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Posted by Iain on Dec. 20, 2019, 11:13 a.m. in New Zealand
It is sometimes lost on us, as we live our ordinary and for the most part, urban, lives, so utterly disconnected from nature, just how wonderful this country of Aotearoa/New Zealand really is. Often we only appreciate it when we step out of our comfort zone and head for the hills (or in my case, mountains).
We are surrounded in New Zealand by nature and it is cheap and accessible on all levels. Within 40 minutes’ drive of downtown Auckland we have beaches with few or no one on them, regional parks and reserves, conservation areas where battles rage against introduced pests and predators, marine reserves that hark back to pre-human days still exist and all can be enjoyed at minimal to no cost.
Travelling a little further afield, I left the humid northern summer of Auckland last week and flew to Queenstown in the South Island where the temperature in the mountains was around 10 degrees cooler than I had left.
I then spent three days walking the Routeburn Track with my wife and some good friends. The Routeburn is a 35 kilometre, three-day hike across the Harris Pass dividing a mountain range and several valleys.
There are two types that ‘do’ this track. There is what is known as ‘independent’ walkers, those who carry everything on their backs and stay in very comfortable, warm and dry (free, can you believe it?) Department of Conservation huts (dormitory sleeping and no showers!) or for the more well-heeled, you can pay Ultimate Hikes, which has a concession in this and the Milford Track to provide guides and accomodation, as we did. They have their own accomodation (with showers!) and chefs so while you carry your own kit, they provide the (most excellent) food and bedding.
The Routeburn starts in the Fiordland National Park and ends in the Mount Aspiring National Park.
Day one saw us dropped off halfway to the more famous Milford Track, climb steadily though Beech forest, stripping off layers of clothes until we finally got to the (winter) snow line where the forest ended and the alpine vegetation began. A well-formed and relatively easy side track took us up to 900 metres above sea level where we were still dwarfed by towering mountains, topped with the last of the winter snow, and deep glacier carved valleys stretched out in all directions.
After six or so hours of hiking over some 15 km, we arrived at the MacKenzie Hut where tired feet were consoled by excellent local, Central Otago wines and a hearty meal. At the latitude we were at (think southern France for those of you that know Europe) it seemed like the sun was never going to set. At 10pm it was still only dusk. A rare teat indeed for we northern New Zealanders where even on the longest day of the year the sun is gone by 8.45pm. Pink clouds snuggled the nearby mountains, enveloping us after dark and providing a gentle patter rain through the night. Thankfully it was gone with a crisp dawn.
We had gone to sleep and woken up to the sound of the local mountain parrot, known as the Kea, screeching and squawking. These birds, only live above or about the snow line, and are said to have the intelligence of a 3-4 year old human. The stories you hear about what these critters can do as they work individually or in teams to solve (usually food related) puzzles was absorbing as the guides shared their experiences observing them over the years. Like the pair working in unison on getting into one of the cabins — one landing on the door handle of a room while another sits at the bottom ready to push the door open with its shoulder makes you look at them a with a profound respect.
Day two started with 30 minutes in dense beech forest with a floor littered with giant boulders cracked from the valley walls or pushed down the valley by advancing glaciers thousands of years ago. It is almost impossible to describe and I am not a good enough wordsmith to do it justice. Picture if you will 20 metre high trees, growing on or in between massive boulders. Every surface of every rock, the forest floor and even the trunks themselves were padded with many different species of moss, lichens and liverworts. The only visible stone was on our pathway. It was so ‘Lord of the Rings’ but no set designer or builder could have ever imagined or created anything as beautiful. Every shade of green you can imagine everywhere you looked.
There had been so much rain the previous month (the next valley over had had 2600mm of rain - that’s no typo…) in four weeks, everything was dripping or felt like a wet sponge when touched. We had to take a detour out of camp because the usual way out of the camp was under a metre of water.
Higher and higher we trundled and the forest gave way to the most amazing abundance of alpine plants, many in flower. Many plants in New Zealand owing to millions of years of isolation often resemble plants of a quite different genus or even family. The best of them was the Mount Cook Lily. What looks like a lily actually turned out to be a buttercup. Pure white petals surrounding a bright yellow centre, they only flower for three weeks a year and we happened to be there during one of those three.
The walk was punctuated every 50 to 100 metres by waterfalls, some over 100metres high, tumbling off almost vertical valley sides. Scores of them. Waterfalls with the sweetest, freshest water you have ever drunk. Side note: how depressing it was that our guides felt obliged to advise those ‘uncomfortable’ filling their water bottles from these purest sources of water that if they wanted sterilisation tablets they could be supplied with them. Who could be ‘uncomfortable’ drinking water that may well have fallen from the sky hundreds of years ago and lay locked up in glaciers before being perfectly filtered through layers of moss? I swear I have never drunk water so sweet. But how far removed from mother nature so many urban dwellers have sadly become.
Day 3 was a doddle 9 km walk. Downhill, our backs to a mighty waterfall we descended back into the beech forest, snacked by a glacial fed river and a forest full of bird song. The past seven years has seen active pest control meaning the valley is once again habitable for some of our most precious and rare native species and they are finally able to reestablish viable breeding groups.
Lunch in a corner of a winding river running deep and crystal clear. Every rock and every pebble visible given the clarity of the water. A deep gorge sliced through by often raging waters, we were treated to the seemingly fearless South Island Robin, a bird of black and cream, hopping onto our hiking boots and picking at the gravel where we had had scratched the surface, looking for its next meal.
