Queenstown Lakes District Council
Private Bag 50072, Queenstown 9348
To Whom It May Concern:
I was born on January 22, 1991. It snowed that day in Albany, New York.
Twenty-five years later – against all odds and expectations – I find myself traveling around New Zealand. On this day I am in the quaint tourist village called Queenstown. I woke up in my van the following morning to find a $200 ticket for prohibited freedom camping.
The day started in Wanaka. It is peaceful and easy to live there, with a low–cost DOC campsite alongside a magical river where we can swim and be refreshed. I could not stay there, however. It was my birthday and I am required by the Gods – old and new – to celebrate this ancient tradition on the anniversary of my exiting my mother’s womb.
In the early afternoon, I drove from Wanaka to Queenstown to meet up with some friends.
Queenstown is beautiful, but in that beauty is chaos. Tourists and buses crowd the city and money is sought at every venue, bar and retail outlet.
Money rules here. Money is king.
Tourism is New Zealand’s top export. People come here from all over the world to experience the robust natural landscapes and easy-going human residents. Judging from the countless adventure tourism options in this area, I’m sure Queenstown collects its fair share of that revenue.
I too have paid my fair share to this industry. Before I arrived in New Zealand last June, I lived and worked in Australia for a year, mostly in the remote outback town of Alice Springs. I arrived in Australia with no money. I worked long hours in the hospitality industry. I saved money knowing that I would be venturing to New Zealand, where the pay is much lower and the natural beauty much greater. There I would travel more and work less. There I would spend most of the money I made in Australia.
On my birthday I was anxious. I was frustrated at the lack of camping options and the expensive prices and limited availability of accommodation. I made the bold decision to park my van in the Queenstown Gardens knowing that I would return there to sleep in the early morning. It was my birthday and I wanted to have fun and I didn’t know what else to do. I took a risk and for that I am sorry. I did not dump any waste – human or otherwise – and I did not cause a menace. I simply slept in my van with my female companion instead of driving drunk to the DOC campsite 12 kilometers away.
I woke in the morning to find the ticket on my windscreen. My first reaction was to simply ignore the fine and join the approximately 900 tourists who chose the no-payment option in 2014, according to the NZ Herald article titled, “Hundreds of tourists dodging $200 freedom camping fines.”
I only received one Birthday present this year. I complimented the duo playing guitar and singing pop songs at World Bar and told the beautiful singer that it was my birthday. She asked my name and then dedicated the next song to me.
It was “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. I nearly cried. Maybe because I was drunk. I then rejoined my friends and danced the night away.
Now, I implore you, human who is reading this letter at the Queenstown Lakes District Council, I beg thee from the very depths of my soul and I promise I will never again sleep in my van in a prohibited zone:
Would you find room in your heart to forgive this ticket and follow T. Swift’s motto and shake it off?
Thank you for your time.
Sean F. Dolan