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!

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.

A self drive discovery of New Zealand

By Deb B.

Have you ever thought to yourself, I just need to get away, clear the head and immerse myself in nature’s beauty? I am sure that you have at one stage or another. After a long three years without much self time out, I decided on the spur of the moment to contact Debbie at New Zealand Awaits to plan my get away from the day to day monotony, and Australian heat J

With the kids settled into school and a plethora of relatives on hand to help out, Debbie and I planned an incredible trip to the North and South islands. Debbie was on hand with helpful tips and must-see places, as well as reality checking about what exactly I might be able to achieve in the thirteen days spent traversing this glorious country. This is very helpful if you don’t know the country, or if you do and don’t have a lot of time to plan the arrangements yourself.

So many people asked me, why did you do a self drive of New Zealand? I am very quick to point out the obvious benefits of my self-drive tour:

  1. You wake up when you want, and go to bed when you want, in what can only be described as fantastic, and often unique accommodation – a mix of B&Bs and luxury hotels.
  2. You go to places you want to see without distractions– you see exactly what you want to see, and when – important on a time limited trip
  3. You have great conversations and meet amazing people, and you don’t have conversations when you don’t want to
  4. You can play YOUR songs in the car, and leave Justin Bieber for the school run when you get home
  5. You can stop anywhere you want to and B-R-E-A-T-H-E it all in, it is hard not to come away from such a trip without knowing more about yourself and with clarity about your future direction.
  6. You have to problem solve issues that arise – the benefit of course when you have an amazing travel agent such as Debbie, is that you are never really facing any tough issues by yourself.

And that is exactly what I did.

For anyone considering a self drive holiday and wanting a level of comfort, having a credible travel agent who has checked out the places, has the business relationships for great deals and knows the country, is a big relief.   Debbie is incredibly professional and knows her content. She had me on the plane in less than two weeks in peak season, with a planned holiday that allowed a mix of fun and rest – no easy feat!

And I had a ball!

White Island, active volcano
White Island, active volcano

The highlights of the self drive tour in the North would be White Island at Rotorua, where I took a helicopter ride directly from my accommodation at the Black Swan Resort to the island and back, with lovely companions from the hotel. The resort is incredible and the hospitality endless at the Black Swan, thanks to Arthur and staff.

white-island-helicopter
Enjoying the helicopter ride to White Island

The highlights from the South Island would have to include the fly over Milford Sound with Fly Fiordland and also the self drive through Arthur’s Pass and Haast Pass.

Milford Sound from the air
Milford Sound from the air
By the river in Haast Pass
By the Haast River

Both were equally as stunning, with dramatic scenery that took my breath away and in moments brought tears to my eyes. Nature certainly puts on a show in New Zealand.

Arthur's Pass scenery
Arthur’s Pass scenery
Wanaka view
Wanaka view

As a vegan (yes one of those), it is always hard to travel. However, John’s three course vegan meal at Kapitea Lodge, Hokitika was incredible and he made every effort to accommodate the diet, taking it to another level with his scrumptious dishes that other guest were envious about at the end of the night.

The days went quickly, and all too soon the holiday was over. I can say that I will be back again, as this trip opened up my imagination to the possibilities and gave me a new lease on life. New Zealand is an incredible country, with so much diversity of landscape and interesting history. There is still so much of it to explore.

Doubtful Sound Wilderness – Rain or Shine

There are few places on earth that are so easily accessible, yet so wild, as Doubtful Sound. Rugged, remote, and lush with rainforest, this sound will take your breath away. Whether it’s pouring rain, or brilliant sunshine, Doubtful Sound never fails to deliver.

Spending an overnight in Doubtful Sound with Chris from Deep Cove Charters, a local who has spent his whole life in the sound, is an experience every visitor to New Zealand should not miss!  Completely disconnected from the rest of the world, the power and solitude of Fiordland enveloped us. Rather than dampening our trip, the rain added to the awe of this moody sound and provided a spectacular display of hundreds of waterfalls. We saw dophins, fur seals, penguins, and albatross. We fished, kayaked, and just breathed in the serenity and peacefulness of this exquisite wilderness. Chris pulled up crayfish for lunch, and we fished for dinner to accompany the venison previously hunted by Chris. At dusk We enjoyed a drink with new friends, discussed the privilege of being where we were, and were lulled to sleep by the sound of silence.
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The day after we left Doubttul Sound, my sister, her husband, and another couple spent three days kayaking and camping in the sound. Their weather couldn’t have been more different.

