Wanganui Chronicle

Columns
Thursday, May 11, 2017

MY Saturday began very early with a few hours in a mai mai on opening morning of the 2017 duck shooting season.

The rest of my weekend was spent in the northern part of the electorate, including Mt Ruapehu and on Sunday at the Tangiwai Memorial Reserve.

Along with Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry, on Sunday I attended the unveiling of a new memorial to mark the courage and sacrifice of train driver Charles Parker and fireman Lance Redman.

They were responsible for saving the lives of 134 people when the Wellington to Auckland night express plunged into the swollen Whangaehu River on Christmas Eve, 1953.

This event was well covered in Monday's Wanganui Chronicle, though I would add it was my privilege to be there among the family of those brave men and others affected by this disaster.

On Saturday afternoon I attended the official opening of Ruapehu Alpine Lifts' (RAL) Rangatira Express Chairlift and Snow Factory at the Whakapapa ski area on Mt Ruapehu. Prime Minister Bill English performed the official duties and made special mention of the relationship between Ruapehu iwi, RAL and te Maunga itself, and how this relationship was enabling a progressive and forward-looking view of what the region and the people of the region could achieve.

Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges and the MP for Taupo Louise Upston were there too.

We also heard from RAL's chief executive, Ross Copland, who talked about other planned developments aimed at extending and redefining the Ruapehu experience.

The opening of these new assets is part of a $100 million investment strategy in the redevelopment of the Whakapapa and Turoa ski areas by RAL over the next 10 years.

This includes a $25m multipurpose facility at the base of the Whakapapa ski area (Top of the Bruce); an 80-person, all weather, high-speed aerial tramway accessing the award winning Knoll Ridge Cafe; the doubling of snow-making capacity at Whakapapa; two new chairlifts and the redevelopment of the beginner facilities. Together they will take RAL from a four-month winter business to a sustainable 12-month, year-round business.

The Snow Factory, which is at the base of the new Rangatira Express chairlift, will enable RAL to guarantee an opening date for the Whakapapa Ski Area. It will also extend the ski season by a month; while the aerial tramway is a key part of RAL becoming a sustainable year-round business.

According to RAL, they attract around 350,000 visitors to Ruapehu during the ski season, which goes for about four months. They're confident that with the aerial tramway, which is a type of gondola, with each carriage capable of taking around 80 people, they could double that number during the other eight months. It's certainly great for economic development in our region.

Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron perhaps summed it up best when he said: "The Snow Factory and the planned aerial tramway are quite simply 'game changers' - not only for Ruapehu and the region but for New Zealand tourism." It's great to see tourism operators such as RAL working alongside iwi, council, government, and others to unlock the region's tourism potential. It was a pretty inspiring day atop a most majestic mountain.