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New Zealand! (The Perfect Haven)

From our condo in Los Angeles, my wife, Kate, and I watched CNN document the horror of the terrorist attack on New York and the Pentagon.

I thought we were watching a preview of a special effects movie…until I realized there were no commercials.

In the following days I became nutso as we watched a goofy little man who apparently slept on a rock in a cave. Bin Laden seemed to represent everything that was evil and wrong. With a few box knives and an airline schedule this so-called Islamic cleric made the Y2K scare look like a blessing.

I have been blessed (my wife says cursed) with an overactive imagination. Maybe that’s one reason I have been able to write Star Trek and Miami Vice and Buck Rogers. But in twenty-five years as a TV and film writer I would never have hatched the story of 9/11. It would have been too far fetched.

I worried (okay I fixated) about staying in Los Angeles — one of the largest and most vulnerable cities in the world.  I had an uneasy feeling that something was going to bite us, bite us very hard. Now, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t running away. (I just re-read that last sentence. Okay, okay, I was running away.)

I had lived in New Zealand decades ago and had many fond memories…we decided it was time to check out the tiny country halfway around the world.

We are here. I am pleased to report that New Zealand is better than I remembered. It is the finest English-speaking haven on the planet. On top of that, the greenback stretches from here to the moon in this South Pacific paradise.

Envision a land three-quarters the size of California — then subtract about thirty million people. Make all the freeways and smog vanish. Surround the remaining pristine beauty with a crystal clear ocean…and that’s the land of the Kiwi.

There’s one other thing you have to subtract from California to get an accurate view of New Zealand:  Nuclear power plants. There are 103 in the USA that could easily be turned into weapons of apocalyptic mass destruction for anyone unlucky enough to be living within a hundred miles of them.

But as they say down under, “She’s right, mate.” All of New Zealand’s 270,000 square kilometers (104,000 square miles) are a nuclear free zone. The Kiwis won’t even allow ships powered by nuclear reactors to dock here.

New Zealand boasts one of the highest “healthy” longevity figures in the world. Thanks to world-class hospitals and medical care the average Kiwi makes it past 70. Japan leads the field with 73.8 years. Japan is about a third larger than New Zealand, however, there are 127 million people crowded in Japan while the population of New Zealand is barely 4 million.

The country has a solid health care plan. Emergency cases are handled well but elective surgery has waiting lists of several months.

There’s a dozen sheep for every citizen. You can do the math if you want to fall asleep tonight.

And fall asleep you will because you can find a thousand places to live where you won’t have to listen to traffic and the nights are so clear and beautiful that you’ll think you’re in a Kodak picture postcard moment. Since there are 5650 kilometers (3500 miles) of coastline in New Zealand, it’s a snap to find an ocean view property.  Foreigners are welcome to buy although there are some restrictions about owning islands and large parcels of farmland.

There is no question that it’s an arduous flight from the USA to Kiwiland — six thousand miles (9700 kilometers) from Los Angeles that takes twelve hours on a 747. New Zealand is twice the distance to London. But in troubled times, New Zealand’s remoteness is one of its major attractions.

What a delightful land awaits you. The vibrant democracy with a 99 percent literacy rate features all the best qualities of every continent without any of the negatives. The indigenous Maoris — who have lived here for over a thousand years — are an essential element of New Zealand society and culture. These delightful Polynesians (former cannibals) make up about 15 percent of the population.

New Zealand has so many sports that it boggles the imagination. The Kiwis have even added a few types of recreation. Have you ever heard of zorbing? Basically you seal yourself in a large ball and bounce down the side of a mountain. Good Grief!

http://www.newzealandnz.co.nz/activities/zorbing.html

Water lovers are everywhere and the harbors dance with sailboats and yachts. Kiwis are world-class yachtsmen, just a trifle cocky after winning the America’s Cup.  Yesterday we watched their prize winning Team New Zealand glide across the Pacific in the sparkling harbor that lies between Auckland and the quaint and charming village of Devonport where my wife and I are having the time of our lives.

Of the dozens of places in New Zealand, we like Devonport the best. It’s the kind of village where everything is in easy walking distance and most of its 18,000 residents know each other. It has the flavor of the world of Mary Poppins without the social strata.

In Devonport, an upscale modern three-bedroom, two-bath home on the ocean (actually the Hauraki Gulf) can be purchased for less than $US 250,000.00. That same home in Malibu would be over five million dollars — and there are plenty of ocean view properties further along the coast that you can buy for $US 70,000.00. Fixer uppers are less.