We were reminded once again of the volume of rain this part of New Zealand can get. I am not far off six foot in height and standing up the trees above my head were laced with mats of grasses and other dead vegetation, caught in the branches when the river was last in flood a few days before we got there. Huge logs, stripped bare of any remnant foliage, balancing precariously on house sized rocks some two metres above the river level. According to our guides they hadn’t been there a week before….
You are left in no doubt in New Zealand of the awesome power of nature. In particular, and in the lower south west of the South Island the immense power of water, whether frozen or liquid to shape and define the landscape.
Equally, you get to share an experience out of the ordinary and enjoy a part of New Zealand where depressingly few people venture. It was great to share the experience with a group of Japanese tourists, the oldest I understood to be about 70, a couple from San Francisco and another from Taiwan. The enthusiasm of the young guides from New Zealand was infectious.
To those of you who have moved here or will move here, I wrote this time last year about walking the Milford track in November 2018 - a valley or three removed from the Routeburn. I may have mentioned a bucket list and although I don’t have one of those, the Milford Track being ranked one of the top walks in the world, was always a must do for me. I didn’t think it could be beaten. While it was epic, if you want something a little quicker and less difficult on the body, add the Routeburn to your list. I think most older children could manage it, so if you have any and you want to experience a true ‘100% Pure NZ’, the Routeburn is for you.
You can do it cheap (actually the whole thing is free including the accomodation) and carry your own bedding and two minute noodles or do it ‘easy’(er) and book through Ultimate Hikes.
But please do it. I get so frustrated that so many people move here for the wonderful New Zealand lifestyle but never get out into these places. I think the south African clients make the effort coming from a similarly outdoor culture but the clients from Singapore and Hong Kong? Get out of Auckland’s shopping malls this summer and get into the heart of ‘God’s own’ country.
This will be the last Southern Man for the year. We close today at mid-day. What a year it has been. We are currently assisting over 650 families to make a permanent move to New Zealand or Australia. It has been a year of cuts from the Governments of both countries, depressingly sensitive to the politics of immigration despite the unarguably positive aspects of ‘new blood’. In New Zealand, we end the year with increasing pressure on the Immigration Department which seems to have moved from a state of chaos last year, to I suspect, breaking point now. Resident visa applications, that a year ago were taking six months to process are now, with a few exceptions, taking over 18 months. While I hope that 2020 will be the year the department finally gets its act together I won’t be holding my breath.
Will 2020 be the year of higher pass marks for skilled migrants coming to New Zealand as we head into an election year? I don’t rule it as the Government has so dismally failed to deliver on most of what it promised such as more housing and continues to have its immigration agenda controlled by the New Zealand First leadership that they chose to jump into a coalition bed with.
I confess for the first time in a long time, despite the fact that jobs continue to rain down on almost all of our clients, I am worried that the economic need for every single one of you that chooses to come and join us here, might be tossed on the pyre that is an election year bonfire. The minority coalition partner will do and say anything to appeal to the small number of New Zealanders that think migration is a bad thing (at last election they amounted to 7% and polling 4% now) and which trots out the anti-migrant rhetoric every three years to keep its status of kingmaker.
Those peaceful mountains suddenly feel a distant memory.
Have a peaceful and restful Christmas as we, at IMMagine, intend doing in the best kept secret on planet Earth.
Posted by Iain on Nov. 8, 2019, 3:45 p.m. in New Zealand
A week ago a client, whose heart was clearly never really in the process, decided to leave New Zealand after two weeks in the country looking for work. We got a lengthy email telling us how unaffordable it is.
The fact that he never resigned his job in South Africa suggested to me a half-hearted effort. He never really wanted to leave behind his (good, well-paying by SA standards) job and his South African ‘lifestyle’ for his children, despite what he had told us. Although we warned him getting work inside of two weeks is usually reserved for teachers and tradesmen, he seems to have spent the entire two weeks convincing himself that he was going to be poor if he moved to this country.
As my colleagues and I explain to anyone who listens, until you have a job, hold a work visa and are earning local currency, you cannot get all the cost of living advantages that tourists, like him, cannot get (and therefore cannot see or possibly imagine). Education that is 97% funded out of our taxes, health care the same, drugs (prescription, I hasten to add) that are virtually ‘free’ is not something tangible a tourist (looking for work) will see for the most part because it comes later, after there is a job in hand. Likewise access to social security and pensions most of which are funded out of taxes are not on view for those visiting for two weeks.
All the South African sees is house prices (eye watering) and a cup of coffee costing twice as much as in South Africa. Suddenly New Zealand is unaffordable….
Garbage for the most part of course.
This viewpoint is reinforced by the Global Wealth Report released by Credit Suisse last week naming New Zealand as the fifth wealthiest nation on the planet on a per capita basis.
The countries ahead of NZ? Switzerland, Hong Kong, USA and Australia (4th).
While global growth in wealth increased by 2.6% over the past year, in New Zealand each adult New Zealander was more wealthy than the year before by around 3.1%.
Rising house prices was a large contributor to that growth which makes me wonder a little. I always say a house is only worth what someone writes me out a cheque for, if and when I sell it. Telling me my house is worth $1 million is all well and good - I don’t have $1 million in my pocket. I might feel wealthier but unless I am buying and selling real estate all the time for most of us the value isn’t being realised (don’t start me on capitalism as a giant Ponzi scheme please).…
In New Zealand around 47% of an individual’s wealth comes from the value of their property so any downturn in that assets class is going to lead to us getting ‘poorer’. Our wallets wouldn’t be any fuller or emptier but I suspect we would feel ‘poorer’.
