Trent Yeo first came to Queenstown for a wedding five years ago and decided it was the place for him.
The Melbourne native behind new adrenaline rush Ziptrek Ecotours – a series of Bob’s Peak flying foxes plus nature walk – loved the proximity of mountains, international community and selection of restaurants.
“I thought I need to be able to live in a place where I can look out my window, look down the main street and see a proper mountain. In Australia that only leaves Hobart. Tasmania’s cool but didn’t have the opportunities I wanted.
“Queenstown outpunches its weight. I like that, being from Melbourne, which is culturally quite deep.”
Not that 34-year-old Yeo has had much time to enjoy the place of late. He’s been working 80 hours a week as Ziptrek nears its official opening day tomorrow.
“It’s been a little bit hectic,” Yeo says, pointing out he had his first day off in a month a few Sundays back.
He went rock climbing in Wanaka but couldn’t completely switch off from Ziptrek – much to the annoyance of his girlfriend.
“I thought I wouldn’t meet anyone who would ask me about Ziptrek but I met someone from Fox Glacier who did and my girlfriend walked away when I started talking about it.
“Actually, she’s been very supportive and I can’t complain at all.”
His involvement with Ziptrek began in 2002 when he started working for the Canadian company’s then-fledgling operation in Whistler ski resort.
Yeo says before getting the job he’d spent 10 years completing a five-year architecture degree, interspersed with being a ski bum in North America and travelling.
Ziptrek combined Yeo’s love for the outdoors and natural environment with “cool architecture” – structures like tree huts which serve as platforms between flying fox ziplines.
“I really wanted to apply [architecture] somehow but it wasn’t going to be putting on a suit and sitting at a CAD machine.”
Yeo admits back in 2002 the whole Ziptrek set-up was “raw” but has grown into what he describes as the “bungy of Whistler”.
The decision to start the second Ziptrek in Queenstown was his – Yeo says that’s despite his business partners suggesting other already-scouted locations that were holding out the welcome mat.
“I really believed in this project, I believed it was a good location and a good fit for Queenstown,” he says.
It’s been a long hard road though. Yeo has been four years setting up Ziptrek’s Queenstown operation.
“I remember the first day that we presented to council. They said we advise you to get planning advice and think you should also get some legal [advice] – that was pretty much the understatement of the century.
“I’ve had lawyers go away on an OE and come back again and we were still going. It’s been an epic.”
Yeo admits the planning process to get consent and a lease – involving a bitter ongoing battle with neighbouring tourism heavyweight Skyline – took longer than anticipated.
“I suppose you come to Queenstown thinking, I’ll set up an adventure tourism business – should be easy. That’s what you do here.
“Knowing the complexity now, new businesses have a lot to weigh up when doing return on investment [calculations].
“I’m not sure where that leaves New Zealand tourism development but I think it’s a lot tougher than it should be.”
For now, an excited Yeo looks forward to sharing his new ride with customers and pushing Ziptrek’s environmental sustainability message, even though that may not be important for others.
“What’s important to a tourist is good old fun that’s accessible and affordable but increasingly people are looking for deeper experiences that represent themselves.
“And to be going on an eco-tourism business that represents sustainability is a true representation of them.”