As most people reading this blog know, last year we decided to extend our time out of the US for another year and I took a job in New Zealand!
Packing for a year of settled life on an island where things are reputed to be quite pricy is a different story than last year, where we left with carryon backpacks and a minimalist attitude. This time, we asked ourselves how much we could cram into 300 pounds of luggage. Sports equipment and clothing are expensive here, so into the bags went our ski clothes, goggles, bike helmets and sleeping bags. Eric tossed in some basic tools, I brought my flatiron. The kids took along a box of legos and some card games, as well as favorite books and some art supplies. The tent didn’t make it, nor did our bikes, blender, printer, two burner griddle, waffle maker, kitchen scale, rock collection, entire library (for the boy) or guitars, though all of these were considered at some point and some people (cough the kids cough) tried to stuff them into the sacks when no one was looking. I didn’t check closely enough and the miniature amp made it, despite us not having a guitar to plug into it!
We initially flew to California to visit my parents, and got a few looks as we lumbered along the Southwest baggage check-in line, where despite their generous baggage allowance most people seem to travel with little more than a roller bag. “Going camping?” the check-in guy asked, fishing for an answer. “We’re moving to New Zealand,” we replied. “Oh, I didn’t know Southwest was running an international moving service now,” he said with a smile. In California we had a lovely time with family and running around the Park where I used to play as a kid.
The flight from SFO to Auckland takes 12 hours and 50 minutes, and normally I’d be too excited to sleep much at the prospect of being able to squeeze in 4, possibly 5 movies during that time. Alas, it was not to be as we were planning to drive directly to Whakatane on the day of arrival, and I’m more likely to sleep on a plane than Eric is. I ate the relatively tasty Hindu Vegetarian meal I always order (too much cumin this time) and slept somewhat fitfully for most of the ride.
Off we went on the 4 hour drive to Whakatane, stopping off for tasty fish and chips just outside Tauranga and rolling into our our beachfront apartment around 2 pm. By coincidence, my longtime friend Judy and her son had been traveling in New Zealand and drove over to Whakatane to see us for a few days before they flew home. We got in some fun beach walks, hot spring time and tasty food.
The first few days here could be characterized by a jet lag fog. Barely able to stay awake after 7 pm and then awakening at 3 am, I was dysfunctional for a few days, not even noticing the beautiful beach sunrises through our windows. We managed to get the kids enrolled in school and had them start on Friday, with good reports from both! The boy is in middle school here, which is 6th and 7th grades. Different from school at home, however, the classes are mixed 6th and 7th grades and most learning takes place in one classroom with the exception of specials. It’s a lot more low key than middle school in the States, which is like a pre-High school with lockers and different classrooms and the like. The boy is especially excited about the wood and sewing shop! The girl’s school is a more typical Elementary school, with the change that her class is combined with the one next door much of the time. One little quirk of Kiwi people everywhere is that they are often seen barefoot, and even on this rainy morning I spied a little boy scampering into school shoeless, splashing through puddles.
After the jet lag improved, a feeling of panic set in. Where were we going to live for the year? An online search of listings yielded exactly NO properties. Perhaps people don’t list online? Eric and I then went to several realty offices to ask for long term furnished rentals, and as soon as we uttered the word “rental,” the realtors’ lower lips would stretch away and downwards with a sucking in of air, making the universal expression for “you are screwed, my friends.” Housing is always tight in New Zealand, and compounding matters is that a large flood earlier this year displaced many families who are now renting the houses that we might want to rent ourselves. The other problem is that many places are only rented long term during winter, and from December through April are rented short term for the holiday season (seasons are flipped here, so that’s summertime). Eric thought it was heee-larious to keep making jokes about perhaps renting a shipping container, or just living in tents, or getting two camper units. I failed to find this amusing. We went to visit one possible rental, only available through the end of November, which was split into two separate floors, both dingy and dark, with about two feet of aluminum countertop for a kitchen. Things seemed dim, and I bought a pack of Tums out of necessity.
It’s a different culture here in that you have a better shot at things if you actually go in person to meet people, rather than the internet focused world of the US. We began to stalk our real estate agent with this in mind. Eric went in one day to find out that the rental agent was on vacation but would be back on Monday. On Monday morning, we wondered if it would help or our hurt our chances if we simply waited in front of the doors, staring through the glass until opening time like curious kittens. We decided instead to visit in the early afternoon, only find that she had gone out. We tried our luck a few hours later, and still, she wasn’t in. We were beginning to doubt her existence at this point. Tuesday morning we popped on over again, and voila, there she was. We considered shackling her to a chair lest she scurry off again, but she sat us down and told us of two places that were coming up on the market just that morning. Perhaps she was being friendly and helpful, but I think that she’d heard of our frequent visits and decided that getting us a house was the most efficient way to get rid of us, else we would take to haunting her office like wayward ghosts. We drove by one of the houses, another dismally dark rental with a tiny aluminum countered kitchen. Our spirits drooped yet again. I popped a few more Tums and wondered if it was acceptable to start drinking at noon in New Zealand, considering the circumstances.
That afternoon, she took us out to the other house and were happily surprised! It’s a 3 bedroom house with a wraparound porch, no yard to speak of, but that’s okay because the yard is the beach which is one street over. Most importantly, the kitchen is nice with good counter space, made from some variety of laminate and a good step up from prison decor.
We called a few people we know here to ask their opinion, and everyone told us that we should lunge at the opportunity and take the place, and so we did. We’ve also managed to find a good car to buy here, so all in all things are looking better for now, given that we’re up to step one on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Next week, I start work, we move in, and I’ll post some pictures of the new house, our car, and the hospital!