Door-knocking has helped kick-start John Heskett’s (Williams 2005-2009) ambitious tourism venture.
Three Hamilton construction-related companies are backing John’s vision to create ‘Waitomo Sky Garden’ – a tourist destination in the King Country.
The project, which is set to cost $20m, includes New Zealand’s longest water-touch bungy from a 70m wooden tower, a massive dry slide, a café, expansive gardens and hot springs.
It is currently at the resource consent phase and John is seeking New Zealand investors.
The proposed site is just a short distance from the famous Waitomo Caves, which attract huge tourist numbers.
His dream started while a student at Otago University, when he got a break with one of the country’s top tourism providers. “I managed to get an internship at AJ Hackett so that’s where the bungy experience came from.”
The job, literally throwing tourists off the bungy platform, allowed him to learn from the best in the business, as well as overcome his own fear of heights.
John, now 26, holds a Diploma in Tourism Management from Queenstown Resort College and also a Bachelor in Applied Management from the University of Otago.
John’s first business venture was in his early 20s when he set up a scaffolding business, Ultimate Protection Auckland, specialising in residential and light commercial work. He later returned to the South Island, living in Cromwell, and set up a similar business in Queenstown.
But it was in tourism, where he really wanted to be. “By this time, I was so over lifting metal I decided this scaffolding game wasn’t for me.”
He returned home to Hamilton. “I went to the drawing board and sold up all my scaffolding shares.”
He modelled his idea on what he had seen at AJ Hackett. “I wanted to create an atmosphere that was like that – a lot of fun.”
The original plan was to do a scaffolding bungy, but that evolved into a wooden tower concept.
After visiting Waitomo, and hearing how many people were passing through, he decided that is where he wanted to be.
“Two and a half years later, we have ended up with Waitomo Sky Garden.” He has enjoyed the start-up phase and being his own boss. “I have known since a young age I did not want to go and work for someone else.”
While he has enthusiasm in buckets, it has been a steep learning experience.
“You can’t go onto Google and just type in ‘how to start a bungy,’ or ‘how to start an adventure tourism park,’ so, I was a bit lost. There was no direction.”
Wanting to get others on board with his vision, John went to a cartoonist in Hamilton, so he had something visual to present to businesses.
“I called him up and I said, ‘hey mate, I have an idea, but I don’t know how to show people, can I come and sit down with you and you draw me up a few pictures that I can show people?”
Using these pictures, he was able to door-knock local businesses.
“A lot of people in Hamilton just pushed me away which I can totally understand. Then I took a step back and realised there was going to be a lot of steel in it. So, I went to Waikato Steel Fabricators, and they put me on to Form Construction.”
“I had a meeting with the General Manager, and he said, ‘do you want to do this?’ and I said, ‘yes I really want to do this,’ so he put full trust in me and we have never looked back.”
He met with other businesses, including Ignite Architects and BCD Group, who have helped him put the proposal together.
John says Sky Garden will have something to offer “every sort of customer.”
I want it to be a “happy place” where no one will be turned away. There is an activity for the people who want to have an adrenaline rush or for those just looking for something a lot more chilled. I want it to be a place where everyone can walk out with a massive smile on their face.”
“I told the team you have to make something jaw dropping and beautiful and driving into Waitomo there is absolutely no way you will miss it.”
The site is 300m from the centre of Waitomo and is currently “literally just a piece of grass.”
He came across it while with a real estate agent looking at another potential site nearby. “I drove around the corner and the landlord was there just by chance. I was in stubbies and a singlet, I was on a surfing trip and just happened to stop off there on the way.” A few weeks later a contract was signed with the landowner, Progress Waikato Ltd.
So, how likely is it, it will happen? “Put it this way, if we get the resource consent I am pretty confident it is going to go up.”
John says the process is “taking forever” as he has never had so many boxes to tick. “It is so unique, and we break all the district’s rules by a long shot. There is so much work.”
In his spare time, he enjoys surfing and hunting. You won’t find him on Facebook as he deleted his account a few years ago.
John attended Woodstock Primary and Southwell before arriving at St Paul’s. His younger sister Isabella Heskett is in her final year at St Paul’s.