Small towns flooded with visitors for school holidays

Small towns in New Zealand are being flooded with thousands of visitors for the start of the school holidays.

And one local mayor says they're doing so well, perhaps the border should stay shut.

Skiers and snowboarders have been patiently waiting for today.

Perfectly-timed snowfall has allowed Mt Ruapehu's Whakapapa Skifield to reach a milestone they thought might not happen this year.

"We're just delighted to have made it to here after all that 2020 has brought us - all of us," chief operating officer Travis Donoghue says. "It's fantastic we're off and racing with the ski season."

The snowfall hasn't been quite enough to open the tracks at the top of the mountain just yet. However once they reopen later this season, the skifield is still facing a very challenging year and is expecting to make 30 percent less than what it usually would.

But below the rocky mountain, stories of success in the surrounding towns will be giving them hope. Weekend after weekend, Taupō is flooded with visitors.

"This is probably the fifth or sixth week that, anecdotally, cafes, hospo are up 20 percent on normal pre-COVID times," says Taupō Mayor David Trewavas.

And a portion of those are arriving by plane. This is the busiest weekend for Auckland Airport since flights were grounded.

More than 16,000 people are flying over the busy school holidays. And it's small-town New Zealand that's absorbing all those much-needed visitors.

"It's unbelievable and - dare I say it - keep the borders closed as long as you like," Trewavas says. "Haha - I don't mean that!"

It's a light-hearted comment from the Mayor. But with his corner of New Zealand's backyard benefiting from sharing it with just the locals, it is hardly a bad idea.