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Thread: 1st Impressions - one month in Wellington NZ with small children

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Wiltshire, UK

    Default 1st Impressions - one month in NZ with small children

    Hiya all. Thanks to Carol for updating on our progress.
    We have now been here since 21st May so thought it was time we let you all know how it is going and for the benefit of the NZ virgins, our first impressions.

    Arrived 8am in Wellington after 28 hours travelling with Katie (7), Finn (21m) and Rob. Would advise anyone thinking of doing this with a toddler - don't! Definately would have been better with a stopover but then we wanted the extra luggage allowance going via LA.
    Met by the most friendly lady in NZ - Carol - which was lovely.

    Taken by taxi with trailer for the 8 enormous 30kg suitcases to the centre of Wellington where we had booked a serviced apartment for the first few weeks (Quest on Johnston - highly recommended). As I looked out from the taxi windows my first impressions were that it looked like a town from a Western movie - all the shops look like they should be on a film set for a shanty town. None of the houses look like each other (unlike housing estates in the UK) and I had never seen so many houses crammed together.

    We moved into the apartment and had to make all the necessary adjustments for a toddler - moving all the knives out of the drawers, putting elastic bungies on the cupboard doors, moving the hi-fi out of his reach, etc. Thankfully, we had paid for a new cot for him before we arrived and had arranged for this to be assembled in the room he was sharing with his sister. One good thing!

    We spent the first week exploring Wellington which does have quite a few things for children (anyone want a list?) but had done everything by Friday. Went to the 150th anniversary of the primary school where Carol works on the Saturday and felt quite emotional seeing the NZ flag being raised accompanied by children singing the beautiful NZ national anthem (so much nicer than the UK one) at this beautifully situated school surrounded by hills and sea. A local character poet Sam Hunt(looking like Noddy Holder on acid) recited a few of his poems about divorce and substance abuse - highly appropriate for his audience of 6-11 year olds. This was followed by country dancing by the children which included the Birdie Dance. It was quite surreal but enjoyable.

    Our first trips to the supermarket were interesting. Living in the centre of Wellington with no transport, the only one available was New World - NZ owned and they pack your bags. The one in the centre of Wellington is a Metro so much smaller than normal and much more expensive. I was amazed at the variety of food - catering for the enormous diversity of ethnicities. I have never seen so many varieties of hummous. One thing which struck me (apart from the lack of gravy powder) was the size of the bags of flour. NZ obviously loves baking and the bags are the size of dog food biscuits in the UK. At least I found English Marmite renamed as Our Mate along with an imposter Marmite (which has sugar as one of the first ingredients and is so totally vile I cannot imagine why it is still sold) and the infamous Vegemite. The fruit and vegetables are fantastic quality and reasonable. We had our first strange fruit - feijoas which are heavenly. Tried the maori sweet potatoes kumara which are nice but better deep fried like chips. The variety of baked goods is incredible. So many cakes (so little time). Muffins are a national pastime. We have not done a full test of chocolate available but have discovered great slabs of chocolate with nuts embedded which is nice.

    Living in the city centre, we had to eat out quite a lot and did our best to explore all the cafes..... Thwarted in our attempts by lack of highchairs in most places. The cafes at Te Papa, Central Library and CD Record shop all come recommended though. Katie (7) discovered fluffies (frothed milk) complete with chocolate covered marshmallow fish and/or marshmallows/sprinkles and chocolate. Katie voted Te Papa best for fluffies as they served hers complete with 7 marshmallows and a chocolate fish. Very impressed by the great service everywhere.

    Rob started work after a week and I was left to entertain the kids on my own. I have to say, this is really hard work in a city centre. We had done everything several times and I was finding it difficult to think of anything that was not too expensive to do everyday. The central library was a godsend as they rent out DVDs/Videos/CDs and tapes free for children. Thank God for Thomas the Tank Engine and the Wiggles. My toddler son Finn cannot say many words but can hum the theme tune for Thomas! We walked everywhere - for hours a day and I really enjoyed that as long as it was not raining.

    We started to look at possible rental houses. We met a school trip at Te Papa (the national museum) and a lady there recommended Plimmerton as a place to try so we got a train out there. The train service around Wellington is fantastic - trains every 30 minutes all day and $20 a day gets you on all trains after 9am as many as you want. By chance, when we got to Plimmerton, there was a real estate agent open and they had just listed a house for rent on the sea front. We arranged to see it the next day and explored this little village about 30 minutes from the centre of Wellington. We popped into the school and we given a full tour by the very likeable Principal. We were hugely impressed with everything we saw. Classes were well equipped, there were fantastic outdoor facilities and very well behaved children. They said Katie would be welcome if we lived in the area.