 

doubtfulkayak

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doubftulswim

 

doubtfulsound doubtfulreflectionWhether from the comfort of Chris’ boat, or roughing it in a kayak, Doubtful Sound is truly magic.

9 Reasons Why I Love New Zealand

I’ve lived many places around the world, but there is nowhere quite like home: New Zealand. Here’s my 9 reasons why I love New Zealand so much.

1. Our Nature – our wild, rugged, remote, and stunning places.

Whether it’s our pristine beaches, our lush native bush, our glaciers and mountains, or our blue, blue skies, it’s all just so damn spectacular. Ask anyone who has been. I give thanks every day that I was born here.

Wild New Zealand
Wanaka High Country

2. Our laid-back, ‘yeah, whatever’ attitude towards LGBT people

Most kiwis could care less if you’re LGBT or not, making New Zealand a great place for LGBT folks to live and visit. I think this is due to our socially progressive, open-minded attitude about many things. We were the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in 1893, and 34% of our parliament members today are female. We were the first country to have an openly transgender member of parliament, Georgina Beyer, elected in 1999, prior to which she’d been a rural town mayor for five years. Go Georgina! Granted, it took us a little longer to get gay marriage, but that did finally get legalised in 2013.

3. Our sense of humour. We’re irreverent, sarcastic, and tell it like it is.

We make fun of ourselves, and love to kid others too. And we expect to give as good as we get, so let your guard down a little, and don’t be afraid to poke fun when you’re in New Zealand. Don’t be surprised either when we give it right back – it’s a sign of affection and means you’re seen as ‘one of us’.

4. Our connection to nature and the outdoors.

Kiwis love the outdoors. We love our beaches and BBQs in the summer, our ski-fields in the winter, and we love getting out to explore and enjoy our own country. Even our homes are designed with big sliding or bi-fold doors that spill the dining room or living room out onto our decks for outdoor living. We’re also a pretty active nation, and we love to take advantage of our endless hiking trails (we call it tramping – but that doesn’t make us tramps!), our diverse mountain biking and cycling trails, the endless water-sports on offer with our spectacular coastline, lakes, and rivers. And we’re the world leaders when it comes to adventure sports too – bungy jumping, jet boating, zorbing (all invented in New Zealand), caving, ziplining, paragliding, skydiving… we just can’t find enough different ways to walk, paddle, pedal, glide, whizz, and fly though our great outdoors.

New Zealand Outdoor Living
Outdoor Living
donut_island_view
Paddling a favourite spot on the Coromandel Peninsular

5. Our dedicated volunteers who are committed to protecting our unique environment.

When you start learning about the huge number of eco-sanctuaries in New Zealand, and the vast numbers of New Zealanders who are the reason these places exist, you can’t help but be impressed. Many Kiwis understand the fragility and importance of our unique flora and fauna, and that we need to protect and restore it, for our own sake, that of our children, and the many generations to come. It’s something about New Zealand that I’m so proud of.

New Zealand Wildlife
Rare and Endangered Takahe in at Maungatautari Ecosanctuary

6. Our delicious, fresh, seasonal foods, and our world-class wines.

It’s not hard to get excellent quality, fresh, locally produced cuisine here. Even small cafes will often have locally sourced, fresh and seasonal produce. And pair that delicious meal with some local wine from one of our numerous wine growing regions. Our Sauvignon Blancs are well appreciated all over the world now, but we also produce spectacular Pinot Noirs, as well as other varietals. Wine tastings are such a fun way to learn about new wines and support local winemakers.  You’ll love what you discover!

Farm to Table Food
From the farm to the table

7. Our modern banking systems.

When I first returned home a few years ago, my sister repaid me some money via her banking phone app within a few seconds. I couldn’t believe it. “What do you mean you can’t do that in the U.S.?” she asked. “We send cheques,” I explained. “What?” she asked like I was nuts. NO ONE uses cheques here anymore, except our mother, who is 82! EVERYTHING is done electronically in New Zealand, mostly on mobile devices, and has been for years. It’s SO easy. I love it!

Easy Pay Bank App
So easy to pay back your sister!