Of interest in the local context is personal debt has been falling in relative terms since the start of the GFC in 2008. That event I suspect gave us all a bit of a fright. With record low interest rates most people (I know) have kept up the mortgage/bond payments at the same rate even as interest rates have plummeted by 65% in the past decade. The equity we all have in our homes has therefore increased.
Household debt in New Zealand now averages around US$67,500 (NZ$105,000).
Interestingly the analysis found that wealth in New Zealand is far more evenly spread that in most of other countries and this aligns with our socialist ethos of redistributing through a progressive tax system (the top rate of which is 33% on all income over and above $70,000). Those coming to live here that whine about our ‘high taxes” (among the lowest in the developed world) tend to forget that we get an awful lot for those taxes in terms of heavily subsidised education, health care and retirement along with a myriad of other benefits.
In New Zealand the top 1% hold around 19% of the wealth. Compare that to the top 1% holding around 45% globally.
I keep on saying it to those that think this is an expensive place to live (South Africans) or we have hideously high taxation (Singapore and Hong Kong), you need to look at what you start the week with in your bank account, what you have to spend to support the family and how much is left at the end of the week. I don’t believe there are many of the middle classes who aren’t as well off here, if not better off (and that’s before we add the intrinsic lifestyle benefits).
While in New Zealand we spend our money in quite different ways to many of our clients’ home countries, I don’t see too much evidence that Auckland, say, is significantly more expensive overall than Johannesburg (security, mandatory health insurance, private schooling and retirement self-funding). Singapore or Hong Kong is little different. It is just that we spend our money differently. I am not saying New Zealand is cheap, it isn’t, it is just that when you take into account how we spend our money it can be quite different to what migrants are used to. And what those on tourist visas experience.
When you are here, looking for a job, it does seem expensive but this latest report illustrates what I have long thought - while some slip through the cracks, we are well off here financially.
On top of that we maintain our place as the second happiest people in the world and in terms of prosperity (measuring things like quality of education, health care, environment, safety, etc) we are still at a very respectable number 8.
Long may it remain!
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 6, 2019, 5:29 p.m. in New Zealand
A few years ago I was asked what I believed was the biggest future challenge facing New Zealand by a young man in Durban. Having told him I thought that was the most interesting and thoughtful question I'd ever been asked, I thought about it for a while.
What do you think my answer was?
China taking over the world? Unemployment?
Youth suicide? Gangs?
Drug and alcohol abuse?
Nope. My answer was the economic and social challenges of a rapidly ageing population.
Like most developed economies we have small families. We average slightly under two children per family now and for a population to grow you need at least three. Two represents long term population decline if you have zero net migration.
As the baby boomer generation barrels toward retirement it has long been clear to me that our commitment to socialised health care, where our needs are overwhelmingly paid out of general taxation, is going to require more and more money paid for out of a potentially declining tax base - yet no Government seems to be addressing the issue. Obviously a shrinking population does not get ‘poorer’ and the tax does not need to fall if those that are in the workforce produce more income on a per capita basis.
New Zealand however shows no sign of increasing productivity. Like other similar countries productivity is pretty much stagnant. In future we are going to spend more as a percentage of government spending on healthcare (but equally at the same time we won't need to spend as much on public education as there will be fewer children to teach).
Our labour needs are going to change. Right now our immigration policy seeks to attract highly skilled people yet our future needs will probably be fewer teachers, accountants, marketers and carpenters and more Doctors, mental health professionals, Pharmacists and nurse aids along with hospital orderlies.
To date there is little if any account being taken of our future labour needs and how immigration policy fits into that. Every immigration policy change continues to focus on a politically acceptable immigrant - one with higher skill levels rather as opposed to possibly being able to fill a labour shortage.
Who says the only good (and valuable) migrant is one with a university degree?
This needs to change and change quickly. Public policy should be looking at our labour and skill (for they are not the same thing) needs 10, 20 and 30 years out and at the very least a conversation started about what our future immigrant might look like (if we are not going to or able to train up our own to fill the vacancies being created).
My mother in law has dementia and two weeks ago fell and broke her hip. Almost all those treating her in the (wonderful) public hospital were foreign born and trained - the Doctors, the nurses, the nurse aids. There’s always a pathway to residence for the doctors (if they will put up with the Medical Council and their protectionist practices) and the nurses (with Bachelor degrees) but those on the next skill level ‘rung’ can get work visas but they do not have a pathway to residence. As we start thinking about longer term institutional care for her, our family is starting to take these issues very seriously. I am sure she will be fine, the public system right now is equipped to cope but when, in 20 to 30 years time we have four times the number of dementia sufferers and one of them could be me, will we have made the plans to ensure we have the workforce to take care of us?
It’ll require very different immigration policies than what we have today.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Aug. 30, 2019, 6:02 p.m. in New Zealand
I am finally home after another five weeks on the road.
It is funny the things I notice when I've spent the past 14 days in high-rise hotel rooms with the constant hum of air conditioning and where the elevation separates me from terra firma below. The shoebox in the sky, the meeting room with clients, many stories high in the air, the only view a field of concrete and glass buildings stretching to the horizon and foraging for food in malls - all possible without ever actually stepping outside and feeling the sun on my face.
As a New Zealander I feel very attached to the land, my rain forest and the sea and I find these cities like Singapore and Hong Kong so utterly sterile – they are the most human of environments and totally removed from nature. I really struggle with it. I’m always good for a few days - in fact I enjoy it - but after about three days of everything being ‘human’, I need to get out. I took a walk around the famed Singapore Gardens which like so much of Singapore is very contrived into my eyes whilst attractive, not natural. I couldn't find anything like that in Hong Kong but I was too busy interviewing dawn to dusk with the desperate many to get any chance of finding anything resembling isolation or nature even though I know it does exist there in some form.
