Silicon Valley’s mega-rich fled the US for New Zealand to hunt for the perfect place to quarantine during the coronavirus crisis — settling on an island considered a “billionaire’s playground.”
Valley denizen Mihai Dinulescu, 34, decided on March 12 to pull the plug on his fledgling cryptocurrency startup so he could flee to the remote country nearly 7,000 miles away, Bloomberg reported.
“My fear was it was now or never, as I thought they might start closing borders,” Dinulescu told the outlet. “I had this very gripping feeling that we needed to go.”
The Harvard alum and his wife booked the earliest ticket available, and within 12 hours were on a 7 a.m. flight bound for Auckland. Others in the San Francisco airport were clearly on the same page, he said.
“The entire international section of the airport was empty—except for one flight to New Zealand,” Dinulescu told the outlet. “In a time when pretty much all planes were running on a third occupancy, this thing was booked solid.”
Days later, on March 19, New Zealand shut down its borders to foreigners.
“A lot of venture capital people I know were not afraid enough in time for the border close,” Dinulescu said. “And now they can’t get in.”
But local media have reported a slight increase in private plane landings in the country after the lockdown took effect.
Dinulescu and his wife now live on Waiheke Island, dubbed “the Hamptons of New Zealand” in a two-floor, three-bedroom house with ocean views for $2,400 a month—more than a third less than what they paid for a San Francisco two-bedroom apartment.
“Frankly, we were billionaire hunting,” Dinulescu told Bloomberg. “We wanted to figure out where all the other Silicon Valley people would be.”
Local builder Patrick Molloy called the island a “billionaire’s playground.”
“These homes are designed to be a sanctuary for wealthy billionaires when they need to get away from what’s happening in the rest of the world,” he told the outlet.
New Zealand luxury real estate agent Graham Wall told Bloomberg that in recent weeks he’s gotten about half a dozen calls from wealthy Americans hoping to hole up on the island.
“They have all said it looks like the safest place to be is New Zealand right now,” he said. “That’s been a theory since before COVID-19.”
Gary Lynch, general manager of survival shelter manufacturer Texas-based Rising S Co, told the outlet he got a call in early March from a Silicon Valley executive who wanted to know how to open the secret door to his multimillion-dollar bunker 11 feet underground in New Zealand.
He’d never used it before, but decided the time was right.
“He went out to New Zealand to escape everything that’s happening,” Lynch said. “And as far as I know, he’s still there.”
The country has recently been lauded for its stringent approach to fighting the virus — with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern enforcing a four-week lockdown early.
A total of 1,445 cases and 13 deaths have been reported in the country.