Tyler Tipen

PHOTO: “Behind the beauty, boutiques and big business, hardworking Kiwis live in cars and tents,” Sunday’s Conor Whitten writes. (Source: Sunday) 1NEWS

At the base of Bob’s Peak in the heart of Queenstown, you’ll find one of the most breathtaking views on the planet. As the sun descends over Lake Wakatipu, casting a golden glow on the snow-capped Remarkables, it’s a sight to behold.

Here, we encounter Tyler Tipene, who called this place home during the winter months. But not in a house, not even in a campground.

“I simply slept in my car,” he explained. Each night, in the back of his trusty station wagon named Lucy, Tyler fashioned his sleeping quarters. His high-visibility jacket was hung over the seat, and the rest of his clothes were stored in a black trash bag.

“It’s just profoundly disheartening. Depressing, that’s the word,” he sighed.

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It wasn’t due to a lack of income; this 24-year-old held a full-time job in construction. Just a stone’s throw away lay the Skyline Gondola, shuttling tourists to the summit of Bob’s Peak. By day, Tyler contributed to the redevelopment of the Skyline as part of a colossal $250 million project. But come nightfall, he was on a quest for a place to lay his head.

“I’d start work at 7, labor until 5, and then after work, I’d be driving around,” Tipene recounted. “Just searching for an inconspicuous spot. Once I parked, I’d find somewhere to grab a meal, a place to freshen up, and then return to my car to relax and sleep, ready to wake up for the next day.”

Café worker Rachel Stewart’s lease has ended. She, her partner and her son are moving to a campground to live in a tent.

Queenstown is a town of contradictions: a juxtaposition of severe privation and extravagant opulence.

“Queenstown is where I slept in my car beside a $15 million mansion,” he reflected. “There are hundreds like me, but no one seems to notice. They see the tourists, the mountains, and they think, ‘This is paradise.’ But they don’t truly grasp the underlying reality.”

After years of pandemic-related disruptions, tourists have returned in greater numbers than ever. From January to September of this year, approximately 300,813 international visitors landed in Queenstown – 35,000 more than during the same period in 2019.

But the pressure isn’t solely from tourists; the area is also experiencing a surge in residents. The Queenstown-Lakes District is the fastest-growing region in the country, with a 12-month population increase of 8%, equating to an additional 4,000 people.

“It’s not all about Fergburgers and bungy jumping,” Tipene emphasized. “It’s tough for the workforce, and it’s a challenge for those trying to establish a life here.”

Single mum Shana Payne and 5-year-old Max. Their rent has just risen to $700 a week.

This predicament has left locals like Tipene with no alternative but to sleep in cars and tents. “There’s no place that hasn’t been inundated by people seeking accommodation.”

Tyler endured four and a half months of car living while applying for “80 to 100” rental properties. Finally, in October, he secured a flat with a friend, and now they have to share a room.

However, his story is just one among many. Behind the picturesque façade, trendy boutiques, and flourishing enterprises, hardworking New Zealanders are grappling to make ends meet.

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“Everyone will eventually leave,” Tyler predicted. “If they become fed up, they’ll depart. But who will undertake the essential work that must be done?”