We have just finished a mini cycle tour from Gibbston to Milford Sound via Queenstown and Mavora Lakes. We stayed two nights at an Alpine Club hut near the Homer Tunnel, partly to miss the rain, and partly to be able to go up to both Homer and Gertrude Saddles for their wonderful views. These walks, together with the absolutely spectacular ride along the Milford Road, made this a trip to remember. Lots of cyclists we know are taking the current opportunity to cycle the Milford Road without traffic. Once the eighty buses going to Milford Sound daily from Queenstown return, the road will no longer be enjoyable to cycle. The great god of the motor engine must be appeased by offerings of roads that then cannot be used by other forms of transport.
Two connected statements this week that jarred for me, in relation to how much I enjoyed this ride were:
- Headline statement in an Economist article: the war in Russia will have a major effect on the global economy.
- Statement from tramper at Divide Shelter: we need to get all the tourists back because tourist dollars are essential to the economy.
The great god of the motor engine is a flea on the back of the mammoth of the great god of the economy. The economy, as I have bemoaned on other occasions, has been given its own independent life, separate from the humans whose transactions actually define the economy. No humans, no economy. I would like to suggest that we focus on the humans, rather than the economy, in order to define the goals we seek to achieve.
The statement about the Russian war seemed ludicrous in that thousands of people are dying, millions are suffering, millions more have left their homeland in Ukraine as refugees to other nations, and the headline statement focuses on whether economies will be upset. Yes I know that countries need money to pay for education, healthcare etc. etc. But if there are no people, because they have all left, or are all dead, we won’t need money at all. Surely the comment should be that the war will have horrific effects on many people at many different levels?
As for tourism, it’s a topic I find hard to stop talking about once I start. Queenstown had become a horror place before COVID, with its sense of community seriously damaged. You didn’t meet locals easily because they were so diluted by the between 1 and 10 tourists per local on any day, depending on the time of year. The roads were frightening and everywhere you used to like going was mobbed with people. You had to meticulously book ahead if you wanted to travel anywhere (very difficult on a bicycle) so we went offshore to escape the hordes who had come to New Zealand. I had started actively disliking our country, which I find desperately sad. People living outside tourist centres will be unlikely to have such strong views, I know, but there is something very wrong about running a large area of New Zealand to cater to visitors rather than to the people who live in the place.
Queenstown is pretty odd in the Omicron moment. The shops are empty and they are all looking for staff. The general rhetoric is that we need overseas backpackers to come in to do the jobs (the shops have the double problem that their jobs pay terribly and New Zealanders are at minimum unemployment levels, not needing crap jobs). Why do we want shops to sell things to offshore tourists that the tourists don’t need, and locals most certainly don’t need, in order to be poor employers of people who we have to import from offshore? This is the sort of ‘economy’ we want? If so, why?
Jacinda was just in Queenstown, riding the gondola, and saying how we need the tourists back (to bolster the economy) but we need some sort of better tourism (what, or how we get it is yet to be determined). When you read the press release, she is welcoming tourists back with open arms with no hint to overseas markets that we want them to turn down the tap, or that we might turn down the tap. Doing the same thing hoping to get a different result is one of the definitions of insanity, right?
Milford Sound was astounding – the whole area is geared to buses arriving, discharging large numbers of people onto boats and collecting them up aftwards. The wharf is lined with huge (and currently unused) boats and the car park with bus parks (also currently unused). There were signs everywhere telling you what you cannot do and we expected at any moment to be told we couldn’t walk our bikes out along the pier to get a photograph at the end of our journey. If we had a car we would have had to pay $25 to park it as soon we drove in, however short the length of time (plus if you don’t pay as soon as you drive in the car owner is sent a bill for $25 + $35 admin fee). I doubt I will be back any time soon, or maybe ever.
People ask me what my solution is? They state, we need tourism to drive our economy. What else will fill the hole? My first point would be that we had an economy prior to our heights of pre-COVID tourism. We still have an economy post-COVID and in the absence of mass tourism. If the scale of economy we think we desire can only survive with a return to mass tourism, do we need to learn to do with less in our economy, so we don’t need mass tourism?
In the end, everything leads back to the basic problem that we have a planet with limited resources. As a result, endless economic expansion is an impossibility and we are hitting climate limits now. We can learn to do with less or less will be foisted upon us. To make up for my rant, I will leave you with another nice view.