Monday, 6 September 2010

A Brit abroad in wild Wellington, New Zealand

Now that I'm resident in the UK again, I've turned to Brits abroad in other countries around the world to share their stories. Starting the series is Kerry-Ann, who lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

"In January it will be five years since my husband and I disembarked slightly green at Wellington airport. All I knew about my destination was that we had a bank account, accommodation for two weeks and our shipment of belongings arrived in 6 weeks. I was also told Wellington was famed to be the only capital city situated in the roaring 40’s zone. (As if I really wanted to know that!)

My relationship with Wellington has been rocky. It started with incredible disappointment after my first sighting of Wellington housing. I slapped myself a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t having a bad dream. No, it wasn’t a bad dream: I really had entered a time warp. I thought I was coming to a first world country; instead I seemed to have landed in a pioneering village. This shock and disappointment was soothed only by the incredible beauty of the bays, sea and mountainous area.

View of Wellington and suburbs

First on our agenda was finding somewhere more permanent to stay. Because my husband had already started working, it was left to me to find a place. Armed with a bus timetable and a street map I invariably got so lost that I rarely made the rental viewings, and the viewings I did make always ended up being up a steep hill accessed only by slippery, mouldy stairs. How anyone was supposed to do grocery shopping and get the shopping home I had no idea!

Most of (but not all) of Wellington suburbs are built on hillsides which means the roads are narrow, twisty and steep. One day while complaining about another twisty street on a bus the passenger next to me told me that the streets of Wellington were designed in London. However, when they came to building the roads in Wellington they realised they had forgotten one very important feature: mountains. This means in some areas you drive down a road, carry your car up 70 steps or so, set your car down and continue driving as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Only in Wellington!

Houses in the Wellington suburbs

Our first month

When I look back on our first month in Wellington, we now live in luxury. I eventually found a rental for six months, which had 10 stairs to the front door and an oven. We had no car, no washing machine and no fridge. To do my washing I walked to a lady’s house on the opposite side of the valley then walked back with wet washing. Once a day I walked to the corner shop and bought ice to keep our stuff cool and we borrowed a mattress that served as our bed at night and sofa during the day.

That house taught us that houses are not insulated; they do not have central heating, do not have double glazing but are incredibly well ventilated. The gaps in the floor board were so big that the wind used to lift the carpet up. Two heaters and jumpers were just enough to stop us from turning into ice men! It also taught us what was most important when we bought our own house. A North-facing house. We were so particular that if we stopped at an open home and our compass said anything other than north-facing – we drove straight on. We didn’t even go in and have a look.

View from our house

Getting to grips with Wellington's atmosphere

When I was in the UK I lived just outside London. London taught me what vibe, buzz and culture was. I loved London and spent hours exploring and enjoying its liveliness. Wellington on the other hand was quite different! Cuba Street and Courtney Place are the main cultural hubs. When we first arrived my cousin took us to explore this heaving, buzzing centre, thinking it would cheer us up.

Cuba Street

I still believe that my cousin was hallucinating when he made this suggestion. Or maybe he just forgot I was a Londoner? Whichever, my first walk through the heaving culture centre reminded me of walking through a ghost town. Since then I have discovered the wonderful riches and gems of Courtney Place’s international restaurants, cinemas, theatre houses and tea shops. I love spending time there and don’t need much of an excuse to meet a friend at a coffee shop.

One other thing I learnt about Wellington is that during the summer holiday the population halves. The masses disappear, So if you want to experience Wellington, don’t come during January - you'll probably be the only one around!

Wellington Wharf area

Settling down

It took me a while to learn to appreciate Wellington’s roughness, its friendly locals and relaxed lifestyle. And now I cannot bear the thought of leaving this rugged capital city. It has so much going for it. Where else can I walk across the whole capital city in 25 minutes? Or walk between client meetings via the beach front? And where else could I be among the ‘heaving’ city throngs and five minutes later be lost within mountainous beauty, or driving down the rugged beach front miles from the nearest person?

I have loved and hated Wellington – in turn Wellington has thrown tantrums, produced the unexpected and wooed me with its beauty. It has been a fiery relationship in which I was determined to make a break at the first opportunity, and Wellington has been determined to keep me here. I think Wellington has won the struggle!"

About the author:
Kerry-Ann is an entrepreneur, Internet Marketing consultant, outsider, foreigner, traveller, hybrid-nomad, and home maker.
She says: "My blog Audacious Freedom is a diary of the highs and lows, the personal growth, challenges, obstacles and triumphs I have had, as I have learnt to be flexible and adapt to life on the move, from travelling to international relocations. Join me on this journey and if you are thinking about moving abroad – then take the step. If you don’t like it you can always go back!"


  1. A bit late but enjoyed the story. Wellington... till you have had to face the wind you have not lived in Wellington! Enjoying reading stories about other expats and their (humourous) struggles to settle in.

  2. Wellington is just Southend with mountains.........will the mentality of Basildon......


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