Big hits and misses

Past ex­pe­ri­ence won’t shake Fiona Bar­ber’s be­lief in her rugby league he­roes.

Waikato Times - Your Weekend (Waikato Times) - - Viewpoint -

About this time of year, each and ev­ery year, I al­low my­self to in­dulge in some­thing friv­o­lous. It’s called hope and it plays out a bit like those drift-off-to-sleep Lotto-win­ning rever­ies. You know, the ones where you dare to dream of a lap pool, a car man­u­fac­tured post2002 and fat cheques for peo­ple and an­i­mals who de­serve bet­ter.

The script for this one goes like this: Early Oc­to­ber 2017. The Aus­tralasian rugby league show­case has reached its cli­max. The New Zealand War­riors meet the Mel­bourne Storm in the NRL grand fi­nal. And… de­spite over­whelm­ing odds – and Storm cap­tain Cameron Smith bad­ger­ing the be­je­sus out of the ref (a bloke called Bad­ger) – the lit­tle team from the lit­tle coun­try that could, has stunned the rugby league world by claim­ing its first NRL ti­tle. Just imag­ine…

I just can’t help my­self. It’s like an an­nual hol­i­day to a five-star re­sort called Hope Springs where the skies are blue, the play­ing fields are even and, un­usu­ally, the War­riors en­joy the rub of the green.

My leaguey friend won’t go there, re­fuses to be­come emo­tion­ally in­vested un­til at least round 13. She used to be an earl­y­sea­son reg­u­lar at Hope Springs, but found her­self down­graded to a manky one-star mo­tel called De­spair once too of­ten.

In our house, there is only one beau­ti­ful game and it in­volves big hits. Oh the smack of flesh on flesh echo­ing around the sta­dium. The dance of the backs as they sweep around hap­less de­fend­ers. The non-stop ac­tion. Shaun John­son.

I tried watch­ing rugby union but found my­self drift­ing off won­der­ing whether I had enough veg­e­tar­ian sausages for din­ner dur­ing all that po­lar-bear lum­ber­ing about be­tween scrums and line-outs. For pity’s sake, you’re paid like kings, will you just keep play­ing!

No, it’s the league we love; the builder, the princess and me. HRH thinks she has a case for child wel­fare au­thor­i­ties, just be­cause we won’t let her have a Sky sub­scrip­tion to watch games while she’s away at uni.

My early­bird reser­va­tion for Hope Springs still stands. Truly, what’s the point oth­er­wise? You’re a fan, or you’re not. I’m buoyed by sto­ries of un­fan­cied teams de­fy­ing the crit­ics – take Le­ices­ter City in last sea­son’s English Pre­mier League and the Cronulla Sharks in last year’s NRL, for in­stance.

Hope springs eter­nal. See you at the grand fi­nal.

Search­ing for life in a smaller com­mu­nity had al­ways been on the agenda for mag­a­zine ed­i­tor Fiona Fraser, 42, and her mu­si­cian hus­band Scott Tow­ers, 44. Ar­riv­ing back from their OE in 2004, the couple set­tled in west Auck­land, where they bought a three-bed­room home and had their son, Sal­vador, now aged 9.

“We loved Auck­land, es­pe­cially for the first five or six years,” Fraser says. “We re­ally en­joyed our­selves.”

But Fraser’s de­mand­ing job with long hours of­ten meant not get­ting home un­til 7.30pm, im­pact­ing on fam­ily time.

“My boy was grow­ing up so quickly... I knew it would only be an­other 10 years un­til we would say good­bye to him, and I would have spent most of his life in an of­fice.”

Space was also an is­sue. Their home had be­come too small, and they craved a life­style block where they could have an­i­mals.

The couple had eyed up Have­lock North in the Hawke’s Bay as a pos­si­bil­ity, hav­ing fallen in love with the re­gion while hol­i­day­ing there.

“Ev­ery time we’d been in Hawke’s Bay, we’d al­ways won­dered what it would be like to live there, but I’d al­ways pooh-poohed the idea.

“It was such an enor­mous con­cept and as far as I could see, there wasn’t any work for me.”

Like so many Auck­lan­ders fed up with crazy prop­erty prices, long com­mutes and pres­sure, they long­ingly pe­rused house list­ings in pro­vin­cial cen­tres and imag­ined what their Auck­land money could buy, and what life­style they could achieve.

