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I escaped a life sentence!

  • Emily Doran
  • 26th of October 2017

I grew up living with my parents and five siblings on a variety of lifestyle properties in the lower South Island.  They were not called that then, the term ‘lifestyle property’ had not yet been created by the marketing team at the local real estate office.  We just always lived “a bit out of town”.  My parents were very patient and let us have all manner of pets including horses, a donkey, goats, sheep, geese, pigs, chooks, rabbits, mice and rats (both the contained and wild variety), possums, a magpie, an owl and even a hawk.  We were always bringing home some form of damaged or maimed animal that we brought back to good health and released. There were ALWAYS a couple of roosters crowing at dawn and Mum always had a huge vegetable patch whereas Dad had a four bay shed full of useful stuff.

We five kids just generally entertained ourselves with all of the above.  If we mooched about inside saying “Muuummmm, I’m bored…” we were always told to ‘get outside and play’ or were given a job to do.  There were always jobs to do.  It was endless!

Each property never cost that much to buy.  My parents had the knack of buying a ‘doer upper’ and then doing it up.  This was never with the intention of creating capital gains, but more to stop the roof leaking and create enough bedrooms for all of us to sleep in.  It just so happened that when they got itchy feet after seven years (which seemed to become their standard moving time) they sold it for more than they paid and moved on to the next one.  We bounced around West, South, and East Otago each time buying a property ranging from 16,000m2 (four acres) to 160,000m2 (forty acres).

To get to school each day we took the school bus, biked or walked.  As we got older we drove the 30 km to the high school in a bigger town.  Why a lifestyle property?  Mum is from the UK and Dad from Australia and they stumbled upon New Zealand in the late 1960’s when a friend said “you really should go and live there”.  They could not believe the beauty of the countryside.  That was enough for them so they moved to Dunedin and headed straight for the most inconvenient place to live.  Hoopers Inlet on the Otago Peninsula.  Miles from anywhere and a car ride to get there, the fact that Mum could barely drive was no great barrier to tackling the winding peninsula road to Dunedin city.  She never fell off it but a quick read of the weekend paper tells me that people still regularly do end up taking their car for a dip on the way into town.  In total they have owned six lifestyle properties and they have toiled for countless hours on each and every one of them.

When you own a lifestyle property, without exception, the following things are required:

  • New fences of varying types - a coral for the horses, strong fences for goats, fences to stop rabbits eating your vegetables, fences to keep the dogs off the road
  • New plumbing - for stock water, for watering the garden, a new hotwater cylinder for the house
  • Electrical work - for the electric fences, to run the water pump, to wire up the new hot water cylinder you will invariably need
  • Food - Countless bales of hay, lucerne and straw to feed and house the pets livestock, sheep nuts, goat nuts, pigs nuts, grain for chickens, pellets for chickens, dog food, cat food etc. Oh and food for the people too!
  • Vet bills - always unexpected and generally more dollars than you realised they would be
  • Endless collecting of firewood - which every dweller of the countryside will tell you is FREE

As a kid I recall with dread seeing Dad pull up in a big Bedford truck, tipping the hoist and dumping an enormous pile of firewood on the front lawn.  It was our job to stack it in the wood shed, and that’s where four siblings came in very handy I can tell you!  We used to grumble away at having to do it, probably never sparing a thought for the fact that Dad had felled and cut up the entire load by himself over the previous four weekends.  Free firewood indeed!

There was ALWAYS a job to be done and it was either house related or animal related.  And there was never a power tool to do it with.  Dad had a chainsaw, rotary hoe and lawnmower but the rest was muscle power with the help of five (often complaining) kids.  The vegetable garden was always huge and stacked with anything my Mum could grow and the freezer was regularly stocked with fresh meat that was raised out in our paddocks and butchered by Dad.  The disappearance of a pet lamb was an unfortunate yet all too common reality.

One final memory of growing up was the lack of cash.  Living in the wops wops did not exactly lead to high paying stable work and money was always always tight.  Despite buying a cheap property there was always a mortgage and a bank breathing down my parents necks and I recall my Dad being made redundant causing a massive level of stress at home.  Raising five kids and running a lifestyle property was an expensive business so my parents were extremely frugal and innovative in using less and spending as little as possible.  To this day I can’t eat a fish called “Mullet”.  When Dad discovered that the river that flowed past our house was full of them and they were FREE then it was mullet for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Oh my!

I guess looking back this was considered an idyllic childhood in many ways.  We did have a massive amount of freedom to do what we liked.  But we did mostly live a car ride from anywhere but neglected to choose parents who would actually take us there.  If we needed to get to sports we really needed to get there under our own steam, which rarely happened.  But to this day I love to walk and I think this comes from entertaining myself by wandering around our property.

