No Regrets in Making a New Home in Bannockburn

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The grass is actually quite a bit browner on the other side but that doesn’t seem to deter dozens of Southlanders who every year pack up their lives and move to Central Otago.
So what’s the attraction and why do they leave green valleys behind for the land of rocks and rabbits?
Lloyd and Suz Allison say it was not just the sun in what’s known as ‘Sunny Central’ that brought them there, it was opportunity.
There’s no denying the community spirit in Southland and it forms a big part of the Allison’s memories of raising their family around Wyndham, near Gore.
Fourteen years ago, however, the couple made the decision to move permanently to Central Otago.  They’re now fully converted Central-ites who say they can’t ever see themselves leaving the area.
The couple were enjoying a minibus wine tour on a weekend away from Southland when their driver announced he had to shoot out to a house in Bannockburn to drop something off.
“I’d never even heard of Bannockburn,” Suz says. “But I’ll never forget it, we drove up and I remember thinking this is the best view in the world.”
The property they stopped at – a small, dated house on a rough sloping section – was on the market.  The couple instantly sold their Arrowtown holiday home and “got stuck in” commuting two and half hours up from Wyndham during weekends to work on their new get-away spot.
They ferried up plants, tackled the large section head on and tidied up the little house, weekend after weekend.
It was the weather that first prompted some serious discussion around making the place a permanent rather than a holiday home.  Driving out of rain into sunshine one way, then leaving sunshine and driving back into rain was becoming a feature of the couple’s busy weekends.
“We thought bugger it, let’s just take the bull by the horns, really make something of this place and move,” Suz says.
“The builder said it would be cheaper and quicker to take the whole house away and start again but we couldn’t see that at the time, we had a budget and just redesigned, reroofed, rewired, the whole thing. Of course it totally got out of control,” she laughs.
Suz had long harboured a desire to have her own B&B so the couple added an apartment, got some hens, created a huge vegetable garden, mini-vineyard and large flower garden.
“We’re fairly self-sufficient now, we have a green house and as long as you have compost and water everything just goes nuts in the garden.”
While the climate was certainly a catalyst for change, employment opportunities in Central Otago were a major consideration for the Allisons.
The couple’s three adult children had well and truly flown the nest and home economics teacher, Suz had retrained as a chef. Lloyd was also in need of a change in the employment stakes.
“After 23 years as a stock agent and lamb drafter I was just stale in the job,” Lloyd says, “And with some hard years price-wise down there it could be pretty depressing at times.”
Prospects for farm ownership were getting worse instead of better as dairying drove up land prices.  Lloyd now drives a tractor at Carrick Vineyard, plays a fair bit of golf and sees to the couple’s own vines and winemaking adventures.
Suz initially worked part time at Wooing Tree Vineyard and was delighted to be able to use her culinary skills, but with the B&B now thriving she’s given that up.
The couple make around 150 bottles of Riesling off their own vines, much more than first expected, Suz says.
“The idea was to be self-sufficient in wine but we got loads so lots of friends and family get a bottle.  The first year we made it in the kitchen with a sieve and a wooden spoon, the extraction rate was absolutely terrible, I think we got about 35 bottles.”
They progressed to pressing with feet then last year moved up in the sophistication stakes and purchased half-shares in a wine press.
“It’s been years of learning but it’s great fun, you learn by your mistakes and we get help from some good friends… one is a winemaker so that helps a lot.”
So what do they miss about their southern home…well the lush green of the Wyndham Golf Course is fairly high on that list.  The couple find it amusing that unlike their fellow golfers from the deep south, locals here won’t play in the rain.
They miss friends but say many from their area – which did not benefit in the employment stakes from the dairy boom – have gradually sold up and also moved to Central Otago over the years.
While statistics are difficult to pin down, real estate companies report that around seven to nine percent of residential sales in Cromwell and Alexandra are to Southlanders. Many are retirement age but certainly not all.
Lloyd and Suz say Central Otago’s health services being pushed further away, and the travel required for shopping, cultural events and even coastal fishing, were things they had learnt to live with in Central…as were the cold winters.
“Southland and particularly the area where we were was a great place to bring up kids, everything was right there sport-wise and recreation-wise.” Lloyd says. But once the kids were gone, Central Otago’s opportunities became more and more appealing.
The couple have made new friends and don’t think they will ever want to leave the Cromwell area. They certainly haven’t forgotten however, the warmth of Southern people.
“Southlanders are so friendly, you could bump into someone you hadn’t seen for five years, walk into their home, have a cup of tea and it would be just like you’d seen them yesterday,” Suz says.
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