EXCLUSIVE: Queenstown tourism firm makes huge plays

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A major Queenstown tourism player has made its second significant purchase in a month – swooping on a prime lakefront landholding. 

Real Journeys, operator of famous tourist steamer TSS Earnslaw, has snapped up 155 hectares of scenic Walter Peak lakefront land. 

The much-photographed property, which Earnslaw passengers visit on daily lake cruises, includes Colonels Homestead Restaurant, a woolshed for sheep-shearing demos and gift shop. 

The purchase, for an undisclosed sum, comes two weeks after Real Journeys settled on Cardrona skifield, between Queenstown and Wanaka, for just over $35 million. 

The company has also been busy upgrading its Walter Peak restaurant and menu ahead of a major competitor launching a rival lake cruise/high country station product. 

Tourism giant Southern Discoveries started operating a 140-seat catamaran, the Spirit of Queenstown, on Lake Wakatipu on Tuesday. 

The cat, forced to delay its first cruise while it got certified, is also about to offer a high country experience at Mt Nicholas, just up the lake from Walter Peak.

Real Journeys’ Walter Peak purchase not only gives the firm’s operations security, but returns another major local tourist attraction into domestic hands. 

Cardrona was owned by Australian-based Vealls. Walter Peak resort property was owned by Singapore’s Convelle Enterprises, which started with eight hectares in 1991.

 

“It’s nice to be able to bring another iconic piece of NZ back into local hands,” Real Journeys chief executive Richard Lauder says. 

Both acquisitions signify the company’s willingness to diversify and grow, he adds. 

“Walter Peak and the Colonels Homestead mean to lot to Real Journeys from both a historical and business perspective.” 

Lauder confirms his company approached Convelle to buy Walter Peak – the vendor had it on the market a few years ago for $25m. 

Real Journeys commercial director Tony McQuilkin says the fact both parties had enjoyed a good relationship certainly helped. 

Lauder: “We intend to continue to improve Walter Peak as a destination and therefore felt ownership was the best way forward. To move from tenant to owner secures our position and enables future growth.” 

That may include more attractions and facilities to enhance the property, he says. 

Real Journeys has incorporated Walter Peak in its Earnslaw trips for decades, though at one stage in the 1980s it ran to Mt Nicholas. 

The Walter Peak tourist farm gets 130,000 visitors a year. The historic Colonels Homestead which dates back to 1907 was rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire in 1977. 

The sale of Walter Peak resort – separate from a 26,000ha high country farm behind it – marks the end of an era for Convelle, which also bought eight Queenstown CBD properties in the early 1990s. 

They were sold at auction in 2004, for almost $60m, to local Skyline Enterprises. 

Real Journeys is running a locals’ special this month for its new gourmet BBQ at the homestead – $50 for lunch or dinner and a trip on the Earnslaw.