Case still argued for airport at Five Rivers

Basil Walker
Basil Walker
Would the Queenstown Airport Corporation be better building a new airport near Lumsden, in Southland, than developing Wanaka Airport?

The answer is "yes", according to Basil Walker, of Queenstown, who has been promoting the idea for nearly 30 years.

Mr Walker made  headlines in the 1990s with his plan for a  Five Rivers/Castlerock international airport on farmland 86km south of Queenstown Airport.

He told the Otago Daily Times last week he was "staggered" by the amount of interest still being shown in the idea, particularly during current discussions about increased air traffic through Queenstown Airport.

He believed the Five Rivers idea was 20 years ahead of its time, and "perhaps I didn’t bring the people along with my vision".

But he believed it continued to have merit, and he had a great amount of technical information on the project that was still valid.

While he was not suggesting Five Rivers replace Queenstown Airport, he believed it was a better option than the dual Queenstown-Wanaka model the Queenstown Airport Corporation is investigating.

The corporation dismissed the Five Rivers idea in its master plan, and suggested while the site had some advantages (a higher tolerance for aircraft noise being one), the distance and the standard of roading infrastructure were "negative factors".

But Mr Walker reckoned for every point the corporation could raise against Five Rivers, he could find an argument in favour. He proposed a Five Rivers airport would cater for more than just tourist traffic.

Unlike Queenstown — or Wanaka — the topography made it capable of handling the world’s biggest cargo aircraft, he said.

And that would position it as a hub for agricultural and horticultural exports — fresh vegetables for Sydney, fresh fruit for Japan, and out-of-season tulip bulbs for the northern hemisphere.

"I realised the whole horticultural world could open up because we are on the other side of the world ... and with a large runway we had freight capacity."I don’t see Wanaka being able to offer that."

Five Rivers was closer than Wanaka to the tourist destinations of Te Anau and the Fiordland National Park, he said, but it was the freight possibilities that were its major advantage.

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