Adventures at the end of the Long White Cloud

Our Next Life

 
 
  • David Swann

A Sunny Recce - Part One

Updated: Apr 23, 2019

In my experience, a recce invariably starts at stupid o'clock, is wet, cold and give insights that are become useless once reality sets in. Experience be damned...

Day One - Wellington to Malvern Hills

I'm a map buff. I'm going to do maps. So here's the first one:

Wellington to Malvern Hills

Dawn in Wellington. We're certainly not planning to move from Wellington because it's a terrible place. Far from it. It's a cool little capital city and, believe it or not, we live just a ten minute bus ride from the centre. (I'm also going to geotag photos - but only to the nearest minute which randomises the location to +/- about a mile)

41°18′S 174°48′E Dawn in Wellington - start of a long day

This recce started at the very reasonable hour of 6am, up and about to catch the 9am InterIslander ferry from Wellington (bottom of the North Island) to Picton (top of the South Island. I feel it's my job to scatter geographic trivia throughout... so the journey from Wellington to Picton actually involves sailing a litte bit north (and quite a lot west). That's because the North Island and South Island overlap quite a lot.

Smooth crossing! That's quite a score in autumnal New Zealand (remember, we're Southern hemisphere... seasons are reversed) when at the drop of a hat, a major low can descend on the Cook Strait, making for spectacular swells. We dodged a bullet or, perhaps more accurately, lots of vomit.

41°14′S 174°14′E Calm waters at Tory Channel - entrance into the Marlborough Sounds

Long ride ahead with a total of around 13 hours driving time down to Southland. Rather than attempt to do that in a oner, we opted to stay overnight in the Malvern Hills, just to the west of Christchurch and a mere 5 hour drive. Arrival into Christchurch saw grey skies with a bit of light rain... hmmm, were my recce experiences about to be repeated?

One aspect of the recce was to take a look at the airbnb experience from the perspective of potential hosts... so we were staying in a range of airbnb properties. Night one was a shed in a field. Okay, the shed had a bed, shower, toilet and kitchen... but it was a shed. However, the airbnb listing had told us it was a shed and the price reflected that. So all good.. sort of.

We briefly met a very harassed host who was clearly struggling - they had a 20 acre smallholding on a massive mortgage and were both working in Christchurch to try and make ends meet. The airbnb shed was one attempt to do that.

Ultimately, we felt that they were doomed to fail. They were only charging around $50 a night when, if they just did $1,000 of work, they could easily charge over $100 a night. As it is, tiles lifting in the kitchen and an unfinished bathroom floor just felt shabby and not in a chic way!

Day Two - Malvern Hills to Riverton

Early morning rise to get on the road and the sun was rising. We got to see the airbnb property's setting... and it was stunning. But still, could have been so much better.

Malvern Hills to Riverton... via cock-up

And the sun shone... and shone and shone. We had a fantastic drive down albeit with a Google Maps-induced cock-up which probably added another hour onto the drive time. Our intention was to drive down through Queenstown along the eastern edge of the Southern Alps. But Google Maps insists it knows better and kept bouncing us onto the shorter route. And we stupidly followed Google Maps into Timaru and so had to cut back across to hit the Southern Alps... and missed the amazing Aoraki / Mount Cook section. Bother!

it was all stunning... see accompanying photos.

But rather than do an agonisingly long travelogue, let's skip to arrival in Riverton, a small town set on an estuary just to the west of Invercargill. This was our airbnb destination for the first two nights.

46°21′S 168°01′E Riverton Estuary at dusk

And what a contrast with the first night. The Riverton airbnb was a new, fully equipped cabin set high on the hill above Riverton (albeit without much of a view). It was clean, stylish and set in a beautiful garden. It was clear that the host was able to devote the necessary time to make it so.


Day Three - Tuatapere, Mossburn and Ohai


A tour of Southland

Our first property viewing was in the tiny hamlet of Papatotara, near a small town called Tuatapere - a community whose claim to fame is to be the last town in New Zealand to see the summer sunset (which really means that they're the most south-westerly town). We stopped briefly at the amazing Gemstone Beach - a classic pebble and sand beach where, with very little effort, we were able to find beautiful multi-coloured pebbles.

46° 17'S 167° 44'E Gemstone Beach on the road to Tuatapere

The town was lovely, the property we were viewing had issues. Yes, it had a stunning coastal location near the start of the Humpridge Track which is likely to become the next 'Great Walk'. But...

It was at the top end of our budget, was not ready for airbnb, had a property with dozens of rotting cars next door and had the potential to be a real money pit. So yes, location, but not for us. There were a couple of other candidates but one was a wreck and the other was above our budget.

Next was a small cottage 90 minutes away in Mossburn, a small mountain community set in a broad valley between the Eyre and Takitimu mountain ranges.

45°40′S 168°15′E The Mossburn Cottage - subject of much discussion

The property was already operating as a successful airbnb property courtesy of a trailer 'tiny home' in the back yard. We had wildly different impressions of the place. I saw huge potential, Sarah saw a busy main road running past the front door. I envisaged that road bringing lots of tourists, Sarah heard the steady roar of traffic.

It was a nice place with proven potential (80%+ occupancy on $89 per night)... it's safe to say that there were some fairly vigorous conversations that spilled into the next day.

We then headed towards the small community of Ohai, just to the south of Mossburn as the crow flies... but quite a drive around the Takitimu mountain range. Ohai is a small rural community that could go either way. Historically, it's been a coal mining community... but automation in the 1980s devastated the employment base and then the complete closure of the mine a decade ago cleaned out the remainder of the employment. Of late, the incredibly low property prices have attracted families in from the North Island... but we weren't convinced that this was going to stop the community's decline.

But the deciding factor for us was that we couldn't see why tourists would go to Ohai. It is a 'difficult to reach' place that doesn't have any rationale to stay. For sure, it's a beautiful location but it's a long way from any popular destination. Not for nothing there are no airbnb homes in the area. All of those considerations made the specific property viewing largely irrelevant.

Back to Riverton to regroup - beautiful estuary scenery making for a good setting for a conversation.


46°21′S 168°01′E Riverton Estuary at low tide

We needed to talk and we did so over a lovely meal at the Aparima restaurant overlooking the Riverton estuary. Beautiful views, great food, the best company in the world.

Serious conversations are always easiest over a good wine!

And that was the end of day three - our first day of property viewing. It's safe to say that the pressure was on - we were worried that we couldn't understand how to balance our needs to find a property we could love and that would attract the airbnb business that we need.

We knew that we needed to revisit Mossburn and figure out the home / business balance. Stay tuned to hear about the dramatic day ahead!

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