Adventures at the end of the Long White Cloud

Our Next Life

  • David Swann

A Sunny Recce - Part Two

Day Four - Mossburn and Bluff

We checked out of the Riverton airbnb with a sunrise through a light mist - a positive start to what was to be a pivotal day.

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Day four saw a return to Mossburn to see if we could make sense of the business versus home conversations. It was a private sale so we were able to work directly with the vendor. He was very gracious and useful and Sarah and I could see more of each others' perspectives. Ultimately, 32 years of happy marriage made for an acceptance that if Mossburn wasn't for one of us, it wasn't for either of us. First decision made.

360km - 9 hours

We then drove on to Bluff, the peninsula immediately to the south of Invercargill and recognised by most tourists as the southern point in New Zealand. It isn't. It isn't even the southern point of the South Island... more on that later. Regardless of that geographic pedantry, Bluff is a destination in its own right as well as being the gateway to Stewart Island. So tourists come to Bluff. Not surprising given the amazing sign!

The rather splendid Bluff sign

We did a quick drive through Bluff. It's a vibrant port town which has certainly seen better days but that seems resiliant with a recent influx of folks just like us. It is the end of State Highway 1 - the road that runs from Cape Reinga at the top of the North Island down to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island. It's also the end (or start) of the 3,000km Te Araroa trail that meanders with varying degrees of attractiveness between the same points. Bluff is dominated by Bluff Hill, a granite outcrop which is the highest point for miles around. The views from the top are stunning.

The top of Bluff Hill with the port of Bluff far below

Our first property was a beautiful 1909 villa - sturdy, built to last and with a huge workshop to die for. We both fell in love with the place. BUT... the airbnb potential was very limited. That workshop just took up too much space and meant that even fitting one cabin onto the section would have been a squeeze. But it was a beautiful high-ceilinged Edwardian house... very, very tempting. We reluctantly passed.

We needed to check into our next airbnb home. This one was very different - a more traditional 'live in the home' B&B. But what a home. Impeccable and with a stunning view over the port. The hosts were lovely - and in an interesting reflection on Kiwi life, the husband was about to depart on a multi-week trip to his house on the Muttonbird Islands - just off the coast of Stewart Island. "What's a Muttonbird?" I hear you ask. As with all things, Wikipedia has the answer - so they're Shearwaters / Petrels - seabirds which apparantly taste of mutton. I'll pass.

Still time in the day for the next viewing - a property high on Bluff Hill. Much newer, this one was a 1956 build but still old enough that its constructed out of native hardwoods that are extremely rot proof. And it had been impeccably maintained, re-piled and reclad with new weatherboard. So that was a lot of boxes checked. But the clincher was a beautiful garden which stretched up the hill, backing onto the reserve that is Bluff Hill. Plenty of space for airbnb cabins.

Our new home in Bluff?

We sort-of immediately knew that this was the place for us. A place we can fall in love with as a home and that can be an awesome place to host guests. But we decided to sleep on the decision... and go for a meal in Invercargill.

As always, we used TripAdvisor to guide us... and found 'A Pinch of Spice', an Indian restaurant in the centre of Invercargill. Very understated, we sort-of wondered whether TripAdvisor had got it wrong... until the food arrived. And wow, what food. We haven't tasted Indian food like that since, in a past life, we dined at the Spice Route, a rather nice restaurant in the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi. So, as we exited, that's what we said to the chef... who, it transpired had been a chef in that restaurant when we visited! What a small, incredible world!

Day Five - Invercargill and The Catlins

We woke up in agreement that we should proceed and make an offer on the property... another rather important decision made.

Exploring the area

We had a bit of time to kill first thing so went into an 'only in New Zealand' attraction - Demolition World in Invercargill! It's a building recycler business that's become a tourist attraction as the owners have built an entire little street out of 'scrap' timber. Think steampunk meets Heath Robinson (or Rube Goldberg for US readers). What with a lively collection of chickens roaming around, it was a great place to spend an hour or so. More significantly for me, I discovered the stocks of native timber floorboards, weatherboards, fixtures and fittings. I'll be back!

We'd always planned to meet with the local council on day five. We wanted to better understand how council saw airbnb now and what legislation might be looming. As I've mentioned in an earlier blog, online accommodation brokers aren't just impacting the tourist market, they're affecting the broader rental market as property owners who would otherwise rent their property long-term are opting for the tourist market instead. This is having a massive impact in tourist areas like Queenstown and Te Anau as the workers who support the tourist industry are finding it more and more challenging to find affordable accommodation. So councils have to respond... sometimes with knee-jerks... but typically with carefully drafted policies.

So we walked into Invercargill City Council with some trepidation. And met with the awesome Peter, a planning officer with years of experience. We'd done the right thing by going to seek advice and so he couldn't have been more helpful. We talked about the rules governing 'home stay' versus 'accommodation provider' - which I'll delve into in a future post. He brought a building officer into the conversation to talk about what construction options there are. Because we'd done our homework and read the 'District Plan' (the rule book governing the planning rules for various areas of the city), there were no major surprises - just helpful advice concerning the inevitable grey areas that we'd need to navigate. Much more on that in a future blog.

We also needed to meet with a local solicitor who would work our side of the house purchase process. That was just down the road from the city council... very efficient!

Then, the moment of truth... putting an offer in on the house in Bluff. Fortunately, the realtor was based in Invercargill so we went in and completed the paperwork... very quickly! Deal done!

And so, onto the road again. We wanted to continue our geographic pedantry by actually vistiing the southernmost point of the South Island and explore the Catlins, the beautiful area to the east of Invercargill.

As an occasionally pedantic geographer, I needed to visit the real southern tip of the South Island (still not of New Zealand... remember the Auckland Islands!)... Slope Point. And here's Sarah, demonstrating that we're only just half way between the Equator and the South Pole:

As we left Slope Point and back into phone contact, we got the call from the realtor - our offer had been accepted. Yeah!

The rest of the Catlins was equally stunning...

Tired... but very happy with the week. Barring any issues with the Builder's Report, we'll be living here!

The Drive Home - Bluff to Kaikoura

761km - 12 hours

And so time for the long drive north. We always struggle to sleep the night before a big drive and this was no exception. So, rather than fight it, we left the airbnb at 5am - into the mistiest morning so far - verging on fog. There were just so many photogenic moments that we struggled to focus on keeping going for the 12 hours ahead. See photos!

The final airbnb was a disappointment. It was a shack in a back yard that was full of building recycling material. Worse, the bathroom was deep inside the owner's home, with tiling work underway and no lock on the door. And charging $90 a night! We can (and must) do better than that.

Day Seven - Kaikoura to Wellington

And so the final day dawned. Another early start for the sprint up to Picton and the Ferry.

This time, we had the time to take some epic photos on the way - and take a diversion to see the spectacular Marlborough Sounds.

The ferry journey was spent writing up this blog and we arrived into a very grey Wellington. We couldn't help thinking what our impressions would have been if the recce had indeed been cold, wet and windy!

Now for some hard work. Settlement date is four weeks away and we'd like to get moved shortly after that. The next couple of blogs will no doubt cover the challenges ahead... wish us luck.

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Bluff, Southland, New Zealand


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