My wife and I went for a long walk last night up Mount Eden, our local (extinct I hasten to add) volcano where the views of Auckland are spectacular. The sun was setting and the air was cool without being cold. The undersides of the clouds to the west glowed a bright orange and the usual gaggle of tourists snapped photos (mainly of themselves but occasionally of the view).
The street I live in is lined with cherry trees and in the third week of August every year, like clockwork, they burst into blossom and make for the most incredible sight. Trees that had been bare for the past eight weeks since losing their summer growth explode in a profusion of flowers in a vivid shade of cerise. And, as if on cue, one of my favourite native birds, the Tui, descend in huge numbers only seen at this time of the year to gorge themselves on the nectar that the flowers produce. They argue and fight and chase each other over, around and through the trees, jostling for position and trying to keep every sweet flower to themselves. All the time their melodic calls fill the air. Magical.
It's a time of year I love, knowing that winter is largely behind us. Although I try and be out of the country for the bulk of Auckland’s short winter, it didn't really arrive until August this year anyway and will have gone by end of September.
After very little rain in the preceding months (our dams were 55% full in July) August is turning out to be one of the wettest on record here in Auckland. There has apparently been rain recorded somewhere in Auckland on 28 days of the month which is highly unusual. Auckland, you need to understand, covers an enormous area and we are talking about a measurement of 0.1 mm of rain recorded somewhere in the city on any given day. We are not talking about monsoonal precipitation, rather the occasional spit although I understand a couple of weeks ago there were some enormous thunderstorms and torrential rain over a number of days. Having been home just under a week I actually haven't seen any rain myself. The weather has been very mild with daily highs around 16 or 17°. Not tropical, but certainly not cold.
The days are getting longer and the sun is now setting around 5:45 pm. On the shortest day at the end of June it sets around 5:15 pm which I find utterly depressing…
As we walked through the suburban streets towards Mount Eden last night my wife, who has an acute sense of smell, was constantly asking me if I could smell this fragrant flower or that fragrant flower, as all around us, trees and plants were in bloom. She said ‘It smells like spring’.
For the record I don’t seem to have much of a sense of smell any more - my wife blames years of abuse of nasal sprays like Otrivin. So there was an awful lot of “No, I can’t smell it” in reply. There would be a slight huffing noise from her because she could obviously smell it all too well.
I do however smell the ‘big smells’ like damp grass as we climbed to the summit of the volcano, the freshly cut grass of the neighbours lawn up the road and the Jasmine which seems to climb over every other property in these parts.
After two weeks of sensory deprivation in Singapore and olfactory overload Hong Kong (but not of anything pleasant) I do find the air here in New Zealand, even in Auckland, the country’s biggest city, to be sweet and clear. Getting out and walking of an evening after sitting in an office all day is a real pleasure.
I'm about to head up north to my beach house where the lawn is overgrown, the first bunch of bananas I've ever grown seem to have survived winter, the vegetable beds need weeding and preparation for a spring plant, the forest block awaits attention tomorrow with more clearing and rebating traps as we continue the relentless fight against the foreign animal invaders decimating our forests.
It couldn't be different to the weekends I've just had cooped up in Asia. I love Spring and I'm counting the minutes till I can hit the road.
Until next week
Posted by admin on Feb. 1, 2019, 3:46 p.m. in New Zealand
I asked Tracy Kruger to share with us, her and her family’s experiences in making the move from South Africa to Ashburton, Te Wai Pounamu (South Island) of New Zealand. I asked her to be brutal and open. Here is what she has to say (and thanks a heap Tracy for taking the time to share your experiences). Iain
“Stay away from the Facebook groups and buy lots of wine, you are going to need it.” said Iain.
I am I suspect like most South African migrants to New Zealand. I am married, mortgaged, middle class with two teenage children. Iain described us once as his ‘every client’. Here is our story in brief.
We first ‘e-met’ Iain on a NZ summer’s evening in early 2017. He was talking of a Friday night whisky while we were at home clutching our early morning coffee in Tulbagh, South Africa. He carefully, but with a confident air, laid out the strategy to get to NZ. His belief in my husband Marius and his potential employability (key to residence as a skilled migrant) in New Zealand, was a like a bank of strength that we both drew heavily on in the months to come. He was very reassuring but still promised us nothing but stress and uncertainty for many months as we engaged what turns out to be a trip to the twilight zone, where the visa process seems disconnected from the real world.
It has been over two years since our journey to NZ began and 13 months since we arrived in the country and I don't feel that we have given anything up in leaving South Africa. Financially we will recover the cost of the visa and settlement process (around R500,000), we can visit our family and friends and we will make new ones.
We have come to realise that while we had a life in SA, we are really living here in NZ. We have all had opportunities, experiences and support that we would have never received in our previous life. Marius and me with work and our children with schooling and their own part time work opportunities and freedoms.
Make no mistake, it is not all wine and song. Although to get through this visa ordeal took plenty of wine! There were some terrible and very dark days that I never want to repeat. But the amazing far outweighs that entirely, so much so that it is not even worth mentioning.
We didn't leave South Africa because of the crime, in fact I don't think any of us truly appreciated how bad it really was until we came here - but it one of the reasons we won't be going back. We left because after spending all of his working life in Africa and the Middle East, South Africa wasn't prepared to offer Marius employment. When his contract in Angola ended, we saw a small window of opportunity, so we closed our eyes and grabbed it with both hands having spoken to Iain.
