Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Wet Week in Wellington.

Well its certainly been raining this week. It has been raining so heavily at times that it has been waking me up in the middle of the night as its pummeling so hard against the roof. Thank god we don't have a corrugated iron roof like some of the houses around here as that must sound like thunder! We have even woken up to flooded fields in the valley below us - its been quite picturesque. I have been assured by the other Mums I have been chatting to at Kindergarten that this weather is normal for Wellington and I am going to have to get used to it.

The girls have quite liked it as it has given them a good excuse to wear their new wellies (or gum boots as they are known over here). DD2 has "pirate wellies" as she calls them with skull and cross bones all over them. She has been wearing them solidly throughout the week, rain or shine. I can see a tantrum brewing when I have to try and get her back into her normal shoes.
The rain has meant that we have been stuck in the house more than usual this week which is somewhat tricky when you have no furniture yet and very few toys or other entertainment. I have had to use all my skills and patience to prevent myself from being driven slowly round the bend.
So far this week we have made cards with glitter and glue, completed numerous sticker books and made fairy cakes. Making fairy cakes with no cooking equipment other than knives, forks, spoons and a saucepan is a highly impressive achievement I think you'll agree. They did end up all sinking rather in the middle, but still tasted OK and the girls liked them.

We have also been to the Toy Library and the Book Library as well and in between rain showers we have been going outside to splash in puddles!


To round off a wet week, when the sun did finally come out we went on the "Wet Foot Track" in Belmont Park. This is an excellent track which follows the stream up through the valley ending at a waterfall. You cross the stream in many places and even have to walk up the stream itself at times. It is a great walk and the girls loved it. However its not a good idea to attempt this walk after a week of heavy rain as we found the stream very fast flowing and couldn't follow it all the way up the valley.

Picking up stones and seeing whats living underneath them is great fun.


Its not easy negotiating the "rapids" with a large rucksack on your back!








Monday, April 27, 2009

Walks in Wellington - Red Rocks.

It was a warm Saturday in April so we decided to take a walk along the coast to see the "Red Rocks". These are some coastal rocks which have turned red due to the iron oxides in them. We were also hopeful that we might see some seals as they apparently come on shore in this area. We parked the car in the entrance to Taputeranga Marine Reserve which is where the walk starts from.


As you can see from the picture it was a little bit windy when we set off.


The beach in this area is covered in wood washed up by the sea. It was so windy that while we were sitting there a mini whirlwind whipped up the beach debris and started throwing it at us.
The Red Rocks. It had got more windy by this point and the wind was actually picking up the sand from the beach and chucking it at us with great force. We had to shield the girls faces. It made for a very exciting walk back.
It might not have been the most pleasant of walks - but the views are spectacular and if the wind had not been as strong it would have been great. Unfortunately we never made it to the seals - it was just too far for a four year olds little legs.
This is the view looking back to the car park at the Marine Reserve. The only thing that spoils this area is the fact that they allow 4x4s to drive along the beach to see the seals. It seems like a really odd thing to do in such a beautiful area. Unknown to us, we were followed along the track by several 4x4s and I think they enjoyed our rendition of "Wheels on the Bus" before I turned around and spotted them and we hurriedly got out of their way.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Walks in Wellington - Tanes Track

We decided to make the most of the Autumn sunshine and headed out to Tunnel Gully Recreation Area at the foot of the Rimutaka mountain range. Its only a quick 40 minute drive from us and follows a scenic route along Hutt Valley. The walk we decided to do is called Tanes Track and goes through dense rain forest full of vines (liana) straight out of The Jungle Book. It also passes the Mangaroa Tunnel which is left over from a railway line which used to run from Wellington to Masterson.



One of the most essential things to buy when you get to New Zealand is a decent back pack to carry toddlers in. Get one with and good safety strap across the shoulders as we found that my daughter likes to lean dramatically out especially when your walking across bridges.


The scenery as you walk through the forest is amazing.



There were some lovely open picnic areas - my youngest daughter was unimpressed with her marmite sandwiches.


But there was lots of room to run around!
The picnic areas are always really well maintained and all have loo block with them. Some of them have "drop toilets" - I will let you imagine what this involves!










The entrance to the tunnel which was built in 1857. You could still see the soot and smoke from the old trains on the roof of the tunnel.


We were brave enough to walk through the tunnel but if you plan to do this make sure you bring a torch - it gets very dark in the middle.


The girls were fascinated by the sticky sap seeping from the tree.


This bird followed us along the track for about 10 minutes and kept flashing its fan of feathers on its rear end at us in a menacing fashion.


Apparently these birds follow people as they walk along and eat the insects that people disturb as they pass.





Just to prove it can get chilly in New Zealand DD2 insists on wearing her pack-a-mac and thick jumper.














Thursday, April 23, 2009

Anzac Day



This Saturday, the 25th April is Anzac Day. It is celebrated in Australia and New Zealand and is a day to commemorate the Australian and New Zealand Army Core (ANZAC). Its used as a day to remember all the Australians and New Zealanders who have been killed in conflict.
It originally became a national holiday after the Galliopli landings in the first World War when the ANZAC forces landed and fought against Turkish forces in an attempt by Churchill to knock Turkey out of the war. Over 8000 Australian and 2700 New Zealand soldiers died. This tragedy has obviously had a big impact on a country that is geographically a long way from the bulk of the fighting and in 1914 only had a total population of 1 million. There are memorials dotted all over Wellington dedicated to the many men and women that travelled such a long way to fight in both World Wars.


