Heading for the sun: Warm climate and warm people

11.01.06 By Simon Collins From www.nzherald.co.nz/

Ever since she was a girl, Frances Wilcockson wanted to march. But the opportunity never arose until she moved to Tauranga - and became a grandmother. "We had Highland dances at A&P shows," she says, remembering her childhood in the rural Waikato. "I thought, I wish I could march. I always said I'd do it when I retired." She hated "the fog and the cold and everything else" in Matamata, where her husband was a vet.

For years, the couple planned their retirement in Tauranga, and when they got the chance to transfer early to a vet job in the city, they jumped at it. That was 22 years ago. "I love it. I'm a summer person and this is me," Mrs Wilcockson says, lined up in her Matua Majors marching uniform on Fergusson Park, looking out through palm trees to the blue Tauranga Harbour with Mt Maunganui beyond.

Every member of the Matua Majors is a grandmother and one, Ilma Forsyth, is a great-grandmother. In Tauranga, they have found paradise early. Elaine Barker, who retired to Tauranga with her husband after running a motel in Rotorua, was struck by "the climate and the cleanness". "There was no graffiti around, we found it was just so clean. Everyone was healthy-looking. People were going round with smiles - they were a bit down in Rotorua." They march, Mrs Forsyth says, "for fun, friendship and fitness".

And like thousands of others, they have followed the sun to one of New Zealand's two "sunbelt" regions. In the 20 years since the 1986 census, Tauranga's urban population has leapt ahead by 75 per cent, powering past Palmerston North and at current growth rates set to overtake Dunedin by 2008 and Napier-Hastings by 2010 to become our fifth-biggest city. After Auckland, which grew by 52 per cent, the next-fastest growth rate in a main urban area was in the South Island's equivalent sunbelt city, Nelson, up 36 per cent.

Unlike Auckland, where the fastest growth was in the immigration-fuelled working-age groups, Tauranga's growth is being driven by the later middle-aged and retired. In the whole western Bay of Plenty, those aged 45 to 64 grew by 75 per cent in the 15 years to 2001, those aged 65 to 74 increased by 52 per cent, and those 75 and over by 133 per cent. But just as Auckland's large migrant populations make it easier to attract new migrants from the same countries, so Tauranga's growing elderly population attracts more retirees with elderly-oriented services and activities. "Leisure marching", as distinct from competitive marching at younger ages, started in Tauranga 15 years ago and the city now has nine teams.

Down at the Sulphur Point marina, retired Kinleith mill worker Ian Wilson, 73, can be found most days on his ageing yacht Weiti which he sailed last month in a single-handed race around Karewa Island, east of Matakana. Terry Spitz, 64, planned to retire to Whitianga when he sold his business at the Orakei Korako tourist resort, but chose Tauranga instead because of its good hospital. "The weather is entirely different here," he says. "It's like moving to the tropics. It's a fabulous town."

Retired Hamilton builder Alan Glover, 71, spends four months every year sailing around the Pacific with his wife Beverley, and the rest of the time in Tauranga. "It's the place to be for this sort of a life," he says. Neville Harlick, 62, reversed the usual drain to the Gold Coast and returned to Mt Maunganui a few years ago after 20 years in Sydney. He had sold his poker machine software business and saw no reason to keep fighting the Sydney traffic. "From home to here takes 10 minutes, or 20 minutes when it's all clogged up," he says, relaxing on Mr Wilson's boat. "In Sydney I was commuting an hour and three-quarters each way. "The things we miss are the restaurants and shopping, but we are fortunate enough to be able to go to Sydney when my wife needs a shopping fix." Even in Tauranga, growth is beginning to cause congestion.

But former Aucklander Bruce Elder, 76, who has seen Tauranga grow from 9000 to 109,000 people since he moved there in 1957, says there is still a slower pace in the Bay despite traffic problems. "We think we have them, but we have a traffic rush for half an hour," he says. "We love going to visit Auckland, but it's a very pleasant lifestyle here compared with fighting the mob."

 From www.nzherald.co.nz/