Finding a homestead

We’re renting our homestead, and every now and then we have a think about where we might like to eventually buy one. We’re pretty sold on the idea of going north, rather than south, so we’ve been busy getting to know the northlands and yesterday we took off on another impromptu land scouting mission.

I say land scouting, but although we did look at property prices, it’s perhaps more correct to say that we were region scouting. We’re trying to figure out which areas we should look at more closely.

The area we are living in, on the edge of Swanson, is quite beautiful, but the downside of being so close to Auckland is that land prices are high due to the common desire of buying a small lifestyle block and commuting to work in the big city. Unless something very dramatic happened to shake up this pattern, we couldn’t afford to buy in the area we’re currently living in.

If you look at property prices, there’s a magic circle around auckland where land that is within commuting range of the city is subdivided for premium prices. Anyone wanting to buy within that land is probably best served by waiting until petrol gets more expensive, and then buying in areas that are currently seen as a reasonable commute by car, but don’t have access to the train, as I’d guess these will come down in price. Failing that, it seems best to look further away.

As one drives north of Auckland, the magic circle of expensive land seems to extend to about Warkworth. Warkworth has the feeling of a country town, but it’s strongly influenced by the influx of commuters and also the tourists passing through. This, and all my perceptions of Northland towns is fairly uninformed. I’ve on been living in NZ for a couple of years, and I’m trying to judge them based on rather short visits. However, it’s the only viewpoint I have, so lets press on further north.

Next major stop up the Route 1 is Wellsford. Wellsford feels to me like it’s less influenced by Auckland, and has all the ingredients of a real country service town. It’s the major destination for lots of farmers east of the Kaipara to get all their agricultural bits and bobs. It’s also got the major highway of course, and so is used by tourists visiting their batches as well. It has a McDonalds, and a tiny bit of “mini-suburbia”.

North of Wellsford is Kaiwaka, which is a bit of a favourite of mine. Kaiwaka is now fairly popular with lifestylers who want to move to the country, stop working regularly in town, and set up their beautiful little homestead. Retail stores in Kaiwaka include the gourmet cheese shop, the excellent italian bakery, and the very creative cafe Eutopia. These tend to indicate that there are a fair few affluent people in the area now, and also a fair few people who “a little bit hippy” (like me). To round off that last demongraphic, Kaiwaka is home to two lovely ecovillages and the Koanga Gardens store.

So being a middle class greenie myself, you can see why I would like Kaiwaka, but I’m curious about it’s resilience in the face of future change. It’s success is at present very much determined by the lifeblood of traffic traveling up and down route 1. Without that, it’s retain stores would have to adapt, and the town itself currently doesn’t have much in the way of economic activity centered around country life, with the main exception of the Sawmill. Mainly I mean that I imagine a lot of local farmers currently visit Wellsford for many of their needs.

I’m pretty confident about Kaiwaka’s ability to rise to meet these challenges in a post oil world. In particular Kaiwaka has one of the most active Transition Town groups in the Northlands, and the skills and people at Otamatea and Kohatu Toa ecovillages shouldn’t be ignored.

In an optimistic powerdown future, then I could see Kaiwaka really leading the charge with creative responses to a future with less oil. In the case of a future involving a bit more of a sudden collapse, then I wonder if I should be looking for places with more resilient local infrastructure. Perhaps there’s an advantage in being surrounded by experienced and practical local farmers, rather than idealistic lifestylers (even if I’m in the latter category myself).

Yesterday’s drive through the country had two main purposes. Firstly, to try and find some places that might work well in the latter situation, and secondly to explore the potential of towns with water access to the Kaipara harbour. These two goals together lead us to Dargaville, which is on route 12, the tourist route for the west coast, and is on the Wairoa river, a great big fat (and brown) river feeding into the north end of the Kaipara.
 Dargaville is traditionally a port town, and although on the river it does appear that it was once regularly visited by ocean going ships. In it’s early days, it’s main industries were logging Kauri trees and digging up Kauri gum. It has a few historical attractions for the tourist, like it’s museum, but mostly it’s a true service town for quite a large surrounding area of farmland. There aren’t any Kauri trees to been seen anymore, but this area now prides itself on being the kumara capital of NZ. Apparently the soils to the west of Dargaville are fairly sandy, compared with the usual clay based soils, and good for growing kumara (and no doubt many other things).

As well as being a port, Dargaville has a train line. It goes up to Whangerie, or down to Auckland. Unfortunatelly, it doesn’t run passenger services, only cargo (there are no regular passenger trains in the northlands), but I’m still going to call that a significant asset.

In a post oil future, I’d predict that Dargaville’s role as a serious farming area, in particular one that grows a lot of carbohydrates (kumara) as well as the usual cows and sheep, will make it a vital food source for Auckland. I also like to imagine a revival in water travel. The end of the current passenger line from Auckland is Helensville, and from there one could board a boat and travel in basically a straight line across the Kaipara to Dargaville, rather than the long way around that the road takes. I’m keen to give this trip a try and see how long it takes.

What are the downsides of Dargaville? Well, for starters, I might not find many people I get along with. I am a bit of a hippy and a middle class city boy at heart. Also, the area around Dargaville is dead flat, and my dream property always has rolling hills and mountains in the background. Not just flat, Dargaville is also pretty close to the water. I’m pretty worried that only a few metres of sea level rise will put it under water.

Seeing both these positives and negatives in Dargaville, we continued to follow the Wairoa river north east, thinking that as it got a bit further into the hills, we might find our perfect landscape and still have access to water transport. There are no other major towns in that direction, so if you lived up that way you’d want to be able to reach Dargaville by boat in a reasonable amount of time.

However, the landscape is stunning. The river winds it’s way through meandering valleys, with mountains rising up in the background. The train line also follows the river. Transport by water, road and train. Beautiful scenery. Affordable land prices. The only downsides might be the isolation (it’s a fair way from Auckland), and possibly the lack of like minded people.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the sort of area you live in or would like to live in, and how you think it might function if oil was scarce and expensive.


2 responses

  1. Hi

    as a newly arrived (only been here 8 years) Kaiwakian I’m glad you like the place.

    We find it a friendly comfortable township with a community that cares. We live just 3 ks out of town and hope to have many more happy years there.

  2. Tracey, I’ve nominated you for a blog award. Please drop by mine when you have a chance to pick it up.

    My DH and I are hoping to find our little bit of ground somewhere in the southern Appalachian area in the US. Maybe by next summer(???)

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