SkyScape business skills fostered at Ara

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25 May 2017

Sleeping under the stars in the Mackenzie District just became more sophisticated, and a lot warmer, with the recent launch of Skyscape at Omahau Hill Station sheep station by an Ara Institute of Canterbury business graduate.

The unique building, featuring a spectacular glass-roofed bedroom, opened for bookings from 1 May. Located 12km down a farm track and 12km off the Tekapo-Queenstown road near Twizel, it is suitably remote for those seeking an off-the-beaten-track experience close to the land and the brilliant night sky.

SkyScape has been four years in the planning and 10 months building according to the owners Bevan and Bridget Newlands. A crucial part of the preparation for the pair, both teachers, was learning how to run a business.

“We were like, where do we go next? A teaching background is so different to starting a business,” Bevan says. “We wanted to do it properly and make a real go of it. I saw the Certificate in Business Ownership at Ara and when I read up about it – how it was about doing a business plan and so on - I knew that was for me.”

“If I didn’t do that qualification, SkyScape wouldn’t have happened.”

The qualification showed Bevan how to know his market, plan his business, manage finances, employ staff, meet compliance obligations, deal with insurance/legal and make connections.  

“It solidified our ideas, prompted us to conduct research, think about marketing, and just go out there and talk to the right people.”

The original idea germinated from the desire to return to New Zealand and live on Bridget’s parents’ farm. “I had been teaching around the world, and we thought ‘How can we make it work to live here and bring our boys up in this envronment?’” Bevan says.

“We had travelled extensively and we went out of our way to stay in unique places. So we thought; ‘Why don’t we build something so that people can sleep under the stars?’ I started sketching ideas that night.”

Family friend Graeme Murray from astro-tourism company Earth & Sky, based at the Mount John Observatory, gave the idea crucial early support. “Graeme said that the number of people who want to sleep under the stars is amazing, and told us our project was a great idea. “

Next, architectural designer Ian Perry from iDesign urban design took Bevan and Bridget’s initial concept of a dome, which proved prohibitively costly, to a unique building that echoes the lines of the surrounding hills.

For the last year, Bevan and Bridget have concentrated on building SkyScape, solving the myraid problems typical to a unique build as they went. Not least of the challenges was the garden roof over the kitchentte. “I’m not from the building industry so maybe the challenges seemed worse to me. There was the living roof for example. We had to make sure is was waterproof and sealed and solve the slope stabiltation – it was so steep that soil would wash off. The quote I got was huge. So instead, I researched. There was a guy in Geraldine with a living roof so I talked to him, I talked to an engineer, and I designed my own system.”

The builder was Colin Hunter, from Hunter Property Services based in Twizel. “He was just great – his craftsmanship is phenonemal. It was not a standard build, and so every step has been a challenge.”

The results have been worthwhile with interest and excitement from tourism bodies. Bevan sees the market as astro photographers and overseas tourists; “You see the Mackenzie country and its thriving with tourists”.

At $450 a night per couple, as an ‘early bird special’, SkyScape is not luxury but it is high end. It is more about an experience, not five-star service, although the 2m long tub and delectable breakfast will appeal for special treat occasions. And of course the view. “From the SkyScape I can see a mob of sheep right next door; I can see through to Mt John, Fox Peak and the Ben Ohau ranges,” Bevan says.

And that’s before the stars even come out.

Read more: Skyscape

Watch more pictures here:

Ara Certificate in Business Ownership