Nicholas Claus tells Elisabeth Easther what he loves about living north of Auckland. Despite the occasional hankering for the North Pole's cool charms, the climate, shopping and lifestyle of New Zealand have stolen his heart

A couple of years ago we started looking for somewhere pleasant to retire, we'd reached the ends of our tethers with the Santa business, my wife called it the "present tense" - so much stress trying to please everyone, everywhere around the world. We were burned out. We looked at parts of Europe, Britain and Canada but then one of the kids moved down here with some of our grandchildren (we call them the subordinate Clauses) and suggested we look in the Southern Hemisphere. We knew we wanted a warmer climate for my wife's arthritis, all that fiddly work crafting and wrapping had taken their toll, and I needed to think about my elf too. We had to have a fair bit of space for the reindeer, and happily we found an ideal block near Rodney, on Trade Me.

We have a good couple of hectares here, which suits us down to the ground because I'm a very keen gardener. It was so hard to get things to grow in the North Pole, all that ice and snow. The wife takes care of the flowers and I'm in charge of the vegetables. We have a little joke that I like nothing better than to hoe, hoe, hoe.

The property has deer fences all around, not that the reindeer take too much notice of things like that but, because there are a quite a few deer farms in the vicinity, the herd don't stick out like sore thumbs. I have a devil of a time ensuring Prancer and Blitzen stick to the perimeters, those two have always been trouble, but the others mostly stay on the property, they're not as frisky as they used to be. Retirement suits us all, although at this time of year we do get itchy feet and hooves. Sometimes I take them all to Snowplanet for a bit of a chill-out. We let ourselves in when it's closed - can't say how we do it, but you can understand with so many houses not having chimneys these days, we became pretty good at breaking and entering. And they love it there, you should see Rudolph's nose light up.

When I want a good cup of coffee and some baked goods (I hope my wife doesn't read this) I like to go to Little and Friday on Eversleigh Ave in Takapuna.


Mrs Claus knows when I've been at the doughnuts though, because she has to let the seams out on my suits.

And I do like to visit Safka, the Scandinavian speciality shop on K' Rd. I was in there the other day getting stollen and lingonberries, although I was pretty shocked to see they also sell reindeer pate, creamy smoked reindeer soup, braised reindeer and even rye chips in a smoked reindeer flavour. What if children see these items? I found it rather distressing, I'm just so glad the herd weren't with me, and that they can't read. I didn't say anything though. We like to keep a pretty low-profile here in New Zealand. I've still got the jolly laugh and the beard, you get used to things like that. This time of year though, with the heat creeping up, I keep my facial hair relatively short. Sometimes I like to treat myself to a really good shave and for that I go to Barbers & Merchants in Hinemoa St in Birkenhead. Great chaps and very good service and value. If you go there on a Friday night, they'll serve you a cold beer if you're thirsty.

What really slays me down here though, is how you all eat an enormous big lunch and dinner on Christmas Day, all that heavy, hot food. I don't think I'll ever get used to having Christmas in summer time, just one of those things really. The Santa Run for KidsCan recently was handy, going on a bit of a jog helped me shed a few pounds. I also very much enjoy the Santa Parades you put on down here, the big and the small. I went to a spectacular one on Queen St the other day, and it did make me smile; if only the crowds had known I was there.

And, for a smaller parade, I enjoy the sweet little pageant through the streets of Herald Island, out west. Magical. The Franklin Rd lights have quickly become part of our family's Christmas ritual too, I especially like the house with the sign that says "Today is the Present". Too right.

Nicholas' Santastic tips
Snowplanet: 91 Small Rd, Silverdale. (09) 427 0044.

Little and Friday: 43 Eversleigh Rd, Belmont. (09) 489 8527.

Safka: 20/501 K Rd, City. (09) 379 8030.

Barbers and Merchants: Hinemoa St, Birkenhead. (09) 480 8100.