Thanks to the company who hired my husband, we were set up in temporary housing for a week. We arrived at the furnished apartment from the train station around 8pm and our son was overjoyed to have proper furniture again; not just beds in a hotel room but a couch, chairs, television, and a dining table. I was relieved to have a place to plop our baggage.
In the morning, Husband ventured off to find a dairy to get a few staple items for our tiny kitchen. The Wellington wind welcomed us as we walked our way up and down narrow city streets to find a car rental. Our dog was quarantined an hour north of the city and we were anxious to get to him for visiting hours.
Neither my husband, nor I, had ever driven on the left side of the road before and didn’t exactly know what to expect but embraced it as part of our adventure. Thank goodness for GPS! Somehow we managed to find the motorway after several honks from frustrated Wellingtonians who got stuck behind us. Husband quickly learned the importance of signalling (indicating, it’s called here), something he didn’t do much of in the States.
The quarantine center was hidden away from the motorway behind trees but with no real entrance, making it impossible to find. We drove back and forth five or six times and when we finally discovered the secret driveway, they turned us away. We missed the specific visiting hours and were heartbroken.
The next day we tried again, more confident in where we were headed. After wrapping our shoes in sterile wraps, we were reunited with one very happy puppy. He leapt and twirled, barked and peed all over our shoes. He had his own kennel with indoor/outdoor space and his own bed with blankets. He was well taken care of but it was still so very difficult to leave him that day. He whined and cried and so did we. It would be a long week and a half until we were able to see him again. But there was plenty to do.
As our days went on exploring Wellington and I got my son back on a regular sleep schedule, our next main task was to find a rental home. There was a house we’d found online while in America that was still available. The property manager was kind, and when we saw the house, we knew it was the one we wanted.
In the States, owning a home is part of the American dream. It’s something people find a lot of pride in. Here, it’s not as common. The majority of people rent. It’s actually rare to find someone who owns. As we’ve settled in down here, we’ve become more aware of the awful housing crisis. My husband and I continue to say the housing issue is a main reason why we’d move back to America as it’s nearly impossible to have enough money for a down payment and even if you do, chances are the house you end up with will be a fixer-upper. Even a $500,000 home will need significant health and safety upgrades as mold tends to be part of the purchase along with no insulation (or just the ceiling and floor insulated and the use of pink batts is a new thing here), and single-pane windows. Because of the southerlies off Antarctica, this makes for an extremely cold and damp home. This was exactly what we ended up finding out after signing the six-month lease on our first Wellington rental.
Next up was buying a car. All we wanted was a used get-around car. I wasn’t expecting what my husband brought home… but hey, the Toyota FunCargo was only $6k and lasted us 2.5 years. Was it safe? That’s questionable. But it got us around and we could venture out to buy a few supplies for our desolate house: an air mattress and pillows along with sheets and blankets, towels, two camping chairs, a couple of lamps, plastic plates and utensils, a pan for cooking, a paring knife, cheap mugs to drink from, a plunger for coffee, and a 5’ stuffed bear for our son to climb on and cuddle with (which he does to this day). Some of my husband’s coworkers loaned a card table and chairs and even a small couch someone was selling.
We were okay with these simple items because it was only temporary. Our shipping container would arrive in two weeks. Or so we thought.
It was September by the time our belongings arrived in Wellington. For two months, in New Zealand winter, we went without the regular conveniences of home. I’m not complaining; this uncertainty was what we’d signed up for. But along with that, Wellington was hit with two large earthquakes in one week of 6M or greater. Luckily our house was made of wood so it swayed but it was still terrifying.
It was also terribly cold— winter in New Zealand is nothing compared to Vermont winters, aye? Not exactly. The house had zero insulation and single-paned windows like I mentioned before. The only source of heat was a wood stove, which didn’t make sense because heat escaped through walls as wind battered the house. The first few nights I had to dress my boy in layers to be sure he’d be warm enough. It was a lovely house, but when we were escaping to our car just to turn on the heat and warm up (even in December- NZ summer), we knew it was time to find a different house.
So we found rental number two and that was a nightmare. The landlord lady took advantage of us because we were foreigners, which a friend had warned us about but we were too anxious to just find a house that we didn’t listen. We ended up living there for 18 months because we were so tired of moving. In those months, we saw her only three times. It was evident she didn’t care about her property and only about collecting rent checks. There was a rodent and ant issue and it would take her weeks to respond. Finally we took care of it on our own, even though it was her responsibility.
During this time, my husband accepted a job offer at a different company that he felt was a better fit (he was right). We’d also travelled back to America for a visit (not as hard as the previous trip but challenging in different ways). I thought that trip would curb my homesickness— which it did in many ways— but when later we had an attempted robbery and an issue with new neighbors who were jerks, our landlord was of no help…
…nothing felt right anymore and I was on the verge of a breakdown.
In May 2015, I checked into my favorite hotel for a night away to do some writing. I also had to do some thinking. I thought about whether or not we were supposed to stay in New Zealand. After all that work we’d gone through to get here, 2.5 years later I still didn’t feel settled, and now because of the neighbors, didn’t feel safe. Our marriage was strained, anxieties high, and I questioned my dreams. It was that bad. I was ready to flee. I was too knackered to carry on.
In the stillness of my hotel room, as I looked up to the hills of the suburbs, I laid it all out there to whomever was listening. I named my fears, concerns, and released my dreams to the Universe, asking for some kind of guidance.
After explaining to my husband how I’d been feeling, that week we looked at an appealing four-story house exceeding any expectations we’d come to know of Kiwi housing. We thought there was no way we’d get accepted (it’s very competitive) but we did. Not only that but the landlord lowered the rent because the lower levels need regular drying. Their honesty about the housing in Wellington was the complete opposite situation from our previous money-hungry landlord. Our new home is warm, insulated, with double-paned windows and a gorgeous view of a city we adore.
Also that week, I received read requests from two agents in America in response to queries on my first manuscript. Nothing became of those but I took all of it as a sign that perhaps I was on the right path after all.
Someone or something was listening to me that night in the hotel room as I cried to the lights twinkling in the hills… because our new house is in those hills. I can see the hotel across the harbor from our window. Now permanent residents, I’m happy to call our new place home while we continue our adventure down under as a soon-to-be family of four (five including our dog!).
Yes, New Zealand is taking good care of us.
And it couldn’t be more right.