This national holiday is taken very seriously and there are many memorial services taking place and many of the shops are either shut or not opening at all. I like the respect this holiday is shown and the fact that the sacrifices that previous generations made on our behalf are not forgotten.


I have attempted to explain the significance of poppies to my two daughters but I don't think they are taking me seriously yet. The oldest one knows that her great grandad went on a boat to fight some bad men a long time ago - but that's about the extent of what she can understand at the moment.










Monday, April 20, 2009

Moving Toddlers and Young Children to NZ

If you have young children and are moving to a new country you know the lengths you will go to to make sure they are happy and settled. So I thought it might be helpful to write about some of the things I have done to help my two girls settle in as quickly as possible and make them feel at home and part of the community. These things have also stopped me from going round the bend (if you have young children at home full time you will know how easy it can be for them to drive you completely nutty).

We have been living in our house for almost 6 weeks now without any of our furniture or toys so it has been rather tricky entertaining the girls (they are aged 4 and 2). We have managed to borrow a TV which has helped but we have no chairs or seats, so watching it is somewhat uncomfortable. This means that I have tried to get them out of the house as much as possible.

In Wellington there are an enormous number of play areas and parks which is great when the weathers good. They are all really well maintained and extremely popular. They have some unusual climbing frames and swings and are very imaginatively set out to look like pirate ships or cars. My girls love them. Its also a great way to meet other Mums and Dads. I have nearly always found someone to chat to and they can let you know about other places and activities available to entertain your kids.




One of the best things I have found so far and has been a real godsend, is the local Toy Library. You pay a small joining fee and then pay about $2 to rent any toy you want for two weeks at a time. They have all kinds of toys from car and Lego sets to ride on cars and bikes. Ours is extremely well used and every time we go the car park is packed with parents unloading trampolines and kitchen sets from the back of their cars.

I would also suggest one of the first things you do when moving to a new area is check out the local library. Ours is brilliant for kids almost half of it is taken up with children's books and they have a local notice board packed with all the activities available for toddlers in the local area. The library also runs its own "Story Time" for toddlers where they read books and sing songs for half an hour each week. DD1 loves this but DD2 kept saying "Its boring Mummy, Its boring" in a very loud voice so I think I will have to give our local one a miss for a bit.

From the age of 3 children can go to Kindergarten in New Zealand and they are entitled to 20 hours free childcare which can be used in any child care provider of your choice. I recommend that you check out your local Kindergarten as most are attached to primary schools and its a great way to introduce children to the school routine and they will meet other children there own age.

Our local Kindergarten was oversubscribed and when I first approached them they couldn't take DD1 straight away and we were told we would have to wait a few months. They suggested that we come and have a look around anyway and that I could bring DD1 down anytime I liked as long as I stayed with her. This is very different to the way pre-schools work in the UK. The ones I have been to back in England were reluctant to let me come down without an appointment and wouldn't have welcomed parents just popping in whenever they liked. Here however parents can pop in for a coffee and a chat whenever they feel like it. Its far more open.

DD1 has now started Kindergarten as they made her a priority and let her in early. The children there appear to run wild but they actually do have many structured activities available to them and the emphasis is on learning through play. When I lasted popped in there where several boys wondering around purring and dressed up as cats, they were all clearly very happy and enjoying themselves. Its a huge contrast to the way things were done in Belgium where children are expected to sit in a classroom environment from the age of 2 and a half. The facilities are great with a large outdoor area with a massive covered sandpit, climbing frame, swings and ride on cars. I think its a great start to school life.

Children in New Zealand actually start school on the day of there 5th birthday. Its made a very big deal, with a "Happy Fifth Day" celebration at Kindergarten before they leave for school. Consequently children in NZ are always looking forward to starting school.

Kiwis are into sport in a big way. There are masses of clubs and sport facilities to take advantage of. I found the best way to find out about a lot of the clubs was to pop into the local sports centre and swimming pool. I have begun to take the girls to "Kindy Gym" which is run weekly for pre-schoolers. They spend an hour dancing and jumping on and off trampolines, walking along bars and generally running around at great speed. Its really good as they are then exhausted for the rest of the day. Other clubs available include pre-school football/rugby, swimming, cricket, sailing and tennis. I am sure there are many more I haven't spotted yet. DD1 has just started dance lessons which she loves, mainly because she gets to dress up like "Angelina Ballerina".

Plunket is a good organisation to get into touch with as they can give you information on a lot of the facilities and groups for young children in your area. This is there website -http://www.plunket.org.nz/

Another good organisation in the Wellington area is Playcentres. They appear to be like a large playgroup organisation that also provides some childcare. I haven't been to the one in our area yet but as soon as I do I will report back. This is their website. -http://www.playcentre.org.nz/.



We moved to New Zealand because we believed it would be a better place to raise our girls and so far we have not been disappointed. One of the things I love is the number of kids you see out on their bikes and skateboards and playing in the parks. It reminds me of the idyllic settings you used to read about in books by Enid Blyton when you were little. Children have been out over the Easter holidays playing in our local park and wooded area, climbing in trees and building camps. This is the kind of childhood I want for my girls.





