The tech elite invades New Zealand

Billionaires are rocking up Down Under and bunkering down for the Apocalypse. Pity the poor Kiwis.


Lake Wanaka: the backdrop for Peter Thiel's bunker
(Image credit: Credit: Martin Molcan / Alamy Stock Photo)

Billionaires are rocking up Down Under and bunkering down for the Apocalypse. Pity the poor Kiwis

Quintus has always had huge respect for his colonial cousins in New Zealand. Despite their downright ungentlemanly attitude to games such as cricket and rugby, one feels a certain kinship with them. That's why it is unfortunate to learn that their green and pleasant land is being stormed by foreign invaders, the most prominent being tech tycoon Peter Thiel. Vanity Fair notes that the billionaire owns a "four-bedroom, $4.8m home in Queenstown", and that following a fire he has converted "a walk-in closet into a panic room".

The upgrade to his private bunker is just the latest phase in Thiel's relationship with New Zealand. In 2006 he was granted an investor visa. He then gained citizenship in 2017, even though over the preceding five years "the billionaire had failed to meet even 1% of the typically required 1,350 days of in-country residence", says Matt Nippert in The New Zealand Herald. Perhaps the fact that he promised to invest $15m (later cut to $7m) into a government backed venture-capital fund helped.

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Thiel is not New Zealand's only wealthy fan. The nation "has come to be seen as a bolthole of choice for Silicon Valley's tech elite", says Mark O'Connell in The Guardian. Some appear to be "making preparations for a grand civilisational crackup". Others seem to be trying to create a libertarian utopia along the lines of a 1997 book co-written by William Rees-Mogg, which argued that the future belongs to a "cognitive elite" who will rise to power and influence as a class of sovereign individuals.

US president Donald Trump's erratic behaviour means the queues are only getting longer. For those with the money, "the 13-hour direct flight from San Francisco to Auckland" looks increasingly inviting, says Wired's Lauren Murrow. Those concerned about global warming are reassured by the fact that New Zealand will be affected more slowly by warming trends than other countries. Any millionaire worth their salt will take advantage of the investor visa route, which guarantees residency provided "you meet basic immigration criteria and invest NZ$3m (about US$2.1m) for four years or NZ$10m over three years".

Still, like all good fads, bunkering down in New Zealand may become pass. The next big thing for billionaires with more money than sense is "sea steading", the notion of colonising the seas. Last year, the French Polynesian government agreed to allow a consortium to start building floating islands. Their goal "is to build about a dozen structures by 2020, including homes, hotels, offices and restaurants, at a cost of about $60m", says David Gelles in The New York Times. To supplement the money from investors (including Thiel himself), "the team is working on an initial coin offering".

Tabloid money And the defendant I sentence to a pay rise

For years, film stars have "rushed to supplement their ginormous incomes by filming ads to convince us plebs we too can be as beautiful and glam as them if we only buy the product they're selling," says Judy Finnigan in the Daily Express. But for some reason, "the new Angelina Jolie commercial for Guerlain scent really gets my goat".

There she is (right), "with a false and pouty grin, flicking her glossy locks over her shoulder, turning so the camera lingers on the weird-looking tattoos all over her upper back." She's just so smug. "I don't mind Jennifer Aniston advertising airlines, because she's funny But Angelina? There's something about her that makes me furious."

This is the year the charity sector had its Ratner moment, says Tony Parsons in The Sun on Sunday. You remember Gerald Ratner. People used to buy his cheap-and-cheerful jewellery until they didn't. "Because in an infamous 1991 after-dinner speech Ratner wiped £500m from the value of his company when he smirked, and said of one particular item: People say, How can you sell this for such a low price'. I say, Because it's total crap'."

The world saw Ratner's for what it was, "just as we now suddenly see the charity industry as an unregulated moral sewer where for decades men have been free to whore their way through disaster zones". At least Ratner was only selling cheap earrings.

Commander Justin Codd was in a court martial last week, "charged with various naval-sounding things", for crashing his nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine into a cargo ship off Gibraltar, says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun.

He was also in charge of the Navy's Perisher training course, reckoned to be the toughest in the world. "Staggeringly", he is paid just £78,000 a year a third of what the boss of Sheffield City Council receives, despite not only being in charge of a nuclear submarine, but also tasked with deciding who else should be. "Frankly, if I'd have been running the court martial, I'd have told Commander Codd to look where he was going in future. And sentenced him to a pay rise."