Words by David & Polly Turner
It’s not easy moving to New Zealand if you are over 60. In fact there are only two ways: invest a huge amount of money with the NZ government (and also have a lot left over to live on), or buy (or set up) a business.
We first arrived in NZ in October 2009. It was to be our ‘big trip’, 3 months in NZ followed by 3 months in Australia. The UK was in the grip of a huge recession, we were trying to sell our house but nobody was even coming to look. So we decided to travel and leave the depressing winter behind. We had practically retired, had no pressing commitments, and owned a couple of rental houses to fund our expenses.
We bought a round-the-world air ticket, rented out our house, and off we went. No plans, no expectations, just a desire to see as much as we could.
Our arrival in Auckland was a bit traumatic. Everything seemed so expensive, particularly food and alcohol. How were we going to survive the next 3 months on a fairly tight budget? We booked into a quite dreadful city centre backpackers for a week whilst we considered our options. We talked to people and considered buying a car, renting a car, renting a campervan, everything.
By chance we discovered BBH, a budget hostel network that seemed to cover the whole of NZ. We visited a couple of BBH hostels in Auckland, talked to some guests and owners, and each bought a BBH membership card. If we rented a car for 3 months we could get a very good rate and we would only pay approximately $30 each for a room each night. This was in budget and looked a good option. A campervan initially seemed a cheap, romantic idea, but when you look at hire costs, fuel costs and park fees it is more expensive than having a comfortable bed in a hostel each night.
Like most other people who arrive in New Zealand we fell in love with the Country almost immediately. The people are so helpful and friendly, they have a ‘can do’ attitude to any problem, and even Auckland is beautiful.
After a week in Auckland we picked up our car and began our journey. The first hostel we stayed in was Little Earth Lodge in Whangarei. Little did we know at that time that it would become the catalyst for our new life. We were awestruck by the sheer beauty and quality of the place, set amidst such stunning scenery next to a nature reserve and glow worm caves. David celebrated his 59th birthday here, and we explored Whangarei and surrounding areas. We chatted to owner Jon during our stay and got on well. Jon can best be described as a very likeable chap but a shrewd businessman intertwined with old hippy beliefs. Quite by chance as were preparing to leave Jon mentioned that he was looking for someone to house-sit the hostel during the winter if he could find someone suitable, while he and Junko, his wife, went travelling.
We moved on and our love affair with New Zealand gradually became more passionate. Around every corner is something new and magnificent. Beautiful beaches, amazing forests and trees and mainly good weather. There are few large towns in NZ, and outside of these the way of life is relaxed, often basic and rural. In no time at all we decided that we could live here. We spent a month on South Island and were captivated by the rugged beauty, the mountains, the glaciers, the lakes, and the sheer peace and tranquillity.
After a glorious Christmas and New Year in the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel it was time to head for Australia. In the back of our minds were Jon’s comments about house-sitting. We didn’t think they were directed at us personally but we decided to volunteer anyway. We exchanged emails, reached agreement on dates and terms. We would pay all our own expenses including air fair and car, but would stay for free in the property. This was ideal for us as it would give us chance to live in a community in NZ and do research on all aspects of life in NZ. We would also experience the New Zealand winter.
The plan almost failed before it had even started. After 3 months awesome travelling in Australia the final leg was a week in Bangkok, Thailand. On arrival in Thailand David was suffering sever abdominal pains and was rushed late at night into hospital. He had major surgery for an intestinal blockage a few hours later. Fortunately the facilities and healthcare were very good and health insurance covered the thousands of bahts.
Somewhat debilitated David took the decision that recuperating in New Zealand would be better than in the UK, providing there were no complications. The operation appeared successful, so back to New Zealand we went.
During our 3 month stay we started to make enquiries on the process for moving to NZ. We were a bit dumbstruck by the limitations. Basically it was buy a business or nothing. As we had virtually retired in the UK the thought of starting again was daunting. Whilst be both have degrees we do not have any specific skills although both of us have run small businesses in the past. We were becoming quite enamoured with the idea of running a backpacker hostel. Surely it would be easy: chat to guests, make a few beds in the morning, keep the place clean and tidy. No big deal, we could do that!