My upbringing of “living off the land” seemed to have rubbed off on me.  I have only owned two properties and both of them have been gardened to within an inch of their lives.  I garden for fun, fitness and for the food it provides.  Our first place was a mere 537 m2 and we dug up all the lawns we had and turned them into garden and I recall a mega pumpkin harvest one year in Christchurch where I grew 27 of them.  A bit of a pointless exercise seeing as I don’t much like pumpkin!  When we moved to Central Otago we decided to go for a bigger property.

A bit more land means that for just a few hours of work each week I grow the following:

Three grapevines (this is Central Otago after all), an apple, two apricots, one plum, one almond, one crabapple, two feijoa, three hazelnuts and hops for making beer.

Then there are the vegetables:

Corn, lettuce, beetroot, beans, peas, garlic, onions, asparagus, tomatoes, peppers, etc.  All the usual stuff, except for brussel sprouts, those things are ghastly!

And the fruit:

Boysenberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries etc etc. You get the picture.

If a piece of soil does not have a food producing plant on it it either has a native plant or a weed, whichever gets there first!

We have had chickens for the last ten years but have recently rehomed them because I’m thinking of moving into Quail instead.  I fancy a 10 egg omelette for breakfast.

My daughter has a great yard to play in, artificial lawns (no power tools needed) to do cartwheels on, a tramp to bounce on and food to nibble on.  We have built a garden shed, assembled a glass house and made a three bin composting factory, we collect rainwater, we recycle every single piece of green waste from the garden and the kitchen back into the soil.    We have installed a gas fired bath outside so my daughter and her friends can see the stars while they splash about.

My constant companion when I’m outside is my dog and occasionally the cat.  For a while there I kept having to hand rear hedgehogs, as well as the occasional bird that smacks into the window and needs a bit of reviving.

Despite all that we have I have fielded the question “why don’t you buy a Lifestyle Property?” more times than I can count.  You see, I have this cracking rural lifestyle on 900m2 because I actually live at the end of short cul de sac in town.  Yes indeed I could have bought a 10 acre plot on the outskirts of town but I would be stretching myself financially (and physically) to do it.  And I thought long and hard about what I’m missing out on by not doing so.

Here are the perks of owning a 900m2 lifestyle property in town:

  • I can afford it. I have not stretched myself financially to achieve it.
  • I have privacy. I live in a friendly and welcoming community and despite what my rurally residing mother thinks, my neighbours do not spend their days peeping over my fence.
  • It is a 2km trip to work, school and town so I can drive, cycle, run, walk or scooter to get there.
  • I’m surrounded by forest and public space where I can run and walk and I’m not limited to walking around the perimeter of my neighbours property down some lonely back road.
  • Being semi vegetarian I don’t have to rear an animal and then kill it.
  • I’m pretty much self sufficient with vegetables in spring, summer and autumn
  • I don’t need to irrigate or spend every spare moment mowing acres of lawn or working on the land.
  • It’s extremely QUIET. Central Otago rural properties are particularly well known for having frost fighting machinery and bird scaring devices (think World War 3 kind of gun warfare).
  • And one of the BEST BITS is that friends pop in when they are passing because we live enroute to where they are headed.

More recently a sister of mine lived in Central Otago too, on a 10 acre lifestyle property. But the difference between now and when we were kids is the far greater price to get into the lifestyle property market.  She spent her days either at work making money to cover the significant expenses of her property (including the large mortgage) or working at home on her endless list of jobs to do around her property.  After a day of relentless toil the golden hour came at the end of the day when she collapsed with a glass of wine and enjoyed all the fruits of her significant labour.  On my 900 m2 patch of dirt I can collapse at 10am if I want to because there is so much less maintenance required at my place (the only downside being if a neighbour wandered up the driveway and I WAS drinking wine at 10am they might unfairly judge me).  If the measure of a successful property is food production then my crops beat hers hands down!  I’ve managed to squeeze more out of my 900m2 than most squeeze out of 10 acres.

You will have heard the Lifestyle property = Life Sentence quote I’m sure?  Well, I’m all about the LIFESTYLE.  At the end of the day my sister is an ‘active relaxer’ and appeared to enjoy all the work, but the fact remains that she has sold up, paid down the debt, and moved on.  For me it comes back to what I find important in life.  And that is making the most out of what I have and being content with what I have.  I don’t feel the need to chase the “endless pursuit of more”.  People always assume that because I manage my place like a mini farm, that I actually want a bigger farm.  Heck no!  My place fits my family and myself extremely well and I have spent just the right amount of time and money on it.  Buying what I can afford and what I enjoy gives me freedom to actually enjoy it and that is priceless in my view.


Happy Saving!


The information contained in this article is of a general nature and should not be taken as advice. It reflects the opinions of the writer only and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of New Zealand Home Loans (NZHL).

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Emily Doran
  • Emily Doran Author