Fire sale after firm felled

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Chipping away: Albert de Koning

At 81 years old, Albert de Koning has nearly come to terms with retiring.

The Superior Firewood owner is liquidating his company because he can’t find a suitable new location.

He admits he may have done his dash – having owned and operated the business for about 30 years.

“I am 81 and everybody says ‘why do you do it?’ and I say ‘I still feel quite fit, and well, why not?”‘

De Koning has basically been squatting on Queenstown Airport Corporation land, at the end of Glenda Drive, for nearly two years.

He didn’t sign a lease and hasn’t paid rent. The airport company’s now rightfully reclaiming its land.

The old woodsman got notice in February and he’s got to be gone by August 15. De Koning’s had no luck finding another site.

“It’s very difficult to find suitable land at a reasonable price.”

He’s planning to auction off his gear, including two diggers, a dual wood splitter and a truck, early next month.

Originally from the Netherlands, De Koning moved to New Zealand when he was 20.

He worked alongside logging companies in Invercargill for a while, was a silage contractor, farmer and used to be part of the biggest sheep shearing contractor in New Zealand – while based in Southland. He bought a house in Queenstown in the early 1980s.

Despite years of laborious work, he’s still on the fence about retiring.

“In a way I’m sort of disappointed but, you know, you can’t go on forever,” he says.

He’s also gutted to lay off staff.

This isn’t the first time De Koning’s been moved on because of the airport.

Nearly 10 years ago his company was evicted from the Shotover River delta, owned by the local council, so the airport’s runway could be extended.

Today he’s got no hard feelings.

“It’s the right time, the way it’s happened.”

The keen worker knows of at least one person who’s glad he’s finally downing tools.

“My wife is very happy.”

Airport company mouthpiece Naomi Lindsay says once its land has been cleared the site will be “remediated”.

Lease requests will be considered “at the right time”.

mandy.cooper@scene.co.nz