Ahead of New Zealand’s Gay Ski Week, we meet a few of the growing number of GLBT people moving to idyllic Queenstown and paradise-of-the-South, Wanaka.
“We are everywhere” – it was a catchcry of the early gay rights movement that told everyday, God-fearing citizens that it didn’t matter if you lived in The Castro or the Bible belt, GLBT people were there, living happy lives with the people they love. It’s been 43 years since the Stonewall Riots in New York City and GLBT visibility is at a higher point than ever – so why do we still flock to the cities? Why are we still settling in the same suburbs as all the others and partying at the same bars?
Not everyone wants to live in the gay suburbs in big cities – some people eschew the lifestyle completely. Some decide that a long commute from a cold flat to a busy city workplace simply isn’t for them and they take to the hills, where they can live and work amongst smaller communities of tight-knit locals.
Paul Cook and Matt Diack
Paul Cook made the decision to trade the city for Queenstown and had never looked back.
“Matt and I are both originally from Dunedin but saw Queenstown as a place with more jobs in the hospitality industry available to us,” says Paul, speaking from the comfort of his home – a boutique hotel called The Dairy. “We moved to Sydney for a while because the money is better and there are plenty of hospitality jobs. You do earn more money but living is also more expensive; we also got sick of the really long commutes every morning.
“Having worked on and off in Queenstown for years, we decided to come back permanently and now we’ve got this place. My daily commute is two minutes up the stairs!”
Paul says living in Queenstown and working in the tourism industry is great – and better yet, he and Matt have had no problems with people being unaccepting of them.
“Most people who travel here are pretty good with the fact that the business is gay-owned,” Paul says. “The Queenstown community is good like that too – we really don’t find any negativity towards the fact that we’re gay. There are a few gay-owned businesses across the whole sector of Queenstown, so people know we’re around and are pretty accepting. There are some people who don’t think being gay is right, but they are few and far between.”
Paul and Matt took over The Dairy in April 2011. It’s an odd name for a boutique hotel, but the place has a rich history that guests at The Dairy can soak in.
“The Dairy was originally the corner store here in Queenstown,” says Paul. “It was set up in the 1920s as a store but then later became a bed and breakfast. It was changed into The Dairy Guest House in 1997 and then bought by the building’s current owners in 2003, who extensively refurbished the place and made it into the luxury hotel that stands today. Matt and I took it over in April 2011 and run it together – we’re the only two staff on board!”
Paul and Matt look after the hotel’s 13 rooms every day and love hosting people from all over the world. “When we took over, we changed a lot of the décor and began running it. If you check Tripadvisor, we used to be the number seven hotel in Queenstown – now we’re number one! We’ve just been nominated for a New Zealand Travel Association award and find out in early September if we’ve won.”
Queenstowners looking for the local greenfingers need look no further than Bob Tovey, who has been in the business of growing fresh herbs for 20 years. Bob is a UK ex-pat who still has a thick accent, which comes out most when he says the name of his herb-growing business – Basil Parsley and Partners – a name that sounds best said in an English accent.
Bob says he’s travelled a lot and used to be a city person, but now much prefers the lifestyle and community Queenstown has to offer.
“I did a bit of travelling around the place but I ended up here in Queenstown,” says Bob. “I love it here – there’s a real appeal to the good weather, the fun atmosphere and the skiing, of course.
“I’m a city person, but if I want to go to a big city it’s only a quick and cheap direct flight to get to somewhere like Auckland. Queenstown suits me better because I like how everyone’s on holiday – everyone’s having a good time and it gives the area a really awesome feeling that you just don’t get in the big cities.
“I’m here because I just love the place. I can go to the city but I don’t have to live there! I would honestly rather go skiing.”
One of the things Bob loves most about the area is the constant change that’s happening. Whether it’s a fresh crop of tourists coming through the town or a new show or band pumping out of a local venue, there’s always something to do.
“There’s always a festival going on – Gay Ski Week is just one of them. I’m not the sort of guy to revolve my life around the gay community and gay events. I know there are people out there who need the community and need to be around a lot of other gay people, but if you can associate with a whole range of people, you’ll have no issue in Queenstown; if you can’t, you’d probably get bored living here.
“I think Queenstown locals are accepting of the gay community because they see it all down here. Every weekend there’s a hen party or stag party and everyone’s having a good time; there’s always something crazy going on. I think people down here believe as long as you’re happy and enjoying yourself, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
Caroline Holland and Suzie Bailie
Suzie Bailie lives with her partner Caroline Holland “over the hill” in Wanaka, where they own a bed and breakfast. It’s a lifestyle that many gay couples have chosen throughout New Zealand and it’s easy to see why – B&B owners get to pick their own slice of paradise to live and work in, meet people from all over the world… and the traffic is pretty good in the morning too. If you’ve never thought about sloughing off the city in favour of the good life, you might now!
Suzie answers the phone and her greeting comes in yet another British accent – when it’s mentioned that there are a lot of UK ex-pats in the area, she tells us the name many people give Wanaka: “Pom-aka”!
“About 25 per cent of people living in Wanaka are ex-pats,” Suzie laughs. “We’re everywhere!”
Suzie says her partner Caroline was the one to take the plunge and start the business back in 2005. The couple had been living in Auckland and loving it, but something kept pulling them out of the city and onto the slopes.
“We were both teachers – we both taught physical education so we were quite sporty and active anyway,” says Suzie. “Every school holidays we’d go tramping or on holiday somewhere and get out into the world. At the end of the holidays we’d get back to Auckland and have a bit of moan about the end of such a great time – then we just decided to make the move and live in Wanaka permanently.”
Moving from the safety of the Auckland gay community wasn’t daunting for Suzie, who found other gay couples to mingle with once they moved.
“We have a fantastic gay community down here, quite small but really friendly. We’ll have dinner around people’s houses and we all look out for each other. When I came down here I wasn’t sure, but the locals all know we’re a couple and they’re super relaxed and friendly.
“We love the outdoors, the beautiful lake and the mountains. It’s gorgeous here in the winter, but also in the summer because there are amazing bike tracks you can travel on and the lake is wonderful on a hot day. People in Auckland ask how we could move down to such a cold place, but it’s a dry climate down here – on a sunny winter’s day, you can hang your washing out in the open and it will actually dry!”
Suzie and Caroline will be hoping a few people can be lured away from Cardona during Gay Ski Week to head over to Treble Cone. There’s even a light plane that travels over and lands you at the bottom of the ski field road – what a way to get around!
Suzie laughs, “Wanaka is where it’s at! People are going to have to come over and see the place while they’re here. It’s a beautiful place that has a great sense of community – a bit like Queenstown… but not as manic!
“We’re so fortunate we get to live in this wonderful place. It is like paradise.”
| Hannah JV