Long-time readers of this blog may recall that it began with a shameless exercise in self-indulgence whereby I listed ‘things I will miss about the UK’ as I embarked upon this globe-hopping adventure of mine. Three years on (can it really be that long?) and Holly & I have recently bid adieu – for the time being, at least – to the place I came increasingly to call ‘home’: the land of the long white cloud, country of dag rattlers and nation of sickeningly good rugby players – New Zealand.
So before I leap to the exciting travel itinerary we’re currently working our way through en route back to the UK, it seems appropriate to revisit that inaugural task and consider the ‘things I will miss about NZ’ when I’m ensconced back home and muttering visible curses through the ice and grey of the Great British winter…
· The sunshine that bathes Auckland in almost obscene quantities
· Beachfront walks - living postcards, framed by glorious, gnarled pohutukawas
· The friends I’ve made, some only known for the briefest of times but sure to be mates for life, and of course the wonderful extended family I’ve acquired through Holly
· The Golden Dawn, the only place for Friday late night revelry on Ponsonby Road (it’s just a shame it shares its name with Greece’s fascist party…)
· Real Groovy record shop, one of the few great surviving independent emporiums of music anywhere
· The freedom of being able to drive everywhere, offset only slightly by carbon guilt and the clenched fist-inducing rush hour bottlenecks on the motorway
· Famous chefs serving customers in their own restaurants, like Al Brown, who recently brought me in person a ‘plate of bad’ (chips, cheese and gravy, obviously) at his superb new Manhattan-style diner on Federal Street
· Auckland’s Sky Tower, the lighthouse that defines the skyline and guided me wherever in the city I happened to find/lose myself
· Trips to the South Island, that mind-blowing smorgasbord of mountains and lakes seemingly lifted straight out of Tolkein’s head
· Trips to Northland, where almost tropical white-sand beaches line NZ’s most stunning coastline and location of some unforgettable new year’s parties
· A summertime Christmas Day with beach walks and barbecues and cricket in the back yard – the novelty never wore off
· The almost total absence of chain restaurants and cafes. NZ must be one of the only developed markets in the world to give a two-fingered salute to Starbucks and it’s all the better for it
· Feeling safe when running through dark suburban streets late at night with my headphones on and the music LOUD
· Not having to queue for a table in a restaurant, or for service at a bar, and not being put on hold and being forced to listen to crackly 70s soft rock for an hour when you call the bank
· Draft lager that that doesn’t taste like watered down piss
· The seemingly infinite choice of superb independent cafes for a weekend brunch – and menus that don’t give up at bacon & eggs
· Palm trees everywhere, making me feel like I’m always on holiday
· La Cigalle, the Parnell-based French market that became a favourite spot for picking up organic produce and a crisp buttery Danish on a Sunday morning
· The ease of al fresco exercise all year round – and so many fantastic places to walk and run, like Tamaki Drive and Cornwall Park
· The outstanding quality of the sushi – how did Tesco ever earn the right to pass off those dry, chewy, faintly acrid rolls of theirs as the same stuff?
· Barbecues every night of the week in summer
· Jeff and the cats of Kumeu – as entertaining and eclectic a bunch of feline friends you could ever hope to acquire
· People actually being nice to you in train stations
· Takeaway roast dinners – why has no one in the UK ever thought to do this?
· The wine, especially the stuff from Central Otago – some of the best pinot noir you’ll taste anywhere ever
· The pride Kiwis take in fresh produce and good honest home-cooked grub – ready meals are a tiny portion of their market and everyone seems a good deal healthier because of it
· For a couple of (relatively) little islands, the incredible diversity in landscapes and natural scenery, from white sand beaches to smoke belching volcanoes, from green rolling hills to vast crystalline lakes – for once, the ads don’t lie
· Being able to see really massive bands play in really small venues
· The supermarkets staying open late on a Sunday evening – how did I ever cope when they used to shut at 4pm in the UK? How will I cope again?
· Colonial style villas with huge “decks” out the back (terraces) and front (porches) – perfect for afternoon reading and evening drinks
Etc. Etc. The list could go on. What started as a tentative step into the unknown, when I first made the decision to move halfway around the globe to a country I’d never been to, became one of my life’s most rewarding experiences to date. I’d be lying if I said it had always been plain sailing, and my blog entries over these past three years have spoken freely of some of my pet frustrations. Certainly, unlike many émigrés, I never came to think of New Zealand as my permanent home, but my time there has opened my eyes to a place that is, if anything, overlooked and under-valued by the wider world.
Few people I know back home have ever been there, or even thought to visit. Yes, it is a long, long way away, but so is Australia, and Brits don’t seem as reluctant to embrace the idea of a holiday in Sydney or a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises have of course given prominence to the spectacular scenery-fest of the South Island, but as I hope the above list shows, there is a lot more to New Zealand than that and, for me, a compelling case to make a home there for anyone seeking a working holiday or temporary change of scene, or even a permanent move abroad.
For me, New Zealand has been somewhere that has allowed me to become more independent and further my career, to understand the real meaning of great coffee and of great sushi, to revel in summers that have appeared to stretch out for over half the year, to see stunning landscapes and live in a city full of sublime views, to meet some wonderful people and make some wonderful friends and, maybe above all, to prove to myself that I’m able to carve a rich and fulfilling life for myself far away from the mates and family and places and culture that I grew up around.
But all good things must come to an end, and ultimately the call of home has proven too much to resist indefinitely. This isn’t just about reconnecting with those things I thought I’d miss though (and yes, it has been a struggle at times without the football and pubs and culture of the UK). For me, it’s an exciting new era that will allow me to reintegrate into British life with new eyes and new ideas, and show Holly the best - and the worst - of the place where I grew up.
In the short term, it might mean exploring the areas – like the Yorkshire Dales and the Scottish Highlands – that, for whatever reason, I ignored during my first 27 years there and for which my time in NZ has awakened a new fascination. In the long term, it might mean setting up a business or driving an enterprise that will see me attempt to bring some of the things that New Zealand does really well - but which the UK manifestly doesn’t - to home soil. Like good coffee, of course.
Right now, it’s about celebrating an amazing time in a bloody awesome country and getting excited for home sweet home. And just a little bit of travel in between, as I’ll soon be writing about in my next blog. Stay tuned!