And then they be­came paid-up mem­bers of the ex-auck­lan­ders club.

In May 2016, Fraser landed a job lead­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tions and mar­ket­ing team at the Napier City Coun­cil. With Tow­ers only need­ing a handy air­port to travel over­seas for his job as a sax­o­phone player in Fat Freddy’s Drop, the pair sold up in west Auck­land and bought a life­style block in Have­lock North.

The 0.8ha (2 acres) prop­erty, which takes in views of the Ruahine Range and land­mark Te Mata Peak, eas­ily eclipses their pre­vi­ous 800sqm sec­tion. “Our 100sqm out­house here, which we even­tu­ally want to turn into ac­com­mo­da­tion, is big­ger than our en­tire house in Auck­land,” Fraser says. “We’re in a beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion. I look out the win­dow ev­ery day and can­not be­lieve the sheer beauty of the re­gion I live – it’s in­cred­i­ble to me. I have to shake my­self.”

Their son has set­tled in well at school and the fam­ily is kept busy ex­er­cis­ing their new dog ev­ery week­end and at­tend­ing lots of so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties.

“We had a ‘say yes to every­thing’ pol­icy for the first six months, even if it wasn’t some­thing we’d nor­mally do in Auck­land. We’ve re­ally made the most of ev­ery op­por­tu­nity be­ing given to us, just to get out there and make friends.”

Fin­ish­ing work at 5pm and en­joy­ing the laid-back pace of a semi-ru­ral life­style are changes cher­ished by the fam­ily.

“There’s a beau­ti­ful sim­plic­ity in our lives now. It’s a huge re­lief af­ter the fran­tic lives that we were lead­ing in Auck­land.”

Some say the lo­cal com­mu­nity is cliquey but Fraser dis­agrees. “The only thing is in the real es­tate mar­ket. I un­der­stand some lo­cal fam­i­lies are strug­gling to get into houses be­cause of Auck­lan­ders com­ing in with a lot of cash in their pock­ets. I feel that could po­ten­tially be­come a prob­lem, but we haven’t seen any neg­a­tiv­ity to­wards us.”

Napier mayor Bill Dal­ton agrees the lo­cal hous­ing mar­ket is “very strong”, with many Auck­lan­ders snap­ping up homes in the $300-400,000 bracket sight un­seen. The coun­cil, the big­gest prop­erty de­vel­oper in the re­gion, is about to re­lease ti­tles for 200 sec­tions, and they al­ready have 100 names on their wait­ing list.

Fam­i­lies and re­tirees from Auck­land set­tling in the re­gion is good for the econ­omy, but Dal­ton

ac­knowl­edges it has re­sulted in pres­sure on lo­cal first-home buy­ers. “There’s no ques­tion about that.

“But there are still parts of Napier where you can get cheap do-ups and make a profit once they’re ren­o­vated.”

Ex­tra bod­ies, es­pe­cially dur­ing com­mu­nity events and fes­ti­vals, are no­tice­able but there’s more than enough room for ev­ery­one. Dal­ton’s mes­sage is to come on over.

“We’ve got every­thing peo­ple like about Auck­land but we don’t have the things that peo­ple don’t like about a big city. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Not ev­ery­one is singing the praises of new ar­rivals from the north, how­ever. Tau­ranga mayor Greg Brown­less is all for pop­u­la­tion growth, as long as the peo­ple buy­ing prop­erty in his city are mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion.

“I don’t mind any­body com­ing here, as long as they be­come part of the com­mu­nity and con­trib­ute by set­ting up busi­nesses and things like that. The thought of peo­ple com­ing here be­cause some­where else is bad doesn’t en­thral me. They need to think of the place as home, and not just a place to es­cape to.”

Specif­i­cally, he’s talk­ing about Auck­lan­ders buy­ing up prop­er­ties as in­vest­ments be­cause of higher rental yields, which only serves to drive up real

es­tate prices and lock lo­cals out of the mar­ket. “It’s not real eco­nomic growth and it’s not sus­tain­able.”

Pres­sure on in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices is also mak­ing its pres­ence felt, Brown­less says.

“Auck­land peo­ple tell us the traf­fic isn’t busy, but we think it is.”

