Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lake Tekapo Tourist Trap & Rental Trap.

Twenty years ago, while doing my Look See Decide, LSD trip around NZ, I parked my 850 cc Suzuki rental car in a Lake Tekapo car park & freedom camped there. I never thought I'd live in Lake Tekapo village. Nowadays there were all sorts of prohibition signs around Lake Tekapo banning freedom campers & telling tourists where they must dispose off their rubbish. Locals wanted tourist dollars but not their crap. TV news recently featured German freedom campers squatting & crapping in a Christchurch red zone house. Even CERA bureaucrats tut-tutted.

As Lake Tekapo has approx 1.8 million tourists passing through every year, it's a tourist trap, gateway to arid Mackenzie Country plateau & Alpine lake magnificence in the Mackenzie basin.

Leah got a teaching job at Lake Tekapo School. The headmistress told her that after the lethal, Christchurch 22.02.11 quake, school roll doubled overnight from 20 to 40. So we were tourists (or latter-day, quake displaced persons escaping post quake Christchurch, crap living conditions) in the tourist trap, as well as locals living & working in the rental trap.

Lake Tekapo was an expensive tourist trap & rental trap with a low standard of living for wage slaves. Population 320, so small we even got a free Post Office box, as there was no residential postal service in Lake Tekapo village. Besides tourist cafes, bars & shops there wasn't much else in Lake Tekapo village, no ANZ bank, no public library. There was a Four Square supermarket selling expensive wares at tourist prices. The nearest doctor was at Fairlie, the nearest dentist at Geraldine.

During the years we lived in Mackenzie Country, we used Fairlie Community Library & drove to Geraldine or Timaru to do banking & shopping. Our new GP was at Fairlie, our new dentist at Geraldine. We spent more time in our car than we ever did in Christchurch. That included trips to Ashburton & Christchurch for business & to visit our sons.

When I wandered Lake Tekapo I saw many closed, ghost houses / holiday homes, post boxless, which stopped junk mail. Most houses in Lake Tekapo were private holiday homes, closed for most of the year. Some houses were commercial holidays homes, like the one we rented at Aorangi Cres, $200 / night. (Or $400 / week). Work out how much dosh that brings in annually for one commercial holiday home. And it was one of the cheaper ones, an old, 3 bed room Public Works house, built about 60 years ago for workers constructing hydro-electric dams & canals in the Mackenzie - Waitaki basins. Fortunately Leah's boss paid our weekly rent for a while, until we found suitable accommodation. But where?

Some furnished holiday homes were rented for $400 - $500 / night. That's ridiculously unaffordable for people wanting to live & work at Take Tekapo. In contrast I recently saw a Fairlie Accessible advert where a 3 bed room, unfurnished house, rented for $175 / week, on Fairlie outskirts. That was affordable. But Fairlie was 43 kms from Lake Tekapo, with a commute to work up Burkes Pass.

$400 / week rent for a small, 3 bed room house with garage was exorbitant, similar in price to Christchurch post quake rentals, where greedy landlords were coining it, due to low supply & high demand for rentals after quake damages. Luke's girlfriend's South New Brighton 3 bed room rental was damaged in the quakes & finished off in a recent storm when the roof blew off. She was sharing the rental with 2 girlfriends. Now she was back to living with her parents while battling to find another rental.

Some landlord greed: When we asked our Christchurch landlady if our empty Burnside rental could be used to accommodate Luke & friends after their rental roof blew off, she only permitted Luke & girlfriend to stay, not other friends in dire need of accommodation. We didn't bother, as our landlady's reasoning was she preferred middle aged tenants like us, rather than youngsters who'd wreck her rental with parties. She tarred all youngsters with the same brush.

Luke's girlfriend confirmed Christchurch landlord greed in her quest for another rental. Some landlords were so greedy they either didn't want pets, or wanted her to pay weekly rent for her collie dog, or a $1000 bond for her dog.

Luke & Jake were recently booted out of their Ashgrove Tce rental house, as the landlord wanted to fix the house after EQC pay out & thereafter he would live in the house. Jake moved to stay with a friend at Sumner, far from his Garland St work. Luke found a $400 / week rental in Berwick St to share rent with his girlfriend & 2 other friends. It was expensive, but par for the course in overpriced NZ.