The country offers some of the best accommodations in the world. A first rate hotel is less than a hundred dollars US a night. A great lunch is under ten dollars. The reason for these incredible buys is that New Zealand devalued its dollars a few years ago and you can buy 2.4 of them for one U.S. dollar.

You can fish for free in the ocean and afternoon tea is an art form. Some of the world’s best beers are made in New Zealand. And the country has many great vineyards. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, the height of summer is Christmas. Holiday rates are slightly higher than off-season.

Recently the New Zealand dollar has dropped a bit more against the American dollar. This week I used an ATM to withdraw 500 New Zealand dollars from my Los Angeles American dollar account. My LA account was debited $210.00

By the way, there are hundreds of ATM machines across New Zealand and their rate of exchange beats any of the local currency exchange outlets in this country. If you decide to visit New Zealand I’d recommend using an ATM card.

New Zealand is a vast land despite its relatively small size with something for everyone’s taste. Deep sea fishing.  Skiing. Surfing. Hunting. Trekking. Hot air ballooning. Hang gliding. Walking.

Since my wife and I like Devonport so much and are planning on buying a place here, I’m going to focus on this area of clean and tidy streets where the kids are well behaved, the public wash rooms spotless and the library a joy to visit. In the three weeks we have been here we have yet to encounter a single panhandler.

Devonport is a peninsula linked to Auckland by a bridge. It takes about twenty minutes to get to Auckland by car or bus but the best journey there is the ferry that runs every half-hour between Auckland and Devonport.

It’s about a ten-minute ride across a gorgeous harbor and many businesspeople commute daily from the village life of Devonport to the heart of the largest and most dynamic city in New Zealand. Talk about a great way to begin or end your workday.

The ride is $NZ 8.00 dollars return. That works out to about $US 2 each way. Or you can pay $ NZ 8 for a day pass that will let you use as many buses and inner harbor ferries as you like in a 24 hour period.

There are dozens of wonderful places to eat and sleep in Devonport. For a scrumptious meal try the Devonport Stone Oven on Clarence Street. Kate and I have breakfast there as often as we can.

Everything from scones to cinnamon buns is made from scratch by long time super pastry chefs Debbie and Collin.  The coffee and tea are the best in the world. The Curach brothers run the place and they’re maniacal about keeping everything homemade.

Nothing is ever sold the next day. There is no way to spend much more than $ US 10 for two people for breakfast and if you mention that you read about the Stone Oven in International Living, your coffee or tea is free.

If you want an upscale lunch with a great view of Rangitoto Island (an extinct volcano) then head for nearby McHugh’s at 48 Cheltenham Road. The evening is for private functions but it’s open for lunch.

Their smorgasbord is world-famous. Venison and curry lamb. Rock oysters. Tasty and perfectly seasoned soups. Scintillating salads — topped off with desserts to die for that often include Baked Alaska. Wonderful cheese and percolated coffee and freshly brewed tea. The price is $NZ 22. You couldn’t touch a meal like it for three times the price in any American city.

No visit to Devonport would be complete without a visit to the Venison Kitchen. New Zealand has over 5,000 deer farms and the Venison Kitchen serves some of the tastiest meals Kate and I enjoyed in the Southern Hemisphere.

Many people have tried wild deer but for my money it doesn’t approach the succulence of venison raised on New Zealand farms. Venison is a tricky dish to prepare but you can discover the secrets at www.venmark.co.nz.

You can also purchase a variety of specialty meats made from venison at this web site. I had no idea of the nutritious value of venison and how little fat it has until I spoke with Piers D. Hunt, managing director of Venmark. Should you be interested in anything to do with venison, Piers will answer your questions.

His e-mail is venmark@xtra.co.nz. With the worldwide demand for venison growing monthly because of mad cow disease, you might decide to own a deer farm.

Almost all restaurants feature a vegetarian dish or two. Most will allow you to bring your own booze, however, some charge a two or three dollar corking fee.

You’ll need some place to stay while you’re getting to know the local landscape.  The Peace and Plenty bed and breakfast inn is a wonderful place to start.

It’s a romantic Victorian home with five luxurious king and queen rooms decorated in French provincial décor.  All have private bathrooms.  Judith and Peter Machin restored the 1880s residence and they serve one of the finest and tastiest breakfasts in New Zealand.