Schools are grow­ing rapidly, with some run­ning out of class­room space. Res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ing is also on the rise.

“The city is def­i­nitely spread­ing out, and it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to grow up a lit­tle bit, as well.”

Whether the growth fu­elled by the Auck­land ex­o­dus will con­tinue in Tau­ranga re­mains to be seen. “Things go in cy­cles. You only have to cast your mind back to 2008 or so – we were in the dol­drums here.”

DREAM OR DES­PER­A­TION?

The re­al­ity is, es­cap­ing from Auck­land for an eas­ier life in the re­gions is not just a flight of fancy but a ne­ces­sity for many peo­ple strug­gling to pay sky-high prices for hous­ing, en­dur­ing ever-wors­en­ing traf­fic and fight­ing to keep up with an in­creas­ingly hec­tic pace of life.

“It feels like our backs are up against the wall. We just can’t sur­vive here any more,” says one life­long North Shore-ite, who’s keen on mak­ing a move to Dunedin. “We have a house, two kids and both work at pretty de­cent jobs. But we’re broke, de­mor­alised and over spend­ing all our time in traf­fic and none with our kids. It’s get­ting harder and harder. We’ll be off down south as soon as we can get work.”

For those who are not in the for­tu­nate po­si­tion of own­ing prop­erty in the Su­per City, the picture is even more grim. If you can’t af­ford the ex­trav­a­gant price tags on houses – the av­er­age Auck­land house is now val­ued at just over $1 mil­lion – then you’re stuck pay­ing soar­ing rental costs on of­ten sub­stan­dard prop­er­ties.

“Re­gions ranked by house­hold in­come show that Auck­land is num­ber one, but is the low­est on the scale for dis­pos­able in­come,” econ­o­mist Shamubeel Eaqub says. “Af­ter you’ve taken into con­sid­er­a­tion the cost of liv­ing, you’re ac­tu­ally much worse off liv­ing in Auck­land at the mo­ment.”

Not ev­ery­one can es­cape the rat race, Equab says. Though be­ing cashed-up from sell­ing prop­erty in Auck­land is un­doubt­edly a great start to mak­ing a move, se­cur­ing a job in your cho­sen ca­reer with good in­come and prospects of pro­mo­tion is not so sim­ple.

“And once you’re out of Auck­land, you [might] have to think about the chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion and health­care,” Eaqub says.

Far from be­ing un­avail­able or sub­stan­dard, spe­cialised health­care and ed­u­ca­tion in their new home­town of Taupo was far su­pe­rior to what was avail­able in Auck­land, says Dar­lesha Wrigley, 42. As a mum to an autis­tic child – one of four boys – this was an important fac­tor in moving to the cen­tral North Is­land town in Oc­to­ber 2015.

A decade ago, their home in River­head, north­west of Auck­land, was con­sid­ered semi-ru­ral, but has since evolved into an­other thriv­ing sub­urb of the Su­per City. “It used to be so quiet, and we were tucked away from every­thing,” Wrigley says. “But it be­came busier and busier.”

Over the past decade she and hus­band Scott’s lives have changed dra­mat­i­cally with the ar­rival of their sons, now aged 10, 7, 6 and 3.

With Wrigley no longer in the work­force, there was a huge strain on the al­ready stretched fam­ily fi­nances. “We found that ‘free early child­care’ was a joke as we were pay­ing about $90 per week.”

Though the born-and-bred Auck­land couple had never con­sid­ered leav­ing the area, when Scott, 44, was made re­dun­dant just be­fore Christ­mas a few years ago, moving to a more af­ford­able part of the coun­try be­came at­trac­tive.

In Oc­to­ber 2015, Taupo be­came their des­ti­na­tion of choice – “we had both al­ways liked it” – and money from their Auck­land house sale bought them a free­hold home in an ex­cel­lent school zone.

“Our house in Auck­land was a run­down fourbed­room, one-bath­room, one-liv­ing area place on a main high­way. We now have a tidy, low­main­te­nance, five-bed­room, two-bath­room home with two large liv­ing ar­eas, three-car garag­ing in a quiet cul-de-sac, with lake views.”

The couple also had enough money left from sell­ing their house to start a busi­ness.

“We are miles bet­ter off and I can’t see us ever want­ing to leave here,” Wrigley says.