PM Key's recent opining on rentals, when expounding on unemployed youngsters each being given $3000 by WINZ to go off the dole & move to Christchurch to help with the rebuild for 3 months (despite rental pressures on youngsters already renting in Christchurch, like my sons) was that youngsters just off the dole, or workers like my sons, could stay with family or friends. What a load of a crap! 

Other Lake Tekapo tourist trap establishments are local cafes & restaurants, some flats on top of restaurants. Of course there was tourist accommodation at Peppers Bluewater Resort (800 plus rooms) The Godley Hotel & several B & Bs, backpackers, homestays, motels & resorts dotted around town. There was also the local YHA & Lake Tekapo camp site, so like Mackenzie rabbits, Lake Tekapo was riddled with tourists.

Recently a concrete path was completed beside Lake Tekapo for campers to stroll to Lake Tekapo village. A camper van effluent & fresh water site was also revamped for camper vans to debouch crap beside SH8, overlooking Lake Tekapo, with NO FREEDOM CAMPING signs on pines. Lake Tekapo was bordered by camper van effluent, as there was another effluent site along SH8, at the E end of town. 

As our small Lake Tekapo rental (house 97.5 square metres, single garage 18 square metres) was furnished, we were still renting our 3 b.r. house at Burnside, Christchurch, for our furniture storage. (House 103 square metres, double garage 48 square metres). Over the last months I'd driven several return trips to Christchurch, fetching & carrying possessions, which were now muddled with our Lake Tekapo rental mod cons.

When we asked our Lake Tekapo landlord if he could move his furniture out, so we could relocate our furniture from Christchurch, he refused, as he'd have to store. Thus we'd have to store our furniture in Christchurch, unless we found unfurnished accommodation in Lake Tekapo. Our Lake Tekapo rental was part renovated, but the kitchen was awful, with rickety table & cupboard shelves covered in plastic, hiding decades of grime. There were 9 beds in the small, 3 bed room house, including 2 double beds & 2 double bunks, enough for 11 bodies a pop. The house was in fact an overpriced hostel, rather than a rental house for a family. So we had no space for our furniture. Our rental was across the road from backpacker establishments, so our landlord wanted it several ways - big spending backpackers, or workers crammed into 11 beds, hostel style, or long term tenants like us, without possessions. We were seen by locals as glorified backpackers to be fleeced.  

Meanwhile there were several private, closed, holiday homes, close to our rental. Across Tekapo River, on a recent walk along Murray Pl, I counted over 20 private, closed holiday homes - more closed homes than inhabited homes. And that was just one short street in Lake Tekapo. Ditto parallel Scott St.

The sooner Lake Tekapo sorted out decent, affordable accommodation for people like us who wanted to live, work & settle in Lake Tekapo the better. Otherwise Lake Tekapo would always be a tourist & rental trap, riddled with 1000s of daily tourists, just passing through. Leaving their crap of course.

The ironic convergence of Lake Tekapo tourist trap & rental trap was seen in the following Peppers Resort advert found on a community notice board, March 2014:


We have a number of hard working staff desperately requiring medium to long term accommodation options in Lake Tekapo, or surrounding townships.

If you are looking for long term, secure and trustworthy tenants - look no further. Single occupant, shared options - whatever you may have will greatly assist. 

Please contact General manager ... @ Peppers Bluewater Resort ...

The biggest tourist accommodation resort at Lake Tekapo didn't even have decent accommodation for its own staff. What a farce, employers expecting excellent staff, but not providing accommodation, nor employer excellence.

We looked at a 3 bed room, rental, pig sty, about 1 km from Leah's school - overgrown "garden," rickety carport, cracked concrete decking, dirty, smelly kitchen, old carpets, dirty bedding, rickety furniture, asbestos backed fireplace. Upstairs bedrooms were a dirty firetrap, the house an old, A frame prefab. The greedy landlord wanted $350 - $400 / week, a tourist trap / rental trap, touting good money for a rickety slum house. He wanted long term tenants while he built another house in the front garden. Tenants in that crap rental paid for the rebuild.

