The self-made “Boy from the Bluff” who founded a diverse multi-million fishing, farming, shipping, wine and tourism empire may have handed over the reins to his sons but Sir Clifford Skeggs hasn’t entirely let go.
Sale of the company’s Bluff oyster interests would be “over his dead body” says the 84-year-old whose recently self-published life story (written with the help of writer Jenny McLeod) chronicles a journey that began in New Zealand’s southernmost town but now reaches across this country’s tourist hot spots and as far as Fiji. That’s where Sir Clifford and wife Marie now spend their winters – not just lying in the sun but building up another marine-focused aspect of the Skeggs empire.
What started with a 1990s purchase of what was then pretty basic wharf facilities has morphed into the Denarau marina complex complete with super yacht berths, shopping mall and four wharves catering to some 60% of Fiji’s visitors – with a lot more to come. Its chief executive and Sir Clifford’s grandson, Nigel Skeggs, recently announced a long-term plan that includes a sports stadium, residential apartments, a 200-berth marina, boatyard, maritime school, sailing club and nature reserve.
Boats are a common theme for the one-time crayfisher and boat builder who founded Skeggs Fisheries – and the basis for his family’s wealth – back in 1958. In a career that subsequently included public roles on the Otago Harbour Board before an unrivalled 12-year stint as Dunedin’s mayor, he developed a reputation for being hands-on and admits that, in the political sphere at least, was in danger of becoming a bit of a dictator. Now semi-retired, he and Lady Marie who have been married for 62 years and boast 11 grandchildren, divide their time between homes in Dunedin, Wanaka and Fiji.
Meanwhile the Skeggs Group, under the control of Sir Clifford’s sons, Graeme, Bryan and David, has divested some of its traditional fishing/shipping interests (selling Pacifica Fisheries to Sanford in 2013 and Pacifica Shipping to China Navigation Co last year) to focus more strongly on tourism and wine.
The group’s tourism assets include the multi-million cat Spirit of Queenstown, Kawarau Jets, Te Anau-based Go Milford coach and cruise business plus Milford’s recently upgraded harbour facilities. It has also extended its Central Otago wine business.
Last year, Skeggs Group managing director David Skeggs announced that Akarua, first purchased by Sir Clifford in 1995 and already the largest family-owned single vineyard and winery in Central Otago, had acquired vineyards in Felton Road and Lowburn. That boosts family vineyard holdings in Otago to more than 100ha.