Thirteen years in paradise

Thirteen years ago, I left the motherland and emigrated to New Zealand. It was New Year’s Day so symbolic in terms of making a new start. It was not intended as a permanent move. I had come to the end of my training in the UK but there were no suitable jobs for me but there was a temporary position available in Auckland for just over a year and a half. It made sense for me to apply and, if I was successful, bide my time and gain some valuable experience while awaiting the perfect job to become available back home. What could possibly go wrong? I had personally never been to New Zealand but anyone I knew who had ever been there had only positive reports, whether they had been for travel or for work. One colleague said there was only one problem with living in New Zealand and that was that I would never want to come home. On the other hand, I was chatting to some people about it at work one day and they said they’d bet I’d never return to the UK to work, to which one of my supervisors offered his opinion that I was too hot-blooded to stay there as it was “not Latin enough” for me, whatever that meant.

I had a telephone interview one evening. It was a UK public holiday that day and I was sat on my sofa in my pyjamas surrounded by Post-It notes containing jottings to what I thought would be the obvious questions. I had my cats of the time, Parsley and Saffy beside me. They always fought over who could sit the nearest to me, Parsley usually trying to squash his generous form between me and the arm of the settee while Saffy snuggled on up to my other side. On this particular day they were both insistent on my lap as the only suitable place to lie down which made for some discomfort mid interview. On the other hand, if I threw them out, they would just meow and scrap in the hallway. I was also armed with a large glass of wine for Dutch courage. I didn’t actually drink any until the torture was over. I say torture but the interviewers seemed friendly and kind and did not ask anything testing or controversial. I guess if I had been applying for a permanent role I would have done more homework. I read the Rough Guide to New Zealand, bought a book about where to live in Auckland, did what needed to be done for the visa process and that was about it. It didn’t really matter because the plan was to go for the year and a half, do what there was to do, see what there was to see and make the most of it. I couldn’t imagine that I would not like it and I sort of believe that such experiences enrich us anyway.

The decision to leave the UK on 1st January was not intended to be a big statement. My contract in the UK ended on 31st December, the team in Auckland wanted me to start as soon as possible and so I decided to just get on with it. I had one last festive season with the family, not that I knew that at the time of course, and then headed straight on to my new venture. To some extent I was pleased that my mother’s knee replacement, for which she had literally waited years, had finally taken place just before Christmas. This meant she was not able to come to Heathrow with the rest of family to see me off. My sister’s sobbing as we all said our goodbyes just before security was enough. My mother’s would have been unbearable.

My employer in Auckland had been very generous with the relocation package and so I travelled in business class for the first time with a stopover in Penang. Unfortunately the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 had just occurred and the island had experienced some tragedy, although to a lesser extent than neighbouring countries. I had spent some time looking at the information from the British Foreign Office to ensure it was safe to travel to Penang and not alter my plans to go directly to Auckland, especially given the threats of possible aftershock tsunamis. In the end it was a relaxing few days where I did a little sightseeing but nothing too stressful.

Although the satay sticks were absolutely delicious, I stressed for my of the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Auckland as the landing card was confusing and it looked as though I’d have to pay tax on anything worth over a certain amount. Of course I had many of my worldly possessions in my cases so undoubtedly I had far more than this limit. In the end, this did not apply to me which was a huge relied but knowing so beforehand would have saved my sleeplessness for 12 hours. I landed in Auckland around lunchtime on a sunny day and, in fact, it did not rain again to any significant degree until April. I couldn’t understand the complaints of my new colleagues about what a terrible summer it had been because by British standards, it was spectacular. What I did not know was that it had rained all over Christmas which is the largest sin the New Zealand weather gods could bestow upon the Land of the Long White Cloud.

