Meet Jack Kemp
There isn’t much Jack Kemp hasn’t turned his hand to – from farming in South Africa, England and Europe to shearing, owning a cobblestone business , running a backpackers, painting, carving, working as a coastguard and farming the family property at Moeraki – but it’s tourism he’s been most passionate about.
Jack (Ngāi Tahu), is the owner of Kaikōura’s largest and most successful backpacker operation, Dusky Lodge, a business he’s taken from a 40-bed operation to its current 130-bed status in just over a decade.
It all started back on the family farm in Moeraki, he says. He was brought up there and his wife was a descendant of the Haberfield family. (The original Haberfield had been a whaler, who had married a local Māori woman). After his time abroad, Jack, 56, returned to the family farm, where he helped build a small backpacker operation to accommodate visiting tourists, who were keen to view the local hōiho (yellow-eyed penguins). The Lighthouse Backpackers at Katiki Point was a great success so after selling the farm, Jack settled on an accommodation venture as a new direction.
He chose Kaikōura, arriving fifteen years ago, just after Whale Watch had been established.
“Tourism was just starting to move then,” he says. “We got in before the backpacker rush and we’ve grown ever since.
Two years after taking over Dusky Lodge (named after the local population of dusky dolphins), Jack purchased an adjoining backpacker property, which took him to 80 beds; and he later added a top storey to accommodate new ensuite rooms in response to customer demand.
Success he says, has come down to catering for people of all ages – from 18 to 80 – and being flexible enough to move with the market. The complex now includes several large outdoor spaces, decks, barbecue areas, a heated swimming pool, hot pools, a sauna and a poolside restaurant.
Jack also offers an opportunity for people to do their own bone carving. He offers a range of designs – Māori are the most popular – and he shows people the ropes.
“I think it’s important for people to take home their own carving. There’s so much imported stuff here now and this way, they can learn about their design and its meaning and they can go away with something a bit special, a piece that’s much better than something laser cut in an Asian country.
“Tourism has flourished in Kaikōura. It’s completely changed the town but I think we need a few more activities that aren’t weather-reliant – a theatre perhaps, something similar to “Yesteryear” at Te Papa but focussing on our whaling and marine history.”
In his time out from the backpacker business, Jack is strongly committed to his work as vice president of Coastguard Kaikōura.