Homeless in paradise

On my morning walk I feel like a character in a postcard. The beach at the end of my road – Onetangi on Waiheke Island – is my happy place. Most days, you’ll find me walking the 1.8km stretch with a dog or a friend, if I’m lucky. We always remark on how fortunate we are, especially as most of the world on our doorstep is in wintery, Covid-y lockdown hell.

But lately, my walk has become increasingly disturbing. And no, it’s not because it’s full of tourists over summer (although it is, and they are a bit annoying but hey, we have to share the paradise) but rather because it’s full of homeless people. Last Saturday I counted 27 camper vans on the ocean front. These were no flash Maui RVs but converted people movers or station wagons that were on their last legs. In the early morning all their windows were dark with closed curtains.

Before you think I am some sort of NIMBYist who is burning after freedom campers or anyone who might be wrecking the view from the bach, think again. Like I said, I am not anti-tourist. If I was, I wouldn’t be silly enough live to live in a tourist hotspot. In fact, what does unnerve me about the people living in vans on the beach is that they are not tourists. They are workers who are living on the island during summer, most likely employed in the hospitality and wine sectors.

How do I know that they’re not all just young travellers, passing through and bunking down in their crappy old camper vans, enjoying a bit camping down on the beach? One reason is because I recognise them as part of the perennial Argentinian / South American workforce that is a regular feature of the culture on Waiheke. Mainly in their 20s and 30s, these guys are an important part of the island’s transient workforce that keeps our hospitality and wineries afloat. They return to Waiheke every spring and summer to work here because there are so many jobs and they love it here. Many spend the winter season working in Queenstown or other tourist destinations.

This year, there have been more jobs than ever on the island. At the beginning of this summer, business owners estimated that there were at least 200 jobs that couldn’t be filled, partly due to a lack of seasonal workers being allowed into the country because of Covid, but also because there was nowhere for the workers to live once they got here.

Accommodation is incredibly scarce on Waiheke. Over the past decade I have lived here, I have watched dozens of families being turfed out of rental homes by landlords who have chosen the quick-and-big-bucks Airbnb route. Unless renting folk are fortunate enough to find affordable, decent accommodation, and are willing to move approximately every year when the same thing happens again, they are driven off the island, eroding the community for the sake of the tourist dollar. It feels like soon no full-time community will be left here and we will end up just another empty and soulless tourist hotspot and a place for the super-rich to collect holiday homes.

But back to the workers. Every year, Waiheke’s online accommodation pages are beset by Argentinians begging for places to rent, a place to park their vans or even pitch a tent in someone’s garden. It’s heartbreaking as we all know there is simply nowhere for them to go.

Except the beach! Lovely in summer, maybe for a week or so, but no way to live a dignified and comfortable life, which we all have a right to.

Later that day, our online community page showcased the reactions of the ‘proper’ locals (the ones who live in houses). Wide-ranging judgements and intolerances, de rigueur on Facebook, were mixed with laments that we need to house everyone in our community, especially ‘essential workers’ who serve our coffee and eggs bene on demand. Isn’t that our right?

Our rights and their rights are intertwined. Their right to housing and to be treated like valid human beings is increasing as our right to all-day breakfasts, seven days a week is diminishing. I notice that several cafes here are now operating on reduced hours because they cannot be staffed. The workers at my local beach cafe, which is always busy, told me last month they could only serve coffee and a pre-baked muffin until lunch time. ‘We have no chefs in the morning,’ they told me. ‘We have had plenty of people from Auckland [35 minutes’ ferry ride away] apply for the jobs but there’s nowhere for them to live, or they can’t afford the rents of anything that is available.’ Another restaurant informed us they regrettably had to cancel our pre-booked work function as they couldn’t find staff for that day.

So inconvenient for the expectant crowds of locals and tourists. And it’s so annoying when you can’t find a carpark at the beach before your morning walk because there are 27 camper vans there. I really wish those people would wake up and get cracking on my bacon and eggs and flat white. Really, what does one have to do on this island to get decent service?

Wonder how this car’s owner managed to take up two precious oceanfront carparks?

When I finally found a carpark the other day, I noticed a young woman shuffle bleary-eyed out of the public toilets. She walked about 400 metres back to her camper van, past four beachfront houses with Sea Legs erected in the front gardens, one with an Aston Martin out the front, taking up two car spaces. I wonder what she thought?

