Small Family in Six Suitcases

Hi. How are you? We're a family of three who moved to New Zealand from Seattle in July '05. We sold or gave away pretty much everything except what we could carry onto the 'plane. We thought we'd write a bit about it. We'll love it if you can join us for a few moments.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Our solicitor phoned today and told us that we are now homeowners. (He, by the way, has been terrific and has earned every penny of his fee).

This was also Matt's last day in his job in Ponsonby. They gave him a morning tea, a huge card and music gift voucher, and this evening there are boardroom drinks for him and another staff member who is leaving this week.

People are wishing us all the best in Te Kuiti and we are very excited. It's funny, though: Matt thinks that another round of farewells and good wishes such as this, as we move and leave jobs yet again, can almost make us feel like frauds in some way... as though we were scooping up all the goodbye chocolates and scuttling onto the next bus out of town.

Of course that's not what's going on -- we only found Te Kuiti a month or so before Christmas and the decision to move there was a fresh and un-premeditated one.

Matt's feeling is just the result of saying so many thanks-yous and goodbyes very intensely six months ago, and now doing the same in a city that does not know us nearly so well.

Vera and Winston are coming to boardroom drinks tonight, so we shall have to keep Winston away from the stronger lagers. We are responsible parents.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Matt is starting, a la an athlete before the 10,000-metre race, to waggle his hands and rotate his neck so that his chin tangoes with each side of his collar bone. He is in warm-up mode.
For Matt knows that in a few days he will be entering our new house for the Big Clean... and possibly the Big Paint.

A couple of years ago, Fleetwood Mac sang "there's only one brush we need/ It's the one that never leaves a trace". Matt is on a quest to find it. The last time he had a shot at painting was in tipping-down rain at Winston's Auckland kindy, during their work party. He was given the task of painting the exterior of one of the outdoor toy bins in a sprightly blue. But the combination of the weather and his, er, prowess with the nylon bristles led one of the kindy teachers to view the work-in-progress with the fearful, hollow eye that one normally sees in viewers of world tragedies.

At least he is excited. He talks of extracting carpet tacks and of Vileda supermops with the same fizz in his voice in which '50s balladeers crooned about Sixteen Candles.

Meanwhile, Winston (pictured here in another context) is being quietly briefed about actually doing the job: working clockwise round the house; mixing the bleach in the bucket in the nice proportions; and so on. Everyone seems to see him as being the source of salvation for the new place. But if he's feeling any pressure, he's making a good show of the careless heart: today he spent several hours nominating his mother as a "doggie" and chasing her round the house trying to attach a "collar" -- as it might be a red carabiner key-ring -- to her index finger. We have it on strong authority that Spartacus relieved any tensions in the like manner, on the ring road just aft of the Coliseum.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Driving rain

Pouring rain and wind after days of sunshine.

The three of us had to get up and trudge through it all together to get the same bus today. As Matt is partly mute because of his lip injury we near-presicely resembled a scene from The Piano, always excepting that Matt doesn't look much like Holly Hunter. And we were carrying sandwiches. Not a piano.

Anyway, on the way down Onewa Road we saw something funny. The carpool lane accepts vehicles carrying a minimum of three people. So two young lads have painted a placard and walk up and down the length of Onewa. The placard says "$5 will get you in the fast lane". They dive into willing cars to help the driver beat the traffic by suddenly having the requisite number of passengers to use the carpool lane. Then they hop out and walk back up to the top. And so on.

This is all very charming and confirmatory of NZ ingenuity but -- and never mind the tax questions of it all -- Vera and Matt foresee competition for their cheerful scheme in the female form. We reckon that it's only a matter of time before two pretty Kiwi teens offer the same service for, say, double the price, and who will argue with us that they'd get more cars screeching to a halt than the finish line of a Lombard rally?

We shall see.

Vera taught dance at the university while Matt and Winston had a coffee. Then Industry beckoned Matt sternly, so off he went to work using the Link bus. A dynamic lifestyle.

Monday, January 23, 2006

About Te Kuiti

Initially we looked for a house in Te Kuiti because we wanted to be in a small rural town with reasonable access to bigger centres, and because of our budget. Visiting and house-hunting in the area has also led us to meeting some great folks, and now we're itching to get down there to get to know the town better.

