Photos a reminder of major change

Ron Keen’s photograph, taken from the Remarkables, showing the extent of development in Frankton and Queenstown in 1958. Photo: Ron Keen
Ron Keen’s photograph, taken from the Remarkables, showing the extent of development in Frankton and Queenstown in 1958. Photo: Ron Keen
This photo, taken from the Remarkables recently, shows the growth that has happened in the...
This photo, taken from the Remarkables recently, shows the growth that has happened in the intervening 60 years. Much of the growth in Frankton has taken place over the past four years. Photo: Guillaume Charton
Development can be seen sprawling across the Frankton Flats in this shot taken last week. The new Wakatipu High School is seen centre, with new hotels behind it and the Queenstown Airport to the right. The area closer to the Kawarau River is being develop
Development can be seen sprawling across the Frankton Flats in this shot taken last week. The new Wakatipu High School is seen centre, with new hotels behind it and the Queenstown Airport to the right. The area closer to the Kawarau River is being...
A view of Frankton’s southern end taken from Kelvin Heights last week, showing high rise hotel buildings near Queenstown Airport. Photo: Craig Baxter
A view of Frankton’s southern end taken from Kelvin Heights last week, showing high rise hotel buildings near Queenstown Airport. Photo: Craig Baxter
A pre-1960 view of Frankton from the air, with the Frankton Arm at bottom and the Remarkables at back. Photos: Lakes District Museum
A pre-1960 view of Frankton from the air, with the Frankton Arm at bottom and the Remarkables at back. Photos: Lakes District Museum
A typical Frankton crib in Stewart St, 1958.
A typical Frankton crib in Stewart St, 1958.

Two photographs, taken from the Remarkables 60 years apart, show how much Queenstown and its satellite town of Frankton have changed. Some say the Wakatipu’s charms were ruined long ago by rampant development, while others say it is going from strength to strength. Guy Williams takes a look.

Sixty years ago, on a hot February morning, a 19-year-old Dunedin lad named Ron Keen was scrambling up Double Cone on the Remarkables with a group of Rover Scouts when he took a photograph of Queenstown and Frankton far below.

Now 80, Ron Keen came across the image recently while sorting through old slides. It caused him to reflect on how much the landscape has changed in the intervening years, enough to send a copy to the Otago Daily Times.

Now a retired land surveyor living in Geraldine, Mr Keen said he was once a frequent visitor to Queenstown, usually while passing through to the tramping country at the head of Lake Wakatipu.

But he had not been for some years now because he found it ''overcrowded''.

''We avoid it now - most of our friends of a similar age feel pretty much the same way.''

Queenstown is now the pulsating heart of the fastest-growing district in the country; one where the population is forecast to rise from about 28,000 to 45,000 by 2030.

Lakes District Museum director David Clarke said if a Queenstown resident from 1958 arrived back in the area today, they would think they were ''on Mars''.

In 1958, Queenstown was a summer-time holiday spot, deathly quiet for the rest of the year except for a brief ski season at Coronet Peak - then only 10 years old and boasting a rope tow and a few hardy skiers.

''In those days Queenstown was owner-operated, the shopkeepers knew everyone, there were only four or five pubs,'' Mr Clarke said.

''Even in the '60s and '70s it was just a ramshackle little place.''

But in those decades the foundations of Queenstown's modern economy were being laid by a handful of entrepreneurial young men, some of them ''World War 2 guys with a bit of adrenaline still running''.

They included Ian Hamilton and Hylton Hensman with their gondola up the hill behind the village, and Frank Haworth and his ''Meteor'' tourist boat excursions in Lake Wakatipu.

That industry continued to evolve with the likes of Shotover Jet, Coronet Peak, a second skifield, AJ Hackett bungy and other ventures into today's huge array of adventure activities.

Together with the Wakatipu's consistent climate, scenic grandeur, proximity to wilderness and the development of its airport, that tourism economy had developed a size and momentum that had turned Queenstown into an international tourism drawcard.

Long-time Queenstown resident and former mayor Warren Cooper scoffs at the idea that commercial and residential development is undermining the resort's appeal.

''I think it gets better every year - the waves of development are part of what makes Queenstown.

''You'll still always have the autumn colours, the mountains. It's something to be proud of as a country.''

The resort was still riding a tourism wave that had sparked a ''quite extraordinary'' building boom.

''If you look back from only 25 years ago, it's bewildering, and it's still going on.''

Mr Cooper said although development in central Queenstown had never surprised him, he had been astounded by the transformation of Frankton in the past four years.

Dunedin-born and raised, he moved to Queenstown in 1955 when his parents bought McBride's Hotel.

Despite a 21-year career in national politics, the resort had always been his home base, and he had lived there continuously since 1995.

His parents' hotel had been one of only four in the township, the borough council had a handful of workers, and there was one taxi, doctor, policeman and lawyer.

In another 60 years, the Wakatipu would be a large, sprawling city, and the district council had less ability to control the shape of that development than it thought.

The decisions that counted were made by ''doers and achievers'', he said.

Proof of that was the residential housing beginning to sweep along the Frankton-Ladies Mile highway, the resort's so-called 'rural gateway'.

Only a couple of years ago, building on that land had been regarded as ''absolutely sacrosanct''.

''Even the Mayor [Jim Boult] was against it, but some consultant planners from Auckland said 'no, you should go ahead'.''

Mr Clarke said Frankton was no longer playing second fiddle to central Queenstown, as it had done since the 1860s.

'It's booming now because Queenstown's geographically challenged, and people are looking for flat land to develop.''

Although Frankton had early proponents for being the best location for a township, once municipal buildings were built in Queenstown Bay it was a no-contest.

He himself had moved to Queenstown about half-way through the 60-year period between the photos, in 1985.

With no hardware store and only a Four Square in Frankton, shopping in the Wakatipu was like ''shopping in Russia''.

''Since then we've gone from shopping in Russia to having every chain store in the country wanting to be a part of it,'' he said.

 

Comments

I had the misfortune to visit Queenstown, briefly, at the beginning of last year. I'm glad I saw and lived there, before rampant commercialism spoilt, what was, a beautiful town and area.

 

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