I think one of New Zealand's best kept secrets is out. People have found out about our beautiful little city and it looks like every Tom Dick and Harriet is coming this way.
With Auckland and Wellington in permanent gridlock and houses sitting around the million mark for a reasonable family home why would not a family up stakes and move to a quieter place with very good schools, both public and private, a world-class small hospital with fantastic medical and nursing staff from all over the world, still some of the best real estate prices going in the country, but climbing as we speak. Also, a small-town infrastructure that is still coping with the slight increase in traffic caused by our recent population increase, friendly open people and the beautifully restored main shopping street and Old Town, reflecting Whanganui's past as one of the first places settled by Europeans in the 19th century.
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At one stage Whanganui was the fifth biggest town in the country. It had its own international port and customs agent. It was an innovator in wine and orchard growing in the 19th century due to its beautiful microclimate, much warmer than the other two closest larger towns, Palmerston North and New Plymouth. We have very few frosts nowadays, becoming rarer with global warming, and our daily temperatures are very competitive with the Far North and Bay of Plenty. The kiwifruit industry actually started in Whanganui when seeds were brought to New Zealand in 1904 by Mary Isabel Fraser, the principal of Wanganui Girls' College, who had been visiting mission schools in China. They were planted in 1906 by a Whanganui nurseryman, Alexander Allison, and the vines first fruited in 1910.
Whanganui is famous as a centre for art and culture with the Serjeant Art Gallery being restored and extended, the regional museum re-opening after recent restoration work, the Royal Opera House hosting events and shows and, last but not least, the New Zealand Glassworks in Rutland St exhibiting and selling beautiful art.
We have only lived here since 1983 so are still regarded, in a very nice way, as newcomers by our Whanganui friends who can trace their lineage in the town back about 25 generations at least for our Māori friends or up to six generations for a few of our Pākehā friends. We came from Wellington for a quiet life and decided to stay. Our children did the normal Whanganui thing upon finishing school, leaving town for further study and work. One has since returned and settled in her own home here, something she could not, as a single woman, manage to do in Wellington or Auckland.
Whanganui is now in the very happy position of having to decide how big it wants to get. With the possible devolvement of some government departments away from Wellington and into the provinces, together with Whanganui being one of the New Zealand centres identified as a town suitable for refugees to settle, a lot of work is now needed on infrastructure building and housing. Like all New Zealand towns and cities, we have people who struggle for decent rental accommodation. Rentals have climbed recently to the level that many struggle to afford. A lot of Whanganui's rental stock is old, some dating back to the late 19th or early 20th century. Most of these homes are probably still sound but need to be updated to fit the new regulations for rental accommodation and, because of their age, need constant maintenance, a big ask for landlords. The council now needs to turn its mind to how do we develop Whanganui going forward.
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There is excellent work being done by Whanganui and Partners, an organisation tasked with Whanganui's economic development, currently facing the challenge of Mars Petfoods planning to leave town in 2020. A new flying school relocating to Whanganui airport is an example of the superb work being done to open Whanganui to outside business. Maybe it is time for the council to really start encouraging property developers to do what they do best, build decent homes across the spectrum.
These are all problems caused by success generated by new business and industry coming to town or being developed by people living here and subsequent low unemployment. Businesses are crying out for the right employees. If you want to work there is work for everyone in Whanganui at present. New business brings talented and qualified people from all over the world which makes little Whanganui a very interesting place to live in. The great restaurants reflect this with the international cuisine available.
We are proud to call Whanganui our home and quick to defend it to any naysayers we meet around the country, encouraging them to come and have a look and decide for themselves.