Most of us have thought about it - cashing in on property prices by selling up and retiring to the country or a smaller centre.

But where would you go, and what are the chances that the reality will match up with your expectations?

• Personalise your preferences and see where you should retire with our interactive toolhere.

Analysis by the Herald set out to find which are the best places in the country to retire to, taking into account property prices, rates, sunshine hours, burglary rates, access to healthcare and the size of the over-65 population.


And the winner? Marlborough - the country's best retirement destination, followed by the Waimakariri District near Christchurch.

Anyone who isn't keen on leaving the North Island should consider Napier, Whangarei and New Plymouth, which also rated highly.

But if property prices are the most pressing issue, the smaller provincial towns and regions could be the answer to freeing up capital, or becoming debt-free.

The interactive graphic allows you to personalise your search and scale up and down the important factors for you; whether it is high sunshine hours, low rates or access to healthcare.

Last year, the average sale price for a two-bedroom property in Auckland was just under $653,000.

In the South Waikato District - which includes towns like Tirau and Tokoroa - the average sale price for a two-bedroom property was just $128,000.

At the bigger end of town, the Whanganui District last year recorded an average sale price of $151,500 for a two-bedroom house.

And even Aucklanders who own a mortgage-free home could enjoy a big saving in their rates bill by moving towns - a factor that can loom larger once a person is on a fixed income.


Napier, Invercargill and Horowhenua had the lowest average rates bills in 2016.

On average, Napier residents paid just over $2000 in rates compared to the average Auckland rates bill of $3104.

But experts warn that social isolation, and issues such as access to healthcare and public transport could negate the financial benefits.

Susanna Stuart, a financial adviser at Stuart Carlyon, has seen plenty of clients and friends cash up in recent years.

While some do it by choice, others are forced into it by the need to get rid of their debts.

"Often, people with mortgages have no choice," she says.


Stuart says others had come to the conclusion that they needed to spend money on experiences, in order to have a good life in retirement. Often, that meant going travelling.

And in some case homeowners had cashed up and moved to help family get on the property ladder.

But Stuart says one of the risks of moving is that house prices will continue to rise, and people who move to a cheaper location, then decide they don't like it, may be priced out of returning home.

One of her clients moved from Auckland to Invercargill, for a job they hoped would see them into retirement. But it didn't work out and they ended up moving elsewhere.

She believes it is vital to test the waters first. "You must go and stay there and rent first, just to be sure."

Stuart says a lot of people move because of family - only to find that the family they have chased end up moving again for a job or another reason.


And sometimes there can be hidden costs that don't become apparent until after the move.

"If you cash up to go into a lifestyle block it can cost you just as much in terms of running costs."

Outside of the main centres, there could be additional transport costs to factor in.

"If they live in fairly isolated parts they will have to factor in extra cost for petrol and wear and tear on the car."

She says Aucklanders often look at moving to Tauranga or up to Matakana and the area around Warkworth for retirement.

"But it is hard to get into property there."


Often, the property is bigger than an Auckland site, requiring more work that may become difficult as a person gets older.

Often people with mortgages have no choice.

While Tauranga has been a popular destination for Aucklanders, rising house prices in the Bay of Plenty city have made it less attractive for people looking to move there in order to free up capital.

The average sale price for a two-bedroom property in Tauranga last year was $448,375 - the fourth most expensive area behind Auckland, Queenstown-Lakes and Wellington.

Stuart says people need to be realistic and realise that the releasing of capital needs to be significant for it to be worthwhile.

"You have to release enough to make a difference to your lifestyle."

Diane Maxwell says she always thought she would move out to the country to retire, but her ideas have changed since she became the Retirement Commissioner.

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell. Photo/Supplied.
Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell. Photo/Supplied.

"I would live in apartment near a social suburb I love, somewhere I know really well," she says now.

Maxwell says one of the challenges of moving out of a city is social isolation, especially for people who stop working at the same time. "Particularly if there is a couple and they lose a partner.

"Sometimes people move out and envisage this dream scenario of a country lifestyle."

But Maxwell says people need to think about how they go about getting to know people when they move towns.

"Making social contact - work is often how we do that."