Friday, April 17, 2009

Shopping like a Kiwi

My DH thinks that this is a really boring topic to write about but when you move to a different country you still have to go food shopping and plan and provide meals for your family. This means you have to try out all the different supermarkets and shops and even explore the different foods on offer.
There seem to be four different supermarkets in Wellington. "New World", "Countdown", "Pack n Save" and "Woolworths". And no unfortunately its not the Woolworths we know from the UK its just a food shop and doesn't have the famous pick and mix isle or the bargain bins of cheap cds.
Countdown and Woolworths are owned by the same large company and Pack n Save and New World are both owned by another large company. This has led to media claims that these two large businesses have come to a deal and are artificially keeping food prices high as there is no other competition. Hope is however on the horizon as apparently Aldi is thinking of coming to New Zealand. I will look forward to that then!
If you want an idea of what these chains are like in comparison with UK supermarkets I think Woolworths is probably the most expensive and most like shopping in Marks and Spencers whilst Pack n Save is the cheapest and more like Asda or even a large cash and carry. The food is packed floor to ceiling and unlike the other supermarket they don't pack your bags for you they just bung everything back in the trolley. In New World they pack your bags at the check out and the girls enjoy going to our local branch as the lady on the till gives them a fairy stamp on their hands every time we visit.
There are other places to go to get your food shopping as there are some large butchers in the larger towns but I haven't had a chance to explore them yet. There are also numerous farm shops along the main highway as you head out into the country. I have been told that they offer good value for money and obviously the produce is fresh and local. There are also things called "Dairys" which are actually newsagents and small corner shops.
When we moved to Brussels we had to change our eating habits to accommodate the different types of food available (for example its very tricky to find Marmite or Branston pickle) and in New Zealand its no different. However there are familiar brands that seem to be found everywhere. Kellogg's is obviously found world wide and Heinz baked beans are for some reason now called "Watties".
The food in New Zealand is heavily influenced by the first English settlers and there are loads of fish and chip shops. They are also influenced by their proximity to south east Asia as there are also lots of sushi bars and loads available in the supermarkets as well. Fish is obviously fairly cheap and so is (unsurprisingly) Lamb and Beef. However chicken is weirdly expensive and not as popular as in the UK.
There are a few products that you don't tend to see in the UK but are quite popular in NZ. Kumara is a sweet potato that can come in various different colours and is one of the few vegetables that my awkward DH will actually eat and like.


Kiwi fruit is naturally a very common feature in supermarkets.



There are a few other foods that seem to be typically Kiwi. One of my favourites is the pineapple chunks in chocolate. Yep they are as delicious as they sound and are one of the most popular things in all the sweet isles. There is also Hokey Pokey. This is a flavour of ice cream invented in New Zealand which has a sticky caramel honeycomb flavour and chunks of hard caramel in it. I haven't had a chance to try it our yet but (purely in the interest if science you understand) I will be testing it in the near future.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Driving in New Zealand



I love driving. I am one of those weird people who actually enjoy driving on the M25. If your like me and one of your favourite things in life is putting the radio on really loud and changing gear in time to appropriate bit in "Sweet Child of Mine" then you will enjoy driving in New Zealand. For one thing Kiwi radio stations seem to like playing soft rock (sad I know but they seem to just play stuff from my record collection) and the roads are not crowded and go through some stunning scenery. Its no wonder that Jeremy Clarkson says New Zealand is one of his favourite countries.


There is a surprisingly large amount of traffic on the roads for a country that only has 4.5 million people in it. There are 6 million people in London alone so you would imagine that the roads here would be virtually empty. However it can sometimes feel like every single person in Wellington owns a car and decides to head home at 5 o'clock exactly most days.


It can get very busy and it has taken me 45 minutes to get from the airport to the motorway, a journey you should be able to do in 10 minutes. However once you get out of the city itself and onto the highway the traffic clears very quickly and its like driving on the roads in rural France (only on the proper side of the road and with no funny little French cars going at a dangerously high speed).


I have found adapting to driving here fairly easy. Its virtually the same as in the UK but with just one or two rather odd differences. They have a very strange give way rule at junctions which I still don't really understand. If you are turning right across the road and someone is coming in the opposite direction and turning left - they stop and give way to you. This has led to some very awkward confrontations at junctions when I am not sure whether to give way or keep going. This website will hopefully explain it better.



The other very odd and slightly scary thing I have found about driving in New Zealand is the way that perfectly big highways can suddenly turn into terrifying roads climbing through mountains with sheer drops on one side. This weekend we decided to take the girls for a picnic to a forest the other side of the Tararua Mountain Range. The route we had decided to take was along State Highway 2 which we assumed would be a simple motorway trip. No its not. Once you get past Kaitoke the road starts twisting and climbing up the mountains. At several points you turn corners and are confronted with sheer drops on one side and little or no barrier. The wind whips through the valley and hits your vehicle with a lot of force as you turn corners. It managed to make our large people carrier shake so it must have felt much worse in the large camper van we were following. I didn't get over 30km/ph it was too scary. By the time we had got to the top my fingers were hurting from gripping the steering wheel to hard, and we still had to get to the other side. However I am assured the view was fantastic and probably worth the risk. I didn't get to see it as I was concentrating on keeping us on the road!


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The difficult search for a rental in Wellington

We arrived in Wellington on the 27th of February and had booked a holiday cottage for the first 12 days. DH had the first three days off and then was due to start his new job on the Monday. We rather naively thought we could find somewhere to rent in that first weekend.

We had tried to plan ahead as much as possible and had contacted letting agents and set up references before we left home. We had managed to book a couple of viewings for that first weekend and set off to have a drive around Wellington to see what each area was like.
Wellington is a beautiful city. We decided its a cross between Swansea, San Francisco and Balamory. The view as you drive along the highway past the bay and towards the city is breathtaking and I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing it. Much of the city is built into the side of the hills and there are many different styles of house clinging to the sides of the valley. Most of the houses near the centre of the city are of the old wooden colonial style and very beautiful. Its a very different style from UK towns and city's and you are hard pressed to spot any brick built buildings until you get into the centre of the city. Some of the parades of shops in the suburbs look like something you would expect to see in an old mid western town in America.