Another furnished, 3 b.r. house, further from Leah's school: an immaculate rats' nest with tidy garden, rent $400 / week. A flat was on top. Snags: Gas cooker, a fire hazard; no fireplace; shared double garage, electricity, washing machine, clothes line & water heating. I foresaw endless disputes with other tenants, as we would pay 60% of the electrical bill while they only paid 40% no matter how little electricity we used & how much they used.

A filthy, 3 b.r. house we saw in Aorangi Cres was another pig sty. The landlady stored stuff in the garage, stopping tenants' use of the garage. The small house was converted to a 2 b.r. house, the original lounge became a bedroom. Walls of 2 of the original bedrooms were demolished to make an open-plan lounge, cum dining room & kitchen. A fireplace with corrugated iron backing dominated the lounge & the kitchen had a gas stove. Stove & fireplace together caused miasma. I inspected the house barefoot & felt gunk underfoot. The house had inadequate cupboard space. $285 / week rental was a rip off, our health would decline in that sty.     

Near the school, Leah's boss rented a wooden, 2 bed room house, sans garage, $350 / week. One teacher lived on a nearby farm. Another commuted daily from Twizel.

Before Easter weekend I wandered 18 Lake Tekapo streets & "posted" RENTAL HOUSE WANTED notices at 72 closed houses. Not one of those houses had a letter box, so the reader could imagine how I "posted". There were many more closed houses, but I thought that was enough to test the ghost rental market. We got only 2 vague responses. Our search so far revealed only high priced, low quality rentals. Our house search continued...

As there was no decent accommodation for us at Lake Tekapo, by the end of June we settled for a 2 bedroom rental in Fairlie, a village in a lower Alpine valley, 43 kms from Lake Tekapo. Rent was $200 per week for an old flax mill cottage in Talbot Rd in the middle of Fairlie golf course. Fairlie people were friendlier than Lake Tekapo inmates. Snag: Leah had a long daily commute to & from Lake Tekapo.

Within a couple of weeks Leah organized a lift with a Richies bus driver who did the Lake Tekapo - Fairlie school bus run. The bus fare was cheaper than my driving Leah from Fairlie to Lake Tekapo daily. It also saved me winter driving on Burkes Pass. (Nevertheless, I got used to driving Burkes Pass during snow storms). Richies had a bus depot on Allandale Rd & several school / tourist bus drivers working for Richies lived at Fairlie & nearby Kimbell & Albury.

Had to laugh at a Tekapo Community Development report in the 5 November Fairlie Accessible:

"The lack of rental accommodation in Lake Tekapo affects the ability of businesses to function, for families to have a reasonable standard of living & for the community to grow. This is not a new issue..."

So greedy Lake Tekapo businesses milked the tourist dollar, but didn't provide affordable rentals, or free accommodation in remote Lake Tekapo, for their employees. If Lake Tekapo businesses didn't pull finger, to continue business, they'd either have to provide decent accommodation for workers, or accept that migrant workers would live in Fairlie & elsewhere & bus to work daily like Leah. If the latter became Lake Tekapo norm then Lake Tekapo employers should supply accommodation & travel allowances for employees.

In SA during the 1980s, when Leah & I worked at De Beers remote Kleinzee & Koffiefontein mines, De Beers provided free housing for all employees - family homes, single quarter flats & hostels, plus food for singles & free relocation, electricity & telephone for all employees. At Koffiefontein & other De Beers mines we had the option of buying our De Beers house instead of free accommodation. That gave De Beers a stable work force. De Beers also provided free bus & aeroplane services for employees & families. Senior management had free company cars & had the option of buying them cheaply after several years' service.

Coda 10.09.15. After living in Mackenzie Country for nearly 2 years at Lake Tekapo then Fairlie, I concluded that the district gave us a high cost of living with a low standard of living, as rentals were crap & there were high commuting costs for Leah to & from Lake Tekapo & high shopping / business commuting costs to Geraldine, Timaru, Ashburton, or Christchurch. We often killed two birds with one stone, e.g. including medical / dental consultations, or visiting our sons, with shopping, banking & Leah's lecturing trips to other centres. Despite the high costs of isolated, Mackenzie Country living, Leah received no isolation allowance, nor commuting allowance, in fact no job perks at all, just a salary.

