Gondola expansion revealed


Queenstown’s highest-volume tourism attraction is lifting its sights.

Skyline Enterprises is preparing to redevelop its famous gondola attraction to keep pace with visitor growth over the next 20 to 30 years.

It’s started planning for a larger gondola cableway to double capacity, an extended top terminal complex and a new bottom terminal.

Project managers, planners and architects met this Tuesday as the company embarks on a two-year planning exercise.

In responding to recent and predicted tourism growth, Skyline aims to stay ahead of the game, chairman Mark Quickfall says.

“Unless you start planning now, you get caught out. People don’t want to be queuing for half an hour or 40 minutes just to take a short gondola ride.”

In the last financial year, numbers riding the gondola rose 13.6 per cent to 682,555.

Quickfall says it’s important that burgeoning peak-time numbers don’t turn into a negative visitor experience.

A new gondola cableway - the first since the current system was installed in 1987 – would double capacity, he says.

Currently, the 21 four-person cabins can take up to 700 customers an hour. In turn, a larger gondola system will require a remodelled bottom terminal, Quickfall says.

“We’re going through at the moment to see what parts we can retain but it would probably be fair to say it will pretty well be a rebuild.”

The top terminal, housing Skyline’s dining offerings, retail outlet and other attractions, would be extended.

The present structure, with stunning views over Lake Wakatipu, and also back to Coronet Peak, was built in 1994.

Quickfall says the new development will service not just growing visitor numbers but also the increasing number of gondola-accessed activities.

“If you look back at when the last upgrade was done, or in prior times, if you asked somebody back then, could you visualise mountain biking, luge carts and all those other bits and pieces, probably the answer’s ‘no’.”

Quickfall can’t put a figure on what the redevelopment will cost but says the target date for work to start is 2018.

“Part of the planning is to make a start on some of the changes while we’re still operating, but there will be a closedown period.”

Destination Queenstown chief executive Graham Budd says it’s very pleasing to see that Skyline is planning a significant investment in infrastructure.

“I would put that in a similar category to the significant investment that NZSki has put into its skifields in recent times.

“These are long-term visionary investments.”

While future-proofing its business, Budd says Skyline is “ensuring that the visitor experience is always going to be a good one”.

“When you’re at capacity or can’t take people, that detracts from the experience.”