A year ago there was a wasteland area behind Cromwell's industrial zone, home to brown grass, moths and the odd rabbit. Today, a phenomenal amount of work and millions of dollars later, there is a world-class motorsport facility.
The Highlands Motorsport Park has 4.5 kilometres of pristine race track comprising three linked circuits. Drivers will negotiate over and around a bridge, lake, pine forest, a skid pad and some interesting twists, turns, cambers and corners.
The wealthy backer is Queensland-based racing car enthusiast and pet-food tycoon Tony Quinn. Since he took over the project last year, work has progressed rapidly.
Many locals were only vaguely aware of what was materialising on their back doorstep until it was almost completed.
In addition to the main track, there is a go-kart circuit, mini-golf course, national motorsport museum, cafe, restaurant, library, event centre, car restoration facility and a 48-bay "Gasoline Alley".
As the park took shape late last year, people caught on to what was happening and excitement grew, says operations manager Mike Sentch.
"Tony doesn't throw money around, but he wants everything done properly.The people of Cromwell have really embraced the project."
The tracks would mainly be used by members who pay a joining fee of around $25,000. Many will stable their cars at Gasoline Alley year round, Sentch says. Some might fly in from Australia or elsewhere, be helicoptered from Queenstown to Cromwell for a blast around the track, perhaps do a wine tour and then fly out, he says.
Local involvement is being encouraged with a host of initiatives planned such as a young-driver programme, go- kart club, annual pass system for the museum, as well as car club and specialist driver training opportunities.
The 88-hectare park has been developed with a great deal of originality, Sentch says. The location was chosen mainly because of its proximity to Queenstown's international airport and for the arid climate.
Two and a half thousand pine trees were removed to create the European-style wooded section of curved track, he says.
This, along with all other sections, would be monitored by an innovative camera system. Footage would be constantly fed to screens in a control room and a "First Intervention Vehicle" could be sent instantly if required.
"We have taken out a lot of trees, but there will be 20,000 new plants in the ground by the end," Sentch says. "We are also putting up a solar-power challenge to the schools and polytechnic, and working with developers of green technology in the car industry."
It was likely only three major race events would be hosted each year keeping "noise days" to a minimum. The first is likely to be the Australian GT Series scheduled for November.
Anybody passing aerially will get an extra dose of pride at the sight of the park's giant silver fern, formed by a berm planted with many hundreds of native tussocks.
The Highlands Motorsport Park officially opens at Easter on March 30-31 with demonstrations of old and contemporary New Zealand race cars. Also opening will be the National Museum of Motorsport. Already open is the Nose Cafe/ Restaurant and Wine Tasting.
- © Fairfax NZ News