The picture below was taken from our holiday cottage which was located in Thorndon about 10 minutes walk from the Parliament buildings. It was one of these old colonial style cottages and needless to say this area is quite expensive to live in and way out of our budget.

We had been advised that some of the nice areas to live within commuting distance of Wellington were Karori, Ngaio and Upper and Lower Hutt. We spent our first Saturday in New Zealand frantically driving round these areas to see what they were like and waiting in vain for a letting agent to turn up to show us around a house.

By the end of our first weekend we had narrowed down the areas we were prepared to live in but still had not seen a property we liked. With DH starting work on Monday it looked like I would have to drag the girls around to look at properties during the week.

When looking a properties in New Zealand there is one major problem that you have to look out for. As most of the properties are wooden you have to check for damp. Normally this is very obvious to spot and I ended up looking around quite a few that had that musty smell as soon as you walked in the door or wallpaper that was peeling off the walls. You also need to be very suspicious of any fresh paint.

By the end of Wednesday we were all getting a bit depressed as we had yet to find any property that wasn't showing signs of damp, peeling wallpaper, rotten wood or was too remote and difficult to commute from. There was one property that I don't think I will ever forget looking around as it left me feeling quite traumatised!
It was in a lovely area of Karori so we were both quite keen on it. However as we walked up to it you could see that it wasn't very well maintained on the outside as the paint was peeling. We thought it might be better inside, it wasn't. The floor in the kitchen was slightly wonky and the kitchen was grubby and old (although bizarrely it did have a brand new dishwasher). Then when we walked in the bathroom the owner proudly displayed the sunken bath. Well is was definitely sunken, it looked like an ordinary bath that had just fallen through the floor and they had decided to leave it there. Its very difficult to think of something nice to say to the person who is showing you round when faced with this. So I think in the end we just mumbled something and quickly moved on to the next room.

We could see a view of the back garden from there and spotted a large shed with a lady standing in the doorway. My DH asked what was in the shed and the landlady said not to worry but that was where Mrs X lived and she was honestly no bother as shes very quiet and wont intrude. It was at this point that we rapidly made a retreat. The house with the sunken bath and an old lady living in a shed in the back garden was not for us!

I managed to make appointments to view two properties on the Thursday and we decided to look slightly further out of Wellington to see if you got more for your money. It turned out that both of the properties we looked at were great but one in particular stood out. The views across the bay were spectacular and I don't think I really looked at the rest of the house. The picture below is the view from the living room balcony where I am now typing this. I think you'll agree we chose the right house.



Monday, April 13, 2009

The very very long journey continued..... How to survive on a plane with toddlers.

The first leg of our journey was from Heathrow to Los Angeles which would take 11 hours. Our flight left Heathrow at 3.35pm London time so we were going to fly through the night. Our hope was that the girls would fall asleep - this was not to be.

To be honest this part of the flight was not that bad as the whole thing was a novelty and the girls loved the TV screens and as we boarded they were handed an activity set, colouring book, stickers and pens (this kept them amused for about 10 minutes). The food delivered a few hours after we took off was great and the kids were very impressed with all the little packets and individual trays. All they ate mind you was the cakes and roll and butter but this kept them happy enough.

Trips to the loo were also greeted with great excitement by the girls as this involved walking past everyone else (who tended to say hello to them or were busy snoring) and the great big swishing noise as the loo flushed was apparently very amusing.


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People in general were very patient with the children and luckily we didn't have any major tantrums or yelling. However dd2 was not very good at remaining quiet when everyone was trying to sleep and the only way we could get her to stay still was to plug her into the TV.

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There were plenty of other people with children on the flight - some with very young babies and the airline had obviously grouped us together near the bulk head of the plane. The families developed a kind of camaraderie between us and we found ourselves chatting to one another and helping each other out with awkward kids. It was nice and made you feel less worried if your child decided to have a tantrum or scream continually for 45 minutes at a time. Or as this video illustrates your daughter decides to perform a duet with Fimble when everyone is trying to sleep.

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We took pyjamas for the girls and got them changed and washed in the loo on the plane about 5 hours into the flight. This helped them get to sleep as they felt fresher and more comfortable. The chairs are not an ideal place for anyone to sleep but the blanket and cushion helped. I think sheer exhaustion got the youngest to sleep in the end.

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I have never been to America so I was rather excited about stopping off in Los Angeles even if it was only for a couple of hours. In the end the only bit you actually see is the security area where they stamp your passports and ask you why you are passing through the US and a room where you sit and drink coffee until your plane is ready for re boarding.


This was a very difficult part of the journey as the girls had to be woken up and then you have to carry all your hand luggage through US customs and security. We had a lot of on board luggage and two very tired girls - it was not pleasant. I think the airport staff took pity on us when DD1 had a melt down whilst waiting in the queue to go through customs. We were immediately taken to the front. I guess having a tantruming 4 year old can come in useful occasionally.

It was quite amusing watching all the other passengers stretch and contort themselves before the next leg of journey. One man lay down on his back and stuck his legs up in the air against a wall whilst reading the Financial Times and one lady did some yoga in front of the coffee machine. To be honest all these exercises are probably a very good idea considering the length of the flight.