    We saw the house the next day and fell in love with it. Although more expensive than we had planned ($450 a week), it is right on the sea front, had a balcony deck with views to die for, double garage, remote gates and garage doors, 3 beds including 1 en-suite, a well-equipped kitchen/diner, large sitting room, playroom and a laundry room. All the white goods were included apart from washing machine and it was very clean and tidy. No central heating though and 1 tiny gas fire in the sitting room is the total heating available. We lived in a really pretty location in Wiltshire before we moved to NZ so looking out to something nice was important. We rented the house for a year.

    Next thing was to buy a car which was not too bad at all. There are lots of good importers of Japanese cars around and we got a 10 yr old Subaru Legacy Grand Wagon 4wd with 78k on the clock for what we had sold our 2 cars for in the UK. Car is great apart from the hi fi instructions being in Japanese! We did not realise that you couldn't just pay for the car and take it away - it has to be registered by the garage. But - they lent us a heap until our car was ready which was nice.

    After another 2 weeks in the apartment we moved here in Plimmerton on 13th May with the help of Carol & Kenny who have loaned us tables/chairs, beds, oil heaters, a dyson, crockery etc. and us purchasing 6 trollies worth from the Warehouse ("where everyone gets a bargain"). I am eagerly awaiting our container which is due to arrive on 28th June but will probably not be cleared until the middle of July. Minimal living is fine though for the time being.

    Katie started school on Wednesday and absolutely loves it. She is 7 and was in year 2 in the UK. Here she could have been in year 2 or 3 because of her age and ability levels. The school have been fantastic consulting with us about this and gave us the choice of moving her to year 3 or staying with year 2. They said they would ensure she was stretched academically if she stayed in year 2 so that is what we have opted to do. One of the reasons we moved here was to make sure our children were children for longer so we have no need to push her. The Principal of the school actually phoned me at night to talk about what was best for Katie - I was really impressed. She is in a class of 22!!!!!!! In the UK her class size was 31. One thing I was unprepared for was that the children have to provide their own stationery (all exercise books, pencils,etc. ) + pay a school "fee" - $100 a year. But - hey for a class size of 22, it is a very small price to pay.

    I am finding the homesickness very hard to cope with but Rob seems to have no problems with that. I miss being where I know everyone and feel in control. I miss my best friend terribly - you know - the one person who knows everything about you and still loves you~!

    Here - I am constantly trying to make sure the children are ok, especially the little one, Finn, and find the day-to-day grind of it all a bit soul-destroying. I guess in the UK I was bringing our children up in a house we had lived in for years, it was completely child-proof, I had transport and knew all the things to do with children in the area. We also had lots of friends we all spent time with. The children had their weekly activities and everything was very settled and calm. Everywhere I go, I am trying to be bright and cheerful - I hope I will meet new friends but my initial impressions are that the native NZ mums are not very friendly but all the immigrant mums are. A British ex-pat Rob met on the train turned up one night with a fire guard (as we could not have the only source of heating in the house on as Finn could stick his fingers in it) and then came round a few days later with some chairs (as we only had bean bags for the sitting room). Another British ex-pat Rob works with invited us all over for fish and chips and then got her friend to contact me as she lives in Plimmerton. The friend in Plimmerton invited a few mums around for coffee to meet me which was lovely. I am off to coffee with an Irish lady tomorrow. Our neighbour on one side is a Kiwi and has said hello but seem reluctant to have a conversation. I have no idea who lives the other side of us but I might go and introduce myself on a "brave" day.

    On the plus side, we are living in a fabulous house in a great location with a lovely school nearby. Rob is loving the sports-side of NZ and has already been to watch rugby at the cake tin Westpac stadium. He has had two rounds of golf and plans for fishing are afoot.... Our children have a beach to play on everyday which is amazing. We can also walk to everything from here - including a small New World and the Doctors.

    I LOVE the recycling and less-materialistic nature of NZ. Having to pay per bin bag (for the bag and refuse collection) is such a good idea. Recycling stuff can be collected free so it motivates you to sort it all. You also have to pay to dump your rubbish so people use things until they drop. Consequently, the charity shops seem to sell really worn out stuff here in comparison with the UK where you would be hard pressed to spot things which are second hand. The dumps here even sell off anything dumped !

    I assumed we could buy toys from charity shops easily but there are very few charity shops here and not much available in them anyway. But - toy libraries here are fantastic. You can hire big toys like Little Tikes cars for $1 a week - so much more sensible than buying them.

    But - I have to say, if I had a choice, I would not be doing this with a toddler. It is so difficult everyday with him. I would either come with a baby or a 3 year old. Between 1 and 3 has to be the least transportable age of a child I think! My darkest moments of sadness have been after a long day trying to stop my toddler impale/knife/knock/bang/hit/scratch/cut himself or his sister in an environment where I don't feel in control. Staying in rental apartments and houses are also problematical because you are constantly worried about using crayons/pens/blue tack etc. and damaging the property. Things you just wouldn't stress over in your own home.

