Duncan Garner: Southern comforts - celebrating NZ the way it used to be
OPINION: The grin on the face of my old Auckland colleague said it all.
I arrived in Dunedin on Tuesday for a week-long South Island sojourn and road trip for our TV show Story.
And I ran into Grant. I used to work with him in Auckland, till he high-tailed it to the deep south to take up as a job as a cameraman. He was fleeing that sense of being bogged down in mortgage debt, he couldn't see a way out - so he sold up and split.
And he's adamant that he's hit the jackpot in his new home. He's got a good job and bought his house on a big section for just $245,000.
His child has plenty of room to run around in and a second baby is due soon. His definition of rush-hour traffic congestion is when it takes eight minutes to get to work.
But it's so cold down south? Well, buy a jacket. Grant made the move to get ahead and the weight off his shoulders is so damn obvious.
I loved the south this week. No-one was sitting around talking and angsting about greater surveillance powers for our spy agencies. I sensed that they don't give a stuff.
Low milk prices worry them but they won't be beaten by it. They'll adapt. Somehow. It's the southern way. They're tough buggers down here.
The scenery is beautiful and there's still plenty of room to roam. Some places are seriously empty. Even at rush hour the roads are largely empty (except in Christchurch, which poses its own baffling navigation challenges).
The beautiful Dunedin railway station was once the busiest in the country. But at 8.03am on Wednesday I was the only person there.
In Timaru at 8am I could lie down in the main street and not get run over. That's an observation, I didn't actually test this.
Southerners will hate me for encouraging this – but if you are in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch and looking for an affordable house and quieter lifestyle, I've found you the place.
So if you were to move could you get a good job?
Bluff was actually bustling with energy. Trucks and industry are everywhere.
Tourists are walking, riding and driving to our southern-most point. And wolfing down cheese rolls and $8 oyster pies when they arrive.
Invercargill looks quiet but the Ascot Park Hotel had the no vacancy sign up – so something was happening.
The Bill Richardson Transport World museum is world-class. You won't be disappointed. Promise. And you don't even have to like cars or any of the 210 trucks on display.
Dunedin is stunning. I'll take my wife back for a weekend, a rugby test and a pint. And we'll do the cycle rail trail and a train ride.
Timaru is pumping off the back of the Christchurch rebuild. The port is impressive and Caroline Bay is a throwback to when the baby boomers of today went to the beach carnivals as youngsters. Even the ferris wheels are still there.
Oamaru proved my favourite place. The historic precinct is jaw-dropping and I urge everyone to visit. You will be impressed.
The Canterbury Plains are bustling. Massive irrigation schemes have changed the landscape – it's a new man-made planet that will horrify the greenies. Hundreds of millions of dollars are tied up there.
Massive dairy farms are everywhere they never used to be and I worry this new low $3.90 milk price will burn some farmers even if they don't admit it yet.
They've gone sour on Fonterra boss Theo Spierings and his $5 million salary (that's $1595 an hour). Farmers I spoke to believe Fonterra is too top-heavy, has misled them and sold them a pup. The smaller dairy co-operatives are performing much better than Fonterra. Tourism is booming. Motels are full. New hotels are popping up. The roads are straight and empty.
The only bum note was in Temuka where it took 50 minutes to get two poached eggs on toast. No big deal, the sun was out and I sat down and read a newspaper.
During the past week I met many great, hospitable people. The cheery rubbish collector in Timaru stopped to say hello. The bloke in Edendale was smiling as he pruned his roses on the main drag.
All-day parking in southern cities costs $2-5. In some places it's free.
I know flights to Aussie are cheap and tempting, but there's an old school of thought that people should see their own country properly before visiting someone else's.
You could do a lot worse than heading down south.
It's got all the best bits about being a Kiwi, devoid from all the trials and tribulations you face in the main centres.
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- The Dominion Post