I was fortunate enough to have booked a wonderful B&B in a trendy suburb not far from the city centre and run by a really helpful couple who gave me plenty of advice. In my room was a bottle of New Zealand sparkling wine and a bunch of flowers with the simple message “we will miss you” arranged by my bestie, the aforementioned Big Li. I was not about to cry though as I was on an adventure. I spent most of the first day just trying to stay awake and acclimatise to the time zone. I took a bus trip around Auckland to get my bearings. I had no idea what the term CBD meant at this stage – that was how naive I was. On my way back, I was hungry so I stopped at a nice looking cafe near my B&B and had an early dinner. Little did I know that I had just walked in to one of Auckland’s most iconic dining establishments. Choosing what to eat was easy. Selecting a wine was a much bigger challenge. I was not used to such an expansive wine list where the wines are simply listed as where they are made and the year. I was procrastinating over my choice when the waiter asked if I needed some help. We settled on a glass of Craggy Range Chardonnay. I don’t remember the year but wish I did as I would love to have a bottle in my current collection. It was delicious and probably heralded the start of an interest in wine which had been only bubbling away under the surface until that point.

The next few days were a mix of formalities and fun. I had to take my ID documents to the CBD to formalise my opening of a bank account and in the opposite direction to complete my professional registration process to allow me to start work. I did some more exploring with a trip to Waiheke island to do more wine tasting and sight seeing. This was the first time that I experienced to magnificent Auckland Harbour and she put on a mighty fine show that day with me returning to the B&B to be told off my the owners for being a little sunburnt.

I started work the following Monday. What I did not appreciate until this point was that because Christmas, New Year and the long school holidays are in the summer, New Zealand workplaces are like graveyards for the first few weeks of the year. I met new colleagues in dribs and drabs over what seemed like a very long time and I spent some protracted period being the “new girl”. The team in which I was working was small. There were only two other senior personnel and while they had worked together for some time, they had taken on some new work which was really in its infant stages and it was this to which I could bring the most experience. I suddenly felt as though I had a valuable role to play and that I wasn’t just here for the party. Over the next months I must have made my mark because people started to mention how good it would be if I could stay. This was not possible as prior to my temporary appointment, a permanent staff member had already been appointed and sent away overseas for further training. The strange thing was that even as his arrival got nearer, which of course meant my departure, I didn’t panic about joblessness. There was still nothing suitable back in the UK but I had this feeling that things would work out. My nana Williams had this fatalistic phrase of “what’s for you, you’ll have” which often proved right, and so it did. The most senior of my colleagues came to my office one day and said she had decided to retire and would I consider staying. And that was that.

People often ask me if I might go home one day. The answer to this is emphatic. No. Why would I give up a lifestyle which I enjoy so much? I have a lovely home in a private setting in a small friendly village far enough away from the city to be in the country but near enough to work to be convenient. I have a lovely group of friends whom I know I can turn to at any time. I have been able to shape the job to be mine. I am now the leader of a team which I have grown to be much larger than when I arrived and of which I am really proud. We are consistently recognised as punching above our weight in terms of the quality of our work and performance improvement. I have built up a national reputation and people look to me for expertise and experience. I live in a peaceful country which may not be hot-blooded as my supervisor put it but it is beautiful, progressive and exciting all at once. It is not perfect, but then nowhere it. None of this is intended to take anything away from my motherland at all. I am fiercely patriotic to my birthplace of Wales and forever grateful for my upbringing and education in the UK. I miss my family and UK friends every day. But the world is a smaller place now. Travel is easy and advances in social media and our virtual connectivity in even the relatively short time I’ve been away mean that no-one ever seems too far away. But New Zealand is my home now and this is where I shall stay.

Usually on the 5th of January I raise a glass of Craggy Range Chardonnay to this amazing place. A good friend of mine who has the most amazing memory for people’s special days usually provides it. But not this year as I am off on an exciting holiday. This posting is long, so more of that later…

Thank you New Zealand. Thank you for having me and for all you have given me and done for me. I am eternally grateful.

I’ve been struggling for days to upload the video that goes with this posting but the dodgy wifi has got the better of me. Another time perhaps.

Arohanui xx




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