    Some sad bits included losing my book where I had written all the information I had gathered and important stuff like electricity/phone reference numbers and a cashier short changing me by $40 in the New World metro.

    Some other observations:

    NZ have a day off for the Queen's birthday - why don't the UK????
    TV is truly dire - I have only watched CSI since I got here
    Everyone swears - even the news on the TV/newspapers include minor words like crap or bloody
    NZ goods and services are cherished and promoted - I love that
    Washing machines tend to be top loaders (look really weird but wash well)
    NZ music is great - really getting into the native stuff-
    Maori TV is hysterical - worth a look. Even with sub titles I did not understand what they were talking about
    Language barrier is definately there with UK/NZ English - some examples include me thinking there were lots of chickens loose at the airport (they were check-ins), Rob arguing with someone at the stadium that he did not want a Sprite or a toy - he wanted a beer (they were offering him Tui or Spreight beer) and a bizarre phone call from someone from Wellington Bits (who? - turns out to be Wellington Beds)
    Fantastic sculptures all over the centre of Wellington
    Why are pies here a national institution? Give me a Sainsburys chicken pie anyday!
    Rudolf Steiner education is really big in NZ - from toddler groups to schools
    You thought the UK lottery was confusing - wait till you try NZ Lotto
    Immunization for Men.C here instead of Men. B in the UK - your children will have to be immunized again.

    I think that is my head emptied for the time being. Hope this is useful to anyone thinking of coming over.
    Jennie :smile

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Devonport AKL


    FANTASTIC post Thank you soooo much

    Love the examples of confusing what people have said :mrgreen:


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Manawatu - NZ


    Thanks for sharing your experiences Jennie - they make a great read.

    Keep on keeping on.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Auckland [was UK ]


    Thanks for a great ,very informative post .......

    Good luck and best wishes for your new life....

    Please tell more when you get chance ....

    Marie x

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2005


    That's an excellent post Jennie really informative


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Wigan UK



    that was brill!!!

    Carol is a star isn't she

    keep it coming Finn will soon grow out of his little 'ways'

    Take care


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Cambridge ex- Liverpool


    Fantastic post, imformative and well put together. Stick with it, it's difficult enough with a toddler at the best of times, so to do what you have done is brave. But remember, things will improve with time.
    I loved the bit about the accent and the difficulties with it - great innit, getting all mixed up with what they are saying

    Good luck on your new life - hopefully we will be following in your footsteps in the not too distant future.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    north of Wellington


    You're back!!

    Got to tell everyone - I think Finn is just adorable!!!

    (Then again I can give him back at the end of the day....he is certainly an active one.....takes me back.....
    (maybe I'm in grandmother training.....first born turning 16 on Friday and all that.......aaaaaaaarghhhhhhhhhhhhh)

    And.....from the very mouth of the afore mentioned son at the weekend...

    "Do you think Chloe has finally met her match in Katie?"

    OH YESSSSS.........They are fantastic together!

    Hilarious to listen to some of the conversations.....

    got some photos to share.....but lost my camera today with them all on.
    Once I get my desk tidied at school it'll turn up!

    Jennie you are a cool lady...and Rob......Rick Stein eat yer heart out!

    (Please note above cheers icons DO actually represent quantity of wine drunk between the four of us in the last month!!)


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Wellington, NZ.


    Hi Jennie

    Thanks for the great post, we are due to fly out on the 18th July(4 weeks today!Arghh!) to Wellington with a 22 month old and nearly 5 year old so it made very interesting reading! I'm going to have the joy of being at home with my two until the eldest starts school in October and then it's just me and my death defying toddler for company!


  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2005
    Palmerston North - X Yorks UK


    Wonderful post - very interesting reading.
    My youngest is 17 months now and i was having a conversation with my mother in law yesterday about what a difficult age it is.

    They have no sense of danger or fear

    They get frustrated because they stuggle to communicate their needs.

    They are into anything and everything given half a chance.

    They don't understand why you say 'NO' so much.

    They think the whole world revolves around them!!!

    etc etc etc!!

    It is hard being anywhere with a toddler but as you say more so being in unfamilar surroundings, but the plus points are that his little antics will be ice breakers in many situations and you can join the mums and tots groups to meet new people.

    Keep smiling - you will get through it and you have given your children a better future to look forward to than here in the uk (IMO). (Hope we can do the same for our three in the next couple of years!) And remember there is always a spare shoulder somewhere on this forum to pour out your troubles to - you don't need to feel alone!

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