The couple dabbles in local real estate and seem to know what deals are about to come onto the market.  They will be happy to answer your question via e-mail and if you mention International Living they’ll take 15 per cent off your bill that will probably run less than $US 100 a day.  And while this is a bit high for bed and breakfast in New Zealand, Peace and Plenty is well worth it.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, a luxury once tasted becomes a necessity.  You can E-mail the Machins with any questions at: peaceandplenty@xtra.co.nz.

Another fun place to stay which is just as nice but smaller is the Parituhu Beachstay. It overlooks the harbor and is only a few steps to the village. Your private room and bath there is $ NZ 80 a night for two.  That’s less than $ US 35.  Here is their web site http://home.iprolink.co.nz/~parituhu/

Helen and Lyndsay have a phenomenal knowledge of the area and your bedroom features sun-dried sheets. With its sea view this is the best deal in the Southern Hemisphere.  But Helen and Lyndsay are booked heavily so make plans well in advance.

For those who are looking for something super economical with a million-dollar view, you could camp near one of the beaches.  The camping sites feature clean and modern showers and bathrooms.

Many of these campsites have small-furnished house trailers that can be rented for low rates.  I’m sure a couple could live by one of a dozen great beaches in a trailer (called a caravan in New Zealand) and if they watched their pennies could get by for under $ US 150 weekly and that would include food.

There is a complete list of Holiday Parks at www.jasons.com.  Some of the parks offer private caravans that are nicely appointed.  Cabins go for as little as $ NZ 15 a night.  Many of these are perched beside lovely beaches, overlooking the surf.

You need a car to get to many of these trailer parks but others are served by buses that are clean, economical and fun to ride in.

You may want to buy or rent a home long term.  A rule of thumb is that most apartments (NZ for condos) and houses rent annually for about five per cent of their value in New Zealand.  A home here that costs $ NZ 500,000 would rent for about $NZ 25,000 a year.

That sounds like a lot but remember that the American dollar is worth more than double so that home would cost you less than $US 1,000 per month.   In the Devonport area your thousand dollars US a month would get you a beautiful three bedroom, two bath house or apartment with a stunning view of the ocean.

Because of its proximity to Auckland across the harbor, Devonport is one of the more expensive real estate areas to live in.  You could get twice the value for the same amount of money ten or fifteen miles away.

About 25 kilometers from here we saw a five bedroom, three bath luxury home going at auction.  The real estate agent thought it could be purchased for $ NZ 325,000.  It had skylights and tiles and a world class kitchen.  We looked at some of the comparable homes in the area – all with magnificent views of the ocean, about half a mile away.  I thought the selling price would be closer to $ NZ 400,000.

There are tremendous numbers of properties for sale.  What with the world terror crisis and people searching for a safe haven, I suspect almost anything one buys in this far aware (pun intended) land will increase in value by ten or 15 percent within the next year.  Of course the secret is to buy right.  And there are deals aplenty.

The banks are anxious to lend money and often only five to ten per cent is required as a down payment.  The interest is about seven per cent.  There is no tax when you buy your house or when you sell it.  And if you live in the house, and make a profit you do not pay New Zealand income tax on that money.  Of course if you sell and buy homes as a professional investor you may be taxed at the federal level.

The annual municipal rates (property tax) vary but are about one per cent of the assessed evaluation.  The evaluation seems to consistently be under market.

Anyone can buy property in New Zealand and you can stay here for three months with no strings attached.  It’s easy to get another three-month extension.  There are rules about living here long term without a resident visa but most people with English as a first language who have some skills can immigrate.  At the end of this article is a link to a government web site that explains some of the rules.

You can also contact by E-mail an immigration specialist, Paul W. Eggleton (E-mail: eggleton@xtra.co.nz) who can answer all your questions and speed up the process for you should you get serious about living permanently in this country.  He is a former high-level employee with NZ immigration.

With the recent happenings after 9/11 New Zealand expats (expatriates) are returning in droves and property prices are kicking up again. The market has been rather flat for the last six or seven years and the apartment (read: condo) market was overpriced. Luxury units that sold for $ NZ 700,000 can be had for $ NZ 500,000.

