Home' Advocate Communications : Fiordland Advocate 28 August 2009 Contents LOCAL NEWS
28 August, 2009 | Page 7
It was an unlikely alliance but an
enduring one. Barry Campbell never
had any intention of following his
parents into the accommodation
business but this weekend he and
wife Jenny will leave Campbell’s
on Te Anau’s lakefront,
ending the era of the town’s
longest-serving motellier family.
He distinctly remembers the day his parents
Wilson and Verna decided to venture into
“I was deer culling in the Murchisons
and I came out and Dad was digging the
foundations for the motel.”
The Campbells were pioneers of Fiordland’s
tourist industry. Mr Campbell senior and
Lawson Burrows operated the first boat
tours on the lake, forming Fiordland Travel.
For a long time the Campbells continued to
live in Gore, making the long drive via gravel
roads almost every weekend.
There wasn’t much to Te Anau in those
days. A hotel, guest house, school and
Ministry of Works yard. There was a road to
Milford Sound yet only a track, not a formed
road, to Bluegum Point.
“That was really it. There was the odd crib
buried in the bush.”
Mr Campbell was about 21 when his
parents, now resident in Te Anau, built what
was only the second motel in the town – Te
Anau Motel. Mr Campbell had chosen an
engineering career path and, after some
time in Invercargill where he completed
his apprenticeship with Goff Brothers,
joined his father’s business in Te Anau as
company engineer, working on the boats.
When Fiordland Travel was sold to the
Hutchins family, Mr Campbell senior’s share
of the sale was 15,000 pounds. It was a lot
of money and Mr Campbell remembers his
father discussing with him what he should
do with it.
Fiordland Travel had been considering
expanding into accommodation and Mr
Campbell senior took over the option it had
to develop the first units of the Fiordland
Motor Lodge (now the Fiordland Hotel)
in Luxmore Drive and put his son in as
For the next 13 years Mr Campbell and his
new bride Jenny ran the hotel in what was
a heady period for tourism. The company
secured a lucrative contract with Tiki Tours
which, at the height of the season brought
three bus fulls of mainly Australian tourists
each night. In fact the Australian market
was so strong that in March, when cheaper
airfares kicked in, it was impossible
to secure a bed in either Te Anau or
But Mr Campbell hankered to get back to
engineering so he set up his own business,
Campbell Marine Services while Mrs
Campbell went to work for her inlaws at the
new motel they had built, Campbell’s, on
Mr Campbell remained a director of
Fiordland Lodge Ltd which by that time had
grown to also own the Luxmore Hotel and a
shopping centre. But what happened next
would have a profound effect on his future
It was nearing the end of the Muldoon era,
the credit crunch was biting, interest rates
were over 25 percent and at the same
time Brisbane hosted the world expo. The
Aussies stayed home in droves and the
hotels went from maximum occupancy to
empty virtually overnight.
“We went to the wall for about a million
bucks,” Mr Campbell said. “That’s what we
owed the bank.”
The properties were sold from under them.
The Te Anau Club bought the Fiordland
Hotel and Jeff Thompson bought the
Mr Campbell said a lot of soul-searching
followed that lesson in life.
“With hindsight there were a lot of things
we wouldn’t have done but at the time they
seemed right. Perhaps we didn’t handle
it as well as we could have... probably as
directors we didn’t ask enough questions
but you do tend to trust people,” he said.
The company had had big plans for the
“We were also looking at expanding into
Queenstown but the whole thing came
down round our ears.”
Had the company not failed the Campbell
empire today would have been quite
something but Mr Campbell has no regrets.
You learn from your mistakes, he said.
“Play your cards close to your chest and
keep plenty of money in the bank.”
That philosophy made him a much more
cautious businessman going forward. In
later years he would stymie his father’s
plan to buy a motel neighbouring Campbells
because he considered it too risky.
“I pulled the pin on that. As it turned out it
would have been a great deal.”
As his parents, in their 80s, entered
retirement, Mr and Mrs Campbell took
over the running of the family’s namesake
motel but, with his parents continuing
to live there as “on site managers”, the
younger Campbells never felt they had an
opportunity to make their own mark.
“What we did was without his knowledge or
against his will,” Mr Campbell said, laughing
as he recalled the awkwardness of the
However, he concedes that by then their
hearts weren’t really in it.
“Jenny had had enough the day we moved
in. She’d already been there 20-something
It wasn’t that they didn’t like the business
or the people they met and worked with;
just that the accommodation business can
be a tremendous tie.
It’s unusual for people to be involved in
motels as long as the Campbells have and
they have become as legendary in Te Anau
as the business that bears their name.
They have been active in the local motel
association and provided advice and a
friendly ear to newcomers to the industry.
But, ironically, even after all this time, Mr
Campbell still views himself as an engineer,
not a motellier.
And he is modest about his contribution to
the local industry he helped to found.
“There’s far better hotel managers than I
ever was,” he said.
Campbells make room for a change
Barry Campbell in front of his family’s namesake motel that he and wife Jenny will leave this
weekend after a lifelong imvolvement in the Fiordland hospitality industry.
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