Dreaming of escape from mundanity

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 12:00 07/12/2013
Otira Hotelf
John Kirk-Anderson

PERFECT ESCAPE: Otira Hotel in the heart of the Southern Alps.

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OPINION: Are you the sort of person who is prone to constructing a new life for yourself as soon as you hit a spot you like away from home?

For instance, you might be visiting your sister in Martinborough and enjoy it so much that in your mind you've sold up everything you own and bought a bare patch of land for a vineyard, winery and boutique eatery.

Gone are the nine-to-five days working for a boss and in come the wonderful freedoms of working on the land and plying food and plonk to the well-heeled of Wellington.

I am a shocker for this. Give me a sniff of a pleasant location somewhere far from home and I am imagining a new lifestyle which usually involves Mrs VB working hard to bring in a secure income while I grow into our new surroundings and craft a leisurely routine for myself.

It seems I am far from alone in this. In fact even an advertisement on Trade Me offering an enticing change of location and pace can set off a frenzy of enjoyable speculation about new directions.

This week Bill and Christine Hennah put the Otira Hotel and Village on Trade Me getting over 45,000 hits in a short time.

I went there for the first time on Wednesday. I had passed it often and looked over through rain and drizzle to some old houses in fading colours. Despite the spectacular location, in those conditions it seemed like the bleakest place in New Zealand.

This Wednesday it was bright and sunny. I couldn't see myself buying but in my mind I'd already settled in.

But what are all these people yearning for, that they think they might find it in Otira, of all places?

The package of a hotel and 18 houses (it does not include the properties of 24 independent ratepayers on the town side of Otira) is obviously a lot more than just a piece of real estate. Clearly remoteness is part of the attraction even if it is only an hour from Greymouth and 20 minutes from Arthur's Pass. It's perceived as an isolated spot with hazy connotations of a place that everyone has forgotten.

The reality is that KiwiRail still has a large presence in the village and as long as it is worthwhile to haul coal and passengers through the Otira Tunnel, some rail representation will remain.

The appeal also resides in the area's natural beauty, its place on a highway and on the trans-alpine railway line, the river, the bush and birdsong, a slice of New Zealand history and the village's celebrated seediness, awaiting transformation. Perhaps a few of the dreamers are looking at a money-making opportunity.

After all, a million bucks for a whole village including a pub sounds cheap.

But I doubt whether many who pondered a new life in Otira are after money. It undoubtedly has potential but hard graft and risk are not often the stuff of dreams.

What the package has in abundance is possibilities. It is not only the ultimate DIY challenge, the Do-Upper extraordinaire. Many people will have amused themselves with ideas of how the place could be resuscitated to new life and financial health. I heard some of them. A lot of them involved two words. Organic and hippies.

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This is probably because people feel it needs a new gimmick and no-one can see anything working there unless people aren't paid very much. And if people are going to do it for love they generally have to be a little crazy which is where the hippies come in.

But a strong religious community which didn't mind being by a main highway and which regarded rain as blessing from heaven would, if well organised, thrive at the location.

A large extended family or group of friends might also be able to handle the isolation and the physical and technical challenges.

Clearly it needs to be a group of idealistically minded people who put lifestyle ahead of money. Unless of course a way can be found to generate enough money to afford staff.

I wonder if in the end the main appeal of the Otira package is the sense of escape. And not only an escape from the city hassles of traffic and overcrowding to a more natural, elemental life in the heart of a national park.

Perhaps it is also an escape from life's mundanity and expectations. Escape from being bothered.

Unfortunately, as many have said before, the trouble with new lives is you still have to bring yourself along.

Not even Otira can help with that.

- The Press

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