Warning- this is a bit of a rant. This does not paint a great picture of our homecoming.
Iconic Kiwi songwriter, Dave Dobbyn, wrote and sang this song.
So welcome home
I bid you welcome
I bid you welcome
From the bottom of my heart
Coming back to New Zealand after 4 years away, after spending lots of time in the US East Coast, and enjoying the Bahamas, our homecoming was much less than welcoming.
We learned that our lifestyle, specifically liveaboard, is not welcomed anywhere here in New Zealand. We spent the first few months after getting out of our mandatory quarantine, looking at the facilities that we would need once Southern Star finally made it home. Little did we know at the time that she was 10 months away.
America’s Cup was on going, in a COVID fashion. New Zealand lifestyle was relatively normal, restaurants were open, spectators were allowed to watch the boats. Fans gathered on the grass in front of big screen TV’s broadcasting the races, in the Viaduct. The spectator fleet was large around the course. So, it was not surprising, that when we starting making inquiries about marinas in Auckland for Southern Star, that we were not encouraged.
All berths full, waiting lists are years long for the size berth we needed.
We checked in Nelson, in the South Island, where we were considering moving. Walking into the marina office in Nelson, the staff literally laughed at us, when we asked about availability of slip space, And GOD FORBID, even asking about live aboard space. We were offered the option to join a four-year waiting list, and only if we made a deposit! However, the marina was run down, facilities were poor, and we would have been the largest boat in there – never a good thing.
No liveaboards allowed? We were dismayed. Interestingly we later learned that the management of Nelson Marina had changed since we visited, so things may have improved, at least at first contact.
We went to a marina in Havelock, about 1 hours drive from Nelson in the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds and were greeted by a welcoming dockmaster, and they could accommodate us if we decided to base ourselves in that part of NZ. It was a much better marina, newer, well maintained, but again minimal facilities. He warned us though, that all three marinas in Picton, another hour away, were full.
Meanwhile back in Auckland, we visited all of the marinas in the area. Westhaven, the largest marina (in the Southern Hemisphere) has no space for us. And no long term Live Aboard allowed. Again, rude and unhelpful staff, and again a laughing suggestion to join (yes) a four-year waiting list.
Bayswater marina, located on the north side of Auckland harbour, were full, but maybe able to find us space after the Cup. And Liveaboard is allowed, with the additional fee of $600 per month for the two of us, on top of the berth rent, electric, and water. And there was a liveaboard community there, and at least they had showers, laundry, and other facilities, but it is notorious for surge from passing ferry boats, exposed to the south, and literally miles from the city by car, although only a short ferry ride. All up costs for having Southern Star there would be NZ$2300 plus $330 per month for the ferry passes we would need to travel to work in the city, plus power and water.
We visited Gulf Harbour Marina, about an hour drive north of Auckland out on Whangaparoa Peninsula and they could accommodate the boat. By this time, we had stopped asking about the liveaboard issue, getting desperate for somewhere to at least put our boat. And they have restaurants, facilities for boaties, a full service haul out yard, and fast ferry to Auckland. All up costs for us per month would be around $2500 including the ferry tickets. It is a lovely marina and the staff were very accommodating and apologetic they couldn’t take us (although at that point we didn’t have a boat, and it would in fact be another 8 months before Southern Star needed a place to stay).
Way up the western end of the harbour is Westpark, a 45-minute drive from the city, and they too allowed liveaboards, at the same fee as in Bayswater. But these are full and waiting list required. It is also a good hour in the boat up the harbour past Westhaven, and possibly too shallow for us at a very low tide. Facilities cater for liveaboards, with again a $600 per month fee for the two of us, plus the ferry tickets, plus power and water. They do have a grocery store on site, and a full service haul out yard.
We found a privately owned marina slip available in Auckland at Orakei Marina, and we were close to making a deal. Another gorgeous marina, new, full of big sportfish boats and fancy yachts, close to the city on Tamaki Drive, a great location. We were excited – but then I asked about the LA (live aboard). OH NO. not allowed. No liveaboards, council rules.
