People turn to commuting as Queenstown house prices soar

Commuting to Queenstown from places like Wanaka does have some upsides including the views from the Crown Range.
Dasha Kuprienko

Commuting to Queenstown from places like Wanaka does have some upsides including the views from the Crown Range.

It's not unheard of for people to commute an hour or more to work in places like Auckland, but sky-rocketing house prices and traffic congestion in Queenstown means coming from further afield is fast becoming a viable option.

There's no hard and fast statistics about the numbers of people travelling into Queenstown on a daily basis from places like Wanaka, Cromwell, Kingston and Alexandra to work, but anecdotal information suggests more and more people are doing it.

Adstaff recruitment consultant Jayne Bradbury, 30, travels from Cromwell into central Queenstown five days a week.

Queenstown housing prices are almost as high as Auckland's due to a costly building expenses. Looking towards Fernhill ...
Debbie Jamieson

Queenstown housing prices are almost as high as Auckland's due to a costly building expenses. Looking towards Fernhill from Queenstown Hill.

She car pools with three other Cromwellians and has been making the journey everyday for the past year.

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Bradbury, who relocated from Brisbane last year, has a simple answer for why she travels instead of living in Queenstown.

Hundreds of new homes are being built in Shotover Country and other subdivisions in Queenstown in an effort to alleviate ...
JOHN EDENS/FAIRFAX NZ

Hundreds of new homes are being built in Shotover Country and other subdivisions in Queenstown in an effort to alleviate housing pressure.

"It's fricken expensive and that's pretty much the reason we moved to Cromwell. I don't know how people can afford it," she says.

"It feels like the locals are constantly penalised because of it being a resort town, which I don't think is fair."

Her and her fiance pay $380 a week on rent in Cromwell, a figure which is at least half, or even a third, of what renters in Queenstown would pay, she says.

Traffic congestion in Queenstown.
JAMES ALLAN

Traffic congestion in Queenstown.

It costs about $25 a week for her petrol, Bradbury says.

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There were cons of driving about an hour each way a day including having to stick to a rigid time frame to accommodate her travel buddies, and all the "muppets" on the road, but Bradbury has no plans to move to Queenstown as long as house prices stay the same.

Traffic congestion and what the Queenstown Lakes District Council plans to do about it is concerning, especially if car parking restrictions are made even more stringent, she says.

Traffic banked up waiting to cross the one lane Kawarau Bridge into Queenstown.
Supplied

Traffic banked up waiting to cross the one lane Kawarau Bridge into Queenstown.

"[It's] s*** especially for the people that are car pooling. If people are car pooling, they are trying to stop that congestion in town.

"I think that if the council really wanted to help the locals, they would do it [parking] by application."

Another Cromwellian who makes the trip to Queenstown each day is Yamaha Central business owner and mum Carla McPhee.

​Although she only travels about 45 minutes to Frankton, her husband also travels over - in a separate vehicle.

The pair spends about $300 a week on petrol and did consider moving to the resort town initially.

"The main factor for us was just the price of living over there," McPhee said. "For what we pay for our house here, we'd be looking at paying double or even triple what we pay [here]."

The family rents a three-bedroom home on a 1000 square metre section for $400 a week and there is no way they could find a home like that to rent in Queenstown on their budget, she says. 

"There are definitely days where we say, 'God I wish we'd moved over there' [but] it's very hard to think what we would live in over there."

A lack of childcare options for their 1-year-old daughter and other general living costs were also a factor in their decision, McPhee says.

Remarkables Primary School teacher and mother of two Katherine Savage has commuted from Kingston - about 30 minutes away - for the past three years.

"We moved down because of the price of housing and the amount of traffic on the road," she said. "It's a great drive coming along the lake every morning."

It costs about $80 per week for petrol and the family owns a home in Kingston.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann Lockhart, herself a commuter for eight years from Cardrona, says there has definitely been an increase in traffic over the years, especially over summer.

About 1.1 million people visit Queenstown a year, which equates to about 3000 a day, she says.

"What we don't know is how many are commuters [but] a percentage of that will be.

"Is that a disadvantage [to Queenstown]? I don't know."

The council do not have figures on the number of people regularly commuting either.

Infrastructure principal planner Tony Pickard says they're well aware that people commute from "quite a distance" and they are looking to cater for those people in the proposed transport plan.

"Certainly it's on our radar. We know we've got long distance commuters.

"In some respects it doesn't matter where they come from. It's how people get in," he said.

The problem was not that people that lived far away and wanted to come in, it's that they all come in individually, Pickard says.

It's about changing people's behaviour towards commuting, he says.

A park-and-ride scheme is still on the cards despite the council scrapping initial plans for it earlier this month and an existing, "not well-used" car pooling scheme, will be revamped, he says.

Existing commuter transport, like the GoBus from Cromwell to Frankton, also gives people options, Pickard says.

"It's not all about what the council are doing, it's about what employers can do. We'd like to think that even if the population gets bigger, we can be smarter about how people travel."

The council's proposed transport plan makes reference to commuters and how to cater for them but not specifically to commuters from outside the Wakatipu.

House prices rocketed up 31 per cent in the year through September in Queenstown to an average of $959,000, according to Quotable Value New Zealand.

 - Stuff

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