A Fairlie rental ad seen on Lake Tekapo community notice board:

1 single bedroom, $140 / wk
Free Wi Fi, TV, electricity.

A rip off. There were many slumlords & greedy businesses in Mackenzie Country, eager to cash in on passing tourists, but offering crap accommodation for workers, if accommodation was offered at all. Workers usually had to find scarce, expensive, rentals themselves. No wonder workers on average lasted only 3 months at Lake Tekapo.

Oct 2016: A Lake Tekapo rental ad seen on lake Tekapo community notice board: Single room, WIFI & electricity, couple preferred, $300 - 320 / week. Slumlord rip off!

Content Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

See Million dollar homes on the rise at Lake Tekapo (The Press / Stuff Co).

See Tekapos Big Bang moment: why a sleepy village is taking off (The Press / Stuff Co). 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cowans Hill Walkway, Lake Tekapo

Map ref: BY17 983234. Two summit, Cowans Hill Walkway is a circular walk 6-8 km return, depending on one's start & end points & detours. At the time of writing, confusing DOC signs were at the bottom & some way up Cowans Hill alongside SH8. In places DOC marker poles were obscured by pines.

Much of Lake Tekapo village is built on the lower slopes of Cowans Hill overlooking Lake Tekapo & Southern Alps. Cowans Hill is terminal moraine of the ancient Godley Glacier. The terminal moraine continues across Tekapo River to an unnamed hill on which The Cairns golf course is built.

One can start / end Cowans Hill walk at Lake Tekapo dam control gates by SH8, opposite Pioneer Rd turnoff to Church of the Good Shepherd. A DOC sign by a concrete path shows the way past housing above Tekapo River. That route will give a quick return walk through pine forest to Cowans Hill 793 m summit, about 1 hour's duration. 

Alternatively for a longer circular walk through Lake Tekapo village, Cowans Hill tussock grassland & pine forest, one can wander along SH8 past housing & stockyards to the lakeside track beyond another Pioneer Rd turnoff to Pines Beach tracks in Lake Tekapo Regional Park.

Given the confusing signage for Cowans Hill Walkway it seemed that Mackenzie District Council, DOC & NZ Transport Authority were at loggerheads as to which organization was responsible for Cowans Hill tracks.

The most logical way around the base of Cowans Hill was along SH8, but NZ Transport Authority didn't provide pavements or footpaths beside SH8 for walkers / MTBs to use. The dam road / SH8 across Lake Tekapo outlet & Tekapo River was a dangerous bottleneck for vehicles, pedestrians & MTBs, as it was narrow & only had one footpath.

SH8 on the road to Fairlie, beyond Pioneer Rd turnoff, one joins a lakeside walking track marked by green & yellow DOC poles going to Lake Tekapo Regional Park. Across SH8 are stockyards by a Lake Tekapo lookout & tourist car park, with Lochinver Run development behind, going up Cowans Hill to the cemetery road & beyond to pine forest tracks going up to Cowans Hill 793 m summit.

Opting not to wander up SH8, if one follows the lakeside track, walkers are forced by means of locked gates & fences to enter the Regional Park forest where one crosses stiles by Lilybank Rd & detours through pine forest around a forester's house beside SH8. Above the forester's house one crosses SH8 by another stile to reach a closed-to-vehicles track going up Cowans Hill beside SH8. The track leads to a closed car park lookout & beyond to a heap of sand blocking traffic beside SH8, by Oregon pines & birches.

Near the top of Cowans Hill, beside SH8 one passes through a farm gate by a DOC sign marked LAKE TEKAPO WALKWAY. Cowans Hill is mentioned as an afterthought. After crossing a metal stile one enters tussock grassland overlooking a private observatory, Lake Tekapo & Alps.

In tussock grassland, above Lochinver Run, the 360 degree lake & Alpine views are worth the hassles of confusing DOC & Regional Park signs. Following the DOC marked, shared use track for walkers & MTBs, Cowans Hill hilltops, 783 m & 793 m are a lesson in how forestry & logging can destroy pristine Alpine grasslands & wetlands. From the 783 m grassland summit a Lions bench gives 360 degree views over Mackenzie Country. The grasslands are windy, so all-weather, hoody gear is necessary.

