Lawn Roombas

It has been quite a long time since my last post. As you know, we left Akaroa and headed to Motueka to settle in and look for a place to live permanently. That was almost 2 months ago and in that period of time we have been deep in house hunting mode.

We have been renting a place in Motueka which is on the very far northwest part of the South Island. It’s a very nice house and the same one our friends Jon and Becky rented when they were looking for a place back in the winter of 2022.

It’s a nice area with a lot of good bike riding nearby and you can do a nice beach-side walk from the house. It is close to town as well, which makes running errands and other adulting much more tolerable.

Our future home area

It has been surprisingly stressful buying a house in a new country with a very different process. We looked at a lot of houses to just try to get a sense for what was out there, what spoke to us, and what we might be able to afford.

In the States, you find a buyers agent, tell them you want to look at houses and they set up a bunch of appointments and take you around. Here, you have to do that yourself. You have to call each agent to set up a time to look at each house. Or you can go to open houses, most of which seem to take place on Sundays, and for only half an hour each, making it tough to get to all the ones you want to see. It is slow and painful. In the States, Susanne and I could pound out 12 to 14 houses a day. Here you are lucky to get to see 3. So it takes a while.

One other thing that I can say about the house hunting here is that you end up looking at a lot of really, really crappy houses that need a lot of work. Plus, they aren’t cheap! There is a thing called “the leaky home era” in New Zealand. It ran from 1988 to 2004. During that period, they had lowered the construction standards and they ended up building a lot of houses that ended up with very serious problems. One of the worst things was that they didn’t require treated lumber.

And, for those of you not in the know, what this means is that any moisture in the house will cause the lumber to rot. There were even some houses that fell down because of this. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the mold issues. Anyway, after having looked at few from this era and doing some research we decided that it either had to be old or new….nothing in between.

Big bummer man

We found one house we liked quite a lot, but we could not come to agreement on price so we walked away. In the end I think we were both knew it wasn’t quite right for us. That said, it was super disappointing and we both were starting to think that we might not find something anytime soon and would have to rent.

Our lives have not been completely devoid of fun, though. I have been doing a lot of bike riding around the area and I can safely say the bike riding is great!

The ride out to Kaiteriteri is always good, even though going up and over the big steep hill is a bit humbling….if I could only speed up 2.5x, I would break George Bennett’s record! The ride around the Mapua area is also lovely, with a great mix of road and gravel. And my new favorite is what I call the 3Ms loop which goes from Motueka, to Mapua, back through Moutere and around and down the Motueka Valley to home. All in all, it is about 80 km and the riding is world class.

The 3Ms loop

The other key thing that we do when we are not stressing about buying a house is to go for walks on the various beaches around the area. Our absolute favorite is Rabbit Island, which is a barrier island just east of Mapua and has a long (8 miles) very flat beach that is great for walking. It is walkable at almost anytime except at the very highest of tides. One day we were walking there and all of a sudden a seal just decided to come on shore and have a little rest. It caused quite a stir amongst us humans and we all pulled out our devices and took pictures. Super cool.

Pinehill Reserve: We also checked out the beach at Pinehill Reserve. Also nice, but really only good at low tide. You can walk the beach all the way down to Mapua Leisure Park. According to their website:

A relaxed, island-like feeling characterises this unique promontory at a place where tidal waters follow from the Waimea Estuary into the Tasman Bay. Sited on 25 acres of native and exotic woodland, Mapua Leisure Park has excellent recreational, accommodation and camping facilities catering for all age groups. Leisure Park hosts Gary and Erica have created a warm community atmosphere where peace and tranquility are legend, ensuring the return of many “regular” holiday makers to their favourite piece of paradise year after year!

We have heard from the locals that every Thursday is nude day at the holiday park. Don’t know if this true or not, but come Thursday, we head to Rabbit Island.

Cape Farewell: One other cool trip we took was out to Cape Farewell which is on the very northwest tip of the South Island. I wanted to do the drive out through Takaka and Golden Bay to check the place out. We had seen some amazing houses out there, but it is pretty isolated and requires driving over Takaka Hill which is not a road for the faint of heart. It was about a 2-hr drive to get to the trailhead, but the scenery was pretty spectacular. We got to see where the Heaphy Trail starts which is a hut-to-hut trip on our must do list.

There were a number of cars at the car park along with several campervan people eating lunch. We didn’t have a good map, but first headed out to the vista point for Cape Farewell. It was pretty cool. The rest of the trail was just through a sheep paddock along the coast. It was blowing hard, but overall it was a great hike. It would be fun to come back and spend more time in the area.

There is also Farewell Spit. Farewell Spit is a 34 km long sand spit that shelters Golden Bay and has some amazing bird life. From our high point on the hike we could see it. I was curious whether you can hike out there—turns out you can only go on an organized tour. They have a gannet colony and bunch of other nesting birds you can go check out. We will do that next time.

Wine Tasting: There are a number of wineries in the Nelson area and, sadly, we have not visited many. We did go to Gravity Wines one day, which has a lovely facility that makes wines under a number of labels. We tasted some wines and then sat at one of the tables to have some nibbles, a glass of wine, enjoy the view, and take a breath to relax from the stress of the house hunting. The wine was pretty good and so was the food! We will definitely have to start exploring more wineries.

Waimarama Sanctuary: Another cool thing we did was to go check out a native habitat sanctuary, The Brook, in Nelson. It’s a large area that has lots of birds and native plants. We drove the 45 minutes there and headed out on the trails. The bird sounds are incredible. I think that is one of the most striking things for me when I am out in the native bush here. I can only imagine what it must have been like when the Maori discovered the place.