Usually there are groups that people can join in their new town, but individuals have to make an effort to do that.


Maxwell says people who are keen on making a move are better off doing it before they retire, and establishing contacts then.

While a big property with gardens can be attractive in young retirement, in older retirement it can become a burden to maintain gardens and a large house.

Maxwell says that rather than focusing on the financial gains alone, people need to think about what they love doing and how they will keep doing that in retirement - wherever they are living.

Access to healthcare is really important, she says, especially as cancer rates creep up as people age.

"Cancer treatments tend to be at the larger hospitals."

If you have to travel and stay in a motel to get treatment, it can be expensive and family may not be around to provide support if they are working in another city.


"It is not just having a hospital, but a hospital that can deliver a particular type of care."

She believes there is work to be done to make cities more liveable.

Sometimes people move out and envisage this dream scenario of a country lifestyle.

"If our cities are going to be great places for the elderly to age in place, we need to think about that."

Maxwell says if a city is set up to handle people with disabilities well, it will be equipped to deal with the elderly too.

"We need all ages in a community for it to be vibrant and work well."

A high number of retired people can also weigh against a town, with schools struggling to get enough pupils and families moving out if they can't get jobs.


She says one of the biggest complaints she gets from people who live in retirement villages is that there are "too many old people".

Maxwell says people often think of cities as stressful and associate them with traffic jams and expensive housing, but good cities are also vibrant and offer plenty to see and do.

"I think part of the issue is usually we think people in cities don't have time for people. We have a fantasy that people in the country have a community and will be looking out for each other. And I don't think either is the case."

Age Concern chief executive Stephanie Clare says her experience has shown that being connected with the community is vital.

"It is not where you live, but how you live."

Social inclusion is the key factor, and that can't be easily measure by gathering statistics.


While the monetary savings might suggest a move from Auckland to Whanganui should be on the cards, that probably doesn't make sense unless you have family in the area and want to live there.

Clare believes that what is important is making an informed choice and allowing people to make their own decision about where they live in retirement.

She also points out that a growing group of retirees will be renting in the future.

While renting in Auckland is likely to be more expensive, other factors such as free travel using the Gold Card could help weigh against that.

Clare says Kiwis need to get used to more older people living in their community. By 2036, one in four people will be over 65.

Many are still working and that number is expected to continue to grow as people live longer and need to support themselves.

Stephanie Clare, chief executive of Age Concern. Photo/Supplied.
Stephanie Clare, chief executive of Age Concern. Photo/Supplied.

"The assumption that you have to move when older is a fallacy," says Clare.

She says ageing in place has been proven to improve an older person's overall wellbeing.

The best place to retire

Marlborough mayor John Leggett says it is no surprise to him that the area has come out at the top of the Herald's Best Places to Retire in New Zealand research.

"Marlborough is an attractive place to live for all ages."

And it seems Kiwis are already well aware of that.

Data from the 2013 census shows that one in five people living in Marlborough was over 65, and it was the region with the highest proportion of that age group in New Zealand.


In comparison, Auckland had the lowest percentage of over-65s - 11.5 per cent.

Between 2006 and 2013, Marlborough's over-65 population grew by 29.5 per cent, beaten only by two other areas at the top of the South Island - Tasman (up 39.4 per cent) and Nelson (up 30.1 per cent).

Leggett says that historically, a lot of Marlborough's attraction has come from the access it offers to parks and reserves. More recently, the area has built a 750-seat theatre.

"When you look at Marlborough as a district, we have the Marlborough Sounds, the proximity to the national parks and the excellent climate."

But he admits that a large older population does present challenges.

"There is pressure on health services and further demand on welfare."

Marlborough District mayor John Leggett. Photo/Supplied.
Marlborough District mayor John Leggett. Photo/Supplied.

The area has a recently built hospital and also had strong connections to the hospital in Nelson, although that is an hour-and-a-half drive away.

Very serious cases have to be sent to Wellington, which is a 20-minute flight away.

Leggett says it can also be tough for people to find suitable housing and smaller properties.

"The housing market - it is not always suitable."

He says the council is working to rezone land to allow further urban development.

The region is booming economically, and Leggett says it would be keen to see a greater range of ages and skills coming into its workforce.