How to get people to lovely towns like Gore?
I am having a week off, spending my holiday as a sideline mum at two hockey tournaments.
One of the tournaments is in Christchurch and one is in Gore.
To be fair, I was a little unexcited about the prospect of three days in Gore, having obviously become the urban snob that I am. However, now I am back from a fabulous three days, I can say that small-town New Zealand gets an unfair rap.
They say the further south you go, the friendlier the people are.
This was definitely our experience and even my 15-year-old son, who was decidedly lukewarm about watching his younger sister's hockey tournament and sharing a room with his parents, had a great time.
His enjoyment was helped by the fact that we hit two golf courses while there - the Gore Golf Club, where the local club members were lovely and could show some grumpy members at our local clubs a thing or two about welcoming teenagers - and the Tapanui Golf Club, where we were the only ones on the course for four hours apart from the sheep who grazed the fairways.
Might I add that at Tapanui, I finished two tiny shots behind said son, helped by the water obstacles he managed to hit with great regularity.
Playing any sport within my family has a similar level of competitiveness to a World Cup. Oh, if only I had sunk those putts!
Gore definitely turned it on for us: beautiful weather, spectacular hinterlands and freshly cooked trout for breakfast at the B&B we stayed at. I understand the community is investing in mountain bike tracks in the bush and has a great art gallery, so I have reasons to go back for a second weekend.
On the way home, I listened to a Radio New Zealand interview with Prof Paul Spoonley about ''rebooting the regions''. His argument is that pretty much everywhere south of Tauranga, apart from Christchurch, Wellington and Central Otago, is in trouble in terms of lack of growth and ageing populations (although he didn't say anything about Dunedin).
His message was that small towns need to accept their declining and ageing population and adapt accordingly. He did say people would not be pleased to hear him say that and I certainly had a negative reaction to his message.
I guess there is a fine line between being defeatist and acceptance.
The challenge for us all in the South - apart from Central Otago, which has its own set of challenges - is that we need to create jobs for young people and then convince people to move out of Auckland and/or immigrants to settle here.
None of this is new and certainly many of our local mayoral candidates are singing this tune ... but no-one is coming up with ''the how''. How do we do this?
I wish I had the answers and maybe it's unfair of me to expect mayoral candidates to. In saying that, Prof Spoonley certainly gave Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan a good rap for his creative approach.
I do feel, very strongly, that attracting investors and investment money into our regions has to be a significant part of the solution; this helps start-up and existing businesses expand, creating more employment.
As populations grow, more housing and schooling is needed, creating even more new jobs.
An economist told me recently New Zealand was now considered a safe haven for money and investment because of global political unrest.
There is money about; how do we attract more of it here? How do we match-make southern businesses with good growth ambitions to international investors?
How do we create a buzz in towns like Gore that sends a message to everyone that the South is a great place to be? And finally, can southern towns co-operate in doing this without having to compete?
Tomorrow, I leave for the big smoke of Christchurch, adding my meek voice to the Otago Hatch Cup hockey team supporters.
I am sure I will enjoy what Christchurch has to offer, but I am not sure it will top my days in Gore. The friendly people and the trout breakfasts will be hard to beat - impossible, if I had sunk those putts!