Billionaires are buying houses in New Zealand – either because it’s an incredible, unspoiled paradise, or because global civilization is on the brink of utter collapse. Maybe both.
One of the highest profile New Zealand preppers is Peter Thiel, the Paypal cofounder who bankrupted Gawker and reportedly wants to inject himself with the blood of young people. (Definitely the kind of guy whose example you should be following.) According to reports, Thiel owns two properties in New Zealand. The first is a sprawling, 477-acre estate in the country’s Southern Alps (the area where “Lord of the Rings” was filmed; note that Thiel is a known JRR Tolkien obsessive who’s named several of his companies after Tolkien characters), for which he paid $10 million. The second is a “stunning glass box of a house” with a tree growing out of the middle of it; when a reporter for the Guardian visited, he found construction workers putting in a panic room. (Is he crazy or does he know something we don’t?) Thiel is well-known for his wacky political convictions, from wanting to build a floating country that would be free from government control to believing that Western Civilization is about to crash and burn.
The billionaire who started the whole New Zealand migration was probably Cliff Robertson, a hedge fund titan who first visited the country back in 1978, when he was just a lowly asset manager looking to write a novel. (The novel was never published, but Robertson came up with the idea for his hedge fund during his yearlong New Zealand sabbatical.) Today he owns three world-class lodges in New Zealand: Matakauri Cliffs, a world-class golf resort, the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, another world-class golf resort, and Matakauri Lodge, a luxury resort with remarkable views of the, ahem, Remarkable Mountains. (The name of those mountains may be accurate, but it’s also really really lazy, man.)
But it’s not just Americans – paranoid billionaires of all nationalities are building bunkers here. An unnamed Russian billionaire built a $50 million, eight-room resort here that, for now, is operating as the world’s finest luxury hotel. (It goes without saying that if you’re one of the lucky eight people paying $4000 a night to stay here when the you-know-what hits the fan, the owner’s bodyguards are going to escort you into the bush and wish you good luck.) California Rich Dudes (TM) Peter Cooper and Ric Kayne have also sunk millions and millions into building compounds here, and in a recent New Yorker story, Silicon Valley alpha nerd Reid Hoffman said that “buying a house in New Zealand” is a common coded phrase in tech money circles for being a prepper. Another techie estimated that over half of Silicon Valley rich guys are into prepping, though some prefer nuclear-hardened missile silos in Kansas to New Zealand.
So what makes all these rich dudes (and it probably bears noting that they are all dudes) want to build apocalypse-ready compounds on one of the most remote islands on earth? There’s no shortage of theories. Some people think they just have too much money. After all, money is just stored possibility, and when you have way more than you can spend, you probably feel a weird psychological urge to make it do something, anything, for you, sort of like how when you get a $500 Christmas bonus, you “discover” all these things you “need.” That’s the benevolent explanation. The more sinister one is that they know something we don’t. That society really is one the brink of collapse. Or maybe that’s a little too obvious, a little too neat. Maybe their unshakable fear of apocalypse is tied to guilt – the guilt of hoarding so much wealth in what we all know, deep down, is a zero-sum economy. Anyone who’s ever cheated on their significant other and then immediately become paranoid that the other person is going to break into their phone or is “acting weird,” knows that the worst thing about guilt is how it makes the world into a big sword hanging over your head, ready to drop. You know you did something wrong, and some part of you thinks you’re going to be punished for it – maybe even wants to be punished for it. If you’re a billionaire, what else would you have nightmares about, if not pitchforks and torches coming up the driveway?
Of course, the ultimate irony of New Zealand as the ultimate safe haven is that it’s not actually all that safe. There are dozens of volcanoes on the two islands of New Zealand, and it’s right on the “Ring of Fire,” a major tectonic feature in the earth’s crust that, as you can probably tell by the name, is not something you really want to build a house on. A major eruption from any one of the active volcanoes there could turn this idyllic island into a smoking hellscape in a matter of hours. Looks like we’re all going down with the ship after all.