After being dragged away from Auckland to live in Wellington, Colin Hogg returns to his old home town for a six-month stay in Grey Lynn, his old hood, briefly taking up a lifestyle that is now far beyond his means.
So far, so bad, but now things have taken an even weirder turn. We’ve moved back to Auckland, just when everyone else wants to leave, though. With the motorways clogged like old-man arteries, it’s probably as hard to get out of Auckland as it is to arrive.
A splendid new job that my wife landed took us away to Wellington in late 2013 and I wasn’t an easy convert, although Wellington turned out to be a welcoming place. That’s mainly, perhaps, because it needs to be.
Apart from the people and the fetching arrangement of city and sea, it’s unsettling after Auckland. Thanks to a climate where gales are stoically referred to as stiff breezes, it’s mainly an indoor life there, cosy and close-up, stimulating, but maybe more stimulating than someone who’d spent 40 years in lush, louche, overstated Auckland was immediately ready for.
At first, people in my new home town seemed almost too friendly and everyone talked endlessly about the bloody weather, apologising for it, almost as if talking about it might make it go away or adjust its boorish behaviour.
The locals tend not to go away and they’re sweetly suspicious of arrivistes such as us, needing reasonably constant assurance that we like the place enough to stay, to learn to love it as they have, to become locals even, after a bit.
And people there do love it and no one much leaves Wellington. Or if they do, they seem to go to the Wairarapa, a mythical place, not really that far away, but out of the wind; flatter and warmer by several degrees. Wellington is a place where several degrees mean a great deal.
I was learning to love it all the same, especially because Wellington is a proper city, with a bigger, quirkier, more fully formed downtown than Auckland shows any sign of ever having, not to mention public transport that appears to actually serve the local public. I even started catching buses.
Auckland, when I’d come to visit it and see it suddenly as an outsider, was beginning to feel less lovable than it used to be and increasingly dysfunctional. All I thought I really missed was the weather and maybe something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Then, out of the windswept blue came this crazy chance to move back to Auckland for six months, and not just to Auckland, but to Grey Lynn and a swanky, house-sized apartment with views to die for, as they say in these parts.
It belongs to a friend who has to be somewhere else for the period and he offered it to us for a good price. He said we’d be doing him a favour and, given that my wife’s job took her to Auckland most weeks, we thought, well, why not?
So, we rented out our Wellington place for the six months and next thing we knew, we were living at a nice address in one of the country’s most desirable suburbs, a place we’d now have to pay twice the amount we got for our old house if we wanted to get back into it as proper, fully paid-up residents.
It has been cruel fun so far, living in a neighbourhood for which we can’t afford the entry fee. We’ve been to a few open homes, just for a laugh, but there was nothing to laugh about. Mostly, we gasped when the real estate agent whispered the extent of the vendor’s desires.
There’s a house just up the road and around the corner from our temporary swanky apartment that I remember buying for a figure with only five numbers. Now everything around here has seven, although the numbers do seem to have stopped clicking upwards.
Lately, some real estate agents have even mentioned their vendor’s potential for being “realistic about the market”, which is code for something, though perhaps not what I’d like to think.
Because, having been swimming in the goldfish pond for a while now, we’re thinking we might like to come back to Auckland in a more permanent way, not that we want to start a trend. Things are challenging enough for boomerangs such as us.
And the old neighbourhood has changed beyond the house and apartment prices. Where our nearest dairy used to be years ago, there’s a popular bar, and where the butcher shop was, there’s another bar, with yet another bar opposite that one.
There are other more practical places within walking distance, too: a supermarket, a fish shop, a bakery, a barber, restaurants and another two or three bars. There’s a Sunday farmers’ market with almost everything you need without having to get in the car and go driving for it, because you don’t want to go driving far in Auckland any more, especially on Saturdays, when everyone is on the roads.
But Auckland will always be a little difficult and that’s part of its wayward charm. Well, that and the warmth and the substitution of fear of earthquakes for fear of volcanic eruptions. Meantime, you can grow a great garden in the volcanic soil.
So, if it happens that, out there, a family is setting out to join the Auckland exodus and go, perhaps, to Wellington, there is a lovely large house that might be exchanged for a humble bungalow in Grey Lynn or Ponsonby.
No real estate agents need be involved. That might be a good trend to start.
This article was first published in the October 14, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.