Since we have left, it has opened our eyes to how we really lived, often fearful but largely shrugging it off - our life was like everyones life so surely it was ‘normal’?
Marius started to worry in recent years that returning home to South Africa from working in other parts of Africa, it was starting to look, feel and operate the same way - that is to say deteriorating on almost every front. Where getting anything done was an exercise in frustration and it appeared the fabric of the economy and society was coming apart at the seams.
I look out now into my garden in Ashburton, there are no bars on any windows, no security gates, no alarms, beams, razor wire or high walls. The sliding doors are only closed when the bumblebees are wafting in from the lavender outside and we sleep with doors and windows unlocked and wide open in the summer.
Come January the landscape of our little dorp changes, as the pavements become highways, bursting with young kids, all on their own - racing each other to school on bikes or scooters. School kids on skateboards head out to lakes, forests, parks and to town all on their own in the afternoons. Teenagers with surfboards and bicycles heading to the beach in their own cars or on the bus. Our teenage daughters run and bike river trails through forests completely on their own.
I remember when we first moved here, I was incredulous at some of the sights I saw. It was like a kind of culture shock that hits you full on. Women walking alone at 5am, people driving in the city with their windows open – WHAT?! Motorbikes and bicycles parked on the side of the road, helmets just balanced on the handlebars. Teenagers walking around at night with their friends.
You can buy fruit, flowers, nuts and all sorts of things at unmanned stalls on the side of the road. Pop your money in the jar and take your produce home. Nobody there to take your money.
The smiling woman at the Automobile Association counter apologises profusely for keeping us waiting for 5 minutes and I struggle not to burst out laughing in delight!We have had power, internet and running water all at the same time for 365 days of 2018 and counting! In South Africa, it was a standing joke that we could never have all 3 at the same time. Running a business there was like trying to nail jelly to a tree....
Walk into a NZ bank and smart sliding doors open for you to enter. The counters at the tellers are completely open – no bullet proof glass, alarms or guns in sight. The plant nursery across the road from our Ashburton home recently had a massive delivery of punnets of flowers after hours. They were offloaded on the footpath outside and left overnight until the staff came into carry them in and replenish their stock the next day.
Not once have I felt unsafe or looked behind me in fear. In fact, I am convinced that the only thing that can kill you here is the price of Avos (Editors note - cheap as chips up this end of the country).
Culturally we fit in so easily yet at the same time it feels like we are in a parallel universe and I can’t believe we are in it!
We could not have done this without the calm and confident Skippers of our Ship – Iain and Jo at IMMagine. Their unparalleled knowledge and experience along with their ability to astutely navigate us through the biggest event of our lives, have given our family the finest start in New Zealand than we could ever have hoped for.
Never did an email go unanswered, never was a promise made that wasn’t kept and we were never once led to believe that anything was bigger or smaller than it truly was. Even when Iain was out of the country – he continued to ensure every email was answered the day he got it.
Iain and Jo, we are so very grateful and feel incredibly fortunate we had you to help us through a very emotional and stressful journey. We would do it over and over again with you.
And of course, you were right, it was indeed a very high mountain we had to climb and there were days we wondered if we'd ever see the summit but now we are there, the view from the top really is breath taking.
Iain - and this is the reason we do this work. Leaving everything you know for something you hope will be better is never easy and in some ways represents an act of both research and faith.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Feb. 23, 2018, 4:06 p.m. in New Zealand
Around 18 months ago, my sister cashed in on the Auckland house, packed up, threw the dogs in the back of the car and moved down south to Christchurch to her partner’s old home town.
My son suggested as his summer comes to an end and university beckons that my wife and I might drive his car back to Dunedin (and he’d fly, bless his cotton socks). I jumped at the chance and have been a week on the road reacquainting myself with parts of the country many of my clients have moved to but which I hardly knew.
I particularly wanted to spend some time in Christchurch and I was determined to see what was going on as our second biggest city’s centre has been largely rebuilt and new suburbs have sprouted while others have been bowled.
I was following the footsteps of my father who had been there a few weeks earlier and had came away feeling quite empty and sad at the loss and the destruction (there are still lots of empty plots of land with wire and plywood fences around them). He found a city that had lost its soul. My experience couldn’t have been more different. Where he saw emptiness and destruction I saw re-birth and creation of what is, even now, an amazing city full of light airy open spaces, parks, new buildings and old, many put to uses never before envisaged.
It is seldom that any country has the chance to redesign from the sewers up an entire city but that is the opportunity born out of the February 2011 earthquake.
On a hot summers afternoon with the sun beating down we first took a tour of the city on a vintage tram, one of several that ply a ‘figure 8’ path through wide, cobbled streets that cover the city centre.
We then explored a city centre where new buildings (and they are virtually all new) are limited to 28m in height (and for the civil engineers among you, mostly sitting on top of 28m deep piles). These stand back, almost respectfully, from the wide boulevards where it seems cars have been almost banished. This is a people centric city covering perhaps 20 hectares and several blocks, but has been rebuilt at a human scale. Canterbury summers are hot and dry and there are public spaces and areas to ponder, reflect, relax and eat everywhere. Public art was plentiful.
I asked if the city has a public bus service as I didn’t see any belching thick trails of disel exhaut as we get in Auckland and it was confirmed there is an excellent bus service, but the main terminal is on the edge of the city centre and given it is relatively small in area and flat, an easy walk to offices, shops and restaurants.
Being a flat city, I was surprised I didn’t see more bicycles of the 'pay as you go' and 'drop anywhere' variety so common in many bigger cities. Perhaps that will come. The city is criss-crossed by cycle paths and why I didn’t see so many more people out using peddle power might have been because it was extremely hot – 28 degrees in the shade.
