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It Reminds Them of California

Californians Are Leading a Wave of Immigration to New Zealand, But Some Are Encountering a Kiwi Variation of NIMBY--Not In My Blue Yonder

October 26, 2003|Corie Brown | Corie Brown is a Times staff writer. She last wrote for the magazine about Los Angeles rug merchants Zabi and Zubair Ahmadi.

Go west, young man. There is a great, vast land out there across the mighty Mississippi and the heaven-scraping Rockies. Go all the way to California, that garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see. Even if you ain't got that do-re-mi, the Golden State will provide. There's a bounty in the soil and gold in them thar hills.

And if, someday, that arcadia at land's end should become untenable, should the cities become unlivable and homes unaffordable, should the people rise up against the tax man and render the state bankrupt, should the ocean be soiled and the politics sullied--do not abandon hope!

Keep going west, young man! There is another great shining land out there across the Pacific, far from the madding crowd. And it is all the things the Golden State once was. Onward then, to the New Eden, the New California!

Go to New Zealand!

And so they have--whether the Kiwis like it or not.

patrick and barbara stowe wanted to be vintners. but without a family foothold in the business or a ready-made fortune, their dream of making world-class wine had become impossible in their native California. In the late 1980s, while saving dual, not insignificant paychecks from jobs in the biotech industry, their ability to buy prime land drifted just beyond reach as vineyard prices skyrocketed.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 06, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 News Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
New Zealand -- In a Los Angeles Times Magazine article about Americans relocating to New Zealand ("It Reminds Them of California," Oct. 26), a section on real estate ownership quoted Mark Blake, owner of Poronui Station, as saying, "The Maoris have had unfettered access." He was not referring to his property but to New Zealand land issues in general.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 23, 2003 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 10 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 52 words Type of Material: Correction
In a story about Americans relocating to New Zealand ("It Reminds Them of California," Oct. 26), a section on real estate ownership quoted Mark Blake, owner of Poronui Station, as saying, "The Maoris have had unfettered access." He was not referring to his property but to New Zealand land issues in general.

The revelation that changed their lives was a 1990 hiking trip to New Zealand--an island oasis where vineyard land then cost one-tenth the price of comparable land in California. With one American dollar worth nearly two Kiwi dollars, the Stowes could leapfrog ahead of the rest of the population in a middle-class country where wages and salaries hover below U.S. standards and the cost of living is about 40% cheaper than that in the U.S. By 1995, the Stowes had planted vines outside the town of Nelson. Living in a "bach"--short for bachelor pad--a local term for something less than a bungalow with few frills and no central heating, the Stowes planted their 15-acre backyard with Pinot Noir vines and turned their shed into a makeshift winery.

Nelson sits in the middle of the two-island nation whose climate ranges from the equivalent of Los Angeles in the north to Seattle in the south, but with a land mass slightly larger than England. In three directions, the Stowes look out over seaside hills undulating beneath a patchwork of pine forests, apple tree farms and the vibrant green blankets of grass that mark the country's ubiquitous sheep and dairy cow paddocks. Across the road, a cliff drops down into a South Pacific estuary that is home to flocks of sea and land birds. Breezes fill their home with ocean smells.

"For us to come here was radical," says Barbara. "Now it seems easier. Lots of others are coming."

That is an understatement. The Stowes are on the vanguard of an American migration to New Zealand that's dominated by Californians, a wave being heralded as a godsend by the tiny country's government and business leaders. In fact, they are actively recruiting Californians, appealing to the sentiment that if your West Coast paradise is lost, here it can be regained.

For the first time in New Zealand history, Yankees are snapping up not just vineyard land but all manner of real estate, from modest beach houses to Auckland office towers. Hotels, forests and dairy farms are giving way to American-style vacation resorts, housing developments and palatial estates.

One Angeleno who came here to work on filming of "The Lord of the Rings" decided to stay. He bought a three-bedroom ocean-view home for about half the cost of a median-priced home in California, which, in case you missed this news, hit an all-time high of nearly $405,000 in August.

Once a deterrent, New Zealand's distant location--a 13-hour flight from the West Coast--is an attraction in the post-9/11 world, and the country's no-nuke policy is a welcome declaration of isolation. New Zealanders sense so little threat of terrorism that the military sold or grounded its aging fleet of jet fighters.

The total number of Yankee immigrants remains small--about 25,000--and residency applications from the States only recently exceeded 1,000 a year. But it's a significant bump up from historical migration levels, and in a country of 4 million people, it commands attention. Significantly, it's the first time Americans have come to New Zealand in the name of opportunity, according to government and business sources in both countries.

"We've never seen this before," says Michael Bayley, a leading real estate broker, who notes that this new crowd of Americans started arriving in the mid-1990s. They quickly made their presence felt. During the past five years Americans have been involved in nearly 40% of the total foreign investment in New Zealand, or roughly 100 significant investments a year, according to government records.

But not everyone is thrilled.

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