JUDE BARBACK visits one of the newest retirement villages in Tauranga.

The last time I was at Mills Reef Winery in Tauranga was for a wedding. If someone had told me then, on that hot March day ten years ago, that the winery would one day be converted into a multi-storey clubhouse for a retirement village, I probably would have laughed. Yet, on my visit to the fast-growing The Vines at Bethlehem lifestyle retirement village, it seems completely plausible.

The village is brand spanking new. Villas are being constructed before my eyes. Donning a fetching high-vis vest, I follow manager Tony Arlidge around to see what’s there so far.

It doesn’t take a particularly vivid imagination to fill in the gaps and see that the end result is going to be spectacular. Building site it may be, but the finished villas are gorgeous. They are high spec, spacious and stylish. There are a variety of different designs and layouts to choose from; Arlidge says all have been popular so far.

So how does a winery becomes a retirement village? The Preston family owners of Mills Reef Winery teamed up with Tauranga-based Classic Builders to create the 12 hectare village on their site, also acquiring the next-door Morgan family orchard for the development.

The old Morgan family homestead is the current clubhouse. It’s popular with residents, but Arlidge says it will eventually be replaced by the new clubhouse in the winery building in a few years’ time. It sounds like it will be worth the wait; plans show all manner of luxurious things to help pass the time including a heated lap pool, gym, bowling green, putting green, croquet lawn, media room, woodwork room, library, medical facility and a chapel.

The village won’t have a care facility, however. Arlidge estimates only one in every 30 people enquiring about the village has asked about a care facility. He envisages that residents may employ home support services and he points out that Tauranga Hospital is just seven minutes away.

It certainly doesn’t appear to be a deal-breaker for many prospective residents, with the first stage of the development sold out already.

At the moment, there are 29 residents moved in. They are a social bunch, says Arlidge. Prior to opening, the village organized resident get-togethers.

“They were all good friends by the time they moved in,” he said.

Fortnightly morning teas help build the burgeoning village spirit. Guest speakers are often invited to these, presenting on anything from travel to village building progress to how to operate a smart TV.

Residents must be at least 65 years old. Arlidge says initially, approximately one in five enquiries were from people under 65.

One thing that hasn’t been hard to explain to prospective residents is how the ORA (occupational right agreement) system works. Thanks to well-established legislation and other villages that have paved the way before them, people have a good understanding of how the model works, says Arlidge. The Vines has no capital loss clause.

Eventually, there will be 196 villas on the site. There is no question that the village, when complete, will transform the landscape. While there are bound to be some locals who will mourn the loss of the iconic winery and its expansive grounds, it is reassuring to see the attention to quality and detail that is being paid to the village that will take its place. The Vines at Bethlehem is set to be something pretty special.

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