8. Our All Blacks!

If you don’t know who they are, then you’re missing out. We are a rugby-crazy nation, but then we are the best in the world, so why wouldn’t we be! Everything stops when there are games on. And if it’s the World Cup final (meaning a true ‘world’ cup final… not a ‘World Series’ that involves only one nation), then the whole country comes to a grinding halt. We celebrate, and sometimes mourn, with our boys in black. Check out the haka below. Gives me chills!

9. Last but not least, our electoral campaigns are only about a month long – yes only a month!

Legally, no longer than 40 days. Ok, so I’m really only adding this because Donald Trump is all over our TV, in New Zealand! And has been for months. Ugh!! One month – imagine that? It’s so refreshing!

I may be biased, but it’s the best country in the world. Come home with us to see for yourself!

Is there a need for a New Zealand gay and lesbian travel company?

LGBT Rainbow Flag
(picture by torbakhopper 2012 https://flic.kr/p/didgDi)

 

A little over a year ago my partner, Karen, and I resigned from our jobs as educators to follow my dream of starting a travel company bringing travellers to New Zealand, my home county. New Zealand is such a stunning country, magnificent scenery, friendly people, unique wildlife, great food and wine, and I’m completely passionate about it. I’m also an avid traveller. During my 20s, I lived and worked in Japan, England, and Hungary, back-packed through Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel, China, Macau, Hong Kong, and Singapore, cycle-toured through Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and travelled in numerous more countries for shorter trips. I was bitten hard by the travel bug at a time when most of the world was safe for a woman to put a back pack on her back and head off into the unknown. I loved every minute of it. Now I’m in my 40s, it’s a natural fit that I would want to share my passions of both traveling and New Zealand with others from around the world.

 

We were pretty sure we wanted to serve the LGBT community in our new venture. We weren’t sure if there was a need for a New Zealand LGBT travel company given New Zealand is pretty gay-friendly, so we asked the following questions.

 

Why wouldn’t LGBT travellers looking to join a group tour just travel with one of the numerous other NZ travel companies available?

Well… I think many do! However, here’s my take on that question. In 2008 Karen and I went on a cruise of Alaska with my mother – her dream trip. Every night we cringed at the thought of whom we’d end up sharing dinner with (random seating each night) and how they would react to us. The worst night was the homophobic, socially conservative, right-wing Christian who thought he had the right to condemn us. It’s what most of us dread, right? Certainly we didn’t really care what they thought of us, but it was hardly a fun evening! If only we’d been on an Olivia cruise!

 

How would we differ from established tour operators who are ‘gay-friendly’?

Some companies will show up as ‘gay-friendly’ on a google search, or in the ‘Gay Tours’ category of web listings, but when you visit their website, there is nothing identifying them as being gay-friendly. As a lesbian traveller, that’s a pet peeve of mine! Are they really gay-friendly? Or just after my pink dollars?

By boldly stating that we are an LGBT travel company, everyone travelling with us knows this. There is no risk of being forced into travelling with the likes of, God forbid, a certain Kentucky County Clerk!

 

Aren’t there already plenty of other LGBT Travel Companies in New Zealand?

Short answer here! I found two. Neither offering all the services we are, especially small group trips for LGBT travellers.

 

Will gay-friendly straight travellers join us?

Of course! We love hanging out with our straight friends and really enjoy the mix and energy of everyone when we all get together. We know there are plenty of straight allies out there who will enjoy traveling with us.

 

On a personal level, why is it important to serve the LGBT community?

Throughout the world, the fight for equality is still not over. Just look at Kentucky and the huge numbers of supporters she has (I can’t bear to mention her name on our site). Not to mention the numerous countries that still criminalise homosexuality.

We are so fortunate in New Zealand and Massachusetts (where we spend part of each year), and we don’t take for granted the rights we now enjoy in our lives thanks to countless courageous LGBT folks who have paved the way for generations before us. Not only would it feel right to honour them by taking care of LGBT travellers in New Zealand, we also want to ensure those who are still in the midst of the fight can have a true vacation free from that kind of persecution.

 

Debbie at Boston Gay Marriage Rally, 2006
Debbie at Boston Gay Marriage Rally, 2006

 

So that’s who we are. A travel company committed to ensuring that everyone has an amazing travel experience.

LGBT or straight, what do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.