So we started looking around. There were several hostels on the market, but none that really grabbed our attention. We also looked at some domestic properties and talked to real estate agents. The market was slow and there were bargains to be had. But what struck us most was the relatively high prices for what in most cases were very big garden sheds. Forget double glazing, forget central heating, even forget insulation (though this has now changed), and look out for damp. Hailing from Yorkshire where homes are solidly built of local stone it was a culture shock to see wooden houses clad in little more than plywood. The Kiwi attitude to cool weather is to put on an extra jumper, but still wear the shorts.
We loved our stay at Little Earth Lodge. It was bliss, we didn’t want to leave, even in the middle of winter. This was perfect, it was our dream. The only problem was that Jon and Junko didn’t want to sell. They did invite us back to do the same thing the following year.
On our return to the UK we decided that New Zealand was our lifestyle choice. The big question was, did new Zealand want us? To find out more we went to a Migration Seminar in Manchester. The exhibition comprises all aspects of migration, including banking, pensions, removals, even taking your pets. There we met Borey Chum, a migration specialist with Migration Associates. Borey didn’t pull any punches. He told us he turned more people away than he actually represented. After completing a quick questionnaire he told us it was theoretically possible, but it wouldn’t be easy. Because of our age we had one option: buy a business or create a business.
We knew we would be returning to NZ so we started planning our second ‘big trip’. This time we would explore the west coast of Australia before moving on to NZ. Australia is also a wonderful country and the west coast certainly met our expectations. Perth is a wonderful city; then we travelled south and east along the coast to Esperance before heading north to Exmouth via Calgoorlie. We did not make any forward bookings but just travelled day to day staying mainly in cabins in caravan parks. Western Australia is quite different from the rest of Australia and not unlike New Zealand in some ways.
We soon settled back into Little Earth Lodge but began looking in earnest for business possibilities. Several hostels were up for sale, and we looked at a few, but none of them had the charisma or potential of Little Earth Lodge. During our absence Jon and Junko had been blessed with their first child, but this did not stop them travelling.
Another 3 months of bliss passed by so quickly. Still no sign of a viable business idea, or of Jon and Junko wanting to sell Little Earth Lodge. However, we were again invited back for the same house-sitting duties the following year. This looked like it was becoming our lifestyle; 3 months travelling, 3 months in New Zealand. It had a lot going for it; no commitment or responsibility, lots of travel. We were becoming resigned to this was how it was going to be.
The following year we decided to go to Tasmania and the Cook Islands before our stint at Little Earth. Both places are amazing. In between the two centres Jon and Junko’s second child was born, so they decided to reduce their travelling to 8 weeks. On their return we had a very interesting conversation. Did we still want to move to NZ and were we interested in some sort of partnership agreement? We said we were, and would draft out some ideas in the next few weeks when we got back to the UK. Our hopes were raised, but not unduly so. At the back of our minds was the requirement from NZ Immigration to own a business outright, or at least have majority control.
We returned to the UK and spent a couple of weeks developing a proposal. We were conscious that Jon and Junko didn’t really want to sell LEL but were unable to commit fully now they had 2 young children. We, however, had to buy to satisfy immigration requirements. We had several discussions and swapped emails over the next couple of months. But Jon and Junko seemed undecided as to their best course of action. Their favourite option seemed to be just to close the hostel and use the building as a private house, though Jon, ever the businessman, was loath to destroy a good business. Christmas came and went, discussions had stalled. David had recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for his 62nd birthday, and we busy were organising a trip to the Andes in South America to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu.
Monday morning, cold and wet in late January in the UK, just another winters day. We switched on the computer to check emails and there it was. An email from Jon and Junko, they had decided to sell, were we interested? It took less than 2 minutes to decide what to do with the rest of our lives – we were going to try to live in New Zealand and run a hostel.