Our hope and plan is to be able to take a little time to shape our Winston-care and work patterns in the way we want, because we will have a manageable home loan. We might be able, in part, to work from or near home in Te Kuiti. But even if so, the town's two-to-three-hour drive from Auckland will be something a challenge because Vera will commute twice a week to her new dance-lecturing post in Auckland. However, each of us has skills that make working around Te Kuiti or Hamilton a reasonable option.

Te Kuiti (there's a photo here) is a town with a population of about 4500. It is in the Waitomo district, where dairy and sheep farming and cattle raising are key to the economy. Hamilton is an hour to the north, Rotorua about the same to the east, Auckland and New Plymouth a couple of hours north and south respectively. The ocean is about 40 minutes west. The original Maori settlement was near the Mangaokewa Gorge portal and was called Te Kuititanga, meaning "the narrowing" or "convergence". Modern Te Kuiti was probably started as a railway-building camp about 120 years ago. This site has more about the history of the town: I got my information chiefly from there.

Te Kuiti is still a stop on the Auckland-Wellington train, which runs once a day. It might be that Vera gets a few super-saver tickets on this to get up to work! We'll see. It's an easy enough timetable to remember, so we're that far ahead of the game for starters. :-)

NEWSFLASH: this evening, in the heat of a game, Winston threw a flashlight at his Dad and pretty much rang the bell, splitting Matt's top lip impressively and causing scenes that wouldn't have looked out of place in the seconds' corner during a heavyweight bout. Vera's emergency skills with a handful of frozen peas, a rubber band and a washcloth were the talk of Auckland (probably). Thirty minutes later, the sight of Matt gingerly sipping a can of Victoria Bitter through a drinking straw was an affecting one, though slightly pathetic.

Preparing for the new house

The house we are buying in Te Kuiti will, of course, be empty. Although we have very little furniture and few effects, we are quite looking forward to the opportunity to choose one bed, table or applicance at a time!

We have only seen the house furnished with the current residents' things, so we expect it to look pretty big and empty. We really want to see the hardwood floors under the carpets.
Winston loves construction and DIY tools, and we really think he will enjoy the process of moving in and helping get the house ready.

The garden has a peach tree and two plum trees. Matt's only strong want for the garden is to plant a citurs tree while it is still summer! Then, he feels, he will pretty much have shot his horticultural bolt.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

From Auckland to the Waikato

Getting ready to move to Te Kuiti prompts us to look back at our half-year in Auckland.

These months, and our preparation to move to NZ before them, have gone so well on the whole -- aside from the hard fact of distance from family and friends -- that listing any quibbles seems a bit miserly, like a puppy needling St. Francis for not pinching her a nylabone from the pet shop.

We like this city:
Auckland people have been helpful and encouraging, giving us little breaks like a few hours' free Internet access or laundry discounts. One of our landlords-to-be, a terrific guy, we met on the airport shuttle as we arrived. Our current landlord has been very pleasant, too.

Winston seems to love NZ, enjoying his kindy. Matt soon found a part-time job in a company that has been understanding about the effects that settling in and caring for a child can have on work schedules. Vera has just secured a longed-for role teaching university-level dance courses.

And it looks as though we've just bought a little house that suits us in Te Kuiti, shearing capital of the world.


We moved to New Zealand six months ago. We came over with what we could carry in six suitcases -- eight if you count the two Matt had brought on a solo trip a few weeks earlier and had stored under the Queen of Tonga's old Auckland house -- with nothing else to be shipped later bar maybe a couple of boxes of books. We sold our townhome near Seattle, gave our lovely family and pals lots of hugs (as far as we could, reluctantly having to make do with words to Matt's family in England), and travelled in July.

The NZ government gave us permanent residence upfront because Vera is a ballet & dance educator, and that is on their list of okay trades. Our dealings with the NZ Immigration Service were very straightforward and pleasant. The nine hurdles of the application process took five or six months, but that was just fine with us. We had no job offers and NZ did not owe us a living or a visa! They let us in chiefly on the basis of Vera's work experience and degrees, and also on a trick Matt does with a matchbox and two laundry tokens. That last bit isn't true.

We live in a small rental cottage near the edge of Manuka Reserve, north of Auckland city. But we hope, by next week, to be starting a move to the Waitomo region where we are set to close on a neat Huntly-brick-and-Rimu house we found late last year.