7. Final Destination

We arrived at Wellington International Airport on April, 11th 2016. A significant milestone. We’d finally arrived. All the anxiety, all the waiting, all the tears and stress had led to this: our new home.

In the black of midnight, a dear friend had hired a trailer for our tons of luggage and driven the hour long drive to collect us from the airport. The drive back to our newly rented home on the Kapiti Coast was surreal. I know I will never forget the feeling of knowing that we were not merely coming on vacation. This was no temporary arrangement. THIS, was home. Every sight and sound was magnified. These were all sights and sounds we would one day grow accustomed to. Home. Wow.

Arriving in the driveway of our little house, nestled in a valley between forest and ocean, even in the darkness was picture perfect. I remember thinking that the Americans have nothing on this “dream”. We had everything but the little white picket fence.

And so we unpacked our heavy bags one by one, dragging them into the entrance hall. While we flew almost a full day to reach our destination, our same amazing friends (who had taken this same journey many years before us) had gone the extra mile… Inside our oven were “ready to bake” fresh croissants, inside our kitchen cupboards and drawers were all the basic essentials and in a ready cooled, cooler box some much-needed groceries for the next few days. I cannot emphasise enough how much of a difference these gestures made to us getting started, how much they helped us to adjust (psychologically and practically) over the next few days. We will always be grateful for our kind, generous friends and are inspired to pay it forward!

It wasn’t long before all four of us fell asleep. Of course, after the trip we could not help but feel exhausted, even through the overwhelming relief we felt to finally be spending our first of many nights in our New Zealand home.

(Did I mention that we arrived to 1 x Queen sized bed + 1 x Inflatable mattress for the kids, also provided on loan by and prepared by our friends?)


6. Saying Goodbye

This is probably the part we all struggle with the most – and it’s something different and deeply personal for every person involved. For the people staying behind, they might feel a level of abandonment. They might feel a hint of anger that they have yet to rationalise. They might feel saddened and/or worried that you will forget them in time. What should be obvious, but is something that I didn’t immediately recognise, is that while we are sacrificing a lot to leave, we are also gaining so much by making the move, but for the people who are staying behind, they experience only a loss. They don’t gain anything by your move. The loss for them is possibly deeper and more significant than it is for us, the ones who have been absorbing, feeling and being absolutely consumed by the various stages of the leaving process since the day we started to even consider the decision.

My last days in South Africa were spent enjoying a lot of quality time with family and friends. I made sure my children were able to process their thoughts and feelings, that they had adequate time to deal with their own goodbye’s and created experiences for them that would be happy and lasting.

Up to about 3 days before leaving, I was coping pretty well for someone who was about to make the biggest change of their entire life… When packing up our house, I even gave myself the proverbial ‘pat on the back’ after working through all my sentimental items, digging through so many happy, even painful memories without shedding a single tear.

While I am recognised by some of my family and friends as someone who copes well in the midst of crisis, someone they can lean on for strength and support and who can put emotion aside and be that “no bullsh!t friend” when they need one… this was getting ridiculous. I silently struggled with why I was the only person to be feeling “OK” and somewhat unemotional, even a little detached from the events that would be unfolding almost just hours away now.

I started to think I was made of steel.

And then it hit me.

One thing triggered another and suddenly I found myself sitting at the hairdresser (for one last wash and blow dry), with tears streaming incessantly down my face. What woman cries at the hairdresser!!!

There are few words to describe the physical heartache that comes with leaving so many such special and meaningful people behind…

I am told it does not get easier.

5. The Real Beginning

We set a goal for ourselves to be in New Zealand by April 2016… and with my ‘project plan’ now well-developed, refined, tweaked & polished, the process was well underway.

The next few months would see a frenzy of documentation gathering! As most immigrants in the process will know, apart from the standard identity documents, passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates and police clearances, one also needs to prove their partnership / relationship status. Being married for 13 years with two children and a joint owned home isn’t enough to prove your commitment…and so thanks to my obsession with the camera, I was able to provide more photographs of our life together than immigration would probably care to see.
Every piece of information – documentation, correspondence and reference material -was filed and alphabetised and categorised and/or diarised. 

Suddenly my husband had a job offer in hand and our leaving date was set for the end of March 2016. It was time now for visa submissions and medical exams and stress..so much stress! Even though the timing was spot on with our plan, it felt like our project had just been accelerated ten-fold – and the reality of our decision had just slapped us hard across the face!

