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Living the gay life, Queenstown-style

Thu 25 Aug 2005 In: Community

When the idea of Gay Ski Week was first mooted in Queenstown, apparently the local police weren't too keen on the idea, or so goes a rumour I heard while I was there. There were murmurings that Queenstown wasn't the place for “those sort” of people, but I have to say I couldn't find any evidence that such a feeling exists now, especially as there are a significant number of “those sort” of people not just visiting here, but living here. But how does one go about finding gay men in a small town? Perhaps the answer to this question is what had the police worried. In Timaru, the hottest local place to meet men is the public toilets – or so John Banks tells us – but let's face it, who can blame them? The place has become most famous recently for the speed at which the Prime Minister's motorcade travelled through it, which might tell you everything you need to know about Timaru. You know what they say. If in doubt, look to the hospitality industry. I had heard another rumour that the St Moritz hotel, which is to be base camp for this year's Gay Ski Week, had at one time been known around town as St Mary's. I'm not sure if that applies any longer. 29-year-old Darren Hocking says that for a while he was the only gay man working there, although apparently there is a small cabal now. At any rate, I doubt Darren has ever been called Mary, seeing as he's an outdoors bloke. He moved here from Hampshire in the UK four years ago, primarily to learn to snowboard. “I originally came on a working holiday visa for a year, and I was in Christchurch at the time,” he says. “I came down to Queenstown for a winter season, spent three months here, loved the job I was doing, had a good time snowboarding, met some really good people and decided to stay for the summer. And four years later I'm still here." So what was the attraction? "Queenstown is a beautiful place to live. Most days are blue sky and sunshine, so that makes you want to get up in the morning. During the summertime there's heaps to do with rafting, mountain biking, hiking and all those outdoor activities that I like to do." Around the time of the annual Winter Festival, the town gets so busy it feels like a city, he says. "It's got a real vibe about it. But in the off seasons – October, May/June – it's really quiet, so it feels like a small town. You walk down the street and it takes you half an hour to get from one end to the other because you keep running into people you know. Like a little family." A LAID-BACK LIFESTYLE Indeed. Darren has a close circle of friends that celebrate Easters and Christmases together, but what about family in the Sister Sledge sense? What's life like as a gay man in Queenstown? The community is very integrated, there are no specific gay pubs or clubs, so people mostly rely on meeting others through friends or the internet. Dunedin is a relatively short three-and-a-half hours drive away, and with its vibrant and active gay/lesbian community, Darren's made a lot of friends down there. "Queenstown's not the easiest place to meet other guys, but that's not a major priority in my life. I love living here because of the surroundings, I've got a lot of good friends here, I enjoy the job that I do, and all the activities,” he says. “Quite a lot of gay people live in Queenstown, but a lot of them are older couples that have been together for a while, and come here for the laidback lifestyle." Like Bill Bailey and Mike Harris, who moved here from Los Angeles seven years ago. They run a B   Chris Banks - 25th August 2005

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Thursday, 25th August 2005 - 12:00pm

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