Wanaka Wows LGBTQ Travellers

Caroline and Suzie in Wanaka
Caroline & Suzie

Meet Caroline and Suzie, our trusted LGBT locals in Wanaka.  They own and run Criffel Peak, a lovely B&B, a few minutes walk from the pubs, cafes, restaurants and waterfront of vibrant Wanaka. This South Island town of around 9,000 residents is funky, hip, and surrounded by incredible vistas. Caroline and Suzie are wonderful locals who will share all the great local secrets when you stay with them in Wanaka. I chatted with Suzie about how LGBTQ folks are treated in New Zealand and also why Wanaka is so appealing to LGBTQ travellers.

How is New Zealand in general for LGBTQ folks?

I think we’re more gay friendly here than most other countries. We have a lot more presence in the media with really good role models like Louisa May, our lesbian MP, and Tamati Coffey, the weather man – he’s a politician too now.  And Rainbow Youth is helping younger people too. There’s just more visibility. We used to live in Auckland, and it is very open, with pride, gay clubs and bars, so it’s more noticeable there.  When we moved to small town Wanaka we were warned that it would be different, but we were still very easily accepted even though there is not the same visibility.

Relaxing in Wanaka
Chillin’ in Wanaka

Why do you think New Zealand is so LGBTQ friendly?

Kiwis are very laid back. They judge you on your personality, if you don’t moan, but get stuck in and contribute. When people I meet for the first time ask about my husband, and I tell them I have a wife, they typically respond with, “Oh right, that’s lovely.” After we got married in 2014, many of the husbands of the women I golf with made a point of congratulating me the next time they saw me. It was so lovely! And the local B&B owners group we belong to were so excited to throw us a ‘Hen’s night’ before our wedding, with a chauffeur, gifts, drinks and food, just as any couple would receive.

Why Wanaka? What makes it a great destination for LGBTQ travellers?

For anyone who loves the outdoors, Wanaka is a fantastic destination. It has everything here. You can enjoy both soft and hard adventure, from easy activities up to everything adrenaline. Kayaking on the lake, climbing, the national park on our doorstep, vineyards, golf, skiing, hot and dry in summer, and cold and dry in winter. We both love the outdoors, we go skiing, hiking, golfing. We feel very fortunate to live here, it’s paradise. And we love sharing this paradise with our guests.

wanaka jet boat
Jetboat through remote wilderness valleys

There are several LGBT owned businesses here as well as an active lesbian community.  We get the local girls together for drinks and gatherings on a regular basis.

Also our food and vineyards are popular and world class. Wanaka, and New Zealand as a country, is hands down fantastic, because of our environment. Don’t wait! Come now and come as many times as you can while you’re able to make the most of it, as there is so much to do and you won’t be able to fit it all in.

wanaka vineyard
Vineyard bliss

Whenever we’re in Wanaka with our group trips, we try to hook up with Caroline and Suzie and their friends for a night with the locals. Come and hang out with us!

A Gay Traveller’s Off The Beaten Path Paradise

Meet two more of our trusted LGBT locals, Steve and Pete. Hear their thoughts on why Golden Bay is such a great destination for gay travellers.

gay traveller paradise
Pete and Steve lovin’ life in Golden Bay

Pete and Steve own and operate gorgeous Ratanui Lodge at the top of the South Island,  and they are phenomenal hosts! I adore spending time with them in their slice of paradise. If you’re a gay traveller who seeks a more remote experience immersed in nature, Golden Bay is where it’s at!

Located at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, and over the infamous Takaka Hill, Golden Bay is often skipped by travellers who think it’s too far away. It’s exactly that ‘end of the road’ location that makes Golden Bay so idyllic.

What makes Golden Bay so special?

Golden Bay: Where if you are normal you are weird.  The small community here thrives on diversity and acceptance, and is full of such a range of people from dairy farmers to retirees to old hippies living off the grid to amazing artists.  Golden Bay is warm and sunny in summer, with 17 beaches. It has easy access to the Northern Abel Tasman National Park, and is an end of the road destination free of tour buses and mass tourism.  The people here make the experience; the beaches and scenery make tourists want to linger.  There is more to explore here than most expect.  As access to the southern Abel Tasman National Park is at capacity over the summer months, the Northern Abel Tasman offers a wilderness feel where you can still have a golden sand beach all to yourselves!

new zealand beaches
A scenic flight from Golden bay, takes in mountains, rugged coastlines and deserted beaches

How is the Golden Bay area for LGBTQ people?

Very open and accepting.  LGBTQ people are an important part of the community and are celebrated. We have lived together in Golden Bay for 11 years as an out couple, and have been treated with acceptance and respect.

Gay traveller paradise
Gay Owned Ratanui Lodge in off-the-beaten-path Golden Bay offers exceptional customer service and local knowledge, tips, and advice.

Why do you think NZ is so gay friendly compared to many other countries in the world?

