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From sailing to brewing with nine children

If you can sail the Pacific in a 52-foot catamaran for the best part of a year with your nine children aboard, then the challenge of taking on a brewing business you know very little about, is something you should be able to take in your stride.

That’s the belief of Andy and Deborah Horton who have just bought the Seabreeze Holiday Park and Hot Water Brewing Co in Whenuakite from local couple, Don and Dawn Walker. And judging from the Hortons’ life of adventure and their can-do attitude to date, it is not something you would ever want to bet against.

Don and Dawn, who set up the holiday park in 2005 and the brewery in 2013, say the sale will give them more freedom to do the things they want to do, while concentrating their business prowess on their 20 hectares of kiwifruit and avocados orchards at Coroglen and Whenuakite. Dawn said that the brewery - which continues to have professional brewer, Ben McDonald, at the helm - had won a number of medals from the Brewers Guild some years back for its range of craft beers. “Don has done a bit of brewing himself and setting up a brewery was just something he wanted to do.”

She said that initially the holiday park only had a small shop, selling basic items to campers, then they opened a restaurant and the brewery just evolved from that. Their daughter, Jen, was heavily involved in running both the holiday park and the brewery. As for the name, “Hot Water Brewing,” Dawn said it was chosen because hot water was used in the process and because they were not far from Hot Water Beach. She said that over the nine years in operation, the brewery’s range of five or six craft beers had expanded to include IPA, XPA, lager and porter, and is sold in niche markets such as the Puka Park restaurant in Pauanui, Luke’s Kitchen and Coromandel Mussel Kitchen, as well as select bars in Auckland and Hamilton. It is also sold at New World in Whitianga and online.

Dawn said they would now be able to balance orchard business commitments with leisure pursuits. “We will have a little bit more time; we want to do quite a lot of things… hiking and By Tony Stickley cycling around New Zealand and we have got a nice boat that we would like to get out on the water and do more of that sort of thing.”

For the Hortons, taking over the twin businesses was as much about lifestyle as the excitement of taking on a new venture. Though both New Zealand born, Andy (50) and Deborah (45) have spent most of their lives in Australia, returning home eight years ago to live on a lifestyle property in Taupo, where Andy worked installing laminated timber flooring while mother-of-nine, Deborah, continued to homeschool the children, as she had always done.

“It was a relatively quiet life… as much as is possible with nine kids. Then we bought a 52-foot catamaran, though we had never sailed before,” Deborah said. “We just decided to take the kids on a sailing trip to Fiji. We knew it would be one of the last adventures we would have with them, as our eldest, Daisy, was 18 at the time.” Previous exploits included a twomonth family trip around America in an RV. Deborah said that, while they had owned power boats in the past, they had never previously set foot on a sailing boat. “We learned how to sail on YouTube and then spent a few months sailing around New Zealand before heading to Fiji where we spent six months before sailing back again.”

She described the experience as the “best of the best and the worst of the worst”. “We had a big storm going over and we all thought we were going to die. Another low was having eleven people living in confined quarters. That brought its own challenges, but overall the experience was awesome and it brought us together hugely, as a family.”

In Fiji, they snorkelled, swam, surfed and helped the locals with a few building projects. “But basically, it was just hanging out as a family.”

Apart from learning to sail, Deborah said that the children, now aged three to 19, got a huge amount out of the voyage. “It will be something that they will never forget in all their lives. Some of them say they would definitely never do that again and others now have it in their blood.”

After their trip, Deborah said that they knew that they always wanted to live by the ocean. They had stopped off at Whitianga on their way back from Fiji and when a friend sent a advert for the holiday park and brewery, they didn’t hesitate. “It was probably the challenge that attracted us and also working at home, it gives Andy more time to be with the kids.” Once fully set up, Deborah believes it will offer a good lifestyle that provides flexibility for the family. “Maybe during winter we will be able to buy another boat and go back over to Fiji. There is lots of potential, but yeah, probably lifestyle is the biggest thing for us,”

She said that while they would be relying on Ben for his brewing skills, they would enjoy being ‘taste testers’. They are currently in the process of rebranding the beer with new cans and a new look, but were keeping the Hot Water Brewing Co name. In addition, they are giving the restaurant a facelift which they will run themselves, employing their own chef and staff, rather than leasing out the premises to another operator. Meanwhile, the children are doing their bit, helping paint and weed around the grounds of the park, which has 75 powered and non-powered caravan/tent sites as well as a number of studios, and one, two and three-bed chalets.

For the future, the couple, who are in partnership with Deborah’s parents, David and Ruth Watson, are considering catering for retreats, weddings and other functions at the holiday park.

Pictured is the Horton family, the new owners of Seabreeze Holiday Park and Hot water Brewing Co. From the left: Rufus, Deborah (mother), Winnie, Eve holding Honey, Marigold, Andy (father), Will, Jonny, Daisy and Aquilla.


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