Skyline advances “spectacular” glacier gondola project

Franz Josef Glacier in spring 2014. Image: Pseudopanax

Skyline Enterprises’ proposed Franz Josef Glacier Gondola project will be a “spectacular” attraction well positioned to capture growing West Coast tourism numbers.

The tourism group is progressing its investigations into developing a 4km gondola which would give the 500,000 people who pass through the West Coast annually an “affordable” way to access the glacier.

Speaking to the Ticker, Skyline Enterprises chairman Mark Quickfall said the idea for the attraction developed after a collapse in the glacier face in 2012 restricted access.

Since then, outside of viewing from the base, you can only get access via a flight which is weather dependent and due to its cost is not an option for all visitors.

He said: “Developing a gondola will allow a lot of people to get access at an affordable price and inject a bit more activity into the West Coast areas of Franz and Fox Glacier.”

The group, already runs gondola attractions in Queenstown and Rotorua, and its subsidiary Glacier Helicopters offer flights to the West Coast glacier.

Quickfall said that until all the surveys of the area are nailed down the exact quantum of the investment into the project cannot be determined, but “the top line is that we see it as worthwhile financially”.

He added that whether the project was funded off balance sheet or with bank finance depended on timing, as the group is also committed to a circa $100m redevelopment of its iconic Queenstown gondola.

In its results for the year to March 2017, Skyline posted a 26% hike in pretax profit to $85.1m on revenue of $180.5m.

It has net assets of $321m and operating cashflow of $61m.

Current plans would see the gondola run parallel to the glacier to a landing point in the snow where there would be a viewing platform and toilets, but there are no plans to add commercial facilities such as a restaurant.

“We don’t see it being a highly developed, it has to be appropriate for a national park,” Quickfall said.

With the retreat of the winter snow on the glacier, Skyline is currently advancing extensive geotechnical surveys to identify the best route for the positioning of gondola towers.

“This is a continuous process as we gather more geotechnical information and continue to tighten the gondola route. We are scoping out our requirements with two of the world’s major lift companies throughout this process and will be carrying out more survey work now that the snow is retracting.”

The group is working on a submission and application to allow the installation of the gondola under the Department of Conservation’s Westland Tai Poutini National Park Management Plan, which is currently under review by DoC and the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board.

Skyline will apply to have an ‘amenities area’ established to accommodate the gondola as part of DoC’s review.

“Subject to the amenities area being included in the plan, we will then apply for a concession and resource consent,” Quickfall adds.

“We will provide environmental, technical and financial evidence in support of the project. The community and wider economic benefits and impacts will also be included.”

Developments at Franz Josef come as Skyline prepares to celebrate 50 years of their iconic gondola product at Skyline Queenstown in November.

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