Skylark Cabin: a business dream coming true

Jul 21, 2023

After years of military service and working in the public sector, Garry Wilson (Ngāi Tahu) and his wife Liz embarked on their dream lifestyle in the beautiful Mackenzie District. Packing up their belongings from their home in Masterton, they made the bold move to relocate in Te Waipounamu and purchased a block of land in Twizel. Their vision was to build a small rental property while indulging in their passion for travel in their campervan.

Skylark Cabin, a private, luxury accommodation nestled amidst the stunning scenery of backcountry Ben Ohau is the realisation of their dreams. Since opening its doors to manuhiri (guests) in April 2021, Skylark Cabin has soared to become one of the most sought-after homes in New Zealand on AirBnB. It has won the AirBnB award for Best Nature Stay in New Zealand for 2022 and has graced the front covers of two hard cover books and as well as numerous magazines.

“Our property is called Ururangi, which translates to ‘winds of the sky’ which we thought was appropriate.  We are situated at Ben Ohau, with ‘Ohau’ meaning windy place. We celebrate the big sky as part of our attraction,” shares Garry.

Garry reveals managing a hotel or motel has always fascinated him, explaining, “There’s something about how people are always pleased to see you.” They also loved the opportunity of meeting people from diverse walks of life. They have now hosted hundreds of people from all over the world.

However, the path to success was neither quick nor easy. Garry admits the building process took far longer than they anticipated, and they needed support to get back on track. He reached out to the team at Puna Pakihi who provides business support to Ngāi Tahu whānau with mentorship, grants and other valuable resources.

Acknowledging the steep learning curve involved in running a business, Garry compensated by seeking mentorship and investing in his own development through a business course.

Garry was fortunate to be paired with Heather Manawatu as his business mentor. Her expertise in the tourism industry made her the perfect guide for their journey.

“She had a background in the tourism industry so she was the perfect mentor for us. She also has good life skills and was a person that I could easily relate to.”

The support from Puna Pakihi extended beyond mentorship, as they also provided Skylark Cabin with much-needed financial assistance through a Kickstart Grant for marketing and advertising. In addition, they received the Stay Up Grant, which they utilised to make improvements based on feedback from manuhiri.

One of the secrets behind their resounding success is their dedication to listening to their customers. Garry emphasizes, “We wanted to demonstrate that we value their input.”

In addition to an architecturally stunning and comfortable cabin equipped with modern amenities, Garry and Liz delighted their manuhiri with extra features. From the luxurious outdoor bath to the availability of e-bikes and cold weather gear, guests can explore their surroundings regardless of the weather conditions.

Garry adds, “Some of these extras don’t cost a lot, but our guests appreciate that we have carefully thought about what they might need for their stay.”

It comes as no surprise that Skylark Cabin maintains an impressive ninety percent occupancy rate throughout the year.

Garry acknowledges the role that Puna Pakihi played in their success saying, “I wish I contacted them sooner. Knowing that there is support available makes the prospect of venturing into business less scary.”

The couple now eagerly anticipates the construction of their second accommodation, aptly named The Burrows. Garry explains, “The name and design honours the landscape and provides a view of the world from a rabbit’s perspective.”

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