Westland council orders own organisation to keep running 30-year Wildfoods festival

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Hokitika’s next Wildfoods festival will run as planned, with its organiser being told it must run the event. 

The festival has been offering staples like huhu grubs, whitebait, snails and mountain oysters – also known as sheep’s testicles – for 30 years.

There was uncertainty over its future after Destination Westland – a Westland District Council-controlled organisation – announced it was winding down its events department, having taken over the running of Wildfoods from the council in 2018.

Sheep testicles are sold as mountain oysters during the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty

Sheep testicles are sold as mountain oysters during the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival.

The festival contributed $6.5 million a year to the Westland economy, according to a 2012 Berl report, but has struggled to make a profit in recent years.

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Westland mayor Bruce Smith said councillors decided, during a public-excluded part of an extraordinary meeting, Destination Westland would continue to run the March event.

A festival-goer tries a shot of Jed's Moonshine during the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival.

KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY

A festival-goer tries a shot of Jed’s Moonshine during the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival.

It was a “good outcome” for the people of Westland, he said.

“Many community organisations rely on this event to fundraise for the year and we want to enable them to continue to do so, as well as maintain the strong brand that Wildfoods has become.”

Deputy mayor Helen Lash said it was an important event for Westland because of the economic benefits it brought to the Coast.

The festival contributed $6.5 million a year to the Westland economy, according to a 2012 Berl report, but has struggled to make a profit in recent years.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty

The festival contributed $6.5 million a year to the Westland economy, according to a 2012 Berl report, but has struggled to make a profit in recent years.

Destination Westland’s board had accepted the decision, she said. It could ask the council for more money to run the festival.

The council’s contribution towards the event had been reduced in recent years. Ratepayers contributed $32,035 for 2018 and $87,199 in 2017. 

Lash had not yet seen figures for the 2019 event, but last year’s recorded a loss of $53,612.

In 2016, it made about $19,000 in profit – the first profit in five years. In 2017 it made $12,000, compared to a loss of $81,042 in 2014.

Destination Westland’s board had decided to shut down its events division because it was not making enough money. It also ran the inaugural South Island Ute Muster in July last year. 

Lash said she personally had concerns about the financial risk to ratepayers of running the Ute Muster event.

Councillors had been told the event had lost $10,000 but other reports suggested a much higher loss, she said. No detailed financial information had been made available for last year’s event despite repeated attempts by Lash to obtain budgets. 

Destination Westland’s chairman has been approached for comment. Smith is in China at a tourism expo but previously said the Ute Muster brought about 1000 visitors to Westland during an otherwise quiet winter season.

 


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