Wanaka just got the biggest Christmas present ever – the 250m high Mount Iron and about 100ha of reserve.
Wanaka’s popular maunga used to be on the outskirts of town, but is fast becoming the heart of the booming resort.
The mountain reserve is the culmination of a vision expressed by the late Laurie Cleugh in the 1990s to create a legacy for the town, a joyful and tearful board member Jude Battson said on Friday.
Last week, the Queenstown Lakes District Council and the Cleugh family confirmed a “once in a generation” opportunity to transfer ownership of 67ha on the north, west and southern flanks of Mt Iron, plus 27ha on the neighbouring Little Mt Iron, to the community.
The deal is commercially sensitive, but the value of the land is many millions of dollars.
Where funding will come from is also commercially sensitive, but Wanaka does have $9 million left in the Scurr Heights fund, which was created by the sale of nearly 11ha of council-owned land for $15.6 million in 2016.
The Scurr Heights land has now been privately developed for housing.
The council has spent $6 million of the Scurr Heights fund on building Wanaka’s new aquatic centre and earmarked another $1 million for the new Luggate Hall, which is under construction.
It is not known yet whether the Mt Iron purchase would drain the Scurr Heights fund completely or whether other council funds would be used.
Information about the purchase price and budget structure would be released “in due course in line with due diligence work,”council communications officer Sam White said last week.
As soon as the agreement was announced, elected community board members were receiving suggestions – some tongue in cheek – for observatories, tracks, eco sanctuaries, zip lines and lifts to the top for seniors.
Board members told The News in an interview on Friday the community response showed the purchase was very much supported.
“To be honest, we haven’t got it yet. Nothing is off the table and nothing is on. Built form would be minimal, to say the least. Literally, all the finances we still need to work through the system. It will not have a direct impact on rating,” councillor Calum Macleod said.
Mt Iron was purchased from Welshman Bertie Reece by brothers Laurie and Brian Cleugh in the 1960s as a farm.
The present owner is Allenby Farms, a company associated with Laurie Cleugh’s son, Lynden Cleugh.
The council and Allenby Farms Ltd spent about 18 months negotiating the agreement.
Wanaka Community Board member Ed Taylor said Mt Iron had been keeping generations of walkers fit and gave the community many alternatives for future recreation.
Board chairman Barry Bruce confirmed people should not rush out and immediately begin running and biking over the land as due diligence and transfers have not been completed.
Mountainbiking is not presently permitted on the Cleugh property or on the separate Department of Conservation reserve and 4.5km walking track.
The council and DOC are now negotiating to create one council-owned reserve.
The community would be consulted about reserve management plans for Mt Iron. These could take three to four years to fully develop.
Mr Bruce said it was too early to say what would happen to the woolshed at the foot of the mountain.
“There are still operational things that will be decided down the track,” he said.
Wanaka councillor Quentin Smith said he was incredibly excited such a significant and much-loved mountain was coming into public ownership.
along maybe once in a generation. With increasing development pressure around the district, reserves and open spaces have never been so important for community wellbeing,
centrepiece of Wanaka being a dramatic example of glacial geomorphology with enormous recreational value.
“Up to 180,000 people a year currently use the existing tracks and council’s purchase will open the door not only to a whole range of potential activities like new walking and biking trails, but also improved opportunities or active transport routes near the state highway, biodiversity improvements and the ongoing protection of this land from development.
Lynden Cleugh said his family had long seen themselves as guardians of a very special property.
“We’ve resisted many approaches to develop and commercialise Mt Iron since Laurie and Brian Cleugh bought it in the early 1960s as a farming operation.
“Since then we’ve spent countless hours keeping the property free of weeds and wilding pines while maintaining a long-term vision that Mt Iron should at some point be managed on behalf of the community. That way everyone can enjoy this special place in the middle of our growing town, Mr Cleugh said.
in 2017 with the sole purpose of it becoming a public reserve along with the main property. It’s a special gem just waiting to be discovered. We’re very excited to finally announce this legacy acquisition for the community and thank QLDC staff for their shared vision.
Ms Battson recalled soon after she was first elected to the board in 1998, Laurie Cleugh spoke to the board about his vision for creating a housing and reserve legacy.
“I have a tear in my eye. I miss the guy. He was delightful . He expressed to the board his vision and sadly he died. But it happened. It would be great if he was here to see it,” she said.
Ms Battson said the Mt Iron reserve would have something for everybody.
It was the town’s mountain and the community now had a duty to be its guardian, she said.
The mountain would also protect the entrance to Wanaka and give a soft edge to ongoing development, she said.
Allenby Farms Ltd also indicated an intention to create a legacy for Wanaka in a submission to the proposed district plan in 2017.
The Cleugh family retains 22ha of the former farm.