JUDE BARBACK finds a cheeky bunch of residents on her visit to Acacia Cove retirement village.

What sort of magazine is INsite?” enquires an Acacia Cove resident, when I ask permission to take his photo for this article. “Is it a bit like Cleo?”

“Just like Cleo,” affirms manager Bruce Cullington. “And they want you to be the centrefold.”

It’s like that the whole way around my tour of Acacia Cove – jibes and cheekiness and general banter between Bruce, the staff, and the residents.

I chat to a group of ladies in the lounge; one – Barbara – has just returned mere hours ago from a trip to Patagonia.

“Can you sort out your hair first, Barbara, before we get a photo?” jokes Bruce.

Prior to my tour of the village, Bruce had told me that it was its vibrancy that set Acacia Cove apart, so it was gratifying to see it for myself.

Despite his background in real estate, Bruce doesn’t go in for the hard sell with the villas. He tells prospective residents to make a shortlist of three villages and then visit them each at happy hour to gauge the atmosphere.

Acacia Cove sprawls over 10 hectares on the Wattle Downs peninsula, a part of Auckland with which I’m not overly familiar, but I can understand why the village is appealing to residents. Next to the golf course, overlooking the peninsula, it has a touch of resort lifestyle about it. The village entrance way, with gardens and flag, leading into a pristine foyer, beautifully decorated for Christmas, adds to the initial first impressions.

Family ties

The village began in 1998 as a partnership between Prime Care and the Kimpton family with just 57 residents and 23 empty villas. Today there are 108 single women, 28 single men and 87 couples. There are 223 dwellings – 213 houses and 10 apartments. Bruce came on board in 2000 and the Kimpton family acquired full ownership in 2006.

The family-owned element is another key selling point for Acacia Cove.

“All the residents know the Kimpton family. And my family,” he adds. “They see them almost every day and they like that.”

I meet Bruce’s daughters along the way, repainting outdoor benches. “How about a photo of child labour?” he suggests.

Bruce says the biggest advantage of being privately owned is that any problems can be resolved on the same day, without the hassle of consulting head office and gaining consent.

There is also a strong sense of being a “community within a community”. Acacia Cove liaises closely and regularly with their local council and MPs. On occasion, the village gets involved with political issues, with residents putting their submissions forward on issues such as rates remissions and stormwater tariffs.

I agree, based on my brief tour, that “vibrant” is a good word to describe the residents here. They are an active, witty bunch. They range in age from 57 to 97, with 20 residents over 90. The average resident age is 79 years, and the average age of entry is 72. There isn’t an activities coordinator at Acacia Cove – the residents run their own activities. Golf, tai chi, bowls and swimming are all popular pastimes.

Care facility question

However, for all the emphasis on independent and active lifestyle, it is interesting to note the absence of a care facility at Acacia Cove. Driving down Wattle Farm Road earlier that morning, I’d noticed a large construction site wrapped in Bupa branding, advertising retirement village living and aged care. My initial conclusions that the Bupa neighbour would be competing with Acacia Cove were dispelled when Bruce told me the land had been sold to Bupa by the Kimpton family for the purpose of providing a care facility lacking at Acacia Cove.

While Bruce concedes that if Acacia Cove were built today, a care facility would most likely be included, but the layout doesn’t lend itself to incorporating one now. He also suggests, somewhat cautiously, that a care facility would perhaps spoil the vibe of the village.

“We canvassed residents and they said they didn’t want a care facility,” says Bruce. “Mind you, they said the same thing about walking frames 15 years ago, too.”

I tend to agree with him – I can’t envisage the inclusion of a care facility into Acacia Cove as it stands, however I think the complementary Bupa facility across the road is bound to be appreciated by residents when the time comes and they are granted priority access.

Bruce admits that he now spends more time dealing with health and welfare issues than time on sales. There has been an increase in home cares, with most accessing this through the DHB needs assessment programme. The village also offers a free daily check service and a resident-run helpline to assist with things like transport to doctor appointments, or help to hang the washing after an operation.

New trends emerging

When I ask what other trends he noticed emerging, he says he has noticed increased demand for larger villas, high-quality finishes. He’s also noticed a trend towards dogs and campervans.

“We interview the dogs as well as the prospective residents,” he says. Where possible, they try to place new residents in streets with simpatico others nearby. Dogs certainly have a bearing on such a placement – and neighbours are consulted.

My tour takes me round a big loop of the village, giving me a small taste of the maze of tidy, pretty streets filled with villas: some being renovated, some in full festive cheer mode, most being enjoyed by happy, active residents. We wind up back at the entrance way and I reflect, as I drive off, that gleaming as it is, the real sparkle, the real vibrancy, lies with the village’s residents and management.


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