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The second half of the plane ride was somewhat trying. However the kind airline staff had moved us directly in front of the bulk head which meant we had far more leg room and enough space for the girls to play on the floor in front of the seats. We managed to get through most of the toys, books and games we had brought with us in this stretch of the journey. Someone had told me that you needed enough toys to get out a new one every hour and this is true. Its amazing what short attention spans toddlers have.

We slept for quite a large proportion of the second flight and DD2 spent most of this curled up in my lap. This meant that I woke up at one point and found a strange extremely tall man asleep next to me in DD2s seat. My husband said he had asked if he could sit there for a bit as he was a bit cramped in his normal seat and he had then promptly fallen asleep. We left him there until he woke up a few hours later, he apologised profusely and then when back to his own seat.


Our first glimpse of New Zealand was as a line of clouds in the distance and then you could gradually see land underneath. I will never forget landing in Auckland and the tropical smell that hits you as you get off the plane. I thought that they might pump perfume into the airport but it appears to be the natural smell in the air. Its a mix of Herbal Essences shampoo and the sea. The other thing that struck me was the fact that the airport is carpeted. OK this may be an odd thing to notice but I am so used to the vast expanse of tiled Heathrow that arriving in Auckland is like coming into someones carpeted front room or office. Its very homey.

By the time we got to Auckland we were all exhausted so I am afraid that the first thing we had to eat in our new home country was a MacDonalds.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Top tips for setting up your new life in NZ - before you leave home...

These are our top tips for things you can do before you leave your home country in order to start setting up your new life in New Zealand.




Finding Somewhere to Live

Finding somewhere to live was something we were obviously very worried about. We were looking for somewhere to rent as we are still renting out our own property in the UK. Moving thousands of miles away to the other side of the world and then being homeless is not something we wanted to contemplate.

As we had no one we could stay with temporarily we did everything we could to find a permanent residence before we left home. However this is not an easy thing to do and in the end we found out that it is not a good idea to try and find a home when you haven't been to an area and seen it in person as photos and descriptions can be very misleading. Also letting agents and landlords are very reluctant to rent to someone they have never met and some will not even show you round without references and meeting you in person. So in the end we set up as much as possible prior to arrival in NZ is order to make renting a place as easy and quick as possible. These are some of the things we recommend that you do.

1. Look on the Internet for suitable properties and try to find out as much as possible about the different areas you might be interested in living. The best site we found for rental properties in is Trade Me (http://www.trademe.co.nz/Trade-me-property/index.htm) which is essentially the NZ equivalent of Ebay. All the letting agents we came across use this site for all their properties. Unfortunately you cant register with the site until you live in NZ but you can get to agents websites from Trade Me and then contact them direct.

2. Fill in tenancy applications with letting agents and give them as much information as possible, such as references and employer contact details. If you can set this up before you even get to NZ you will find that the agents will be much more helpful and things will progress much faster. Most letting agents will need a reference from past landlords and possibly your employer. Some also asked for a bank reference which is difficult to get from abroad so if you can get one from your bank in the UK this will help. Also a great tip is to get an extra copy of your police check certificate (needed for your visa) we found that this acted as an extra reference.

3. If you have school age kids then its a good idea to check out the local schools as this gives you a good idea of what the local area is like as a whole. They are graded into deciles. A school's Decile indicates the extent to which it draws its students from low socio-economic communities. Decile 1 schools are the 10% of schools with the highest proportion of students from low socio-economic communities. Decile 10 schools are the 10% of schools with the lowest proportion of these students. This website explains this in more detail -

http://www.minedu.govt.nz/educationSectors/Schools/SchoolOperations/Resourcing/OperationalFunding/Deciles/FrequentlyAskedQuestionsAboutDeciles.aspx

From this website you can get information on the decile rating of all the schools in NZ and their contact details.

http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/tertiary_education/27436

4. Research the areas you are thinking of living in. This can be done using the Internet. Google street views which appear on many of the property details allow you to take virtual tours up and down streets - and even to do your commute to work. Its also a good idea to join some of the online expat communities and ask people questions. The two I used the most are shown below.

http://www.emigratenz.org/

http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/living_overseas - Yes I know this is a parenting website but it has a large community in NZ who are very helpful.

Bank Accounts

5. It is a good idea to set up your bank account in NZ before you get out here. This can be done entirely over the Internet and you can get all the details via email. You can also send money to this account before you leave. This means that all you need to do when you get to NZ is pop into a branch to get your card and pin number.

Temporary Accommodation

6. You are likely to have to stay in temporary accommodation when you first arrive unless you are lucky enough to know someone out here you can stay with. We ended up staying in a holiday cottage in Wellington. It was an absolutely lovely cottage but not exactly cheap and if we had more time and been more organised we might have found somewhere cheaper.

Lots of people choose to stay in serviced apartments or if the weather is good even camp sites in one of the simple cabins. These are cheap and must be like being on holiday in the summer. It took us just over a week and a half to find somewhere to rent and it was very stressful and hard work. I also think we were very lucky to find somewhere we could move into so quickly. I have heard it can take people up to a month to find somewhere suitable.

An example of serviced apartments. - http://www.lambtoncourt.co.nz/pages/start.html

An example of cabins. - http://huttpark.co.nz/accomodation

Our holiday cottage - http://www.travelbug.co.nz/visit/26319 (great house we loved it!)

