Q'town - the best thing that ever happened to Wanaka
Queenstown is the best thing that ever happened to Wanaka.
Try to imagine what Wanaka would be like if Queenstown had never been developed and the land it now occupies was part of Mt Aspiring National Park. It seems pretty obvious to me that without Queenstown, Wanaka would be Queenstown.
Queenstown actually takes the pressure off Wanaka and gives us the unique opportunity to develop our town how we see fit. I would be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time someone on this side of the Crown Range has said “we don’t want Wanaka to be like Queenstown”.
What I think they’re really saying is they don’t want Wanaka to be reliant on one major economic driver, we don’t want to be forced out of downtown and we want the Wanaka sense of community and the “small town” feel to be a part of what we are into the future.
Some locals talk about growth as if it is a dirty word. As far as I’m concerned, growth is fine as long as it’s measured and sustainable growth. Infrastructure needs to keep up with the growth and it all needs to be done with a “big picture” in mind.
If we put a fence around Wanaka as we know it today and say “we don’t want any more development” then the basic laws of supply and demand would prevail and most of us would eventually be priced out of living here.
There is talk that when the latest Census data is released, the population of the Upper Clutha will be between 12,000 and 14,000 people. That’s a big increase on when I moved here 15 years ago. I won’t be surprised to see that population leap to around 20,000 in the next 10 years and maybe to 50,000 in 20 to 30 years’ time.
It’s very hard for today’s population to comprehend those sorts of numbers without some level of fear and loathing. However, just because a town has 50,000 people, it doesn’t mean to say it is going to “hell in a handbasket”.
There are plenty of examples of large towns or small cities which are very “liveable”. At the same time, there are also plenty of small towns which haven’t grown which are not that great a place to live.
The unquestionable natural beauty of this area will always be there. Yes, there will be increasing challenges to keep our environment pristine, but I am confident there are enough committed people in our town to ensure that this is achieved into the future.
Wanaka is also blessed with a number of geographical benefits which give us the edge over Queenstown when it comes to handling growth. For a start, the town and its environs face north, there’s plenty of flat land to develop and our airport has potential to grow.
There is also a new breed of locals in this town who are committed to diversifying the economy. Back in the day farming was the big economic driver. Then along came tourism. But now there’s a whole bunch of people moving to our area who are looking at other ways to make a decent living here. There are all sorts of start-up businesses working away behind the scenes using technology to enable them to be competitive in their sector, while the owners get to live in paradise.
That’s the sort of Wanaka I want to see over the next 10 to 20 years. A vibrant community with a diversified economy across a number of sectors – tourism being just one of them, not the be-all and end-all.
We cannot afford to follow Queenstown and become reliant on tourism to drive our economy, otherwise we condemn ourselves to being locked into a low wage economy with the prospect that, when the inevitable drop in tourism happens, the entire local economy takes a big hit.
Having a diversified economy will enable us to ride out most external economic downturns a lot better than others. Another side effect is that it gives us a diversified community, in terms of the different types of people with different thinking who are attracted here.
This is already a pretty engaged community which will turn out in droves when fired up. They marched in the street when they thought their library was under attack and more than 400 turned up to discuss the future of the mountain bike tracks in Sticky Forest.
Wanaka is already a desirable place to live and will be even more desirable if we have a diversified economy. And, rather than diversifying for the sake of it, we should aim to be a “centre of excellence” in whatever we take on. The best tourism experience, the best place to learn to fly an aircraft, the best place to get an education, the best place to collaborate on new business ventures.
So, thanks Queenstown - for being you.
Ed Taylor and his family moved to Wanaka in 2003. Ed and his wife Kim owned and operated the local community radio station Radio Wanaka for nine years. Since 2012 Ed has been general manager of the Warbirds Over Wanaka International Airshow. Ed was elected to the Wanaka Community Board in 2016.