A New New Year

Good bye to Hoki Hubby.

As the new year rapidly approaches, Wifey and I split open box after never ending box, setting up our old life in a new environment.
We are still in Northland, not all that far from the place we called home for the last couple of years. The Mighty Hokianga Harbour, only an hour and a half or so up the road, suddenly feels like a world away. Because, it is.

On the outskirts of Whangarei, we are setting up in a house further away from neighbours than we had in the old place. But here, they feel so much closer. Less cars seem to go by, not like they did on the main drag of Rawene, on the hour every half hour. Here, there is no race to catch the ferry, a leisurely chug with or against the powerful tidal currents of the harbour waters, leaving behind the backdrop of New Zealand’s thrid oldest European settlement.
Better yet, approaching it, the joys of the boat shed cafe or No.1 Gallery cafe at the start of Parnell Street, a convenience store conveniently located on poles, balanced out over the ever changing tide, a pub with more history than you can shake the proverbial stick at. For a town with nothing going on, it is all happening.

But this is not a travel blog. I am not here to sell you on the wonders of the Hokianga, as you cruise through Rawene after alighting the ferry, head for the beaches of Opononi and Omapere, go further over the bumps and twists of State Highway 12 and delve into the native forests atop the hills, home to Tane Mahuta.
I don’t need to point out the stunning views, from sweeping sand dunes to glistening waters, the tempestuous Tasman Sea, making its presence felt on the wild west coast. There is no need to make mention of the native flora and fauna and in particular, there is nothing I need say about the dusk after dusk after stunning dusk, full of the most spectacular sunsets.
In it’s heyday, the Hokianga must have been a spectacular spot. That harbour, so alive and vital, surrounded by a crop of native trees the likes of which we will never see again. Because, sadly, crop is what those forest giants were viewed as and like so much of Aotearoa New Zealand.

This isn’t an environmental rant either. Nor is it a dig at the perils of post-colonization. So many wrongs were done, to the place and people of Aotearoa and so many of those wrongs will take multiple generations to put right, if ever. So many good things were achieved too but sadly, much of that either never reached the Hokianga, never took hold if it did, or was resoundingly rejected.
It’s easy to romanticise the region, casting it as some sort of frontier, shrugging off the trappings of a modern world as much as possible. Last of the wild west, NZ style.
The reality is, the Far North in general, and the Hokianga in particular, are forgotten zones, abandoned by central and local governments alike.
There are no rate payers, not many voters. Just miles of sandy beaches, warm blue waters and the homes and abodes of the disenfranchised.

Even that is a stretch. Never ‘franchised’ in the first place. Lost and forgotten peoples. And in many instances, that is just the way they like it.
Life in the Hokianga is maybe best described as relaxed. There certainly isn’t the pressures of city or metropolitan living, no commute from the burbs, no queuing.
The trade off? A lack of infrastructure and what there is, maintained at a bare minimum, if at all. The trade off is unemployment and therefore, poverty.
But hey, it’s the Hokianga. If you can’t afford a warrant on your car, don’t get one. If you can’t afford to register it, don’t bother fretting over it. While it is a shame there is runoff issues effecting the harbour waters, swim in it anyway. Eat from it anyway.
Relax. That is what the Hokianga seemed to be telling us, so that is exactly what we did.

We stayed relaxed about the holes forming in our children’s education. No hokey teams, no volleyball or netball or football or tennis or cricket or whatever other sport an energetic young kid might want to turn those energies to.
However, there were whole new avenues of learning being opened to them. Culturally the kids really swelled, embedded in an old school Kiwi culture and a deeper Maori one.  We stayed chilled about the lack of childcare, the lack of employment options, the near non-existence of extra curricular activities for our kids and for ourselves.
Like the populace around us, we were nonplussed. Maybe not as laid back as some of the locals…we put our kids in car seats and seat-belts, life-jackets and all the rest.
The trade off? Off they went, a little crew, down the street on their own, unaccompanied by adults, Number One in charge. No drama, no fear.
Safe. Everyone knew our kids and they knew most everyone. No motorways to go play on, no concrete jungles to get lost in.

Kia ora, G’day, Howzit, Hi.
Most everyone said hello, most everyone asked after your well-being and most everyone genuinely wanted to know. Maybe the guy asking if you needed a hand was diabetic, maybe he drank too much, maybe his diet was shocking, maybe he fished illegally. The point is, he was offering you a helping hand.
In the Hokianga, you pick people up and drop them down the road. You help lift this, carry that. You give of what you have no need for and people gladly take it. Koha. All that is asked in return, if anything is asked at all.
No one turns a nose up at the next-door neighbour. No one looks up or down at the next person. A handshake and hongi means something.
There is nothing golden, no matter the nostalgia, about the Hokianga and her people. Nothing special, or endearing, nothing wonderful going on the world could learn something from.
In fact, the place is broken, to an outsiders untrained eye flawed, badly in need of this, that and the next thing, to make it even close to ‘normal’.