Buying a Car

7. We have found its essential to have a car in NZ and its an excellent way of exploring the local area. We hired a car for the first 12 days and we were lucky enough to find a company that gave us the car seats for free. One of the things that surprised us was that these hire companies don't just hire out new cars. They manage to provide fairly cheap hire cars by using ones that can be up to 10 years old. So you can get a hire car at a very reasonable price.

Buying a car was a bit more tricky and again we recommend that you use the Trade Me website shown above as you can then check out the prices before leaving home. There are many used and new car showrooms about but as in any other country the prices you pay will be a inflated. We ended up buying ours through Trade Me and met a lovely family who invited us in for a cup of coffee whilst our girls played in the back garden with their kids. We learnt their life story and all about their planned move to Brisbane - people in NZ are very friendly!

A good way of checking out used cars in NZ is by using the AA lemon check service. They AA is the same company as in the UK and they will check the history of your car and do a mechanical check to warn of any faults or potential problems. This is their website - http://www.aa.co.nz/Pages/default.aspx

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Top tips for what to pack in your luggage

I found it really difficult to choose what to take in our luggage - which has to last us for the first 3 months in New Zealand until the rest of our stuff eventually arrives on the container ship. That is if it hasn't been stolen by pirates.

We have now survived almost six weeks with only what we carried on the plane and have discovered some of the things we could have left behind and some of the things we should have brought. So here are my top tips.




1. Take a laptop or if you can carry it your PC. We found it a fantastic way to stay in touch with family. We use Skype which allows free phone and video calls to relatives back home. There is also wifi available in all of the airports so you can keep in touch during the journey. Having access to your email is also a must.


2. Make sure - if you can fit them in - that you bring sheets, duvet covers and pillow cases. These seem to be rather expensive in New Zealand. We are on a limited budget and we have found that buying these has been a bit of a pain. You can buy them fairly cheaply in shops like Warehouse but it is an expense we would have rather avoided.

3. Bring appropriate clothes for the time of year. Arriving in March meant that we went from snow and ice in Brussels to the end of summer in Wellington. We got off the plane wearing thick winter coats and scarfs and it was tropical in Auckland. (OK I know this is obvious but we were still surprised by the warmth of late summer in New Zealand).

4. Car seats - this was a real dilemma. In the end we left them behind to go on the ship. We managed to get car seats thrown in free with our rental car but as soon as we brought our own we had to go out and buy them. We managed to pick up two for about $230 in total. It was probably still cheaper to buy them out here than pay for the extra luggage allowance. I think it depends on how many child seats you are bringing with you and the age of your kids - as boosters are far cheaper than baby seats.

5. Shoes are expensive in New Zealand so pack enough to get you through 3 months and make sure they are flat ones as there are a lot of hills here. Moving from a city like Brussels most of my shoes were high heeled boots and shoes and not at all appropriate for beach/hill walking.

6. Rain coats/Pack-A-Macs. Weather in Wellington can change from one hour to the next so I would recommend that you bring light rain coats or jackets. I expect the weather in the rest of New Zealand is fairly similar.

7. If you have children I would recommend bringing a few favourite toys and books to make them feel at home. We brought a few well loved cuddly toys and some small plastic figures and cars which have turned out to be very useful when in a completely unfurnished house and makes their bedroom feel more like home. We have also found a Toy Library in our local town. It is brilliant and has been a complete life saver. So far we have borrowed scooters, ride on cars, doll houses and many other things which have really helped the kids settle in and kept them amused. Also make sure you find the local library as not only do the kids like the books but both myself and DH have found them useful in the evenings as we wait for the much missed TV to arrive.

8. Kitchen and cooking utensils. We didn't bring any of these as there was no way we would have been able to fit them in. If you are going to bring any of these the only way you will be able to do it is by hiring a crate and sending it separately with the airline. I have heard of some people who have emigrated and done this. It might be a very useful way of bringing heavy or bulky items like computers and duvets or dressing gowns with you. You could also pop in a few kitchen items as we have really missed our wok, cheese grater and casserole dish. It weird the odd things you miss. We have survived so far by buying a cheap set of saucepans (again from warehouse), 4 plates, 4 mugs, knives/forks and one sharp knife. This limits what we can cook but my DH has now perfected the art of making pancakes in a saucepan - highly skilled I think you'll agree.



So if you can afford it I would recommend getting a crate sent by air as you can then bring items that are expensive to buy and bulky.



In conclusion if like us you move over to New Zealand about 3 months before your furniture arrives then be prepared to rough it a bit. We have survived quite comfortably on inflatable mattresses and cheap duvets but I really look forward to getting our beds back and being able to cook a larger variety of food - not just stuff that can be boiled in saucepans!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The very very very long journey..........

The total journey time from Brussels to Wellington is 26 hours. It was going to take us a bit longer. All our furniture had been collected on the 24th of Feb and our flight wasn't due to leave until the 25th so we booked ourselves into a Holiday Inn in Brussels for one night. This meant that we had to cross the city in a Taxi loaded down with 3 large suitcases, 3 small suitcases, two backpacks and a pushchair. All the items that we were going to survive on for the next 3 months.

The Holiday Inn was a bit of luxury for us after the stress of the last few days. Packing up all your furniture and tying up all the loose ends before leaving the country had been rather hard work. Thank goodness we had the help of my parents. They are extremely good at cleaning cupboards, scouring cookers and entertaining kids - all at the same time.

I cant say I slept much that night - it was rather difficult saying goodbye to my Mum and Dad and I couldn't help but wonder whether we were doing the right thing tearing the kids away from their grandparents. However a hotel breakfast always cheers me up and the early morning wake up call of a two year old always make you forget any worries.

