Less is best in Gisborne

By Sheridan Gundry

It's one of the most beautiful regions in the country - and the only one to be losing its residents. As this week's Census results revealed, Gisborne has 840 fewer people now than seven years ago, a fact the beachside city's fans can't fathom. Local Sheridan Gundry offers 10 reasons why Gisborne is better than Auckland.

David Timbs enjoys an outing at Wainui Beach with his dog, Bosco. Photo / Alan Gibson
David Timbs enjoys an outing at Wainui Beach with his dog, Bosco. Photo / Alan Gibson

1. Actually, Gisborne doubles its population every year. Beat that. Okay, it's only for a week as the Rhythm and Vines festival brings in 30,000 extra people for New Year - but that's more than Auckland grows by each year. The difference is that the crowds are soon gone.

When the visitors move in, locals not winning from the welcome surge in retail trade rent their houses and shift to freedom-camp beside the beach.

2.How do we look? Think unpretentious, laid-back and lifestylish. We've got sunshine, the world's best surf, clear skies, stars and no SkyTowers.

3. Gisborne has affordable housing with gardens ... and we're all happy to mow our own berms. There's room for development. Aucklanders, sell your million-dollar homes, buy in Gisborne and you'll still have $700k or so to live off. Decent houses for less than $200k? Tick. A Wainui Beach house for $300k? Tick.

4. Then there's our rush-minute traffic. Our money helps build roads for Aucklanders to drive to their weekend baches, but here in Gisborne you can walk or bike to the beach. Less travel and traffic means more time with family.

How often do successful big-city business people say that if they had their time again they would spend more time with family and less working? It's not too late in Gisborne. And lunchtime surfing is no dream in this five-minutes-to-anywhere paradise.

5. This city is a great place to raise families - with easy access to a remarkable range of cultural and sporting activities and high-calibre tutors.

6. Creativity is a big part of Gisborne's charms thanks to our splendid, character-building isolation. Isolation builds creativity. Ta moko artist and All Blacks' kapa o pango haka composer Professor Derek Lardelli is thrilled that several national politicians send their children to Gisborne to study Maori arts and design at Toihoukura where he teaches.

"Big cities have big lights but when you come back down to Earth, and see the raw talent here, you can't beat the Tairawhiti," he says.

"It must be something in the water."

7. Our small community builds connections that are difficult to replicate in a big city. Random acts of kindness continually astound newbies. It's hardly surprising, then, that Gisborne led four of nine categories in New Zealand's first happiness survey - we're best connected to the community, most active, most mindful and have the most women with high self-esteem.

New Zealander of the Year Professor Dame Anne Salmond, who will return to live in Gisborne, highlights its advantages: "Meetings with neighbours on a dead-end valley road. Stop car, hop out, have a chat. Next car stops, next lot of neighbours join the conversation ... and there's a deep sense of belonging, quintessentially Kiwi, and a pace of life that lets you smell the roses."

8. Environmental warriors abound in Gisborne. The National Arboretum of Eastwoodhill has the largest, most comprehensive collection of Northern Hemisphere trees south of the equator. Then there's Douglas Cook, Dame Anne and Jeremy Salmond's Longbush Ecosanctuary and John Griffin's Te Kuri a Paoa at Young Nick's Head where robins breed, grey-faced petrels return, and gecko, skink and tuatara saunter.

9. And who could go past the food? Gizzy milk and cheese; beef and lamb, crayfish, paua, beer and, of course, wine.

Auckland winemaker Nick Nobilo chose Gisborne to grow his gewurztraminer and now bottles of his Vinoptima fetch three figures. Eighty per cent of it is sold overseas.

10. In Gisborne, even our politicians are happy. Our mayor has Hong Kong connections through his parents and has been happily married for more than 30 years.

Maori-speaking, Chinese-singing Meng Foon has been returned for his fifth term with, he says, a surprising majority.

"We are resilient," he says.

"We have to be, living out east.

"We fend for ourselves, make our own fun.

"We are a big, small city without the traffic, noise and people problems of Auckland."

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