Moonlight Stables door shuts

End of an era: Geoff and Janice Clear with one of their last remaining trekking horses, Mr White. PICTURE: MARK HOBBS

An Arrow Junction property sale marks the end of an era. After 60 years, horse-trekking business Moonlight Stables is closing down, along with the more recently-established Moonlight Country function centre. The owners for the past 30 years, Janice and Geoff Clear, talk to PHILIP CHANDLER about why they’re leaving with no regrets

When it began 60 years ago, Moonlight Stables preceded even the Skyline gondola and Shotover Jet as a Queenstown tourism attraction — but now the horses have bolted.

Janice and Geoff Clear, who bought the business 30 years ago, have sold the Arrow Junction property, which both the stables and the Moonlight Country function centre operated from, to new owners, who’re not carrying them on.

‘‘That last [Covid] lockdown is what made us put our hand up and go, ‘yep, it’s time’’’, Geoff says.

The couple, who’ve just about sold all their horses, are leaving with no regrets.

‘‘It gave us a fantastic lifestyle, and it has brought the world to us,’’ Janice says.

However, they’re also closing the stable door on an attraction that’s given many thousands of visitors a special taste of Queenstown, and New Zealand, rural life.

It was started in 1962 by horseman Roy Murdoch and ex-Arthurs Point publican Fred Boylan, who were later joined by famous Kiwi country singer/songwriter John Hore Grenell.

Originally based behind the Arthurs Point pub, it shifted towards the nearby Oxenbridge Tunnel, above the Shotover River.

The attraction was renowned for taking horse trekkers along the precipitous but scenic Moonlight Track, high above the Shotover.

Jenny and Pete McLeod bought it in ’76, then sold it 10 years later to Arrow International, which at the time owned Ben Lomond Station.

Janice, then working for another stables, was asked to manage the business for Arrow.

Geoff: ‘‘I said, ‘why don’t you see if we can buy it?’, and they said ‘yes’.’’

After buying it, a big flood in ’94 cut off road access to the stables.

The couple then relocated the business to Doonholme farm, which Janice’s parents Dot and Alan Hamilton owned.

They operated from a hay barn while Geoff, a former builder, built stables.

‘‘The day I finished that, I started building the house, then after that Janice gave me the job of collecting horse poo.’’

In ’99, the couple diversified into conferencing by building ‘The Barn’, which they put into a separate business, Moonlight Country.

That business also included, for a while, a high-ropes course that functioned as a team building exercise.

While Janice ran the horse treks, Geoff took function bookings, built props and often MC’ed events and played drums when a band was needed.

Their biggest event was hosting about 1000 people for the World Golden Oldies cricket tournament in 2008.

For about 15 years, they also hosted a Melbourne Cup function, one of the resort’s longest running fundraisers, which raised more than $600,000 for child cancer and CanTeen charities.

As a charity contribution, the couple also hosted teen cancer sufferers from Otago/Southland.

‘‘These poor kids, some didn’t even get to be young adults, but we wanted our kids to understand what cancer was about,’’ Geoff says.

During Moonlight Stables’ heyday, the couple welcomed up to five coach-loads a day, and kept up to 74 horses.

Many visitors had never been on grass, let alone horses, Geoff says.

‘‘What we take for granted, as Kiwis, visitors would take as an extreme privilege.’’

‘‘Many would send back letters saying it was the highlight of their trip,’’ Janice adds.

A highlight for many was meeting Janice’s dad, recently-deceased Alan Hamilton, and trekking through his deer farm — likely the only commercial trekking business in NZ to do that.

The Clears say it was a hands-on business that their children Zoe, particularly, and Max and Ryan also helped with.

Janice: ‘‘All the staff that helped us, we were one extended family, and they made it for us, as well, because they all stayed for a few years.’’

Having both had health issues, Janice, 63, and Geoff, 62, are looking forward to having time for themselves and going overseas to visit clients who’ve become friends.

Geoff says: ‘‘When tourism comes back to whatever it’s going to be, I think the owner-operator is going to be squeezed out, these companies are so big now, you can’t compete against them.’’

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