We caught a flight from Brussels to Heathrow at 10 o'clock and began to worry about what we had let ourselves in for. The 45 minutes flight had seemed endless as DD2 decided that she didn't want to sit in one place and had to be continually swapped between myself and DH.


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We arrived in Heathrow about 10.30 and it was still to early to check in so had a coffee and sat and thought about all the things we where going to miss from the UK. Once we had got past the family, our dog and radio 2 it got a bit difficult. As we hadn't lived in the country for the past 16 months we had become a bit detached and no longer felt as British as we used to. It will be interesting to see what we miss after a year in Wellington.

We were flying to Wellington via Los Angeles with Air New Zealand. A good tip when travelling with young children is to check in early. DD2 was not quite 2 when we flew, so to save a bit of money we had not booked her a seat and she was due to sit on one of our laps. Now the kind chap who checked us in managed to get us an extra seat for DD2 at no extra charge as the flight wasn't fully booked. I think this act of kindness probably saved our sanity!

Once checked in we headed towards the security gate. If you have ever tried to go through a security check with two young children and lots of hand luggage you will know that getting through in one piece is a feat of ingenuity. First of all you have to separate all electronic gear and laptops and remove from their bags. Toddlers have to be removed from their buggy and said buggy has to be folded in order to be x-rayed. All your personal jewellery, belts and metal items have to be removed and if security it at a particularly heightened state you have to remove your shoes as well. All this has to be done whilst trying to prevent toddler from climbing onto the conveyor belt or running off into the distance. You will also find you annoy the business suited executives and other passengers as you take twice as long as everyone else to pass through. Gosh it was fun! One particularly difficult bit was extracting Fimble from DD2 as even cuddly toys need to pass through the x-ray machine. DD2 quite enjoyed watching Fimble pass through the machine in the end and by the end of our trip was so used to going through security that she was placing him on the conveyor belt without being asked.

Heathrow departures is very boring if you are 4 or 2 years old (actually its not that exciting for a 33 year old). Once you have done Hamleys and Boots for the second time it can get very difficult. My two found the seats made a very good climbing frame so I decided to leave them to it and ignored the disapproving glances from fellow passengers. We thought it best to let them work off some energy now before the long flight.

The first sight of our plane was quite exciting. I thought once we boarded that there was no going back. This thought was rather scary as I knew that we were unlikely to be able to afford to come back and visit for at least the first year. I suddenly felt very attached to my home country.

I have never been on a Trans-Atlantic flight before and was really impressed with the pillows and blankets that they give you. The little TV screens on the back of the seats are also rather good and the girls were very impressed with the choice of kids programmes. We had come armed with an enormous selection of colouring books, sticker books, aqua-draw games, cars, teddies etc.. None of these were touched for the first half of the journey as the girls amused themselves with the TV screens and the trays of food we were given periodically.


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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Packing Up - What to take and what to leave....



We brought everything with us when we moved from the UK to Belgium. And I mean everything! We had boxes in our garage full of toy money from monopoly games, notes from University lectures and slightly mouldy paper backs. We now had to decide what to take to the other side of the world.


The was going to be very tricky as we were on a somewhat limited budget but on the other hand we didn't want to spend a lot of money when we reached New Zealand. Having done some research on the Internet we discovered that furniture was likely to be quite expensive out there and - horror of horrors -there is no Ikea yet in New Zealand! I ended up getting all the removal firms to give us two quotes - one for taking everything (Ikea flat pack and all) and one for just the bare essentials (mainly toys and photos). It turned out that there wasn't all that much difference in the quotes and we decided to take everything, which was unlikely to be a full container load.

We still had to have a big clear out. The kids had grown up a lot since we had been in Belgium and I had lots of baby gear to get rid of and there was also the strict import guidelines in New Zealand to consider. You are not allowed to bring in any soil, food, untreated leather goods or plant or animal matter. So if we were to bring our bikes and pushchairs they would have to be thoroughly cleaned. Luckily we didn't own any moose heads or other hunting souvenirs so that wasn't a problem!


We did however have a large plastic Wendy house which had lived in the garden for over a year which we had to dismantle, de-spider and disinfect. There was apparently no way we could live without this (according to my 4 year old). I did however manage to sneak out the small ride on lion with the really annoying and repetitive tune that plays relentlessly.

We eventually got our visas through, mainly thanks to a nice lady called Ros who worked in the New Zealand embassy in Brussels. She was very helpful and got our visas ready in a day as soon as she received all our passports. We were now able to book our flights and it all began to look like it was actually going to happen.

Packing is never easy and thankfully my parents agreed to come up and help clean the house and pack in the two weeks before the big move. We also had a visit from DHs Dad - that was when it began to sink in that we were actually going to be moving a long way away. I think I coped with this by not actually thinking about it (denial is always a good option). But when it actually came to saying goodbye to people it was very difficult.

The girls seemed to cope well until we actually had to start packing away all their toys. It was difficult to explain why all the toys would be travelling on a big boat but we were going on the plane. DD2 seemed to take all the packing in her stride and wanted to be packed in a box herself.



One of the major problems we had was deciding what to actually take on the plane with us. Anything that went by boat wouldn't be seen for 3 months so we had to pack enough in suitcases to last that long. We decided to take a few essential toys and books for the girls to make them feel at home. I sorted out clothes and shoes - bearing in mind we were heading towards the end of summer in New Zealand and leaving the snow and ice from the depths of winter in Belgium. It was going to be a big change.

