'It's a nightmare': Queenstown 'a construction site' as visitors arrive

It's known as the jewel in New Zealand's tourism crown - but when the first international flight in 330 days landed in Queenstown this week, visitors were greeted with road cones, construction sites, detours, fences and scaffolding.

The centre of Queenstown is undergoing a major facelift designed to improve the town for locals and visitors but, in the meantime, there's a lot of construction to navigate - and not everyone is happy about it.

The tourism capital, which was severely impacted by Covid-19 lockdowns, faces a hurdle in its revival as construction keeps foot traffic away from businesses and frustrates those trying to get around town.

There are two major projects underway in Queenstown: the street upgrade programme and the town centre arterial project. Both affect numerous streets in the centre of the town, with fencing hiding away most shop windows and pedestrians having to navigate a maze of detours.

The street upgrade project has a budget of $60 million, which includes $35m in funding from the Crown Infrastructure Partners and the remainder funded by Queensland Lakes District Council.

According to the council, design and construction of stage 1 of the town centre arterial project will cost $86.5m, with the council funding $36.5m and the Government funding the remaining $50m.

Hanging on the construction fences, numerous posters guarantee that specific stores on the street are still open but it's up to shoppers whether they want to brave the obstacles to get to them.

For business owner Melissa Stadler, the problem isn't that roadworks are happening - it's that there are too many all at once, without the manpower to make it all happen on time.

The owner of Surreal Bar said: "I honestly think they should have made their to-do list and crossed one thing off at a time. It just seems pointless, there's not the manpower to do the work at such a large scale. We are all in the same boat, short of staff, but it could have been better managed.

"It'll definitely affect us in the long run, with the loss of foot traffic, dust, noise, and everything that comes along with a construction of this size," she adds.

"I believe in the project, just not in the way it's been handled."

According to Stadler, fences were up on Rees St for five weeks before any workers arrived.

Delays and lack of communication make it all the more frustrating for Queenstown businesses, who are keen to welcome international visitors but have nowhere to roll out the proverbial red carpet.

"Queenstown has become a little bit busier but we're missing the foot traffic outside our shop. The noise has also been pretty devastating," says Mallory Perigo from Miller Road Fragrance Studio.

"Queenstown looks really messy at the moment," she says. "It's disrupting many businesses and it's definitely affecting the number of tourists coming into town."

"It's been really slow. They've had delays due to Covid but I think maybe also organisational issues," she adds.

Perigo, who works on Beach St, one of the town's main arteries, says "not hearing from [the council] for weeks on end" has also been an issue. She says they have occasionally been in touch to apologise for delays.

Lack of communication is one of the issues that has also been frustrating Kelly Nelson, general manager of the Queenstown Ice Arena.

Road closures mean the access to the arena keeps changing and, without proper signage, there are many times when people don't know where to find them or whether they are even open.

"The routes to us are changing almost weekly," she said.

Nelson says over the past few weeks she has been trying to get more communication from the council about the projects.

"There have been a few slip-ups," she says. Signage has not been put up, all access to the site has been closed and the water was even shut off twice without appropriate warning.

"This will be people's experience in Queenstown, a construction site," she says. "I feel for the businesses in town. It's a nightmare, it looks like every business is closed. I don't think it's necessary."

Another Queenstown local who spoke to the Herald but did not want to be named said some spots in town have been "dug up for months with no one on-site".

"I wouldn't even use the word delay, this is literally everything is dug up at once, minimal people on-site, no night works, it's absolutely bloody critical," the man, who's lived in Queenstown for 15 years, said.

"They're doing everything at once. The pace of it just doesn't make sense. It's a nightmare now, and wait till winter when there is 20 times the number of people in town."

A spokesperson for Queenstown Lakes District Council told the Herald that the "Queenstown street upgrade programme and town centre arterial project are progressing well".

"While the construction is significant, we're working very hard to ensure people can get into and around town," the spokesperson said.

"In addition to the visible work that will modernise downtown Queenstown – improving accessibility, increasing active transport options and providing a much-improved environment for locals and visitors to enjoy – there has also been a significant amount of work underground. While the public won't see this, the work is essential to future-proof the town's essential services."

According to the council, upgrades to Upper Beach St are on track to be completed over winter. Upgrades to Rees St are expected to be finished in December, and upgrades to Brecon St are due to be finished in line with the scheduled programme completion date of February 2023. Stage 1 of the Town Centre Arterial is targeted for completion in May 2024.

"We absolutely acknowledge the challenges and disruption that such a major town centre project brings, including any delays caused by last year's lockdowns, the challenges of a tight labour market, shipping delays with construction materials, and managing staff isolation during the current Omicron outbreak. Through all of this we continue to work as closely as possible with local businesses and services providers to work through any issues," the spokesperson added.

Although none of the local people the Herald spoke to denied the upgrades were necessary, they were all frustrated by the delay and what they described as a lack of communication from the council. They were also worried that, after two years of almost no tourism, this year's ski season would see tourists frustrated and unable to get around town.


I agree 100% with this article. We stayed there Anzac weekend 2022 and was appalled at all the work happening at once. On our visit in Easter 2021, Beach St alongside the Steamer Wharf was completely blocked off, with just one pedestrian access point from the lakeside. It was really hurting those businesses and was horrified to see it was no better in April 2022. How they are still in business I don't know

A spokesperson for Queenstown Lakes District Council told the Herald that the "Queenstown street upgrade programme and town centre arterial project are progressing well".

"While the construction is significant, we're working very hard to ensure people can get into and around town," the spokesperson said.

Yeah...right !. When ol' Jim Boult departs...Queenstown should also use one of those "Construction" brooms....to have a good sweep out of QLDC "Managers"

Definitely time for a Clean Out..

This is terrible...Queenstowners and Tourists must not be treated like this. Imagine what it must be like to have noise and dust and blockages from upgrafes...terrible, horrifying and very inconvenient. With Queenstown being the Jewel in our Crown this sort of work should only be done in a way that is completely invisible and silent or not done at all. Queenstowners and Tourists are The Most Important People in New Zealand....the rest of us are ...well...just the Tail on the Pig.

One thing people and mayor of Queenstown are good at: whinging and complaining. First, no tourists, then not enough staff, now this. Get over it. All NZ and its people have their problems.



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