Farm embraces wedding biz boom


A mega wedding and event venue is planned for Queenstown as the resort stakes its claim to be the heli-wedding capital of the world.

NZ High Country Limited hopes to ride the chopper wedding boom at a whopping 222-hectare farm above Frankton. It’s applied for council permission to run up to 145 events a year on Bill and Matilda Grant’s rural-zoned Cherry Farm, near Lake Johnson.

That’ll include 1000 chopper flights in or out of the site and capacity for more than 20,000 guests a year.

NZ High Country’s director Mike Enright says it will also host conferences and provide a backdrop for filming.

“There’ll be four locations up there with views over the lakes and up to Coronet Peak.

“No one’s really had access to that hill, people look up at it from Frankton, but once you get up there it’s quite spectacular.”

Queenstown Wedding Association president Sarah Arkin says the resort is one of the leading destinations in the world for chopper and mountain top weddings.

More than 1000 couples married here in 2015 - more than half of them flying over from Australia - and the majority take a heli-trip on the big day.

That’s up from 834 in 2014 and about 600 in 2013.

Arkin says there are wide-reaching benefits for the town from the industry’s growth, with hundreds of guests also attending in some cases.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world that does as many heli-weddings, it’s our niche, what we’re known for.

“Fiji is beach weddings, Queenstown is mountain tops.

“It fits really well side-by-side with the tourism operations; nowhere else has this number of helicopters available.”

The Environment Court recently controversially slashed the number of choppers allowed to land at popular spot Skyline.

Only four per day are permitted now, which has affected 13 planned wedding receptions.

But that’s just a drop in the ocean. Arkin says: “There can be 10 weddings a weekend in Queenstown.

“And the popularity of winter weddings and off-season weddings is growing too - it used to be December to April, but we had one of our busiest months in August.”

The association has 120 business members, with double that likely providing services, accommodation and activities.

“Almost every business in Queenstown probably sees a benefit.

“Couples will come for stag and hen dos before hand, wine tours, golf days.”

Luxury hotels such as Matakauri Lodge are already up on the game - offering heli-wedding packages starting at $10,350 including flights, marriage licence and certificate, celebrant, photographer, two nights’ accommodation and champagne.

Happy couples are flown everywhere from the Remarkables to Cecil Peak, Lochnagar, Caples River and Lake Erskine.

The Grants are Enright’s in-laws.

Enright and wife Tineke - who also owns The Barn in Frankton - have been planning the venue for three years. 

The Grants’ land, owned by their trust The New Zealand Guardian Trust Company Limited, is contained within an area of outstanding natural landscape at the eastern end of Queenstown Hill.

The land-use consent seeks permission to operate temporary events on different locations of the steep and undulating site, populated by exotic trees, shrubs and tussock grassland.

Marquees and other temporary buildings will be erected, with guests either choppered or bussed up.

Enright says the effects will be minimal and chopper noise mitigated because the venue is already in Queenstown Airport’s flight path.