From the date the job offer was accepted until the day we left was the most nerve-wracking experience of my life. I soon came to understand that:
– The limits of my resilience & patience were higher than I ever realised.
– There is almost no value in the piles of household goods (and other material objects) that we accumulate over the years.
– My children were more sensitive than I remember understanding at their same age.
– Strength in marriage is crucial in executing a decision as massive as this. ALWAYS stay on the same page!
– The benefits to enjoying good health (in mind and body) cannot be underestimated and should never be under appreciated.
– You CAN fit an entire household into a 20ft container…once you have donated 75% of it to appreciative friends and family.

At last, medicals are approved and our visa’s arrive. The container arrives. The air tickets arrive. The time to leave arrives…

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4. High Gear

Having returned from our holiday in New Zealand, my husband and I agreed that the most difficult part of our decision would not be whether or not to move to New Zealand, but WHERE in New Zealand to move to! We had now explored much of the realistic places to work and live on both the North and South Islands. The problem was that every place was just as beautiful, just as “liveable” as the next. Since we had spent the most time in Wellington, had somewhat experienced being a part of this little place on the Kapiti Coast – and enjoyed it – we decided that we’d aim to land here as a starting point for our new adventure.

Let me briefly pause here to add some context to the emotion we’d be feeling at this time:

My husband has travelled, worked and lived in other countries. He is a people’s person but just as comfortable as a “lone ranger”. He is adventurous and thrill seeking and embraces change. His family is dispersed around the country and both his parents have passed away. He was eager and determined and need I say, ecstatic that I’d finally gotten off the fence!

I, on the other hand like to share experiences with special friends or a partner. I seek the company of others and don’t always enjoy being alone. I have a close-knit family, all of us whom were born, grew up and lived only in South Africa, always within just a few kilometres of each other. To make this decision meant not only moving myself, husband and two young children across the world to everything unknown, it also meant leaving behind family – the same family that I could not bear the thought of leaving just a few months earlier.

The fact is, I knew with all of my heart that making this move would be the right thing to do. Sure, I had fallen in love with the country itself – it’s natural beauty and all it has to offer, but, and here comes the controversial part: As a parent I felt it was my duty – that if I had the opportunity, the funding and ability to get them there to enjoy a future that they so much deserved, then I would be doing them a disservice if I didn’t do everything in my power to make it happen. As a wife, I also felt the need to create a better quality of life for myself and my husband, together and as individuals.

As difficult as this was going to be, I had to prepare myself for some negative comments, maybe a lack of support from friends and/or family and anger from those who would not or could not understand. Nevertheless, it was something we ultimately had to do.

And so…as luck would have it, being a professionally trained and experienced project manager, I naturally kicked everything into high gear! We had made the decision and now there would be no turning back.

I started my “project plan” without delay!

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3. Part 2: Our Holiday (Look, See, Decide)

….And so we caught a plane out of Wellington Airport to the South Island…

Let me first say that if you are a Lord of the Rings or Hobbit fan, you might run a very real risk of being late for your flight if you fly out of Wellington Airport. The airport is adorned with larger than life art installations throughout the terminal building. You WILL want to pose (with or without children) with Gandalf and the great Eagles, or with Gollum or Smaug and take some photos!

Right, back to leaving Wellington then. We boarded a flight with Air New Zealand (a really decent airline I might add) and set off for the more exciting part of our trip. We were headed for Queenstown, famous for attracting adrenaline junkies for its bungee jumping, skiing, snowboarding and more! A short while later we started our descent into what would be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever laid eyes on! Looking out of the plane window, we peered onto endless mountain ranges blanketed in stark white snow. It really was a sight to behold! (Keep in mind that at this point I’d never seen snow in my life before. This was the biggest treat for me).

After we landed we once again picked up our rental car and navigated our way to our accommodation. Another incredibly friendly Kiwi lady welcomed us to our warm and beautifully decorated room at “Shades of Arrowtown”. This small, cosy lodge located in the heart of Arrowtown, Queenstown was to be our anchor for the next 2 nights… except, once we arrived in Queenstown we immediately extended our stay for 1 more night!!

We woke early the next very frosty morning to catch the bus to the Cardrona ski field. The bus driver (and ski instructor) was a young twenty-something with long hair. His very worn out ski boots were an obvious sign he was a seasoned skier and/or snowboarder and was clearly living his absolute dream life in this amazing little town. The second sign that he was a seasoned ski instructor was his incredible skill in navigating the icy road up to the ski slopes! While I kept my eyes tightly shut for most of the drive, convinced that I was going to die a painful death falling swiftly off the side of a cliff, he made casual conversation with my husband about rugby. Rugby and more rugby. My pounding heart finally came to rest as we reached the top of the ski field an hour later…

Before starting our very first ski lesson, we joined the masses of tourists in the gear up area where you register, collect your skis, get fitted for ski boots and try not to get stomped on by the awkward equipment being carried by other amateurs.

