Queenstown has some special systems and facilities to cope with billionaires, movie stars and VIP’s. But here’s our guide to Queenstown for the VVIPs – like CIA director James Comey, FBI director Mike Pompeo, and other Five Eyes bigwigs expected in Queenstown this weekend.
Queenstown is a lovely, unspoilt mountain resort in the South Island of New Zealand, and we are confident you’ll enjoy your stay. But please be aware that in organising your secret and highly-secured visit there are a few special short cuts and tips that are important to understand.
Before you arrive
New Zealand is touchy about guns, so please either get permission from the NZ government to bring in your armed security team, or leave your weapons and ammunition in the fruit amnesty bins at the airport.
Queenstown is great for private jet arrivals but you will need to make your own parking arrangements as there is only room for eight visiting jets – and these spaces are booked through to 2019. It is OK to take a parking space used by commercial planes, as they are able to park further away from the terminal and the passengers have to walk across the tarmac anyway. If there is a choice, take a Jetstar park rather than Air New Zealand, as Air NZ may get upset about losing their allocated parking slots, and they are generally better liked than Jetstar. Don’t try to move or shunt other private jets as they may well belong to someone more important, richer, dangerous, influential or powerful than you.
Immigration and Border Control
This is provided right next to your private aircraft in a small portable cabin. All the normal border formalities will be waived for you, but please don’t confuse the VVIP Border Control facility with a portable toilet block or construction workshop. Queenstown plans a small private jet terminal within 20 or 30 years.
This is surprisingly tricky given the small size of Queenstown. All roads near the airport are permanently congested due to airport construction work and the widespread local practice of parking on the main roads beyond the airport – a result of the airport being too small and a local dislike for paying airport parking fees. The most practical way to get your motorcade and police escort beyond the airport is to park your vehicles at the BP petrol station near the airport and fly your team there by helicopter from the terminal. The distance is only 600 metres.
New Zealand has over 700 helicopters, more per capita than China, and many of them are based at Queenstown airport. However it pays to book ahead as most of these aircraft are permanently engaged flying tourists to Milford Sound. It is best to book helicopters in batches of 10 in order to get a discount and make sure that you can move around the resort rather than relying on road transport. Make sure to ask the helicopter operator for the “locals’ rate” and you will save thousands of dollars. NZ Police and Special Protection Groups will charter their own helicopters at the NZ taxpayers’ expense in order to keep up with your own security teams. Road transport can be used in certain parts of Queenstown – mainly the 7.5 kilometres between Coronet Peak and the outskirts of Arrowtown during off peak hours.
New Zealand does not generally have much left in the way of media following a series of cutbacks and cost reductions by a number of overseas owned venture capital and publishing companies. However the local media (Mountain Scene and The Mirror) do compete with each other and can enter a sort of ‘mongrel paparazzi’ mode when high profile people visit town – which is often. Their celebrity photos and exclusive stories can be sold for as much as $150 to mainstream media, which is based in Auckland. Local freelancers will also try to make a buck from your visit. It is best to keep all local media at a distance; this is relatively easy as they can’t afford helicopters and will be stuck in traffic.
This is a complicated topic and needs some special research. On your final approach to Queenstown airport you may have noticed the Kelvin Heights golf course, on a stunning peninsula just at the foot of the Remarkables. Sometimes the view of this golf course can be obscured by the exhaust of a private jet in front of or behind you, but rest assured, it is classified as one of the seven most beautiful golf courses in the world.
Do not use this course. It is used by local residents and in particular builders who have become very wealthy. It is also not practical to drive to Kelvin Heights as it is on the wrong side of a one lane bridge near the airport. There are limited helicopter landing facilities at this golf course.
Instead you should play golf at one of two designated VVIP golf facilities (Millbrook and The Hills) which are both near Arrowtown and have better helicopter facilities.
