I love where I live. I can’t deny that, and often I profess it to people without needing to hear them ask where I live. I tell them about the garden, about the massive clawfoot bathtub in our wood-detailed bathroom, about how we don’t have a microwave, or how we had ducks that used to demand food every morning. I love the house I live in, my housemates, and the area – a quiet country community called Dalefield, a short 15-minute drive from Queenstown, NZ.
Where one lives is a common topic here in Queenstown. There’s a bit of a housing shortage as well as a massive shortage of liveable houses. Many people tend to compare notes, always trying to better their living conditions and jump on opportunity – like when people leave town or move to another house. People come from all over the world to work and live in this winter ski resort/summer adventure town, but most everyone is shocked when they get here and find there’s almost no rooms available, the prices are over the top, the houses are built like no one knew winter actually happens here in the mountains, and for the really unlucky, the house they eventually find a room to fill probably hasn’t been updated in 40 years. Or they have to share a room. Most people who are here long enough move up to better and cheaper houses, finding ‘ins’ along the way. They get the clawfoot bathtub. They get the massive garden. They suddenly find themselves with pet ducks. But all the searching, and rent-gouging, and draughty hallways, and 1970s deco and appliances tend to take a back seat to the scenery and the lifestyle Queenstown has to offer. It’s amazing what people will put up with to live here.
The reality, however, is that most people aren’t paid well enough to live well here – hence the room-sharing. It’s a transient town, and that means minimum wage jobs are rife and home-owners aren’t in any rush to update their uninsulated and shabby homes that were built as summer get-aways when only gravel roads led to Queenstown. There are newer houses, most certainly, but many of these are built in communities on the outskirts of town, like Lake Hayes Estates, Shotover Country and Arthur’s Point. These locations aren’t very accessible without a car – and I won’t get started on the public bus prices. The housing shortage in town during summer means less employable people remain here – so many transients are pressured into long hours with few days off – meaning not everyone gets to enjoy what Queenstown does offer. Winter is the opposite – there’s not enough jobs and room-sharing is at an all time high. Add in the high cost to live here and you have low-wage earners trying to have a life here pushed to a breaking point. Stay and just survive, but get to live in Queenstown? Or leave and get your money’s worth? The town just keeps expanding. The minimum-wage jobs keep multiplying, but affordable housing continues to diminish. This boom town may go bust without these workers.
There’s no denying this place is awe-inspiring. It’s a tourism-trap. It’s over-priced and trendy. The hotels are over-booked. The roads are over-packed. Food and fuel are excessively costly. It’s filled with over-rated and over-done adventure marketed to the the not-so intrepid. And then there’s all the crazy amazing stuff for the seriously intrepid. But even with all the tourism-geared adventure and over-priced extras, I won’t deny that it’s all worth it. Every bit of it. From living in this town to working for these adventure/tourism companies, to paying improbable amounts for an avocado in winter – I wouldn’t trade any of it. And I doubt few people who have called Queenstown home, even if for a short time, would denounce it.
It’s like Queenstown was made just for this type of tourism and these types of adventures. If ever a truer place in the world existed that these kinds of things could be justified to exist, it would be Queenstown. A few things need to be fixed. But it isn’t all wrong.
This is my third summer here and I cherish where I live everyday. I cherish my drive to work at Jack’s Point, my hikes out in Arrowtown, my view out the Events Centre’s window when I’m working out, the open fires in the pubs in town, the stream of foreign friends that I’ve encountered, and so much more. In three months I’m leaving. Someone else will take my room and sit in that bathtub and feed the ducks, and that’s OK. I’ll always have my time in Queenstown, and I’ll know I survived the housing shortage – during the time when there weren’t enough homes to go around I had a room with two windows in a house out in Dalefield when there were still farmer’s fields and the suburbs hadn’t spread that far – not yet.