Running through the heart of this gorgeous city is the iconic Avon River (more of a wide stream than a river I’d suggest) which was badly polluted in 2011 as broken sewers and storm water systems spewed all sorts of unpleasantness into its slow flowing waters. After several years of love, care and restorative planting and construction it is now a series of wonderful spots to stop and linger, while away a lazy half hour on its grassy banks or to dangle your feet in its cooling water at one of the many newly constructed pontoons. As we sat on the grass, foot weary, we enjoyed watching tourists being ‘punted’ along the Avon, a braces-bedecked and bearded hipster complete with boater hat polling them along. Cameras clicking and the 'more than a few' Chinese ‘princesses’ looking quite out of place, too dressed like dolls sitting ramrod straight in the front, posing it seems for those they passed.
The old University grounds now converted into an Arts Centre - badly damaged, now rebuilt and strengthened to last a thousand more years. Sitting in the ‘quad’ along from a small work room where (Lord) Ernest Rutherford was studying physics, it could have been Oxford in England.
Along the road, Christ College, the ‘Eton’ of the south. The local joke goes if your son as has brains you send him to Christchurch Boys High, if he doesn’t you send him to Christ’s College, for the old boys networking opportunities.
As an Aucklander, it comes across still as a very English of cities, in what seemed to me to be a transplanted English province. I saw hardly a native tree but plenty of oaks, elms and poplar trees. At once familiar as New Zealand yet so different to the multi-cultural melting pot that is Auckland. Hardly a sign or any recognition that pre-1840 this was a part of New Zealand with a very strong local Maori population. No mention or acknowledgement of the Chinese who settled here. Street names solidly English. I have heard it said that one of the attractions of this city for many from the UK is that it is more ‘English than England’. I’d be lying if I said I am not sure whether in the 21st century that is a good or a bad thing.
If I might venture a suggestion to the good folk of Christchurch; the earthquake might have been a chance for this very ‘white’ city to perhaps acknowledge that the New Zealand of the city’s founding fathers who had arrived on one of the first four ships, is a part of their history and with the rebuilding comes a chance to create an international and outward looking city. I get the feeling there are many who might agree and many others who would not.
Case in point is the Anglican Cathedral which was largely destroyed on 22 February 2011. It stands forlorn now, fenced off, one end open to the elements and only standing though steel bracing. An iconic building for sure and for many it represented the beating heart of the city centre. But that was 100 years ago when the country was more than Christian in name only as it is today. Its future in many ways represents the stark differences between those that look back and those looking forward. Roughly 50% wanted to pull it down (including, it should be said, the local Bishop) and 50% wanted it rebuilt. In the end the ‘rebuilders’ have won, and the taxpayers of New Zealand are about to fork out $100 million to rebuild it. One can only wonder what Jesus might have suggested the Church do with that sort of money, but that’s Christchurch.
I have to say that they have done a wonderful job after years of heartbreak, frustration and I am sure more than a few heated arguments. Given the price of housing is half what it is in Auckland and $500,000 buys you a three bedroom brand new home on your own piece of paradise, there are more reasons to look at it than not.
If you might be worried about earthquakes; remember that was a one in 750-year event so the chances of a repeat are so tiny as to not be worth a second thought. For those that might still not be convinced, we kill around 300 people on our roads each year and close to 500 people drown (many of them migrants that cannot swim). So, I’d be more worried about taking the kids to the beach in that ten-year-old Toyota than being swallowed up by the earth.
Christchurch may just become one of the world’s most liveable cities in the not too distant future.
Until next week...
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
Posted by Iain on Jan. 26, 2018, 7:46 p.m. in New Zealand
Those of you who have attended my seminars know in what high regard I hold Rocket Lab, an amazing New Zealand company. Last weekend they launched their Electron Rocket successfully and deployed a payload of three satellites into low Earth orbit. Last year, they got the rocket up to low earth orbit level but had to kill the rocket when there was some technical hitch. On only their second attempt they have managed to go one better.
There was talk of a fourth object released and media were all atwitter as to whether it was something top secret. Turned out to be far less ‘James Bond’ and more ‘James Brown’ - dubbed a disco ball by some witty Journalist - a ‘humanity star'.
In typical fun Kiwi fashion, the Chief of the company, Peter Beck, decided to launch this ‘humanity satellite’ which will be (for a time) the third brightest object in your night sky, visible from all parts of the earth. It can be tracked online here, and for those of you not in New Zealand, you might be able to look up into the dark night sky right now and see this little piece of New Zealand hurtling from horizon to horizon above you.
This successful launch and deployment is amazing on so many levels, not just because it is homegrown high tech New Zealand. We join an exclusive club of eleven countries with a commercial space industry and a fully fledged space programme. It is the also the first launch from a privately owned launch site. It is also really cheap. This company is able to launch satellites into (low orbit) space for between $6,000,000.00 and $10,000,000.00 which is 1/10th of the price of its nearest competitor. There is talk of this creating a multi-billion dollar per year industry.
The genesis of this company began over a decade ago when a number of young engineering lads sat around what I imagine to be a pub table and someone said after I suspect at least three 8% alcohol content local craft beers: “Lads, I have a proposition for you. Why don’t we build and put a rocket into space?”. The others, perhaps after a few more local ales, decided to do it. And so the journey began.
Being young and poor, these guys had to think so far outside the square they were probably in a different room. They basically had to reinvent so many aspects of rocket engineering including, as I understand it, the engine. The Kiwi way of being creative when there’s not much money around is what has led directly to these guys now being able to build these rockets and get them into space very cheaply.
