Once Upon a Time…

In 1997 Sandra and Peter Alborn were heading home to New Zealand after spending a year touring around Australia in a caravan. Having owned small businesses in the past, like a dairy, they were looking for another business to buy. During that search, they saw an advertisement for the sale of the lease agreement for a small camping ground at the entrance to the Abel Tasman National Park.

After possibly the shortest due diligence process in the history of commerce, they invested their life savings purchasing the lease for the Marahau Beach Camp and the accompanying sea kayak rental and water taxi businesses. The rather swift due diligence process involved Peter and Sandra wandering around the camp until Peter spotted a water taxi coupled to a tractor. Having always liked boats and tractors the decision to go ahead was made on the spot. (The full process may have also involved the use of a pen and the back of an envelope.)

Since those heady days of twenty years ago, Alborn Enterprises has grown from a formerly neglected camping ground, half a dozen sea kayaks and an old water taxi to become the largest commercial operator in the Abel Tasman National Park.

Back in the day

Back in 1997 Peter and Sandra quickly set about revitalising the facilities and the services provided. Buildings were renovated, paint was thrown around with reckless abandonment and old equipment was phased out as soon as the business could afford to do so.

In 2001 the Alborns purchased and developed a property on the Marahau waterfront that would become the hub of the Marahau village; the Abel Tasman Centre. This new booking office and general store also became the centre of operations for the water taxi and kayaking businesses; Marahau Water Taxis and Marahau Sea Kayaks. The café and beer garden the Alborns built next door, Hooked, rounded things out nicely. Visitors could book and check in for their Abel Tasman activities at the Abel Tasman Centre, and could then catch their water taxi or sea kayaking trip right there on site. When they returned from their Abel Tasman adventure they could dine on the waterfront with views across Tasman Bay and over to the islands in the Astrolabe Roadstead.

Three new cabins were added to Marahau Beach Camp and the other infrastructure was upgraded. Now with five cabins, 55 camp sites and a backpacker lodge, the camp proved increasingly popular for overseas and local visitors.

In combination, the whole business worked rather well and grew exponentially each year. Within five years, Marahau Water Taxis grew from one to four water taxis.

Let’s go shopping!

Having grown as much as possible organically, the Alborns purchased Abel Tasman AquaTaxi from Ngai Tahu Tourism in May 2012.

The market’s response to this acquisition was even better than the Alborn’s had dared to hope for. It turned out that after eight years or so of being run by a tourism corporate, having AquaTaxi return to the ownership of a local family really struck a chord. The purchase of AquaTaxi provided the Alborn’s with an additional 10 water taxis and a bit over half of the total water taxi concessions to operate in the Abel Tasman National Park.

In September 2014 the Alborns purchased Marahau Sea Kayaks (MSK) back from the person they had sold it to back in 2001. This rounded out the activities offering and again the market reacted with overwhelming positivity.

Alborn Family History

Family Ties

The business is still privately owned by the Alborn family with both of Peter and Sandra’s sons investing and working in the business.

Hailing from good West Coast mining stock on both the paternal and maternal sides of the family, the Alborns have been in the area for five generations. For any trainspotters out there, just south of Reefton is a road sign for Alborn’s. This was Peter’s father and grandfather’s original coal mine back in the day.

Although officially retired, Peter still handles the financial management of the company. He also completes the rounds of Marahau on his Quadbike each day to make sure everything is in order. When she is not scaring the hell out of visitors with her often brisk manner, Sandra oversees the book keeping and administration.

Peter and Sandra’s son, Gavin, is General Manager, drives a water taxi and oversees the complex logistics of having 15 water taxis, each with 18 seats, servicing three operating bases and six coastal access points within the national park. Gavin’s wife, Zoe, has managed the Hooked cafe and beer garden since it was opened back in 2001.

Peter and Sandra’s other son, Brendan, is Commercial Director for the group. He is responsible for marketing, communications and general administration. Unfortunately for him, Brendan did not inherit any of Peter’s natural mathematical abilities. Instead, it still takes him several days of work with spreadsheets and multi-variable regression analysis models to perform calculations that Peter seems able to do in 30 seconds, entirely in his head.