New Zealand is a remote destination with a small population, and is a young country by European standards.  There is still an “end of road” feel where everyone relies on each other and depends on each other.  New Zealand is a small community relatively speaking as well and there is a need to get on with your neighbours.  The conservative Churches that preach separation don’t have a strong influence in New Zealand culture.  It seems that New Zealanders in general are less concerned about who you love than how you interact with the community as a human being.

Why did you move to NZ permanently Steve? Was our gay-friendly attitude part of the decision?

Steve and Paul at beach
A Beach of their own

I moved here because I met Pete here on my travels in 2006.  When we decided we were going to live together as a gay couple, the immigration standards here were much more friendly toward a gay couple than if we had tried to settle in the States.  I was able to obtain a temporary work visa very quickly as a result of my relationship with Pete, and over time that led to temporary residency, followed by permanent residency, and last year to citizenship.  The Immigration New Zealand family track is inclusive of gay couples.  At the time we were starting out together, that wasn’t the case in the States and it would have been virtually impossible for Pete to join me in the US on a permanent basis.  Also, I fell in love with New Zealand anyway, so it was an easy decision for us to make our home in New Zealand.

What makes NZ a great destination for gay travellers?

As a gay traveller, New Zealand offers a different experience than say Fire Island, Key West, or Mikanos.  It’s not a huge party/nightlife scene.  It’s an opportunity to see the most beautiful country in the world, with a stunning variety of scenery, in a safe, welcoming environment.  As the gay Traveller matures and looks for experiences that are beyond gay-centric, but still gay-friendly, New Zealand offers warm welcomes, little judgement, and a chance to explore remote places away from the crowds.  Basically as a gay traveller you can experience all the adventures that the rest of the tourists to New Zealand are here for, but without any threat or bias.

New Zealand remote beach
Deserted Beaches

Golden Bay is a truly unique place with so much to do. It’s a perfect destination for semi-independent gay travellers who have time to get off the beaten path and explore.

 

Nicky and Lisa Discover LGBTQ Friendly New Zealand

For the second of our interviews with our trusted LGBT locals, we chatted with Nicky and Lisa. These Irish gals found LGBTQ friendly paradise in New Zealand, have made it their home, started their own cycle tour business, and become Kiwis!

Biking New Zealand back roads
Biking New Zealand’s back roads

How did you end up in New Zealand?

Nicky and I first set foot on the land of the Long White Cloud in December 2009. We were in New Zealand to have a holiday of a lifetime. We did some extensive research into what we wanted to do once we got here but hadn’t thought about whether or not it was a country where LGBTQ travellers would be welcomed or shunned. To be honest we were just prepared to roll with whatever attitude was put forward, after all we were living in Northern Ireland at the time, a country that was and still isn’t LGBTQ friendly in many ways.

The first stop on our holiday was a sailing trip at the Bay of Islands. We met the couple of guys who were running the trip and to our delight we realised that they weren’t just business partners but life partners as well. So just by sheer luck the first Kiwis we met were gay! This really set up the rest of our holiday. Our next stop was back to Auckland to a B&B in Ponsonby. We were greeted by our host who, without any questions to us, said that he had a great film for us to watch about New Zealand’s first transgender Member of Parliament. Immediately this easy attitude towards LGBTQ issues put us at ease in this fabulous country.

Upon our return to Northern Ireland, we both realised that New Zealand felt more like home than Northern Ireland did. It was hardly surprising that very quickly we made the biggest decision of our lives. We decided to emigrate to New Zealand.

Mapua Beach
Biker’s Paradise

A year later we had our visas, sold our house, packed up our belongings and placed them in the shipping container. Flights were booked, and we and the cat returned to New Zealand as residents.

Where are you living now and is it LGBTQ friendly?

We settled in the top of South Island in a small village called Mapua, about 30 mins drive out of Nelson. We bought a house out in the rural area just outside the village itself. As we started to settle into our new surroundings and life, it quickly became apparent that we were not the only lesbians in the village. In fact, we were not the only lesbians on our road! There were at least 2 LGBTQ couples within 4km stretch of road.

The more we became integrated into our local society the more LGBTQ couples we met. Mapua has a population of around 3,000 and with the amount LGBTQ families in the area we could probably run our own Pride March.

As Mapua/Nelson region has so many out-LGBTQ families it has never been an issue for us to live in any way that is not honest. We live our lives quite openly and are fully accepted as a couple both in social circles and business.

Bikers at beach
Soak in the views

Tell us about your cycle tour business.

Cycling is a passion of ours and our region lends itself so well to be explored by bike so in 2011 we set up our cycle tour business, Wheelie Fantastic. One of our first group bookings that year was from a company in America that caters for gay men. They booked a group of 14 with us and have been returning each year since. Many of them talk to us about how refreshing it is to be in a country where sexuality is not an issue.

New Zealand road cycling
From trail riders to road cyclists, Wheelie Fantastic has a ride for you!

Our local knowledge allows us to create a wide range of cycling experiences in the Nelson Tasman area. We create rides to suit your budget, length of time you have, and your riding ability, from trail riders to road bike enthusiasts. Tours can be self-guided, guided and/or vehicle supported. Most importantly, we help you discover the hidden gems of our area.