Copyright Paulette Crowley, 2021.

2 Replies to “Homeless in paradise”

  1. I’m so happy someone has written this article. Thank you. I have a six year old & soon we will be moving into his nineth home on Waiheke, since his birth. Often I feel our government is so focused on the almighty “first home buyer” that the vast majority of us, who are renters, who will not qualify to buy a home any time soon, are completely forgotten. The seasonal workers are homeless, the locals are being priced out & the majority of houses sit empty for most of the year. Those of us fortunate enough to find a rental count ourselves lucky to get a “long term” 12 months, and if you find anything vaguely livable under $700pw then you’ve hit the jackpot! Someone needs to serve the coffee & cook those eggs bene’s. Someone needs to gas up those Sealegs. How exactly do we pay $890pw rent (trade me, 3bed) on an eggs bene serving/coffee making/petrol pumping wage? Oh and Don’t forget the yearly (or six monthly) cost of moving house!
    The people who keep this island running deserve the stability of a secure home, whether we are local renters or seasonal workers and its about time we all made a lot more noise about it.


  2. I love Waiheke Island and miss it so much and it is so interesting to read this and everyone has there own experiences of Waiheke Island and every place in the world if you can appreciate this and everyone goes there for different reasons and learns what they need to learn . There are no hospitals on Waiheke Island so if you need to go to hospital for anything the closest one is in Auckland and u need to catch the ferry and the bus to get to the hospital and when you are discharged from the hospital then you need to go home if you have a home or u might be able to stay with a friend if they can accomodate you and they have the skills to assist you . It is nice to swim in the sea there and it is lovely to go sailing there to and it is also a nice place to work if you can find work you can do and want to do as everyone is different and has something to offer Waiheke . The market is on there on a Saturday and it can be busy sometimes and very interesting . It is a nice place to go kayaking as well and a nice place to go walking if you enjoy those 2 activities . I enjoyed gardening there also in different places for different people and I loved caring for my cat Ceila when I was there she was gorgeous and is no longer alive very old lived until she was 19 years old and was a rag doll cat . U can have lots of fun on Waiheke and be creative there on your own or you can go to creative classes if you enjoy those things or you can be creative on your own . Well if I ever manage to get back to Waiheke I will be so excited I think and it will be a whole new set of life experiences that I will be delighted to embrace . There are churches there to if you want to go along and have an experience if they are open and this serves some people and other people are not interested in going to church for whatever reason . There is a tennis court there and it is fun to play tennis with a friend or if you want to join the tennis club then that is an option also . There are no hotels on Waiheke Island as far as I know but maybe there have been some built I have no idea as things change in life . Some people have parties there in there homes or in other places and that can be a lot of fun if you are in the mood to go along and want to join the party if you are invited . I enjoyed teaching gymnastics with the team in the local gymnastics club when it was on and we all tried to study gymnastics through NZ Gym Sports in Auckland which was interesting and challenging . There is a nice library on Waiheke Island and its a quiet place to read if you want to on your own if you feel comfortable and there is a movie theatre to if you enjoying going to the movies . I think there is a camping ground there also and I cannot think what the name of it is right now and it is by the seaside it is called Whakenpha if this is spelt correctly . Some people get married on Waiheke Island and other people get divorced and other people find there lovers it all depends what you are wanting and are searching for .and what you are wanting to experience . The power can go out there when there is a storm I have had many experiences of this and candles are useful in this situation and it is so funny there is not a day I forget that wonderful place and all of the wonderful people met there I forget I have power now and I still buy candles thinking this is going to happen again never mind life goes on and nothing is perfect or ideal no matter where we are in the world if u can appreciate this. Waiheke always felt like home to me in so many ways even though I needed to change homes so many times for so many different reasons . Some people get pregnant on Waiheke and if a woman decides she wants to birth a baby there then it can be birthed at home possibly or in the hospital in Auckland depending on what is an option . I do not know if babies can be home birthed these days and I would love to know about this . Midwifery is a skill I do not know if midwives are nurses also sometimes and I would love to know this if anyone feels like writing to me or emailing me that would be very much appreciated and so wonderful

    Thank you



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