I miss the place.
I miss the scenery, I miss the vibe, I miss the remoteness and I miss the smiles and laughter and good-natured jesting. I miss the helmet-less kids on bare back horses, the king tides and the pelting rain, thunder storms and lightening and sodden ground, water bubbling from beneath its surface everywhere. I miss the fresh air and the strong, drying winds and the birdsong, from nesting Herons to the silent, reproachful gaze of a perched Kingfisher.
I miss the spontaneity, the freedom, of having nothing particular to do and being able to do it where no one else is. I miss no one caring, no one around really giving a shit what you were doing or why. You just got on and did it, where, when and how you wanted to.
I miss the smiles and the open, gap-toothed, head back laughter.

I miss the sunsets.

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Fix the Hokianga.
Never change the Hokianga.

Sorry, How Much?!

Can somebody please explain the ‘letting fee’ to me? 

My wife and I are renters.

A few years ago we sold our home and moved on from Dunedin. A career step for the wife took us up the coast of the South Island to Kaikoura.
A stepping stone move for Wifey and a change of pace for me. A good one, as it turned out. We found an open and welcoming community, good schooling for the kids and a beautiful spot, complete with mountain and ocean vistas. So enamoured were we with life in Kaikoura, we brought another person into the world to share it with us.

The E-Bomb was born in Kaikoura, another home birth. This time, in the second rental property we lived in while we were living and working in that little slice of rugged paradise. Her place of birth, a house we sourced through some of Wifey’s colleagues, was a sort of house sitting situation. The place was on the market and we knew it could sell out from under us at any moment. It did, a handful of months after moving in.
Prior to that we had a lovely older place we found online through an agency.

Despite many of the horror stories out there about rental agencies, we had nothing but a good experience with Harcourts in Kaikoura. We made initial contact online, then via the phone, full of questions and concerns as we were taking the place sight unseen. The property manager went above and beyond, sending a ton of photos through and assuring us the place would be a good fit for us. It was.
Not to say there were no problems. There were leaks and other issues. But with an attentive, communicative property manager and an approachable landlord, nothing was ever a problem.

Life moved on and we did too. Waikato, a little rural spot called Te Mata not far from the equally beautiful seaside town of Raglan, this time on the West Coast of the North Island. Another career move for Wifey and finally, a step towards the type of climate my home town of Dunedin just cannot  provide.
This time we dealt with an agent who did nothing more than vet us and show us the property. From there on we were in the hands of the landlord, a bloody good bugger in the old school Kiwi way.

The first time around we paid a letting fee. The property manager earned it we felt, as it seemed like she as very much in it for us, the tenant, as she was for the landlord, her client.
A few years later and we are set to be on the move again. In those intervening years it seems all the rhetoric around the rental market might be spot on. It seems tight, to say the least, with very few options around even close to suitable. So, with pressure on, the agents/landlords hold all the cards, meaning the likes of myself and Wifey and our crew, are left having to jump through hoops to even get a sniff of a look in.

A myriad of questions to be answered and boxes ticked, much of the information sought bordering on an invasion of privacy, all in triplicate and all done before you are even allowed to view a property!
Why does an agent need to know the names of our kids? Why do I need to provide multiple personal references, when we have written references from previous landlords? Why is our income all that relevant? I could earn a million dollars a month and spend $1,000,001.01 per month.
How about worrying about our ability to pay the rent, when we don’t!
No need to worry, any prospective landlords out there wanting to house our little nucleic family…we’ll pay.

I get that the agent is trying to protect the interests of their client. Understandable, just doing their job and all that. But, there lies the key point. Their client.
A rental agency is engaged by and works for, the landlord. Generally, they will take a percentage of the rent charged. They do the grunt work on behalf of said landlord, ensuring the property is maintained, tenanted, that the rent is paid and the place is looked after.
How come Wifey and I find ourselves doing all the grunting and groaning when searching for somewhere to live, only to end up paying a fee for the privilege?
One weeks rent plus G.S.T, which will work out as a cost of around $550-$600, with nothing to show for it except our own leg-work, our own persistence and perseverance and our own commitment to the process.
Because we need a roof over our heads!

Yes the letting fee is apparently set to be a thing of the past by the middle of next month. Yet, all adverts still state a fee is required, even if a property is not available until later in the month or beyond. I guess the idea is to get you signed asap, thus earning the fee, before handing the key.

Oh well, can’t waste any more time here, I have a home to find. That’s right, a home, not just a house.