Remarkable vision sees gondola to the snowline
Driving wet station tracks high above the Kawarau River, Alastair Porter stops the Range Rover to point to his vision of the future.
What he sees is the Southern Hemisphere’s longest gondola. Here, there will be pylons and cables to carry the eight-seat gondola cabins. Over there could be a new mountain village. In that area a two- to three-day hiking trail, nearby a new area for “glamping” – glamorous camping.
Porter is chairman of Porter Group – Queenstown’s biggest private development group comprising Remarkables Park, Shotover Park and Queenstown Park.
The group built an entirely new town centre on a 150ha greenfields site beside Queenstown Airport, but it has far bigger plans.
In November Remarkables Park announced a $50 million, 9.8km gondola scheme, even longer than the 7.5km Skyrail Rainforest Cableway north of Cairns in Queensland.
Porter believes about 80 pylons will be needed to reach from the Remarkables Park terraces across the Kawarau River to Queenstown Park Station, which he co-owns with his brothers John and Neville (also Porter Group and Remarkables Park directors), then up to the snowline.
The gondola will be able to run 365 days a year, within five years it could transport 800,000 people and operations could begin in about three years, Porter estimates.
Up to 2000 people an hour could ride the gondola and return tickets could cost about $75, with discounts for young, old and families.
Many attractions are planned along the way. The gondola, designed by America’s Leitner-Poma, could go faster during winter months to transport skiers, but perhaps more slowly in the summer to offer more of an experience, Porter says.
Planning permission is yet to be formally lodged “although a District Plan review is on and we have made submissions which are equivalent to a plan change”.
A Queenstown Lakes District Council spokesman confirmed no application had been lodged.
“As such we aren’t in a position to comment. We have received a submission as part of the District Plan review process but this has yet to be processed and this won’t be heard until April next year, so again we’re not in a position to comment.”
Geoff Owen, Department of Conservation Wakatipu District operations manager, says only preliminary discussions have been held with a consultant.
“An application will need to be received and assessed before a position can be provided. Based on the information supplied at the early discussions, the public conservation land potentially involved in the scheme is the Rastus Burn Recreation Reserve,” Owen says.
Porter says plans could result in an Austrian or Bavarian-style scheme that would not only create easy access to a popular skifield and alpine area, but also enable development of a 40km two- to three-day hiking trail, glamping areas and memorable alpine tourism experiences for millions of local and international visitors.
“This is a unique opportunity because with a gondola ride to the destinations, that creates a memorable experience.
“We would like to create a semi-alpine riverside enclave providing a restaurant, boutique accommodation and farm visit access. Half-way up the hill there will be room to get off for biking and hiking,” Porter says.
“There’s opportunities for sports events and triathlons – people who want to run up steep hills. We’ve learnt from places like Whistler.”
Queenstown’s second gondola would begin at a plaza – now simply grassy fields above the Kawarau – adjacent to the rapidly expanding Remarkables Park Town Centre.
The gondola would not cross the famous western face of The Remarkables, but it would traverse the Kawarau River in one clear 400m span, run alongside the river, past the Shotover River delta, eventually turning inland and taking the first low sweep up a valley on the northern foothills, then a second steeper climb to NZSki’s new base building at The Remarkables skifield.
Porter notes that the base building’s design allows for a gondola to dock beneath it. He regards that – and support from the existing Skyline Gondola – as affirmation for his project.
“It’s competition for Skyline and Skyline said they were 100 per cent supportive,” he says.
“There have been two other planned Queenstown Lakes District gondola projects approved, but not built. This gondola will be successful. That will be the difference.”
Just back from Sydney, Singapore and China, where he has been discussing Remarkables Park projects, including a proposed convention centre and new hotel, Porter first stops at the new Ramada Hotel & Suite Remarkable Park to show what has already been achieved.
He recalls how his family’s first venture in the area 28 years ago was far more modest but met with scepticism.
“They said, ‘Some crazy people from Auckland have built a supermarket in a paddock. We’re taking bets on how fast they will go bankrupt’.
“Today, 3.5 million people go to the Remarkables Park Town Centre and the New World is either number 1 or number 2 in the South Island.”
That supermarket is no longer stranded in paddocks but is part of the landscaped master-planned town centre the Porters developed.
That town centre gets sun for up to seven hours on the shortest day, whereas the traditional heart of Queenstown only gets two to three hours, he says.
Porter now estimates that with the gondola and town centre expansion, depending on density there is potential for up to a further $2b worth of development.
• Remarkables Park Town Centre/entertainment precinct. Existing and future development of 19ha: shopping, hotel, office, residential and recreation.
• Development began around 1999, master-planned by US landscape architect Eldon Beck.
• Originally funded and built by Remarkables Park, headed by Alastair Porter with brothers John and Neville.
• Ownership of existing shopping centre: Stride (purchased as DNZ Property), Maori Hill Property, Foodstuffs and Savanna Group.
• Businessmen Tony Quinn and James Hennessy own two separate facilities in entertainment precinct.
• Rest of the undeveloped town centre and Remarkables Park owned by Remarkables Park.
• Further 100ha of site to be developed.
• One of the Southern Hemisphere’s longest gondolas, starting from near the future town centre.
• New convention centre above Kawarau River. Stage 1, $30m-$50m for 600-700 people. Stage two, 1300-1400 people.
• Potential for more than 1500 new hotel rooms.
• Further education, recreation, tourism, retail and accommodation uses.
Source: Remarkables Park