A new Queenstown tourism player – locked in a bitter Bob’s Peak turf war – claims heavyweight rival Skyline’s felling of a tree crucial to his operation was devastating.
Ziptrek Ecotours director Trent Yeo – opening his giant flying-fox network tomorrow – accuses his gondola neighbour of knowing the 43m Douglas Fir was in an area earmarked for a client landing platform at the end of Ziptrek’s run.
Skyline chairman Ken Matthews is adamant he didn’t know Ziptrek needed the tree but Yeo says: “I find it very hard to believe.”
The Ziptrek boss says the tree’s loss cost his firm valuable time, forcing it to plot a new course requiring fresh consents and lease variations – the extra red tape is still unfinished.
With the tree and platform in place, clients would have had just a short walk down to the gondola carpark. Punters must now finish their two-hour trip with a 15-minute hike back up to the top of the gondola.
A fuming Yeo is reluctant to discuss the tree – “It makes me upset” – but he’s broken his silence on the “bitter state of affairs” between the neighbours.
“I was devastated when I found out [about the tree] because the [flying-fox network] was designed the way it was because [Skyline] asked for it. They asked for it to be relocated in that location.
“We spent so much money re-engineering. We re-engineered that on request then they cut the tree down,” Yeo alleges.
Skyline arborist Abe Laguna felled the fir tree in October last year. Laguna had earlier singled out 14 trees threatening the gondola – the Ziptrek tree was among seven or eight given the chop.
Asked if he knew Ziptrek needed it, Matthews – Skyline’s chief executive at the time – says: “Not at all – categorically not”.
“And we don’t act like that. I entirely refute any suggestion that we would go out there and deliberately fell that tree for any reasons other than for safety.”
Matthews showed Mountain Scene a photo of the tree on a slight lean before felling – and another snapped afterwards showing a visible stump scar, which he says points to decay.
Laguna identified the tree as a hazard to Skyline’s gondola cable or power lines, Matthews says.
“It was going to come down of its own accord if we hadn’t dropped it,” Matthews claims, adding the 43m tree was 24m from the gondola cable and 18m from power lines.
Boasting 20 years experience, Laguna stands by that, saying it wouldn’t have taken much for the tree to fall.
Asked why he didn’t call Yeo before felling it, Matthews says: “It’s my primary responsibility to ensure we maintain a safe and efficient operation.
“It’s spurious of Mr Yeo to suggest that preservation of that tree is so critical to his dismount platform when there are other trees in the immediate area.”
Yeo counters: “If Ken wants to design the tree architecture for us then please go ahead.”
Yeo is confident of the tree and architectural expertise of Ziptrek, which has been operating in Canada’s Whistler since 2002.
“We don’t choose dead trees. Lots of trees have marks on them and are still healthy.”
Matthews admits the tree was outside Skyline’s leased area but he informed Jo Conroy, boss of council contractor Lakes Property Services, that some trees to be felled were outside its zone.
“She said ‘Don’t touch any natives’.”
Matthews says Skyline has “an understanding” with Queenstown Lakes District Council on removing dangerous trees outside its area that are taller than 60m and within 60m of the gondola line. Conroy says she’d never have let Skyline bowl the tree if she’d realised Ziptrek wanted it.
“We don’t go and identify every individual tree [Skyline] wants to cut. I suppose you could say should we? I don’t know,” Conroy says.
The tree isn’t the only tension between Ziptrek and Skyline – the latter’s court challenge to Ziptrek’s resource consent was dismissed last month.
Don’t expect the feuding neighbours to shake hands any time soon.
Yeo: “I’ve gone repeatedly back to them with further offers of ‘Let’s find the middle ground, water under the bridge’ but I repeatedly get it thrown back in my face.
“Clear lines of communication and a good fence for these pretty sad neighbours is the only thing that can happen.”
Matthews: “The manner in which the respective parties do business is at such variance I would be surprised if there was any smoothing of the waters in the foreseeable future.”