruise catamaran, launched in 2009, was flagship for the family’s win in Tourism New Zealand’s Innovating for Success Awards in 2010.

Darryl Wilsons says, "Our family has seen the change in attitude from the early settler’s goal to 'break in the land' to the realisation that we must preserve our heritage for future generations."

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