Be­ing debt-free is also a big draw­card for es­cap­ing Auck­lan­ders. For many with low or paid-off mort­gages, the lure of sell­ing up and be­com­ing debt-free with money to spare is strong, es­pe­cially for those with kids who’ve left home and who are ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment.

For these rea­sons and more, for­mer Wai­heke Is­lan­ders Su­san Har­ris, 50, and her part­ner Gary Fel­lowes, 53, made their home on 2ha (5 acres) in ru­ral Bay of Plenty in Fe­bru­ary last year.

De­spite Wai­heke be­ing a sought-af­ter place to live, Har­ris and Fel­lowes joined many oth­ers in mak­ing the leap back to the main­land.

“It was just so ex­pen­sive to live there,” Har­ris, a health pro­fes­sional, says. “It was in­cred­i­bly hard to find and keep a place to live, and the com­mute [to the CBD] was ex­pen­sive and ex­haust­ing. I was earn­ing bet­ter money than I ever had in my life in my job, but I had less money than ever.”

Wai­heke wasn’t all bad though – it was a place for

Har­ris to flee to and heal af­ter the Christchurch earth­quakes – and it was there that she met Fel­lowes, who also dreamed of a more ru­ral, eas­ier life.

Be­cause they were mort­gage-free, the pair weren’t un­der pres­sure for im­me­di­ate in­come when they moved to the Bay of Plenty, so Fel­lowes took 18 months off work to ren­o­vate a house they had moved onto the prop­erty, and to de­velop the land. Har­ris ini­tially strug­gled to find work in her spe­cialised field but has since started a con­sul­tancy busi­ness. Fel­lowes even­tu­ally found work in a ki­wifruit pack­house, and has since been pro­moted to a su­per­vi­sor. The pay, he says, started on the low side: “I was work­ing for $17 per hour in what would have been a $30 per hour job in Auck­land, but it’s all rel­a­tive when your cost of liv­ing is low and you’re debt-free.” Liv­ing in a re­mote lo­ca­tion does have its chal­lenges. With 34km to travel to Te Puke and 33km to Whakatane, gro­cery shop­ping is a closely-planned ex­pe­di­tion, although the long dis­tances don’t daunt the pair. “You go down the end of the [380m] drive­way and turn left or right onto one of the best roads in the coun­try in a 100km zone,” Fel­lowes says. “It’s a nice drive.” So­cially and cul­tur­ally, things have been tricky. Mak­ing new friends hasn’t been a dod­dle for the “very so­cial” Har­ris, but mak­ing sure they at­tend events and ac­tiv­i­ties in sur­round­ing cen­tres has helped.

Liv­ing in a pre­dom­i­nantly bi­cul­tural area has been an eye-opener for the pair. “Ev­ery time we’ve gone into Whakatane, we’ve re­ally no­ticed the gang culture. Ev­ery­one’s patched up.”

Get­ting his hands on his beloved In­dian cui­sine has been a mis­sion for Fel­lowes, although he has man­aged to pro­cure some in­gre­di­ents. Reg­u­lar trips to Auck­land, three-and-a-half hours’ drive away, how­ever, has quelled the cravings for eth­nic foods and pro­vided his cafe culture fix.

They’re in the Bay of Plenty for the long haul, Fel­lowes says. “We’ve put a 40-foot con­tainer on the land for Su­san’s [grown-up] kids to come and visit. And we’re out of the Auck­land mar­ket, so there’s no go­ing back. But we don’t care – we just love it here.”

The point of no re­turn is also a happy place for Fiona Fraser. Tempt­ing friends to make the move from Auck­land is her new hobby (their spare room was booked up for most of sum­mer with city vis­i­tors).

“I have be­come a lit­tle bit evan­gel­i­cal and I do want to re­cruit all the time,” says Fraser.

“I know there are peo­ple in Auck­land sit­ting in their of­fices gaz­ing out the win­dow and won­der­ing how the hell they’re go­ing to get out one day.”

Fiona Fraser, Scott Tow­ers and their son Sal­vador. Sal­vador doesn’t miss Auck­land – and why would he?

Moving to Taupo has al­lowed Dar­lesha Wrigley, hus­band Scott and their four chil­dren a much more re­laxed life­style.

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