It is cool to see how dense the bush is when it has been preserved. We did about 6 km of walking through the reserve and both agreed it was well worth and another visit. There are probably 15 kms of trail in the reserve and I am sure in the more remote areas you might even get to see a kiwi!

Friendly Fantail (Piwakawaka)

Mapua Wharf: Mapua has a wharf area that has a bunch of restaurants and shops. It’s a lovely little place. Our friends Jon and Becky invited us down to listen to some music and have drinks at the Golden Bear. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon, so we said yes! The band was pretty good and started their set off by coming in as a marching band. That was fun! The Golden Bear is across from the Mapua ferry, which is how you can get over to Rabbit Island without driving. Sadly, the cost of the Mapua ferry ($12 one way!) makes the Whitianga ferry look like a bargain. How do I get a piece of that business? Besides stewing about the ferry cost, we had a lovely time and will definitely go back often.

Cooking: We have also been able to do some cooking again, since Heather’s house was pretty well equiped. Jon and Becky gave us bounty from their garden, so it was fun using the fresh figs, hazelnuts, and serrano peppers in the meals. I am really looking forward to having our own garden!

The End of Era: One of the agents, Marion, called us up and said there was a house about to go on the market that she thought we would really like and would we want to go see it right away. We said yes.

That is another odd thing about how real estate works here: many agents seem to have a portfolio of properties in their pocket that they hold back in some way and ping you look at them if they think you might be interested. It seems much more frequent than in the US.

We drove over and met Marion at the property. It was in the hills just outside of Mapua, on 11 acres, and had a pretty nice view. The house itself was single story, nearly new, with had a very large kitchen and an open floor plan. We loved it. It was by far the best house we had seen since coming to New Zealand. We drove back home, talked about it and decided that both of us were ready to end the nomading chapter of our lives and that we would just make a full price offer.

The next day we worked through the offer and got it into the buyers’ hands. I think they panicked a bit because the market is slowing and I don’t think they thought they would sell it so fast. Marion called me at 8:30 pm (very unkiwi) and said the sellers had asked us to pay more. We told her in a very abrupt tone that we absolutely would not—take it or leave it. They took it and everyone was happy.

The house checked out well in the inspection, we got the financing in place, gnashed our teeth over all the taxes we were going to have to pay, got approval from the OIO (Overseas Investment Office), they fixed a few things that needed fixing, and on April 5th we were able to close on our new house.

We now have a bunch of new lawn mowers (sheep) we call Lawn Roombas. Actually, they are not ours, they are our neighbor’s, who runs them on our new property.

So, it’s official. It is the end of an era and the beginning of something new. The Grand Adventure has come to a close. It started way back on August 10th of 2021 when we closed on our house in Flagstaff and started a long and winding nomadic journey.

Let me just say a few words about the experience we have had over the last 2 years. It has been life-changing in so many ways.

We have essentially been traveling around with our entire life in a car. What that has taught me is how little stuff you really need to be happy. It highlighted how, as humans, we can start to assign value to things that really have very little, and if we are not careful, those things can start to rule our lives, convincing us they are important. I still like my bikes, though 😉

It has taught me adaptability. We have “lived” in more places than I can remember now. Every place was different and required us to adapt to it. The bed was different, the kitchen was different, the layout was different, the town was different. We can now come into an Airbnb and make it our own very quickly. It may not be perfect, but we find a way to develop a routine within that new confine. As I think about getting older, this refresher in adaptability is going to be an amazing lesson. I feel like I am more prepared for the challenges of aging than I have ever been. Although, I wish I could have some new knees.

It has taught me to be more humble. This lesson has often eluded me, but I feel like I have a greater appreciation for those around me, their struggles and joys, and just how nice it is to not be on this planet alone. It has been hard being so far away from the people and country I know, but it does force you to listen more when you are in a new place with a different culture. It becomes very clear that you need other’s help and that they are often more than willing to give it to you.

It has taught me to be more in the moment. Nothing has highlighted that to me more than having to leave Sadie behind with my sister. Sadie has adapted and made a great new life for herself. The last time we visited, it was a lesson in zen. She wasn’t upset we had been gone, she was just happy we were there. She didn’t harbor bad feelings, but rather she embraced us with great joy … along with her new life. There was room in heart for both. We have so much to learn from dogs.

It has taught me that what people perceive as risky really isn’t … as long as you are adaptable. So many people have commented about what a great risk we took doing this, but the reality was that we really didn’t. It may have been scary because we had to learn to cope with great uncertainty in the future. For a long time we had no idea whether we would make it to New Zealand or not. We just plowed forward one day at a time trying to enjoy the things that were there for us.

And finally, I am grateful. I am grateful for all the people that have helped us along the way. I am grateful that life has given me some good luck and opportunities. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful most of all to my partner of over 30 years who has come along on this Grand Adventure with me. I couldn’t have made it without all of you.

So, come to New Zealand! We’ll show you around. We can tell you about some great things to do and some things that maybe you can skip. But at least stop by and have a taste of the wonderful Martinborough Pinot Noirs!

Not sure what is next for the blog, but I will go and finally try to fix the errors and fill out the other sections. I hope to put together a guide for some cool rides, hikes, and attractions in New Zealand from my perspective. And of course, once things settle down, we will get the travel bug and start a whole new travel journal.

Happy to be home
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