I also believe it reflects the New Zealand education system which is one where teamwork is promoted and an holistic education is valued over regurgitating numbers and facts. Aligned with that - and perhaps what makes us such a successful bunch - is that education seems to work well with a “can do” attitude that seems to lie deeply in our DNA. It was a little more than 12 months ago that the company opened its launch complex on the tip of the Mahia Peninsula in Hawke's Bay. They now have six more of these 17-metre high “Electron” rockets in production and are expecting to be able to launch one a week by the end of the year. Not even my other hero, Elon Musk, comes close to these fellas.
Interestingly and in reflection of the tightness of the local labour market, their biggest issue was (and remains) recruiting skills. Rocket Lab leader Peter Beck is reported as saying that they don’t want rocket scientists (believe it or not) but all sorts of other trades with skills critical in manufacturing these rockets for regular space launch. If this sounds like you and you want to be part of NZ’s space industry, check out the Careers Page on the Rocket Lab website.
You can watch the entire launch on YouTube and if you got half the thrill that I did as they launched from possibly the most picturesque launch site in the world until the point of payload deployment, you’ll have a really good 8 minutes.
I often describe New Zealand as the little country that could, and this is yet another wonderful illustration of how far we have come as a country in the past 20-30 years.
I find it wonderful that the first NZ satellite that goes up was designed to make us all look up at this bright object whistling across the sky and to look beyond it into deep space; contemplating our place in the universe and, Peter Beck hopes, make us start thinking more about our home planet and how important it is to each and every one of us.
So while technically it isn’t really a disco ball, I love the fact that this first successful deployment was not just about making money, but about making a statement. I think it is the coolest thing that has happened in New Zealand since got my first pair of flared jeans when I was 8 years old.
I, for one, could not be prouder of what this says about New Zealanders and this little country that could.
Till next week...
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
Posted by Iain on Dec. 1, 2017, 5:04 p.m. in New Zealand
My wife and I are taking a few days out after my final (exhausting) trip to South Africa for the year and find ourselves about to board a ferry from Papeete to Moorea in Tahiti.
Having yesterday broken the wonderful news of his family’s residence approval to a very nervy client, who from the first time I met him over a year ago questioned his ability to cope with the rigours of resigning his job, getting a new one in NZ and getting that precious visa, I once again turned my mind to what makes people risk emigration. This was all the more poignant for me as we touched down late last night in the home of some of my wife’s ancestors. Tahiti it is said was the last home of our own Maori people before they began their great oceanic migrations to settle what would become Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Flying over a seemingly vast and empty Pacific Ocean yesterday I pondered their bravery. Or was it desperation? Were they leaving because of war? Famine? Over population? For the hell of it? Didn’t like the boss?
Having just given another 75 South African families a plan to make it to NZ or Australia their home over the past two weeks I know that a majority will in the end stay home hoping (understandably if not naively) that tomorrow will be better than today.
Interestingly even those that decide to make the move endure for many months a mix of fear and excitement. Fear of the ‘what ifs’ and excitement at the possibility of a normal and safe life.
But who that climbed into one of those ocean going canoes all those centuries ago leaving this part of the Pacific wasn’t filled with the same trepidation? Or were they so at home on the high seas it was simply adventure? Life here seems pretty idyllic but my guess is population pressure will have led to that constant human need to seek out somewhere better. So it is down the ages we have wandered. From the bottom of Africa over 60,000 years ago, it goes on today.
It occurs to me that migrants are the strong among us. They often question their strength as they confront the fears of migration and endure the challenges of the modern process and while the migrant today coming from Johannesburg, Singapore or São Paulo can get to their new home in a matter of hours, their hopes are I suspect little different to our ancestors that settled NZ from the Pacific or in my case the highlands of Scotland.
Those that believe (or the politicians who tout) migrants are takers should try being one. Climbing into a canoe or boarding a long haul flight, I take my hat off to one and all.
It is a wonderful thing to be a part of.
Till next week...
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
Letters from New Zealand
Posted by Iain on July 14, 2017, 4:35 p.m. in New Zealand
With around eight weeks to go until the next General Election, a number of economists are warning the Government and those who would be Government, of the dangers of cutting back too hard on migration.
The current Government has announced no change to skilled migrant numbers but they have signalled, and we are seeing, a fall in the number of international students who are coming to study in New Zealand.
In terms of migration statistics they are “migrants” even though a significant proportion don’t remain here for more than a year or two. They all spend money however...
At the current time we have an economy firing on all cylinders and across all sectors, resulting in growth of around 3–3.5% with around 60,000 full time skilled jobs being created each year. Independent economists are warning the Government that migrants are contributing a significant percentage of that growth and needed to fill those vacancies.
Clearly one thing leads to another – a buoyant economy in which lots of jobs are being created that cannot be filled locally makes the country attractive to migrants which leads to economic growth which leads to more jobs and so it goes. What is absolutely clear is that the Government dropped the ball three years ago in ramping up a study to work to residence pathway for international students and that has of course now being wound back significantly. The major opposition group, the Labour Party, has promised to wind it back even more.
Immigration is only an issue in this election owing to tow issues - housing affordability and infrastructure pressure. Naturally, when you are an idiot, migrants get blamed for all of this even though there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest migrants are to blame.
My frustration lies with the lack of foresight of Government to predict the outcomes of their own actions. Surely they knew if they promised a pathway to residency for international students, the numbers of student visa applications being issued was increasing exponentially, that there was going to be a flow-on effect in terms of accommodation for those additional bodies, especially in Auckland, and on roads and other infrastructure. Where was the planning?
