We’re on the precipice of shaping our future

[Lead photo: credit Graeme Murray]

Wanaka resident Sally Currie writes that we’re on the brink of decisions which will define Wanaka’s future …

Wanaka and Queenstown are on the top of the list of New Zealanders’ and global travelers’ favourite holiday destinations. As the demand increases so too does the demand on this region’s natural environment, the existing infrastructure and the community of people who choose to call the Queenstown Lakes district their beloved home.

As the Queenstown Airport Corporation will soon reach its capacity with passengers in and out of Queenstown, it is looking to share the burden by developing the capacity of the Wanaka Airport (less than an hour’s drive away) and thereby enabling over 7 million passenger movements in the region each and every year within the next 25 years.

New Zealand has always been a country that has relied largely on tourism as an industry and the tourism industry has in no doubt made significant contribution to the country’s economic growth rate. As the world gets busier, more congested and more polluted, people will naturally seek out destinations that offer a clean and pure natural environment. New Zealand’s tagline of “clean and green” is something that tourists are largely motivated by and this brand image, alongside word of mouth is likely what has contributed to the huge growth in tourist numbers over the past decade.

However, the ugly reality is that most of our waterways are now polluted and our natural environment is being compromised at every turn for the sake of growth and economic gain. We should be  asking ourselves: what is optimal in terms of tourism numbers? And what type of tourist do we wish to attract? We instead simply adopt a reactive approach of; if there is demand, then we must find a way to meet that demand.”

For a moment in time, how about we ask ourselves, what do we want our country to be like in 50 years time? And is prioritising growth going to provide the pathway to achieve this? New Zealand will organically become more and more popular even if we do not do anything to attract new visitors. We are one of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes on the planet, and our culture offers tourists a relaxed safe and enjoyable vibe that is impossible not to love. If every person who has visited our country inspires but one other person to visit our country over the next decade, we will be inundated with tourist numbers well beyond our capacity.

In Queenstown and Wanaka, this is what we are facing. And how does the council react to such an issue?  They focus on how they can develop another airport in order to meet demand. Not, how do we manage the visitor numbers we already generate? Or, if we do provide the medium to quadruple the current visitor numbers, what will we do to manage the consequences of this action on our environment, our infrastructure and our communities? 

“We are not going to allow the QLDC to make the same mistakes twice.”

Sally Currie

For many years the Queenstown community has had to tolerate the relentless onslaught of all year-round tourism and there is no doubt that the residents’ quality of life in Queenstown has been affected. There are no low seasons any more.  The town is a bustling ball of energy from dawn until dusk. The jets fly all day, in and out, with the community of Frankton experiencing a mini earthquake every time they welcome a few more hundred excited visitors to Queenstown. There are of course many positive elements that tourism brings, more jobs, more revenue, more opportunities etc, but the balance point is fickle and challenging to maintain, especially when the focus of the decision makers trends more towards economic growth than the health of the environment or the quality of life or the people in our communities. 

So where to now, the QLDC ask? Perhaps now we are at capacity, we simply go over the hill to Wanaka. They have a lot more room over there and with both airports we could quadruple the amount of people coming into the area.   

Well you know what, as much as the Wanaka people would love to help out, we are not going to allow the QLDC to make the same mistakes twice. We will fight for a better Wanaka and you will not win. The values of our Wanaka community are based on respect for the natural environment we call home. We will protect the town we love with all our might. We will govern and shape our own future and honour the values of the people in our community.  We will welcome visitors into our superb environment, on our terms and provide an extraordinary authentic visitor experience that is founded on the basis of feeling welcomed.   

When a community can stand tall and be proud of the town in which they live and what it represents, the visitors’ experience will be second to none. We will strive to attract a visitor that acts with equal respect for the values we represent as a community and together we will find ways to enhance and make a difference to the healthy and natural eco-systems of the place we call home. As a community we will thrive, as we work together to enhance the quality of life for our people and the people we attract to our town. 

We hope that by leading by example, we will set the bar for how good it can be. How well we can manage tourism and deconstruct the theory of more is better. We will focus our energy instead on a better Wanaka and never lose sight of what is important. Preservation and sustainability at the core of our foundation.

This is my dream for I truly believe that we are on the precipice of shaping the future of Wanaka. We are responsible and accountable and we must unite to ensure that the decisions that are made represent a clear majority of our community and are made on the basis of heartfelt ethos, that will preserve the natural paradise and quality of experience and life for our residents and visitors alike.  If we can muster the courage to dig deep and connect to what is truly important and be willing to contribute to the cause, then the future which evolves will be one that we can all be truly proud of.

Written by Sally Currie in support of Protect Wanaka. Become a member here

Sally Currie lives in Wanaka with her husband Braden Currie (professional endurance athlete), and their two children Bella (6) and Tarn Currie (11). 
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