New Zealand biking
Mapua’s diverse landscape makes for fun rides

What would you tell LGBTQ travellers considering New Zealand?

We believe you will be welcomed into Aotearoa with a genuine warm reception no matter where you are from and secondly you will be treated with respect and equality regardless of your sexuality.

Nicky and I have travelled to other parts of the world where we have felt it to be impossible to act as anything but friends. But here in New Zealand we are proud to live our life as we are and never hide our sexuality. In New Zealand, we have found a truly liberal minded country and we are now proudly Kiwis. We are proud to be lesbian Kiwis. Just make sure you are an All Blacks supporter (That’s our national rugby team). That’s all Kiwis really want to know about you. Whether you’re LGBTQ or not they don’t care, but just shout loudly for the ALL Blacks.

Nicky and Lisa take care of every last detail to create the perfect ride for you and their outstanding level of service is second to none!  Join us on our  South Island Sojourn in March 2018 to meet Nicky and Lisa and ride the gorgeous Mapua region with them. You won’t regret it!

Scotty & Mal – New Zealand LGBT Heroes and Activists

Scotty and Mal in their bar
Scotty and Mal – “Mein Hosts!”

Scotty and Mal own Scotty & Mal’s Cocktail and Lounge Bar in Wellington. They’ve been out for decades and so have an interesting historical perspective on what makes New Zealand LGBT friendly. For the first of our interviews with our trusted LGBT locals,  I sat down with Mal for a chat to learn more.

How is Wellington for LGBT people? 

Wellington is probably the best city in the country for LGBT people. Cuba Street, where our bar is located, is famous for being bohemian, hippie, a little like the Castro in San Francisco on a much smaller scale. Men can walk down the street arm and arm and no one bats an eyelid. Gay people are integrated everywhere. Even the drag queens are in various bars in Wellington, not just our bar.

Are you out in your daily life?

We’re well known in Wellington, and nationally actually, as fighters for LGBT rights. I’ve worked in every gay bar in Wellington for the last 40 years, and Scotty and I have been together 26 years. We won our wedding in a radio marketing campaign to raise awareness for marriage equality, so we are known throughout the country. We’re also very well respected in the hospitality industry throughout New Zealand.

Scotty and Mal interviewed when same-sex marriage legalised
Interview by national TV news when same-sex marriage became legal in 2013

In general, is New Zealand LGBT friendly?

LGBT friendly Wellington during pride
Hosting “Pooches in the Park” at Out In The Park, part of Wellington Pride

For a small country we’ve got so much.  We’ve decriminalized homosexuality, we’ve got the human rights amendment act that prevents discrimination, we’ve legalised prostitution to assist getting the girls off the streets, as long as they’re registered with local police station then they can advertise in papers. It is still harder for the trans community in New Zealand. Because the LGBT community is so inclusive now it’s getting better, most companies have very open attitudes, most venues have unisex toilets, but there are still some loop holes in the laws that are not equal that we need to work on. But some of our bus drivers in the city are transgender, and it’s their personality that outweighs their gender. No one cares. We’ve also got Drag Queen Story Hour in our local libraries, so we’re making progress. Scotty and I have celebrated all the people who have made our community better and stronger by creating a honorary wall of our heroes in our bar. We want everyone to come in and see it and celebrate our history!

Is there still a need for LGBT spaces?

People say we don’t need gay spaces anymore, but there is always going to be a need for gay spaces… the bi-curious, people who may want to come out, people who don’t feel comfortable cuddling in a straight bar, that’s why we’re still here for them.

Performance night with Miss Pollyfilla
Performance night with Wellington Legend “Miss Pollyfilla”

Compared to other countries, what makes New Zealand LGBT friendly?

Really because we’re such a small nation and have had such a long battle and long hard fight for our rights. During the fight to decriminalise homosexual activity 30 years ago, the so-called Christians were chanting, “Kick them back to the gutters and sewers where they came from.” Normal Joe Blogs on the street were horrified that these people were meant to be Christians and were saying those things about us. It helped our cause. Society has moved on and the ‘old watch’ is slowly dying out. Society has become so progressive. New Zealanders think that as long as you don’t upset me or hurt me, then you’re fine.

What makes New Zealand a great destination for LGBT travellers?

It’s the country, the scenery is so spectacular. We’ve got everything, the mountains, lakes, great destination all with incredible activities, jet boating, bungee jumping, everything. And New Zealanders are so sociable, so friendly. Tourists who come into our bar say they absolutely love Wellington, it’s such a great walkable city with fantastic museums, galleries, restaurants, cafes and bars. And we’ve got so many American friends who are moving here!

 

Attending a same-sex wedding
Attending a Same Sex wedding

 

We agree! It’s the country. And it’s thanks to people like Scotty and Mal who have made New Zealand lgbt friendly. They are heroes in our eyes for their long-standing involvement in the fight for LGBT rights in New Zealand. Their delightful personalities and genuine Kiwi warmth also makes Scotty & Mal’s Cocktail and Lounge Bar a must visit when you’re visiting Wellington.