Now, if you want me to tell you all about skiing, you’ll be better off searching for a different blog. Sadly, I do not have a good relationship with skiing. It was a very short-lived one, lasting about 1 whole hour. I hated every second of it. I’m still convinced those ski boots are made for stick people with legs of steel. I can still feel the pain in my calves and shins from those demon boots! Needless to say, I just couldn’t stand in them and my lesson ended only an hour in. I left my husband and best friend to persevere and went off to play like a child in the snow instead! I was happy at last. Being somewhat of an amateur photographer, I spent the rest of the day photographing the views, drinking hot chocolate with strangers and attempting to build an excuse for a snowman – it’s much more difficult than you think!

The rest of our short stay in Queenstown involved walking the town streets, trying out a burger from the famous FERGBURGER & buying milk and hot baked cookies from the Cookie Time store. My own personal highlight of our Queenstown trip was when we stumbled across a piano busker – how many of those do you see? This guy transports his rescued, restored and now fully functioning piano around New Zealand and graces audiences with his incredible talent. This man’s music gave me chills and if you do not go and take a listen to him, you will be missing out! (I’ll include a link to his Facebook page and videos in a separate post).

Driving around the suburbs of Queenstown will make you think you are in some kind of wonderland, a paradise you never dreamed existed. I felt like I was living in a miniature land, where life is perfect, where trees are always green and Christmas tree shaped, where everything looks like it was intricately manufactured and manicured by some magnificent artist. Sigh… how I long to go back!

Sadly, I’ve heard that property is really expensive and that jobs are few and far between unless perhaps you’re in hospitality or tourism. If however you have the freedom and cash to backpack around Queenstown, do it! Do it for as long as your legs and bank account will carry you!

As we drove away from Queenstown I felt a lump in my throat, not knowing when I’d ever set foot in such a beautiful place again. The shutter on my camera grew tired as it snapped away every last glimpse from my passenger car window…

Using our now slightly worn and slightly torn roadmaps, we continued our journey, with the next stop being Mt Cook. Now granted, there was no “Look, see, decide” factor to making this stop. Mt Cook is in a national reserve and in the middle of the middle of nowhere, but, I was told that this is one place we did not want to miss. As it is in my nature to go big or go home, I decided that it most certainly wasn’t time to go home and so we added 2 nights in Mt Cook to our itinerary.

Now you might remember from my previous post (Part 1) that I said I would swallow my words… well, here it comes. Just when I thought the world could not be any more beautiful than Queenstown, just when I thought life had peaked for me and that I could die happy, we enter the exquisite Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Part of me wants to tell you that there are no words to describe this – and that you must, absolutely, without hesitation make this your next holiday destination – so that you may see with your own eyes the beauty that this place holds secret from the rest of the world.

Of course, I took photos, but they do not do it justice. I become severely inarticulate if I should even try to paint the perfect picture of what the Mt Cook / Aoraki region looks like to the naked eye.

We stayed at the Aoraki Court Motel – a newly established, gorgeous accommodation with breathtaking views of the glorious and intimidating Mt Cook itself.

The Aoraki National Park is also a Dark Sky Reserve – meaning that it has one of the darkest skies in the world. Lighting in the reserve is highly regulated and restricted. This allows for a truly memorable experience of late night star gazing which is offered by the reserve. Wearing massive down jackets we drive by bus into the “real” middle of nowhere, where a 20ft container is sitting in a lonely airfield. The guides unpack some of the world’s finest telescopic equipment and you are treated to view the milky way in a way you’ve never seen it before!

On our way out of Mt Cook, we bought some fresh salmon at the Mt Cook salmon farm shop and stopped to eat it alongside Lake Pukaki.

No. I simply have no better words for this experience…Please, look at my photos, but please, add this to your bucket list.

Leaving Mt Cook meant that we had just 1 night left in New Zealand and not much time to see more of anything. We drove the 4.5-hour drive from Mt Cook through to Christchurch. This is from where we’d fly back home to Johannesburg, S.A. The drive was more of the beautiful sights we’d seen before but quieter, a lot more rural and a lot of lush green grass… Of course, we had to make an urgent stop to see some lambs up close – which we did – but then quickly back on track.

Arriving at Christchurch quite late in the afternoon, we, unfortunately, didn’t have time to see it. We checked into our airport motel and left at 4am the next morning for S.A. with heavy hearts….and a fierce determination to make New Zealand our forever home.

2. Part 1: Our Holiday (Look, See, Decide)

We arrived in Auckland at midnight in August 2015. It was cold and drizzling.
After spending that night in the airport Novotel – most conveniently located across the road, we jumped into our rental car (from Jucy rentals) and drove off onto the highway headed for our B&B that we had booked for 3 nights in Birkenhead, Auckland.