Most real estate agents can be reached via E-mail.  Jim Mays has lived in the Devonport and North Shore areas for most of his sixty years.  He’s knowledgeable and specializes in proprieties in the $ NZ 500, 000 and higher range.  He’ll be happy to answer any questions via E-mail. His web site is: www.mays.co.nz.  You can get a solid idea of some of the better property in the Devonport area by having a look.

Another real estate consultant we enjoyed meeting was Anna Langdon of Owens Realty. Anna showed us a beautiful one bedroom apartment for about $ US 65,000 in a small town perhaps 30 minutes from Auckland.  It had one of the most spectacular views of the ocean I have ever seen.  It was about four blocks from the beach.

The place was immaculate and had two parking spaces. Anna can be reached via E-mail at enquiries@bayleyshibiscuscoast.co.nz.  Her company has an Internet web site at: http://bayleyshibiscuscoast.co.nz.  You can see a great selection of New Zealand real estate at this site.

Many New Zealanders build their own homes for a fraction of the cost in other countries.  For example, a few days ago we visited a friend who had a small acreage about 20 kilometers from Auckland.  His daughter and son-in-law had built a 600 square foot residence for about $ NZ 35,000 next to his home.

That’s about $ US 15,000.  Sure, that’s a bit small but it has a modern kitchen, two bedrooms and a small bath.  It also has a very large deck around it.

After the local building inspector okays it, my friends will move the walls to the outward boundaries of the “existing” decks and create a home that is about 1200 square feet.  This will cost a few thousand dollars more.  The design of the house is something the wily Australians came up with to get around building restrictions.

New Zealand is digitally wired and computers can be found in most homes. The educational systems are first rate.  For such a small population I don’t know how its medical school is able to turn out so many excellent physicians but they are very good.

My wife had a problem with her knee that baffled a multi-million-dollar Magnetic Imaging Machine and her doctor in Los Angeles.  We visited an MD here and he found the problem – a torn cartilage.

The half-hour office visit was less than twenty dollars in US funds.  And that’s with no New Zealand or any other kind of health insurance.  New Zealanders and permanent residents with inexpensive supplemental insurance pay a few dollars a visit and most hospital procedures are free.  If you need a great MD in the Auckland-Norht Shore area call Dr. Satish Chandra at 486-3248.

And if your pet is sick or you need some special pet sitting, you couldn’t go wrong contacting Jill Jones at the Woodcote Farms.  She has a cattery – that’s where cats are boarded — and a dog kennel.  The kennel is immaculate and Jill interviews the dogs and their owners before they are admitted to their temporary home away from home.

Jill has a magical way with dogs.  She makes a great fuss over them and teaches them not to bark. The dogs are sorted into packs and they romp with each other.

There is no fighting allowed and as crazy as this sounds, Jill stops any rough housing before it starts. I know this sounds absolutely impossible but I’ve seen her kennels and doggy guests with my own eyes.  The dogs simply don’t bark.  And the cats are very happy in their private cattery.  Check out Jill’s web site at: www.woodcotefarms.co.nz

If you are into gardening you’ll find New Zealand is heaven.  One elderly lady left her cane in the soil and overnight it took root. Or so the story goes. What is true (or Fair Dinkum’ in Kiwi slang) is that Devonport is alive with endless flower gardens as you stroll along the streets. A hundred assorted scents from carefully tended flower gardens are astonishing.

Walking along the beach near Devonport with my wife, I sensed the terrible feeling that something was going to bite me ebb into the background as the warm water lapped across the white sand and seagulls cartwheeled in the azure sky.

Unlike Australia, 2200 kilometers to the west, there are no poisonous snakes here. As a matter-of-fact, there are no snakes. About the only thing that will bite you is the urge to immediately return  if you ever leave this country.

Devonport and a photo of the ferry:

http://devonport.co.nz

Devonport Visitor Info E-mail

Visitorinfo@nthshore.govt.nz

(You can send an e-mail to the above web site and find answers to almost any of your questions.)

History, climate, and general map of New Zealand —

http://www.newzealandsites.com/about-new-zealand/

Immigration –

http://www.immigration.govt.nz/

 Lots of links to all sorts of questions you might have about New Zealand

http://www.expatexchange.com/dev/networks.cfm?networkID=84

How to Move to and work in New Zealand

http://www.escapeartist.com/bea/kiwi.htm

Great trails in New Zealand

www.teararoa.org.nz

 My novel about New Zealand set in the 60s.  Click on the Missionary Position.

http://www.jaronsummers.com

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