Councillor and outdoor sportsman does it all

Pre-accident days kayaking on the Upper Shotover River.

Quentin Smith, QLDC councillor, yachtsman, mountain-biker, skier and father has always pushed himself in both the political arena and as an outdoor sportsman. When a freak paragliding accident confined him to a wheelchair, he had to re-invent himself in many ways. He talks to the Wānaka Sun about his foray into politics and how he adapted to continue his love of the outdoors.

How did you get involved in politics?

I have always had an interest in politics,

My early experience was when the government was considering mining in Aspiring National Park, and that's when I threw my hat in the ring and started speaking out. At the time in the early days of Facebook advocacy, we started a Hands off Aspiring National Park group. This was about 2007. That was an exciting experience in that we got 7000 followers and national interest from the news media.

Following on from that, I became active in advocacy in the local community in a range of issues from access to sports facilities to equitable funding between the Upper Clutha and the Wakatipu.

In 2016 I was elected to the Wānaka Community Board. In 2017 I was elected to the Queenstown Lakes District Council through a bi-election. In 2019 I was re-elected to the council.

Does the council take up most of your time?

It does these days – and running around after my ten-year-old takes up the rest of it.

What aspects of local body politics are you most interested in?

I suppose any aspect of social justice. The fact that Aurora Energy is fundamentally unfair is one of these. I guess some of my motivations for standing for the council were around equity of provision of services and Wānaka getting its share of what we need in the Upper Clutha. I suppose that is the underlying principle- social justice and equity that drives me.

I certainly have interests in environmental issues. I have an interest in sport and recreation, and I have become quite involved in how to support infrastructure.

Post-coronavirus, what do you think are the issues that face Wānaka?

I think most of the issues remain the same. But the fine line changes a bit in that the rapid growth and rapid mass tourism pressures come off, at least for the time being. But clearly, the issues with long term growth and the impact on our environment remain. I think the key things for us coming out of coronavirus is to look at what drives our economy and long term what do we want to be dependent on. There is a desire for an economy that serves our community rather than it being dictated to by things like mass tourism and rampant residential growth. These harm our community.

Do you think the council is giving Wānaka a fair share of the pie after coronavirus?

Certainly, the focus in the media has been on the impacts on Queenstown. And I think the effects on Wānaka from coronavirus haven't been as dramatic. We haven't seen the same number of job losses, and we have a more vibrant local population than Queenstown has. It's a situation that has shown the differences between our communities, and the strengths and weaknesses as well.

I don't think the way coronavirus has affected Wānaka has been well understood yet or as clearly seen as Queenstown with its migrant worker population.  It appears the impact in Wanaka appears to be more directly on smaller businesses, owner-operators and personal finances.

What are your goals as councillor for the next two years?

I suppose we are re-assessing what these are in the post- coronavirus world. Certainly, the underlying goal is making sure Wānaka gets its fair share of what it needs to manage the issues in front of it. Supporting the desires of our community is the ultimate thing. I'm here to listen to the Upper Clutha community and respond to that at the council table.

Queenstown – where do you see it going in the next couple of years as it recovers from coronavirus?

Queenstown will have to take a hard look at what is sustainable long term and coronavirus has been the catalyst to revisit that. Over the last few years, it has seen dramatic pressures expressed by the community, whether it be the noise issues from the airport, freedom camping or the cost of residential housing. These things have got a bit out of hand in Queenstown. I think its an opportunity to take a breath and look at what the community wants rather than deal with what's coming at it. The balance is a bit out of kilter, and it would be good to redress this.

Tell us about your history as an outdoor sportsman.

My wife Kate[Mackenzie-Smith] and I  moved to Wānaka in 2003 after spending most of that year travelling around the world. We were drawn to Wānaka by the outdoor activities- the skiing in the winter and the paragliding in the summer. Like many, we found it the ultimate place to find a balance between work and recreation.

When I first moved to Wānaka, I was a resource management planner – I worked with the council and after that as a consultant planner.

We built a small house at Lake Hawea and enjoyed the lifestyle.

I got heavily into the paragliding, and I organised the Paragliding Festival and the Paragliding Nationals for a few years. This was about 2005 -2006.

I was also involved in the Wānaka Yacht Club and was commodore for three years.

So 2008 was the year of your accident...

In 2008 I had an accident paragliding at Treble Cone, which resulted in me being confined to a wheelchair. I had to re-invent myself. I ran a business importing wheelchair mobility products for about eight years.

We had our daughter Madison in 2009.

Since the accident?

I have been involved in the Yacht Club and regularly sail on a Thursday night. I've been heavily involved in adaptive skiing for the last ten years and represented New Zealand racing in 2011. I raced in the US, and at the NZ Winter Games in Queenstown.  The focus for me now is skiing with family and friends. I have a sit-ski and money for this was raised with the support of the NZ Mountain Film Festival.

I put it in the back of the car, and I am independent with this- I can unload it, carry it, get in it and ride the chairlifts myself. I can go up skiing with my daughter.

What is your passion these days?

I enjoy off-road hand cycling. The access to great trails around Wānaka has been fantastic, and I enjoy getting out mountain biking. I can ride a good number of trails. It's a three-wheel trike with hand-cranks. It's quite a unique beast- it came from Los Vegas. There arent a lot around New Zealand. Geoff Wilson in Wānaka has something similar, and Mike Brown (in Christchurch) has one and Corey Peters (paralympian) but there is a growing movement worldwide and rapid innovation which is exciting.

Sailing is still a big focus- I have a small trimaran that allows me to sail independently.  In the winter I ski when i can.   Council is keeping me very busy.

You have a very busy life.

We try to keep busy. We were due to be going to Tanzania next week but obviously, that isn't going to happen. We were looking at the classic safari experience following on from a trip Kate and I had 20 years ago- we want to share this with our daughter. Cancelling was quite painful. We will go next year or the year after. We will just have to find adventures closer to home.

And a last-minute reflection?

Just to reflect, I feel that I have a very similar outlook to Wānaka to many people who have come here to live. It's a beautiful place that supports a fantastic lifestyle – one that we don't want to compromise or throw away through bad decisions.

Read edition 977 of the Wānaka Sun here.


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