At one point, Ted was looking at taking a job at Mt Wellington, south of the city, so we explored Pine Harbor Marina – a 90-minute drive from the city, but a reasonably sized marina with onshore facilities, some marine services, restaurants, and a 45-minute ferry ride to the city. It would have been a 45-minute drive for Ted to go to the office in Mt Wellington. Again, no space, join a long waiting list if you want, but no liveaboard allowed. Ted turned down the job.
We were very disheartened with this turn of events. Wow, the marinas were very full, very expensive and did not want any boat trash living aboard.
After the past 4 years this was a complete shock. We have never felt this prejudice toward boaties in the US. We had heard of it in parts of Florida, where they were legislating against homeless people taking to boats as their home.
I guess that is the brush we are tarred with here in New Zealand. People living aboard their boats, are dirty people, they must dump their sewerage over the side, and do other bad things. We don’t want them here. We want people with nice shiny and expensive boats, who only use them occasionally, and don’t live on them. That’s what houses are for.
Ironically, we were fortunate that Southern Star’s arrival was delayed. And it took almost 10 months for her to arrive to New Zealand. In the middle of winter, during a sudden Level 4 COVID lockdown where legally we could only leave our home (at that point Gordon’s apartment) for essential services such as groceries, or getting a Covid test or vaccination.
We had finally found a berth at the Viaduct Marina, where Ryan (marina manager) was very welcoming and friendly right from first contact. In fact, when we said our boat was delayed in Mexico and we were unsure of its arrival date, he said “Oh, you must be on the drug boat”! This time we laughed together, rather than being laughed at.
So, on a cold, grey, windy day in Auckland we stood on our dock at the Viaduct, masks on, and watched Southern Star being towed into her new home. We tied her up, looking forlorn and neglected. The towboat left, Ryan left, and we finally boarded our boat, 10 months and one week since we loaded her at Newport.
We moved on board a few days later, still in Level 4 lockdown, but here in this marina we are sort of lumped together with the superyachts that come to Auckland, and stay here. Superyachts are expected to have crew, and therefore liveaboard is accepted. The cost is higher, with no liveaboard facilities on shore – yachts that can afford to stay here are expected to have toilets, showers, laundries on board. Luckily, we do too.
Customs man says we gotta pay
We also had it confirmed when Southern Star arrived, that the New Zealand tax man, Customs was welcoming us, with a GST tax bill for re-importing Southern Star back into New Zealand.
We took advise from our maritime lawyer, and from a PWC partner (all total about $7,000) to be advised that we would have to pay 15% of the depreciated value of the boat, from when we bought her from Robbie and Jo in Florida almost 5 years ago.
This GST tax is due, because the boat left the country under one owner (Robbie and Jo) and came back under another owner (us). Had we been able to sail her to NZ as we had planned, Customs would not have looked at the import issue, but as she came as cargo, the Customs department was diligent.
And so, after 10 months, we were able to bring Southern Star back into NZ after we paid $100,000 NZD for GST.
Southern Star may be one of the highest (percentage terms) tax paid vessel in history. In 2006 she was imported and paid $322,000 NZD, and 15 years later we paid $100,000 again. Total taxes paid on Southern Star $422,000 NZD!!
So welcome home. From the bottom of our heart.
Footnote: This was our experience as returning Kiwis. However, our American friends on N46 Starlet would tell a very different story. They entered NZ on a two-year cruising permit, and for much of that time were based in the City Basin in Whangarei, two hours drive north of Auckland. There is a strong liveaboard community there, supported by a lot of marine services and many international sailors love spending time there.
Opua Marina in the beautiful Bay of Islands is a first stop for most boats arriving into NZ, and is a well maintained, recently expanded marina with great facilities, a good boat yard and of course great cruising. We kept our sailboat Defiant there for many years and Southern Star may well end up being based up there too.
And Starlet had a different experience in Nelson where they were welcomed as a cruising boat and stayed for a week or so, living aboard. But they weren’t seeking a long-term berth, and most marinas do have transient berths available and tend to be very welcoming of foreign flagged vessels. And Nelson Marina had new management in place by the time they visited.
I find it a bit ironic that visiting boats are welcomed here, tax free, GST free on items they purchase including fuel when they depart. They can stay in various marinas as visiting yachts, and they are free to stay aboard as a live aboard.
Yet returning residents that have opted to make their boat their home are treated very unfairly.
And that is my rant.