For SkyCity Entertainment Group chief executive Graeme Stephens, a staycation is the ideal Christmas/New Year break, preferably spending time with his family and paddling the Waitemata or cycling forest tracks surrounding Auckland.

"I like being outside. I've been working since I arrived," said the Zimbabwe-born boss of his move from Johannesburg earlier this year to take over the Australasian business of SkyCity.

Now, he just wants to be around his family, on the sea or in the forest during the summer break.

"My wife and kids love it here so we're going to be here. I'll be on the mountain bike in the Woodhill forest or on my surf ski narrow canoe, at Narrow Neck or Takapuna. I've got a very bright yellow life jacket," said the former chief executive of South Africa's Sun International, with 28 casinos, 4000 hotel rooms and 13,000 employees.


Auckland continues to surprise and delight this Stanley Bay resident who tells how Canadian Geese were on Ngataringa Bay mid-December, of the thrill of loud birdsong in his garden and how much he is enjoying Auckland.

But not all the holidays will be spent here.

For part of January, the family has rented a bach at the northern end of the Coromandel for a complete break.

On the business calendar, Stephens sees 2018 as being one of milestones.

"The year ahead holds a lot for SkyCity, with the NZ International Convention Centre coming out of the ground as well as work starting on the A$330m (NZ$364m) Adelaide expansion", he said, "and 2018 will be the year in which we get contractors on that site and start building."

New chief operating officer Michael Ahearne will start on January 1 and ex-NZME executive Liza McNally starts in the newly created role of chief marketing officer on January 22.

What SkyCity does with its Darwin property is a decision yet to be taken. It wrote down Darwin's goodwill by A$95m in July, due to increased competition pressures in the gaming machine business after the Northern Territory Government removed the cap on gaming machines in the territory. That resulted in a 75 per cent rise in the number of Darwin gaming machines outside of the casino, SkyCity said.

"We have not made any decision yet. It's not a crisis for us. It's still making money but a lot less than it used to," Stephens said of the Darwin property.

Asked about new ventures for SkyCity in the year ahead, Stephens names two areas: "We'll be keeping a close eye on what's happening in the online space because online gambling is growing substantially globally. One of our new marketing initiatives is to dovetail more with cruise ships, making sure we engage with them when they're in port."

Asked about the biggest issue for the new Government to champion in 2018, Stephens is adamant that one issue is paramount: "Long term, it's the infrastructure deficit. It's a major issue [which] keeps cropping up. Infrastructure remains Auckland's biggest issue. Local government can't do it on their own."