New Zealand jewellery retailer Michael Hill has an exclusive golf course (The Hills) where you, and up to 11 other members of your team, can stay for only $28,000 per night during the low season and $32,000 at other times. The rest of your group may struggle to find accommodation in Queenstown but your private jet can travel to other NZ population centres within one to two hours. Other good accommodation not far from Queenstown includes Blanket Bay near Glenorchy (only 15 minutes by helicopter) or Matakauri Lodge where Prince William and Kate stayed recently (normally $12,000 a night – discounts for publicity).
Prince Harry took over the small Cardrona pub between Queenstown and Wanaka but this is not recommended due to security challenges around this remote location. Eichardt’s Hotel has one penthouse ($10,000 per night including butler) ) if you do decide to stay in the centre of Queenstown after a meal out.
If using one of the designated VVIP Arrowtown golf courses it will be tricky to get back into Queenstown by road. A sneaky strategy is to land by helicopter at the top of the Skyline gondola and then use the gondola to get down into the town centre. This will also catch local media off guard as they will likely expect you to dine at Saffron restaurant in Arrowtown. Saffron is a great restaurant made infamous by Justin Bieber’s recent visit where he took off his shirt at the restaurant causing a media and teenage fan frenzy. If you want to stay in, Queenstown has a number of private dining companies who will send chefs to your accommodation.
The Out of Town Option
One new and interesting VVIP strategy was pioneered by Oprah Winfrey just a few weeks ago. She had secured a jet parking slot at the airport by the clever method of having a bigger jet than anybody else. She then evaded local media by immediately driving over the Crown Range to Wanaka in a fleet of vans with blacked out windows. Vans with blacked out windows are easy to hire in Queenstown and there are discounts for 10 vans or more – again make sure to request the cheaper locals’ rate.
The real genius of the Oprah plan was to then go beyond Wanaka to stay in private houses and at properties owned by overseas investors. Oprah and her posse, including Reese Witherspoon, subsequently made strategic stops at scenic places around Queenstown (by helicopter) and posted their own photos to social media. New Zealand media then used these social media images rather than going to the expense of chartering helicopters to find the Oprah party. Make sure to say how great New Zealand is when posting to social media. This will guarantee widespread and positive media coverage.
One of the best people to show you excellent golfing tips and tricks in Queenstown is former Prime Minister John Key. John also understands the logistics of keeping a low profile in Queenstown following his frequent visits to the resort.
Seeing the Sights
Queenstown is a beautiful resort and it is worth spending some time visiting the shores of Lake Wakatipu as well as The Remarkables (both accessible by helicopter) and even flying by helicopter to Milford Sound. Over two million tourists visit Queenstown each year so do expect some other people to be at these locations. If you want to experience one of Queenstown’s many adrenaline attractions, such as the Shotover Jet or bungy jumping, all of these operators have well oiled publicity machines to facilitate your private visit.
Topics to Avoid
It is important to avoid certain sensitive topics during your visit. If possible do not mention local traffic, immigration, affordable housing, parking, water quality, public transport or infrastructure. It is OK to talk about the weather and how beautiful Queenstown is. Any self-deprecating comparison between your home country and New Zealand will be very well received, for example “New Zealand is so much more beautiful than my country.”
Government Meetings and Media Conferences
Government meetings can be held at or near any of the designated VVIP golf courses. New Zealand politicians and Senior Officials will be keen to be seen shaking hands with you at these events. At the end of your visit it would be a good idea to take part in a joint media conference where all media can be invited. There is no need to make any announcements or provide any detail of your visit at these events and New Zealand media will accept either “commercial sensitivity” or “sensitive from a security point of view” as an answer to all questions.
Make sure to thank your hosts and say how much you have enjoyed your visit to Queenstown. It is very important so say how beautiful Queenstown is, how much you admire Kiwi hospitality and how much you appreciate the intimate, friendly nature of the Queenstown residents and the warmth of local community.
It is not customary to leave tips in New Zealand. Your hosts will appreciate any small tokens of appreciation such as small lapel flags, CIA or FBI “thank you” badges or ethnic handcrafts from your country of origin. Do not leave cash as this will cause offence. Other private jets will be waiting for your space so please leave the airport promptly and make sure you pay for all fuel and airport facilities with a valid credit card. Please ensure you have not left any personal belongings in any of the helicopters.
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