From New Zealand to Hawaii – Where billionaires are building their post-apocalyptic escape home

Peter Thiel
© Getty Images North America

Billionaire Peter Thiel

Picture the scene: the world runs out of food, there is no clean water and the banking system collapses – what do you do?

Well, if you are a billionaire you jump on your private plane or helicopter, or climb into your armoured car, and head to your bolthole to prepare for a new world order.

And one place in particular, thousands of miles away from North Korea, ISIS and all the social tensions in Europe and the United States, is seen by some as the ideal ‘safe’ place for billionaires: New Zealand.

Peter Thiel, the billionaire behind PayPal, is among those tech giants who see New Zealand as a good place to go in the event of an apocalypse.

He has bought a $13.5m 193-hectare section on the shores of Lake Wanaka – although the only building there at the moment is a barn.

However, plans show he is fitting a panic room in another property he owns in the country and he has been granted New Zealand citizenship in a streamlined process not available to normal members of the public.

A rough and ready description of the attraction of New Zealand came last year in The New Yorker magazine, with LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman suggesting the country had become shorthand for apocalypse insurance in Silicon Valley.

“Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a ‘wink, wink, say no more’,” Hoffman said.

“Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like: ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.'”

It was in 2011 that Thiel declared he’d found “no other country that aligns more with my view of the future than New Zealand”.

The claim was made as part of an application for citizenship; the application was swiftly granted, though it remained a secret for a further six years.

The country is more relaxed in terms of Government than many places – has ample drinking water and some of the world’s cleanest air.

Another tech mogul who set up home there was controversial digital disrupter Kim Dotcom.

In 2016, Sam Altman, one of Silicon Valley’s most influential entrepreneurs said he had an arrangement with Thiel in the event of some kind of systemic collapse scenario (synthetic virus breakout, rampaging AI, resource war between nuclear-armed states or some other apocalyptic disaster currently limited to the TV screen and thriller novels) they would both get on a private jet and fly to a property Thiel owns in New Zealand.

Other uber-rich Americans who have recently bought homes there include the billionaire hedge-fund pioneer Julian Robertson and the Hollywood film director James Cameron.

The trend for apocalyptic boltholes started after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US.

There is speculation that some of the properties generally described as holiday homes might also be secret boltholes in case society collapses.

For example Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg bought a 750-acre estate in Hawaii and fellow tech billionaire Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, bought 98 per cent of Hawaii’s sixth largest island, Lanai, and his own airline.

The actions mirror the decisions of so called “preppers” who hoard non perishable foods and, in some cases, weapons.

Survivalists even have their own set of acronyms, including WROL (Without Rule Of Law) and LIA (Little Ice Age).

One interesting development is the rise of properties built and marketed for their impenetrability.

Luxury Survival Condo Resort

© Survival Condo Projects
The Luxury Survival Condo Resort

The Survival Condo Project is a former underground nuclear missile silo in Kansas, which has been converted into a 15-storey luxury apartment complex with a pool, gym, classroom and a miniature hospital.

It also has security cameras, electric fences, an on-site armoury, a sniper post and a prison cell in which to put unwanted visitors.

Instead of windows, giant LED screens show live pictures of the prairie above.

Its creators, who have sold all 14 of the £2m homes and have plans to develop a string of new sites, say it can sustain 70 people indefinitely.

Survival Condo Projects

© Survival Condo Projects

Project boss Larry Hall told the Daily Mail he gets more phone inquiries every time North Korea tests a bomb.

His team promise to send a Pit-Bull VX armoured truck to collect residents from within a 400-mile radius of the silo if there is an emergency.

A more extreme plan for long term survival comes from Elon Musk , who has created a space travel company and plans to go and live on Mars.

He believes a million humans could live on Mars by the 2060s.

His company SpaceX plan for building a Mars settlement includes refuelling in orbit, a fleet of passenger ships, and the biggest rocket ever made.

“This is not about everyone moving to Mars, this is about becoming multiplanetary,” he said on September 27 at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“This is really about minimizing existential risk and having a tremendous sense of adventure.”

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