Fortunes still rising for Queenstown's gondola

By Tracey Roxburgh

Original Skyline managing director Jon Dumble (left) and former Queenstown mayor Warren Cooper reminisce as they ride on the gondola on Friday. Photo / Tracey Roxburgh
Original Skyline managing director Jon Dumble (left) and former Queenstown mayor Warren Cooper reminisce as they ride on the gondola on Friday. Photo / Tracey Roxburgh

It was one of the most innovative ideas in New Zealand tourism but 45 years after the Skyline gondola in Queenstown carried its first passengers to the top of Bob's Peak, the company behind it has achieved more than anyone believed possible.

Last Saturday marked the 45th anniversary of Skyline Enterprises' gondola - officially opened on November 17, 1967.

The company, which has diversified its operations at the summit and its income streams over the years, will welcome its 14 millionth visitor on the gondola this summer.

Original managing director Jon Dumble said public opinion was "50-50" when the idea for the southern hemisphere's first detachable gondola was mooted.

"There was a strong feeling that it would not be successful, because it was completely innovative.

"The mayor at the time [George Cochrane] was very dubious."

Its proponents had to negotiate with both central Government and the Queenstown Borough Council for the land, a process which was "not easy", Mr Dumble said.

It was thought the gondola would "potter along quite happily and make a reasonable income for those 15 original shareholders", he said, but there was "no concept" of its future success.

Skyline Enterprises chairman Ken Matthews said while the council of the time had made some "very sound and pragmatic decisions", the success of the operation, and the company, boiled down to "a great idea".

One of the gondola's legacies was the other business opportunities which had opened up, allowing a diversification of income stream and also providing employment, locally, nationally and internationally.

Former Queenstown mayor Warren Cooper, a councillor in 1967, recalled being in the third gondola on opening day.

"I think in general the public were quite excited. It was something very different for New Zealand and of course for Queenstown."

However, building the gondola in today's climate would be difficult, if not impossible, he said.

"It seems to me that roads and tunnels and gondolas and monorails lead people to places of great beauty, and we should be prepared to allow people to enjoy that.

"We need more things like that and we should never allow ourselves to run out of ideas."

- Otago Daily Times

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