Adventure Park 'puts Christchurch on the map'
People thought the Christchurch Adventure Park would never happen.
A $24 million world-class adventure park just minutes from central Christchurch sounded too good to be true.
But not to Fiona Sutton.
The founder and president of Canadian developer Select Evolution had a vision and after spending $4m and almost four years on the project before even putting a spade in the ground, she was not going to turn her back on the development.
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Even when resource consent was granted in January 2015, people doubted the park would happen. When construction started in March 2016, people did not believe the facility would be open nine months later.
"We were very lonely in our belief," Sutton said this week while sitting in a corner of the facility's restaurant and bar, two weeks after the park opened to the public.
Christchurch now has a facility which boasts a 1.8 kilometre quad chairlift, 50 kilometres of downhill mountain bike routes (with more being developed), zip lines through the forest, and a cafe and bar seating up to 180 people. The park is the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
The 358 hectare site, between Dyers Pass, Worsleys and Summit roads, also has a ticketing office and retail and bike store, where bikes can be hired.
This was just stage one. A mountain coaster was expected to open by Christmas 2017 and accommodation, with 110 beds, would be added by the end of 2018. Another 110 beds would be added at a later date.
The build should have taken 22 months, but Select Evolution was committed to a December 2016 opening and was determined to follow through on that promise. A $2m Government grant expired in December, which provided additional incentive.
The challenges of condensing a 22-month build into eight months were immense and Sutton has nothing but praise for the team that made it happen.
"Every day there were battles to be had. It's just the way it is."
About a month before the park was due to open, the North Canterbury earthquake hit, and while none of the structures were damaged, some rental equipment and chairlift parts got stuck in Wellington's port. The parts were finally delivered and the time lost was made up. The park was also targeted by thieves, who stole tools from the site.
However, this was all behind the park now and its popularity since opening, has surprised Sutton, especially since the marketing machine has yet to fully wind up.
"We've had more bikes here than we would have ever dreamed of. It's been spectacular."
Sutton would not say what the exact numbers were, because she wanted to convey those figures to shareholders first.
The restaurant and bar has been busy, with suppliers scrambling to keep up with demand over the holiday period. About 250 kilograms of fries were eaten by punters in the first two days and many litres of beer was consumed.
Another five or six staff have been hired since it opened to cater for the demand, lifting the total number of employees to about 100. About seven staff were brought in on temporary contracts from Canada. They had experience running a similar park in Whistler, which Select Evolution also developed.
About 180 people were involved in building the park and most of them were from Canterbury.
Sutton said it was important for the park to be a good member of the community and to buy local. Its beer was sourced from Christchurch craft brewery Cassels and Sons and the coffee comes from Underground, which has its origins in a Christchurch basement.
Select Evolution first heard about the possible location, when Christchurch mountain biker Tim Prebble knocked on its door when he was in Whistler in 2011. He pitched Christchurch as their next investment destination.
Prebble said this week, he had hoped his initial pitch would lead to the facility Christchurch now has, but he was "blown away" by what had actually been achieved.
"People are saying they think they are in another part of the world. They can't believe they're in Christchurch."
New Zealand had already produced a number of mountain bikers that competed on the world stage, and Prebble believed the park would enhance the pool of young riders coming through.
Sutton was also keen to introduce new people to the sport and was planning on holding ladies and mens coaching camps. She is a keen downhill mountain biker, and also coaches.
The park was expected to boost Christchurch's tourist numbers.
Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism chief executive Vic Allen said Christchurch was now an adventure tourism destination, after previously being only a gateway to those seeking outdoor activities in other places across Canterbury and the South Island.
"For the first time, it's put Christchurch on the map as an adventure tourism destination.
"We see that as the start of good things to come in that whole area. We think the Port Hills has huge value for the city."
Mountain biking was becoming popular in terms of global tourism, he said.
The mountain biking community has always been hugely supportive of the park, and hundreds wrote submissions to support the development's resource consent application in 2014.
Thirty-five submissions were against the park including the owners of the neighbouring Cracroft Chase winery, who were concerned about the impact of the development on their vines.
Several conditions relating to noise, hours of operation and traffic management were put in place.
Nearby residents associations were supportive of the park, but wanted traffic lights installed on the corner of Cashmere and Worsleys Rd. The Christchurch City Council was now funding a $2.8m intersection upgrade, which was expected to happen during the 2017/18 financial year.
The council has also invested $2m into the park along with a number of other national and international shareholders. Figures released by the Overseas Investment Office showed 52.85 per cent of the development was funded by overseas interests and the remaining was from within New Zealand.
Since the park has opened more people have expressed an interest in investing in it, Sutton said.
They could get their chance with another $8m to $10m needed to build the mountain coaster and first stage of accommodation, but existing shareholders would be approached before new investors.
"The vision doesn't ever stop. This park has got its own life," Sutton said.
BY THE NUMBERS
▪ 50km of trails
▪ 100 staff
▪ 180 people helped build the park
▪ 250kg of fries eaten in first two days
▪ Up to $10m more investment needed
▪ Mountain coaster by Christmas 2017
▪ 110 beds to open by late 2018