High, or pie, in the sky?

Talk of a gondola from the middle of Queenstown to the airport should not be summarily dismissed as pie in the sky.

While the chances of such a project ever proceeding must be low, Queenstown is a unique place with unique challenges. As it confronts its booming future, the movers and the shakers must be prepared to think beyond the obvious and the conventional.

The town and the Wakatipu Basin have had much more of a ``can-do'' and entrepreneurial spirit than most places. If such a gondola were to be constructed, it would be here.

It is now 51 years since passengers first rode the Skyline gondola up Bob's Peak above the town. When it celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, it was estimated 17 million had taken the trip.

When it was launched in 1967 many sceptics thought the southern hemisphere's first detachable gondola would flounder. How wrong they were.

The latest gondola idea would not happen soon, if at all, even under the most optimistic forecasts. Physical work is not, it is understood, contemplated before the 2030s.

The two potential roadblocks, and they are massive, are the economics/logistics and environmental/consent issues.

Would the current gondola have won permission these days to cut a swath through public land and trees above Queenstown? And would a building jutting out at the top over the town be allowed? Imagine the opposition to a new structure going over Queenstown Hill. Imagine the visual impact as well as the effect on the privacy of every home near the gondola line.

Entry to central Queenstown is either along Frankton Rd, which is already as wide as possible, or round the back via Arthurs Point. There have to be ways to bring ever-increasing numbers of people - staff, residents and tourists - into town and probably also from the airport. At least, a gondola and light rail are options to consider.

The expanded Wakatipu Basin $2 bus service has had some success, but is still hamstrung by the limits on its service as it struggles to find sufficient drivers. Other long-term options could be less labour intensive.

If the gondola idea is going to work for residents as well as tourists, as it must, the price to ride must be relatively low. That implies heavy use, efficiency and commuter subsidies, most likely through the NZ Transport Agency and the Otago Regional Council and perhaps the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

Gondolas are used successfully in some parts of the world, and a Queenstown operation could include terminals, such as train stops. Possibly, more of Queenstown Hill could be opened up for housing if people living there could travel to town via the gondola. Nevertheless, the scale of the challenges are apparent.

The history of gondola proposals in the South is bleak. The so-called Milford Skyrail, a Skyline Enterprises and Ngai Tahu plan through the Caples Valley, met sustained and widespread opposition and died. Consent was granted in 2008 for gondolas from Cardrona up to the Snow Farm and Snow Park and from the Matukituki Valley to the Treble Cone skifield. Both ran into the Global Financial Crisis and have gone nowhere.

The Porter Group, Queenstown, has a plan for a $50million, 10km, gondola from Remarkables Park Town Centre in Frankton to the Remarkables ski area base building. Who knows when that might progress to the consent stage? Another possibility is from Cardrona up the other side of the valley to the ski area there. In early dream territory is the idea of a gondola up the steep, direct and short route from Arrowtown to Mt Cardrona.

A gondola from Queenstown's CBD to the airport seems most unlikely. But given the speed of growth there, it would be a bold call to say there was no chance.



Would be an even bolder person to write this article without doing the basic sums on the maximum throughput of a gondola compared to other options.

One lane can carry one vehicle safely, every 2 seconds (the 2 second rule) at 50km/hr. that is your starting point of comparison.

What frustrates me is that this is the only real publicity we have seen of any bold solutions for Queenstown's transport problem. I realise this is for the town centre upgrade project, but the public talking point is now the gondola, ergo transport. Its good they are having a crack. But...

From the context of throughput, I would like to also see the options for ferries, bus priority or a bridge over the Frankton Arm from Kelvin Heights as part of this publicity.

From the context of a lovely journey, a gondola would be cool. But why not connect it straight through to the Skyline Building from Queenstown Hill. Now that would be bold! Wouldn't require any expensive terminal works in the town centre either. And, it would be the private sector taking the risk.

There is no chance. Think harder.