The Kiwi town icon that sparked an international film festival

  • 25/06/2018
The Giant Bike in Taupō  is not only popular for quirky photos, it helped spawn an international film festival. Now Taupō wants to hear from people with other great ideas.
The Giant Bike in Taupō is not only popular for quirky photos, it helped spawn an international film festival. Now Taupō wants to hear from people with other great ideas.

When Taupō's iconic giant bicycle was attacked by vandals in 2014, the council initially deemed it beyond repair.

"It was pretty sad," says Brett Cotter, a keen cyclist who had little idea the senseless act would soon catapult him into a new career.

He organised the first Big Bike Film Night, aiming to raise enough to get the Marcel Zwezerijnen-designed sculpture fixed.  The event was such a huge success that running film festivals is now his full-time job.

This year the Big Bike Film Night screened in more than a dozen towns across New Zealand. It's also spawned the female-centric Cycle Chic Film Tour, and will soon go international - all from Taupō.

"What you do is what you make it, and I don't feel I have to live in Auckland or Wellington to do that," says Mr Cotter. "It doesn't really matter where you live."

The Big Bike FIlm night is a business based in Taupō.
The Big Bike FIlm night is a business based in Taupō. Photo credit: Supplied

"We know that a lot of people have got a really great idea, but it's really expensive to try and take that leap of faith and turn it into a business - quit your job, put your house on it - when you are doing that in a really heavy-cost environment in a larger city," says Kylie Hawker-Green of Enterprise Great Lake Taupō.

"Moving to a place like Taupō can give you the freedom to say, 'I'm going to back this idea because I do not have to pay a ridiculous mortgage.'"

Another start-up that's taking on the world from Taupō is Eye-Fly which builds video capture hardware for rafts, helicopters and jetboats - think GoPro on steroids - and makes it easy to share clips of the action anywhere in the world.

Jetboating on the Waikato River, near Taupō
Jetboating on the Waikato River, near Taupō Photo credit: Reuters

"In the '80s you got a photograph, in the '90s it was a VHS cassette, then it was a DVD and nowadays, mostly they give you a USB stick," says CEO Martin Frohlke. "We've taken that to the next step.

"We've had approaches saying, 'We'll give you so much money if you relocate to Denver.' We could be based anywhere - we don't have to be here - but we have a pretty amazing team that choose to live here in Taupō."

One of that team is John Curtis, who spent a decade at Weta Digital in Wellington.

"There's no reason this couldn't be the Silicon Valley of the North Island," he told local paper the Taupō Times last year, saying its low costs and good infrastructure made it ideal for tech companies and their staff.

Mr Frohlke agrees. "Just do it. Just get over the fact you have a million-and-a-half people in Auckland and you can get avocado on toast - just do it. Move down here."

In February, Enterprise Great Lake Taupō asked Kiwis thinking about making a move to submit their CVs - and the response was overwhelming.

"It crashed our website," says Ms Hawker-Green. "We broke the internet! We had to actually rebuild our system. It was proof to us that people are genuinely interested in looking for opportunities outside the cities."

Taupō is looking for people with great ideas to relocate and make the most of a work/life balance.
Taupō is looking for people with great ideas to relocate and make the most of a work/life balance. Photo credit: Supplied

"We'd love to help you succeed," says Ms Hawker-Green.

"Let us know a bit about you and your idea and we may pay to bring you to Taupō to check out what we have on offer, put you in front of the people that have done it and show you the great lifestyle to match your goals."

The Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupō.
The Mine Bay Maori Rock Carvings on Lake Taupō. Photo credit: Supplied

As for the giant bicycle that put Mr Cotter's great idea into gear?

Despite the damage, it was rebuilt successfully - a testament to the locals' love of cycling and can-do attitude.

"Bikes, travel and movies - it's a pretty good combo," says Mr Cotter who has no plans to leave Taupō anytime soon.

This article was created for Enterprise Great Lake Taupō.