Pinus radiata pines are planted in the grassland & wetlands on top of Cowans Hill. The 783 m summit has new pine plantings, the 793 m summit has mature, logged pine forest. The pines may stop soil erosion, but will dry out the tarns on top. Some of the tarns are already dried out. A black swan pair & ducks swam a half filled tarn.

Having survived 3 years of Christchurch quakes, 2010-2013, it would be interesting to see the effects of big quakes on Lake Tekapo village, between topside tarns & wetland drainage on Cowans Hill & Lake Tekapo below. Given the close proximity to Alpine ranges & faults, like Coal River Fault below Richmond Range, I expected disastrous shaking & liquefaction. Hopefully expensive developments like Lochinver Run, Mt John Village & The Cairns have quake resilient housing?

Following the shared MTB / walker track going up to the pine forest on the 793 m summit, one crosses a metal stile into the pine forest. A PINDONE sign on a pine warns about rabbit poisoning - useless as Lake Tekapo village & forests are riddled with rabbits & rabbit warrens. So much for farmers boasting about secretly introducing calcivirus into Mackenzie Country during 1997. All that did was kill some rabbits with rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD) & toughen up surviving rabbits' immune systems, giving offspring rabbits immunity to rabbit poisons.

Beside a pine forest fence, a farm track in the grassland goes down to a locked gate above Lochinver Run development.

From radio & TV transmitters at the 793 m summit, one has views of Lake Tekapo village sewage farm & refuse dump. Following Tekapo River down stream view, after an S bend, one sees Tekapo A power station.

E of Lake Tekapo one sees Alpine peaks rising from S to N: Mt Edward, Mt Maude, Tekapo Saddle, Mt Dobson, Mt Hay, Mt Ardmore, Richmond Range, Round Hill & ski field, Two Thumbs Range, Braun-Ewart Peak, Mt Hope, Stag Saddle, Beuzenberg, Mt Toby, Captains Peak, Mt Gerald.

N of Lake Tekapo, E of Godley River, one sees The Thumbs, Mt Electra, Mt Chevalier, Mt Ross, Mt Ajax, Razor Back, Mt Erebus, Mt Sibbald.

W of Lake Tekapo one sees Mt John, Braemar Dome, Mt Stevenson, Hall Range including Haszard Peak & Mistake Peak & Gammack Range obscuring the view of Mt Cook & associated peaks.

Further W, Cowans Hill gives grand views of Mt Stafford, Barrier Range, W of Twizel & Ben Ohau Range - Backbone Peak, Mackenzies Peak, The Razorback, Kaimakamaka Peaks, Dun Fiunary, Glentanner Peak & other peaks going to Mt Sealy & Mt Sefton.

Doing a S detour from the top of Cowans Hill pine forest, one follows a forest track to the end of the pine forest & passes through a farm gate, where a stock track follows a cliff top path above Tekapo River. Vegetable sheep, Raoulia australis, on rocks indicate harsh Alpine winds sweeping up the cliff top. Many rabbit warrens showed rabbit pollution & solid mats of hawkweed, Hieracium, showed plant pollution. Rabbits didn't chomp hawkweed. I saw some rabbit carcasses, successful poisonings, but also saw rabbits hopping about, immune to Pindone. Beyond the clifftop, a farm track went down to Tekapo River by Tekapo A power station.

The way down from the pine forest summit offers various forestry tracks, a couple with DOC marker poles. The shared use MTB / walker track goes through a logged out section of forest, about 200 m x 1000 m, full of pine branch windrows, thistles, wooly mulleins, briar roses, sparse grass, new pine plantings, testament to wetland & tussock grassland destruction by foresters. The pines also obscured Lake Tekapo & Alpine views. All that pines offered was firewood, wind shelter & erosion salvage. Erosion was caused by pioneers' stock overgrazing.

The shared use track passes behind housing above Tekapo River back to the concrete path at SH8 by the Lake Tekapo dam control gates, a DOC sign there too.

Cowans Hill Walkway takes about 2 hours walking time return, or more, depending on detours.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.