As we drove, the sky was clear and the city was bright. The roads were clean and traffic flowed smoothly. The sheer number of yachts in the Auckland harbor was a sight to behold!

We spent the next 3 days walking the city streets, visiting the University gardens, going up the Sky Tower (like the tourists we were), and just doing a lot of driving around. Small things that appeared “normal” completely blew our minds and I remember texting family back home about them: Things like seeing droves of children walking home from school. Things like no fences, no gates, no security whatsoever! We saw a car parked near the university grounds that had its boot completely open and all the doors unlocked – so that the pet dog in the back of the car could get some air while the owner ran into wherever they needed to go… I took a photo!!!

Auckland was lovely and it had a nice vibe. It was obvious that it was a bustling city centre that attracted many foreigners. We wished we had a little more time to spend there.

Instead, to make the most of our time we had to head off to our next stop: Hamilton. Approximately a 2 hour drive from Auckland, Hamilton was much less busy! It was beautiful and green and the botanical gardens were absolutely gorgeous!! We only stayed one night, basically just passing through so didn’t get to see too much of it.

The next morning we left early and started what would be a long drive through to Wellington. Along the way we made an impromptu stop in Rotorua to get a glimpse of the thermal activity at one of the well known Thermal parks. Wow!! Now we knew we were in another world! I highly recommend this visit to anyone who hasn’t been! Nature is amazing, terrifying and definitely deserving of respect! Something that is difficult to describe until you see it for yourself are these masses of thermal volcanic activity right here on our doorstep…

The drive to Wellington, alongside Lake Taupo is one that every New Zealander should take! The beauty of the land is almost unspeakable. The lake is massive and a stunningly beautiful turquoise, with snow covered mountains as the backdrop, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen (I’ll take back those words when I describe the South Island)…

Being treated by this picturesque landscape for almost 9 hours, we finally arrived in Wellington wearing 4 layers of clothing (yes, it was THAT cold)! We were welcomed by some friends living on the Kapiti Coast with a cooked meal and a glass of red wine. This is where we’d be staying for the next 3 nights.

It was at this point in our trip where we got to experience (as much as possible), real “Kiwi life”. Apart from one afternoon & evening on Cuba street for a bit of fun, we stayed in a regular house, we commuted – took the train to the city (alongside resident Kiwi’s) and shopped at local supermarkets and farmers markets. We continued to be surprised at the lack of security, the freedom of children, how friendly the local people were towards us & how almost everything is honesty based!

My personal favourite was a DVD rental vending machine! Say what??? That’s right: Choose your movie, put in the cash, remove the movie…and oh, “Please be sure to return your DVD tomorrow into the slot provided”!
Put that same vending machine in SA?

Self-service check out counters at the supermarkets. Yup, when you get to the counter (where there is no cashier), just ring up your goodies, swipe your card to pay – and leave?!

When you park in a public parking lot: Park your car, pay for your parking and display the receipt in your window – in case maybe someone comes to check if you paid or not.

In some cafe windows: Pay for 2 cups of coffee. We will give you your cup and the other cup we will keep and give to someone who is cold, hungry and less fortunate than you. “Pay it forward” in other words, seemed like a common practice here in NZ.

After 3 very chilly nights in Wellington it was time to say goodbye to our friends – and to our North Island rental car and head off to the South Island…


1. Where it all began…

So I guess I should start at the beginning….where all good stories start!

My husband & I have been married for 13 years. For as far back as I can remember, my husband has expressed an interest to emigrate. I was having none of it. Most especially when he suggested “New Zealand”, the very thought of leaving friends and family – and everything I’ve ever known – behind, to move to this place that was so seemingly unknown, and so far, far away, was simply not an option. It was never an idea that I would allow myself to entertain. No. Just, no!

I never understood the need or desire for people to leave South Africa. I thought it was an overreaction to the policies of the time and have generally always had faith that it was a case of things getting worse before they could get better. I felt this way right up until mid-2015… Until one day I looked around me and realised I may be wrong.

While I don’t consider myself a cynical person or a glass half empty type, the reality was that we now had two beautiful children of 7 & 8 years old…and as most parents will understand, their needs became No. 1. since the day they were born. I started to wonder what things would be like for them in 20 years time. When I saw what the future might hold, I decided to take one very tiny, baby step. I told my husband that I was prepared to take a trip: a trip to New Zealand “just to see”, to look for myself what life might be like if we had to consider such a drastic move.

And so in August 2015 we left the children at home with my mother and took a 2 week, meticulously planned journey through New Zealand…