Why do we end up with situations which could have been ameliorated with a little bit of planning and foresight?
Now that a minority of people are starting to grumble, the Government is now not turning off but turning down, the flow of people into the country.
It’s a tightrope that they walk because of the virtuous circle between business confidence, economic growth and migration. I will give the current Government a degree of credit for recognising that migration is overwhelmingly positive, a view shared by 74% of New Zealanders recently surveyed and in fact, most political parties. The current Government is not cutting skilled migrant numbers and not cutting numbers of investors, and so far of those opposition parties who have released their immigration policies, only one is talking in unspecified terms about going further.
So what planning is now going on in the halls of power for fewer people needing accommodation and fewer people needing to get around Auckland than we have today?
Will we have a property market that collapses owing to lack of demand but building which has been ramping up significantly over the past few years? Those of you who live in Auckland or have visited will know that this place is one giant suburban and commercial construction site right now, stretching over 100km from the northernmost point of Auckland to its southernmost. If those “migrant” numbers are cut too hard there could be a lot of empty houses around which is going to destroy an awful lot of (paper) value that is keeping business optimism high and the economy pumping. Maybe that’s not a bad thing if our children can afford to buy houses in our bigger cities. With tourism numbers on the up and up (itself causing problems) and the dairy sector back in good health the economy can clearly take fewer people consuming houses, whiteware and cars but how much…?
As we all think about how to cast that precious ballot in a little over two months’ time, my vote will go to the party that actually offers co-ordinated and considered plan to deal with the growing pains of a country that is becoming ever more popular as a destination for migrants, tourists, seasonal workers and students. Not the ones that simply play the 'migrants are to blame for everything’ card.
Until next week…
Posted by Iain on June 23, 2017, 6:41 p.m. in New Zealand
A few months’ ago the then-Prime Minister announced an aspirational goal to create a predator-free New Zealand by 2050.
You may not be aware but New Zealand has a very unique fauna and flora profile. The country split off from the rest of what was then Gondwana some 60 million years ago before the rise of mammals. New Zealand has historically only had two species of land mammal; the short-tailed and long-tailed bat (both of which are now critically endangered). While we did have mammals around the coastline, such as fur seals, those two species of bat were it for the mainland and islands around the country.
When humans first arrived in New Zealand around 800 years’ ago they brought with them their favourite foodstuffs and a couple of unwitting passengers including pmice and rats. When Europeans arrived, they brought with them and released into the wild many species of deer, moose (now supposedly extinct), goats, Tahr, and, in order to create a fur industry, the Australian brush-tailed possum and rabbits.
These last two species have become pests of the greatest magnitude and the deer do untold damage. Despite there being calls in the 1850s and 1860s not to further introduce other mammals into the country to control the exploding rabbit population, in their wisdom my forefathers introduced weasels, stoats and ferrets as these were natural predators for rabbits in the United Kingdom. Mustelids are very intelligent little killers and they very quickly realised that it was easier to catch a flightless Kiwi and other flightless birds than it was to catch a rabbit and so they did.
Within decades most of our mainland forests were falling increasingly silent as these birds have no defence strategies against these rapacious killers.
While the mustelids did their work on the ground, the brush-tailed possum destroyed a lot of the vegetation and a lot of the birds’ nests, chicks and eggs.
While we still have extensive stands of native forest across the country that tourists and locals alike enjoy, it always saddens me whenever I go into these forests that where there isn’t intense predator control programmes you’ll be very lucky to hear any birdlife whatsoever. I’m filled with a deep sadness about what we’ve done to our forests.
Over the past twenty years many of our offshore islands (of which we have hundreds) have been effectively sealed off from human contact and rats, mice, feral cats, possums and mustelids have been removed and the islands have become sanctuaries. Unfortunately, most New Zealanders don’t have boats and even if they did, you can’t step foot on these islands to enjoy the forests as they once were. I have written in other blogs about how you can get very close on boats and the birdsong is intense but the plan is to even the ‘balance’ on the mainland.
Although the Government hasn’t thrown a lot of money at this “predator-free 2050 NZ” programme, it has ignited in many of us a desire to do something to contribute.
I regularly volunteer at a private forest block that now has 43 Kiwi and assist with baiting and clearing traps.
Next month, my family and some close friends will take title over 50 acres (22 hectares) of regenerating Northland Kauri forest not from our beach house and it is our aim and plan to make it predator-free. All throughout Northland and especially on the East Coast, community, farm and forest groups are getting together to create these predator-free mainland ‘islands’ which unfortunately can only happen through intense trapping, particularly of these mustelids and the brush-tailed possum.
What is amazing is just how much support there is from local Councils in terms of providing the trapping hardware and do so at cost price but equally they provide the know-how in terms of educating we city slickers on how to bait and set traps and the best places to get the best results. Although like most young New Zealanders, I did have family who owned farms and spent many wonderful school holidays out hunting rabbits and possums, most urban New Zealanders now never spend time in forests let alone consider the destruction our introduced species have wrought upon them.
I’m really excited about the prospect of doing my bit and when my time is up, passing this land along to future generations to preserve as it once was.
We have no plans to develop it, no plans to put in services such as electricity or water, nor to build houses. There are a couple of fairly primitive sleep outs on the property and a covered cooking area but that’s as “civilised” as it’s going to get. Talking to other people who have done something similar, they all explain that once you get on top of the rat, mustelid and possum populations, which takes two or three years, the trees quickly recover and the birdlife returns.
I’ll keep you posted over the next few years how it goes!
Until next week...
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