Fold mountains

Development built out of passion for the mountains

As more land comes on the market this week for the Mt Cardrona Station Alpine Village development, Editor Sally Rae talks to co-owner Chris Morton about making a longtime dream come true.

Good things take time.

Mt Cardrona Station co-owner Chris Morton quips that the slogan – made popular by TV commercials for Mainland Cheese – could also apply to his own $650 million development above the Cardrona Valley.

He and co-manager Andrew Spencer have owned the 400ha property since 2006; their ambitious dream of establishing an alpine village.

It had taken longer than they had originally envisioned – there were various design and planning iterations, a lengthy consultancy process and the financial crash of 2010 when it was put on the back burner – but it was all now gone.

Land sales began last year – 400 lots were planned to be developed over the next decade – and these first ‘neighbourhoods’ have attracted buyers from New Zealand and Australia, as well as locals from the district of Queenstown Lakes.

This week, the next neighborhood for sale, called The Ridges, is launched. It will be sold in three versions, all named after prominent Cardrona Valley founders and pioneers.

Mr. Morton is the Auckland-based director and owner of Morton Property Group. He is also an experienced civil engineer.

The group was one of two major shareholders who developed a 600-lot development at Omaha Beach between 1999 and 2007, one of the largest major beachfront property developments in New Zealand at that time.

Mr. Morton (67) has always had a strong attachment to the outdoors. He has been skiing since 1965 and in his youth he spent most of his time on the water.

But hiking the Copland Trail from the Hermitage to Aoraki/Mt Cook, across the Continental Divide to the West Coast in the early 2000s began what he described as a 17-year odyssey in mountains.

He once took a four-week climbing trip to Nepal, scaled a 20,000-foot peak, returned home, and then scaled Mount Aspiring. He then climbed the Aoraki/Mt Cook.

His family had a holiday home at Millbrook Resort for 26 years, so he spent a lot of time in the high country of the South Island, particularly around Queenstown and Wanaka, and felt a strong connection with the mountains.

He saw the advantage of a development master plan with land and some amenities; in Omaha, the attraction was a golf course and water. At Mount Cardrona, it was skiing, mountain biking and walking.

Buying a section in the development came with more than just a piece of land.

It came with an exclusive right to roam the resort with private access to 371ha of land surrounding the village which would never be developed, and included the use of 30km of walking and cycling trails.

Resort-style facilities available include all-day dining and work spaces, meeting rooms, hot pools, a gym, and an indoor pool.

Mr. Morton’s involvement with Millbrook led to initial plans to establish a golf course on the property.

But a survey showed that skiing was the main driver for those visiting the area; they wanted great views and outdoor space and also walking outside.

The appeal of skiing for Mr. Morton is twofold; the physical side, and just being in the mountains.

So he thought about it more and, combined with the rise of mountain biking, which he himself had become very fond of, the idea of ​​a golf course was abandoned.

When asked if he had ever felt like ending development, given how long it had taken, Mr Morton said he used to “hang on and hang on to a dream”.

The view was still valid — “it always has been” — and it was to wait for the market to move towards the pair. Mountain biking is a good example, he said.

Covid-19 had forced people to prioritize a higher lifestyle than they may have had before and he believed the impact of the pandemic would mean more people would choose to shop at the Mt Cardrona station than before it hit.

Communications also allowed people to live and work from more remote locations, and in this case they were able to stay and play in a “wonderful and relatively pristine environment”.

Mr Morton recalled his first visit to the property and being amazed by the feel of “lots of open space”.

He and Mr. Spencer felt they were continuing the vision created by Cardrona farmer and entrepreneur John Lee, who developed the Cardrona Ski Area and Snow Farm, to bring what was then a sleepy valley to life.

The couple felt responsible, something Mr Morton attributed to age, to look after the land.

“When you’re young, you want to move on and get things done. You don’t feel the same responsibility as when you’re older to do things really well.”

They have worked with the council on the provision of a Cardrona Valley sewage treatment plant which has benefited not only their development but the entire valley.

It had been a very complex but successful project, he said.

Having Cardrona Alpine Resort and Soho Basin, as well as Snow Farm, nearby also meant saving carbon when skiers lived near the mountains.

One of the most satisfying parts of the past nine months has been getting to know some of the village shoppers, he said.

To be able to make their dreams come true with their vision was “just amazing”.

“It’s about families having a place to go and do all the things we imagined.”

Whether it was going to the pool or the gym, going mountain biking or going up the mountain first thing in the morning to ski, those were “things that really make the place a community”.