Remembering a local tourism visionary

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Original Milford monorail proponent Philip Phillips, who died last week, was a tourism visionary and former industry leader. 

Welsh-born Phillips shifted to Queenstown from Christchurch in 1985, but had already made a mark on the resort as former managing director of the Mount Cook Group. 

Under his watch the former transport and skifield giant, which owned Coronet Peak, also developed a sister Queenstown skifield, The Remarkables. 

Phillips also introduced Coronet’s summer cresta run and introduced inflight services like free wine into Hawker Siddeleys that flew into the resort. 

In 1987 he unveiled plans for a 110km monorail from Queenstown to the Homer Tunnel, near Milford, via Glenorchy and the Greenstone valley. 

An early partner was South Island iwi Ngai Tahu. 

Since 2002, however, his Riverstone Holdings has been majority-owned by Wanaka-based developer Bob Robertson though Phillips remained a director and small shareholder. 

The monorail route was changed to Snowdon Forest, near Te Anau, as part of a Fiordland Link Experience proposal that also involves a catamaran from Queenstown and an all-terrain vehicle leg. 

The controversial proposal, like the Milford Dart Tunnel, is waiting for sign-off by Conservation Minister Nick Smith. 

Wanaka-based Riverstone Holdings director John Beattie says he regularly crossed the Crown Range to update Phillips on developments till just a few months ago. 

Phillips was also a former chairman of the council-owned Queenstown Airport Corporation. 

In this role he sometimes clashed swords with then-mayor Warren Cooper. 

Phillips also floated several other ventures including a gondola cableway across the lake to Kelvin Heights, a butterfly aviary in the Queenstown Gardens and a restaurant under Lake Wakatipu. 

“He wasn’t trying to just make money for himself, he had wider interests at heart,” Beattie says. 

Phillips, in continuous ill-health with several hospitalisations since suffering a stroke some years ago, is survived by his wife Brenda and children Caroline, Penny and Philip.