I had a big discussion with DH about whether or not to pack sheets and towels and how to fit them in. I am sure he would have been happy sleeping on coverless duvets and us all using the one towel - however I can not live like that. In the end I had to make do with taking two towels and no bedding as there simply wasnt the space. DD2's Fimble and DD1's rabbit took priority.

The removal men arrived one day before our flight was due to go. I have never had my items professionally packed before and was rather surprised when they started to pack up all our Ikea flat pack furniture in bubble wrap and protective wrapping. It was rather scary when you know that all your worldly goods will soon be floating about in the middle of the Atlantic. And even more scary when you see the four suitcases you and your family are going to be living out of for the next 3 months.




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The Hard Work Begins

Now we had made the decision the real work began. Its not easy to get into New Zealand. Even if you have a job offer you still have to get a work visa, pass medicals and have police checks. We had to sort all this out in time for DH to start work in six weeks. This is not an easy thing to do in the UK but we were living in Belgium and our French was quite frankly appalling!

The first thing I did was enlist the help of my mother. She has lived in France for about 6 years and in that time has become fluent in the language. Mum agreed to help and she started to ring around trying to get a medical booked with a doctor that could speak English. We also had to have X-rays for myself and DH. We managed to get a medical booked and all of us got on the tram on a snowy Belgian evening and headed towards the one doctor in the city qualified to do Medicals for New Zealand and that spoke English.

His english it turns out wasnt brilliant but he was great with the kids. The examination was very thorough. As well as having a chest x-ray to check for TB and other respiratory diseases they take several blood and urine tests and hieght and wieght. I dont think I was as thoroughly examined even when I was pregnant.

The girls were a bit confused when we started stripping off to begin the examination. "Why has daddy clothes on?" DD1 exclaimed and they both watched avidley as the Doctor began to tap all DHs joints and listen to his chest. They were both very keen to strip off when it was their turn. DD2 was so keen to join in she kept climbing onto the examination table in the middle of my exam.

I hated the whole thing as it didnt occur to me that we would have to strip off and I had a very old pair of knickers on and non matching bra. Very embarrising in a country with an underwear shop on every street corner.

The next thing we had to tackle was getting DH a work permit and me and the girls visitor permits. For these you need police certificates stating that you havent committed any criminal offence and passports valid for over 30 months. Now luckily the police certificates werent a problem but both my and DD1s passport had less than 2 years left on them. Anyone who has ever had any dealings with the passport office in the UK will know that getting new passports is never easy and getting them from abroad is doubly difficult. We had to send the passports back and forth to the embassy in Paris twice before we finally got them renewed and it cost us almost 20o Euros in the process.

We gave notice on our rented property in Brussels a few days after Christmas and then had to decide what to do with our house in the UK. We had brought it only 2 and a half years before. It was meant to be the house the kids would grow up in. That was before we realised what a crippling mortgage we had taken on and what a horrendous commute DH would have to do. It was a new house on a nice estate but with the falling house prices we were going to loose a lot of money if we sold - so we decided to continue to rent it out. Only problem was we were in the process of finding new tenants as our old ones moved out at Christmas. Talk about a stressy time! If you have high blood pressure or heart problems - do not move to the other side of the world. They should put a health warning on all those "Wanted Down Under" programmes on the BBC.

It got to the first week in February and we had agreed a start date with DHs new employers of the 1st March. We still did not have our work and visitor visas, we hadn't booked our flights or found anywhere to live yet. I was just a little bit stressed!

The Big Decision

We had been living in Brussels for 14 months and rather liked it. We didn't speak the language but I had managed to make a few friends in the local expat community and with the parliaments generous living allowance we didn't have any financial problems for once.
However DHs secondment was coming to an end and we would have to head back to the UK in a few months time. This meant back to the daily 4 hour commute for DH and back to buying value food and worrying about going into the overdraft. We didn't really fancy this.

DH started to look around for alternatives to heading back to the UK. He tried for a job in Manchester and looked at things in Paris. None of which I was that keen on. So he spotted a job in Wellington, New Zealand. Well we had both decided long ago that if we were going to live abroad permanently it would be Canada or New Zealand - so I told him to go for it. Thinking that he was unlikely to get and I needn't think about it seriously till then. Well two days before Christmas 2009 and we get the email - he has the job.

"Bugger" is the first thing that goes through my mind. Now I really had to think about what i wanted. DH wanted to go for it, and I could understand where he was coming from. New Zealand is meant to be one of the best places to raise children, has an excellent education system, fantastic open spaces and a good standard of living. However it doesn't have my family in it. I am very close to my family and I have often said that what i really want is to live in the same town as my parents and brother and sister (my DH surprisingly is not that keen on this idea!). Well if we were in New Zealand this wasn't going to happen. My grandparents were getting older - what would we do when they went - how would we afford to travel home? I began to panic and told DH we couldn't go.

He accepted this but I could see he was disappointed. This led to many sleepless nights and several animated discussions. One of which DD1 overheard and repeated to my mother over the phone. You have to be so careful what you say in front of a four year old.

In the end I decided that we should go for it. This was as a result of many conversations but mainly down to my Grandad and Nan. They repeatedly said we should go for it and that we shouldn't waste any opportunities we get in life. Well this was one hell of an opportunity we were being given.

Neither of us had ever been to New Zealand or even south of the equator but we decided that we would make the move to the other side of the world. So this blog is about us, that's me, my DH (husband), DD1 (daughter no.1) and DD2 (daughter no.2) relocating and making a life for ourselves in Wellington New Zealand.