How Facebook board member, Trump adviser, and billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel led Silicon Valley’s elite to buy doomsday bunkers in New Zealand

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Peter Thiel.

Shutterstock and Neilson Barnard/Getty


  • The Silicon Valley tech elite, perhaps out of mere wealth and circumstance, have begun investing in apocalypse preparations in recent years.
  • Buying up real estate to serve as hideaway bunkers is one such step taken — and New Zealand has become a popular place to do so.
  • The Valley’s enthusiasm for New Zealand as an apocalyptic refuge could be traced back to a book cited as most influential to Peter Thiel, and whose ideology was then dispersed to other big players in the tech arena.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some of the wealthiest of Silicon Valley have developed a penchant for prepping for the apocalypse in recent years.

From getting Lasik eye surgery to learning archery, tech execs are shelling out money and time to better their odds in the event that the world ends.

But one figure among the Valley’s upper echelons may have had something to do with establishing the perfect place to hole up during an apocalypse.

Peter Thiel — Facebook board member, billionaire venture capitalist, and outspoken Trump supporter and advisor — zeroed in on the small island nation of New Zealand in 2011 and other members of the Valley elite have since followed suit.

Here’s how Peter Thiel may have been the trendsetter behind New Zealand’s role in Silicon Valley’s doomsday prepping movement, from buying a sprawling 477-acre New Zealand sheep station and harboring an obsession with “The Lord of the Rings” to citing a book that outlines the rise of the “cognitive elite” following a civilizational disintegration.

Investing in insurance for the end of the world due to a natural disaster or viral outbreak, among other scenarios, has become a trend among the wealthiest in society, including Silicon Valley’s most notable figures.

Sam Altman

Sam Altman.

Florence Fu/Tech Insider


Read more: How Silicon Valley billionaires became doomsday preppers

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, ex-Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, and ex-Yahoo exec Marvin Liao are just some of the names who’ve detailed how they are preparing for a possible apocalypse.

Steve Huffman Reddit CEO

Steve Huffman.

Zach Gibson/Getty Images


Source: The New Yorker

There could be a number of reasons as to why they feel the need to invest in such insurance, with political unrest being one of them.

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Activists protest the Palantir Technologies software company for allegedly helping ICE and the Trump administration in New York City, U.S., September 13, 2019.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters


Source: Business Insider

But perhaps the simplest explanation could be that they possess the mere wealth and circumstances to invest in doomsday accommodations.

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Peter Thiel at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016.

Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo


A central theme in Silicon Valley doomsday prepping is the island nation of New Zealand, an idea that could be traced back to Peter Thiel.

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Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011.

Rob Griffith/AP Photo


“New Zealand is already utopia,” Thiel told Business Insider in 2011.

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Then-President-elect Donald Trump shakes the hand of Peter Thiel at Trump Tower, December 14, 2016 in New York City.

Drew Angerer/Getty


Source: Business Insider

The investor’s admiration for the country could be attributed to a book published in 1997.

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New Zealand.

Henning Gloystein/Reuters


According to The Guardian’s Mark O’Connell, Thiel has long cited “The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State” as one of the most influential in his life.

The book essentially details how a civilizational collapse would give way to the rise of the surviving “cognitive elite” who would then rebuild a new world after idling standing by — and hiding — as the existing way of life crumbled to pieces.

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The front of a doomsday shelter.

Courtesy of Survival Condo Project


Thiel passed the book on through the Valley grapevine, spreading the concept to his colleagues in the tech community, according to The Guardian. 

The book’s authors also pinpointed New Zealand as the prime spot to hole up until the dust settled following a fallout.

new zealand golf course

Golphers enjoy a round at the Howick Golf Club on Musick Point on April 28, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Phil Walter/Getty Images


Source: The Guardian

Thiel has also had a longtime fanaticism with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, whose films were shot in New Zealand.

lord of the rings new zealand

A general view of the Shire is seen at the Hobbiton Movie Set where Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed, during the FIFA U-20 World Cup on June 19, 2015 in Matamata, New Zealand.

Alex Livesey – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images


Source: Business Insider

He even drew inspiration from the Tolkien universe for his data-mining startup Palantir, whose motto is “Save the Shire.”

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Alexander Karp, chief executive officer and co-founder of Palantir Technologies Inc., attends the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 7, 2015 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Scott Olson/Getty Images


Read more: Why Silicon Valley loves “The Lord of the Rings”

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Regularly scheduled overnight flights from California to New Zealand also make the nation more accessible.

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A map shows a flight route from San Jose Airport to New Zealand.

Google Maps


Source: The Guardian

Thiel became a citizen of the country in 2011 despite only having spent a total of 12 days in New Zealand beforehand.

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Peter Thiel.

Fred Prouser/Reuters


Thiel wasn’t even on Kiwi soil when his citizenship was finalized — he took to a consulate in Santa Monica for that.

Source: The Guardian and The Guardian

Thiel’s status as a New Zealand citizen also conveniently spared him from a lengthy government application process that accompanies making foreign real estate purchases in the nation.

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Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand in 2013.

New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell/AP


Thiel owns two properties in New Zealand. He bought a mansion in Queenstown in 2011 for $4.7 million and turned one of the home’s walk-in closets into a panic room.

Source: The Guardian

And he bought a 477-acre property along Lake Wanaka in 2015 for an undisclosed price, though it had previously sold in 2002 for $10.1 million.

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Lake Wanaka in New Zealand in February 2020.

Jorge Fernández/LightRocket via Getty Images


Source: The New Zealand Herald

Many Silicon Valley figures have reportedly followed Thiel’s lead, buying up real estate properties in recent years in the country.

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Sam Altman.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Ex-Y Combinator president Sam Altman told The New Yorker that he and Thiel had an escape route to New Zealand planned in case of some kind of cataclysmic collapse.

Some tech execs have even reportedly already flocked to their bunkers in the country to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Wellington, New Zealand, on April 29, 2020.

Mark Tantrum/Getty Images


Source: Business Insider

But some New Zealand residents have taken issue with so many foreign buyers, who don’t live in the country permanently, scooping up property there.

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New Zealand’s minister for economic development and trade David Parker in 2019.

Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters


So in 2018, the New Zealand Parliament passed a law barring most foreign visitors from purchasing homes or land within the country, which had begun exacerbating a nationwide housing crisis.

But New Zealand’s reputation persists as being an emergency sanctuary for if the sky ever falls.

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Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.

Reuters


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