In retrospect we gave very little thought to the magnitude of the decision. We regarded it as just another of life’s adventures. Yes, it was going to cost a lot of money, yes we would have traumas and problems along the way, yes it might not work out, but the overriding factor was that we would have deep regrets if we did not take advantage of the opportunity, win or lose. We were going to give it our best shot.
So we said Yes to Jon and Junko, but subject to us being granted a visa. We explained that process would probably take around 9 months if all went well. We also had 2 houses to sell. Likewise, we wanted them to be comfortable with their decision.
Our first requirement was to get help. We had very little idea on what was involved with the migration process so we went back to Borey Chum at Migration Associates. He asked us to complete an on-line questionnaire which would determine whether he would accept us a client. We passed the first hurdle and a meeting was arranged.
At the first meeting with Borey, he was concerned that the business was small and appeared to be a ‘lifestyle choice’ rather than a real business, and we struggled to answer the main question – ‘How can we be of benefit to New Zealand’. The answer is: create one or more full-time jobs, pay GST and taxes, and develop the business. He explained that the next stage of the process would be to create a business plan where we would define and justify how we would improve the business, increase turnover and profits, create full-time employment for a New Zealand citizen and generally contribute to the new Zealand economy and tourism industry. This was no walk in the park to be written on the back of an envelope. It was a serious document which would be examined closely by New Zealand Immigration business experts. Once the plan was written and approved we had to stick to it rigidly and undertake everything we were proposing. Borey remained a little sceptical, but we managed to convince him that the potential was there.
Fortunately we would have help from Borey’s associate Christine, an expert in writing Business Plans, but much of the input would have to come from us. Unfortunately she lived in Christchurch, which meant lots of late night telephone calls and emails.
Over the next 2 months the Business Plan started to come together. Christine was brilliant at researching background and putting our ideas into practical proposals.
We were struggling with the financial side though, particularly with the wages costs. Finally, to make the figures work we had to commit to doubling the turnover and remain open for 52 weeks a year. Christine and Borey managed to tweak the figures so that they were both believable and achievable. In summary we had to increase the number of beds, double the turnover by the end of year 2 then maintain it at this level, double the profits, employ one full-time staff member, and invest at least $30,000 improving kitchen and bathroom facilities. No pressure there then!
Having seen a draft of the Business Plan, Borey was much more enthusiastic. He helped us put together the rest of the application which involved a serious medical for each of us, police checks, character references and a whole raft of other documents. We had to prove that we had the money to buy Little Earth Lodge and invest in development. Finally, by the beginning of June we were ready. A final meeting with Borey and the application and Business Plan were submitted. We were told it would take a minimum of 3 months to process.
In the meantime we were busy with other preparations. We were now quietly confident that application would be approved. We had managed to sell one house, the other was sticking. We were getting removal quotes, arranging a solicitor in NZ to buy Little Earth Lodge and a myriad of other details. We still manage to fit in our trip to climb the Andes and visit Machu Pichu, but cut short the extra independent travelling in Peru that we had planned.
House number two finally sold but we had to take the purchasers’ house in part exchange. At least we had somewhere to live while we were waiting for a decision. We were decorating our temporary home ready to rent it out when the phone call came from Borey. WE HAD BEEN APPROVED!
Buying property in New Zealand is topsy turvey when compared to the UK. You sign a contract first and sort out any problems later. We had signed the contract and paid a deposit some months ago (all via email). However an important waiver was subject to us being granted a visa. Once guaranteed we were obliged to complete within one month. So the pressure was now on, we had a month to do all the multitude of tasks involved, packing, saying our good buys to everyone, booking a flight and tying up the loose ends. We were taking our cars but not our furniture, so many items to dispose of, mainly to charity shops and the hospice.
Everything worked out pretty much perfectly. The whole process had worked out very smoothly and we were left with the feeling it was meant to be. We were very comfortable with our decision and looked forward with excitement to our new life. Three days before we left the removal men packed all our remaining belongings into a 40 foot container. We would not see our things again for 3 months.
Part 2 coming soon...