WELLINGTON: The elevation of an unpredictable billionaire to the helm of nuclear-armed America has given fresh impetus to the idea of remote New Zealand as a bulwark for civilisation in the event of a global catastrophe.
The idea has pedigree — British science fiction writer John Wyndham’s 1955 novel “The Chrysalids” describes a post-apocalyptic landscape where Zealand (or Sealand) is the only place that has not sunk into barbarity.
The fictional Zealand escaped the holocaust because it was “somewhat secluded” and it seems that, in uncertain times, the real New Zealand is attracting interest for the same reason.
“The world is heading into a major crisis,” German-born internet mogul and alleged online piracy kingpin Kim Dotcom tweeted late last year.
“I saw it coming and that’s why we moved to New Zealand. Far away & not on any nuclear target list.”
After Trump’s election in November, about 17,000 Americans registered interest online in moving to New Zealand, a 13-fold increase on regular levels.
Immigration New Zealand also reported a spike in inquiries from Britain after the Brexit vote.
Just last week it emerged that tech titan Peter Thiel, one of Trump’s strongest supporters, quietly obtained New Zealand citizenship in 2011 and owns several properties in the South Pacific nation.
Other rich-listers who have either moved to New Zealand or bought land include Hollywood director James Cameron, Russian steel magnate Alexander Abramov and US financial services guru William Foley.
One of China’s wealthiest executives, Jack Ma, said last year that at least 20 former colleagues from his Alibaba empire had retired to New Zealand and he was considering purchasing a property himself.
The nation of 4.5 million people is nestled deep in the South Pacific Ocean, some 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) from Australia.
It is prosperous, has spectacular landscapes and Transparency International rates it the least corrupt country in the world, alongside Denmark.
The New Yorker magazine this month reported it had become the refuge of choice for ultra-rich Americans looking for a bolthole if Trump’s presidency goes disastrously wrong.
Peter Campbell of high-end construction firm Triple Star Management said wealthy Americans wanted helipads in their luxury escapes, but not necessarily underground shelters.
“It’s not like you need to build a bunker under your front lawn, because you’re several thousand miles away from the White House,” he told the magazine.
‘Sign of success?’
Apocalyptic anxieties will have been heightened Thursday after the symbolic “Doomsday Clock” was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight on the strength of Trump’s comments about nuclear weapons and climate change.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set it at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since the height of the Cold War in 1953.
In such a troubled world, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English has said he can see why his country’s political stability and strong economy were attractive.
“Around the world now there’s quite a lot of anxiety because there’s so much uncertainty, whether it’s in Europe or the UK or the US,” he said.
“So I’d expect there would be demand for people to come to New Zealand. That’s a measure of success.”
New Zealand actively encourages wealthy migrants and has special provisions to grant residency to people who can bring along several million dollars in investments.
But the average Kiwi need not necessarily worry too much about rubbing shoulders with an Ivy League fund manager or Russian oligarch next time they tuck into a meat pie at the local rugby match.
The country’s largest migration consultancy, Malcolm Pacific Immigration, said the post-election surge in interest in New Zealand was yet to translate into actual applications to move halfway around the world.
“There is a big difference between making an enquiry and following through,” Chris Noakes, a team manager at the firm, told Fairfax New Zealand.