Big job: Grant Devery, of Central Logging and Earthworks Ltd, left, and Skyline activities and development ops boss Rich Ferguson in the felling zone

The first signs of Skyline’s multi-million-dollar upgrade – years in the planning – should be visible by next week on the lower flanks of Queenstown’s Ben Lomond as a massive tree-felling project kicks up a notch.

Skyline commercial boss Craig Douglas says prep work’s been underway for about 18 months – contractor Central Logging and Earthworks Ltd’s been working on the hill for the past nine.

Trees are now being dropped to triple the width of the existing gondola carriageway – about 50 metres either side of the 700m line.

Douglas says the felling alone could take a year given the contractor’s got to work around the gondola operation, and weather restrictions.

“It’s a challenging site, so we work with it when we can.

“As we get closer to the current gondola corridor, we can’t operate the gondola at the same time as dropping trees, so that’ll have to happen for a few hours in the morning when it’s light before we actually operate the gondola.

“In winter there’s not a lot of daylight, so there’s not much that’s going to be happening.”

At the moment, tree felling work is limited to between 5.30am and 7am.

The trees, about 55 years old, were, he thinks, sown by hand but “not really with any great plan” and are part of the wilding problem.

Felled trees will be stockpiled at various points on the hill and used as barriers before later being moved off and sold.

Corridor: The existing gondola corridor is being tripled in width

Some of the wood’s expected to be exported while some of the timber that’s not commercial grade will be sold locally for firewood.

While there’s plenty of fencing and signs all around the work zone, access to mountain bike and walking tracks isn’t affected.

But, Douglas says, it’s imperative people stay clear of the site.

As for the overall project, which will, eventually, see a new five-storey, 449-space carpark in Brecon Street, a new lower terminal building, the installation of 35 10-seat Doppelmayr gondola cabins, and a significant upgrade to the upper complex – including a wrap-around viewing deck – Douglas says things are moving.

“People will be able to see more evidence of things happening next year, from probably autumn on we’ll start to crack into things.”

While the carpark will be the first cab off the rank in terms of development, Skyline Enterprises is getting pretty close to confirming its gondola order, which it needs to do about 18 months before they are required.

“I would expect that it would be very early next year it would be confirmed,” Douglas says.