Adventures at the end of the Long White Cloud

Our Next Life

  • David Swann

Let the Moving Begin

We've done complex moves several times. Perhaps the funniest was the rather unexpected Army move from Osnabruck to Dover. On Friday, I'd been told by the Adjutant that I could expect to be in Germany for another 12 to 18 months. Woo-hoo I thought. So Sarah and I went mad over the weekend. We bought a tax-free car and a Springer Spaniel puppy called Barney.

Monday morning and there was a missive from the Adjutant... report to me immediately. So off I went. "Great news David, you're being posted to Dover in 10 weeks' time!"

When someone is that excited on your behalf, it's difficult to be the killjoy and so I reciprocated the joy. "Oh, that's brilliant Jim, thanks so much for looking after me!"

In the days before mobiles, you had to hold onto that sort of information for the day... so I get home, give Sarah a kiss: "I've got some big news!"

Sarah: "I've got bigger news, I'm pregnant!"

It was indeed bigger news. So, 10 weeks later, we managed to squeeze everything into the now-tax-incurring car including the puppy who was just able to spreadeagled against the roof of the car. Sarah of course had morning sickness by this point. And the Zeebrugge to Dover crossing was rough!

And then we had to put Barney into six months of very expensive quarantine. She never did recover from that... and neither did our finances.

And yes, the move from UK to California was chaotic... and the move from California to Auckland equally mad.

So by those standards, this is an easy move.

And we're Off!

We're 95% packed already... and I'm off to get our elderly and wheezy Nissan Micra down to Bluff. Fortunately, the weather played nice for the crossing again with almost no swell. The weather luck has to turn against us at some point...

A good drive down to Christchurch - the weather remained fine and the autumnal colours made for picturesque travelling.

The airbnb in Christchurch was interesting. Three ultra-modern rooms to myself (bedroom, bathroom and lounge) in a quiet suburb... and all for $58 a night. That seems crazy low... but looking at airbnb pricing in Christchurch I suspect that's pricing for a supply surplus and a demand shortage. Christchurch is well supplied with hotel rooms and isn't a major tourist draw...

George did quite well. I think a few horses escaped from under the bonnet on the way down and George wasn't well endowed with horses when he left the production line. The hills before Dunedin (actually, the only hills on the whole way down the South Island on SH1!) proved a little challenging. But overall, he did quite well. I must say that I'm looking forward to the repeat journey cocooned in Mercedes leather luxury next week!

The drive between Christchurch and Dunedin remained fine but was getting increasingly windy. George isn't good with wind (what elderly male is?) and tends to veer wildly as trucks pass in the other direction. It made for good adrenaline rushes.

South of Dunedin, the wind got crazy and it was obviously the first big windstorm of the fall - it was like a scene from Doctor Zhivago as leaves blew in a blizzard of colour. And then the heavens opened!

Meeting Hope

My middle daughter is about to start a job as a ski guide in Wanaka... just 3 hours north of Bluff. So she's heading down to Bluff to spend a few days in the new house. We arranged to meet up in the Catlins - the beautiful area to the east of Invercargill.

Given that mobile coverage doesn't extend to the Catlins, I was forced to revert to pre-smartphone smarts to track Hope down. I found her on the side of the road deep in the Catlins... with a car that makes George look like a spritely youngster.

Hope was looking slightly troubled because the spring had departed from the drivers-side windscreen wiper. As a result, the wiper was waving but not wiping. Not useful. So I broke out George's toolkit to swap the spring from the passenger wiper to the driver's wiper. Which was surprisingly entertaining. It's staggering how far a spring will fly when it fails to clip in. And amazing how cunningly disguised a black spring is against a tarmac surface. All made more challenging by ferocious cold and blasts of wind.

We got there in the end... and just as well because the rain really set it at that point. And got worse and worse on the way into Invercargill.

I'd already booked the airbnb before knowing that Hope was going to be in the area. So Hope was going to camp... which would have been impossible in the now storm-force winds. I took pity and checked here into a cabin on a local campsite. Even so, it was so stormy that the cabin was rocking and rolling in the wind.

Meanwhile, I was in a lovely arts and crafts style brick-built airbnb which also shook in what the locals described as a little light breeze. Several shipping containers were blown off the wharf in Bluff!

Settlement Day

The wind and rain had actually intensified by the morning. Now the locals were using the term 'stiff breeze'. And there was hail!

We got the call from the lawyers earlier than expected during a lovely breakfast of Eggs Benedict. So we headed back to George to get ready to pick up the keys... and George was dead. Nothing. Nada. No electrics. So quick call to the AA to rescue us. And then a call from Cathy, our estate agent (realtor for my US friends - but you have to admit that 'estate agent' just has a better ring to it)... she wants to deliver the keys to where we are. 'Dead car by the side of the road' impressed the estate out of her!

Keys and sympathy were duly delivered and at that point, my brain had an overdue thought. It just couldn't be that the battery had drained. Perhaps it had disconnected. Popped the bonnet... and sure enough, both terminals had come loose. Must have been the corrugations on the gravel tracks in the Catlins!

Minutes after my revelation, the AA bloke turned up. Far from being unhappy, he tightened up the terminals and we were on our way...

To our new house. Which we own 100%. No banks, no landlords, no debt... just our house. Woo Hoo! It seemed slightly larger than when we'd made the decision... which is fantastic.

The Stormy Southern Ocean

Last time, the weather had been utterly benign and the sea was unremarkable. This time, the storm had blown up 10m waves... which were battering the coastline. So off to take a look!

Hope and I retraced the route taken by Sarah and me just four weeks ago (was it only four weeks ago!). If anything it was even more stunning with epically huge surf pounding onto the beaches. Gemstone Beach which had been a pebble beach was now a sand beach with nary a pebble to be seen. Amazing!

Tempting fate, we drove George along gravel tracks to the start of the Humpridge Track. Something that will be done... all 62km of it!

On the way back, we stopped at some more beaches. Our favourite was Cosy Nook, a rocky cove with small cribs (remember, a crib is a South Island bach. Remember, remember, a bach is a NZ seaside cottage). Waves were crashing over the huge rocks guarding the entrance to the cove. Fantastic!

As we headed back, more and more blue sky appeared and it ended up as a stunning evening.

And then back to Bluff for blue cod and chips. Yum! And sleep... lots of sleep.

Coping with the Cold

The house was a tad colder than expected! I suspect that the walls need insulation because the ceiling and floors are insulated and the windows are all double glazed. That latter point is surprising for New Zealand. I have a Finnish friend who travelled to New Zealand and he said he's never been colder in his life than inside Kiwi houses! It's bizarre... it almost seems to be a badge of honour for Kiwis to live in houses with zero insulation. And no central heating!

Wood burners are the norm - and at best they'll keep one room warm. Meanwhile, the rest of the house freezes. Approach the bed and there will be a plethora of electric cables snaking under the duvet... and that's the electric blanket keeping the bed toasty.

The Kiwi bathroom? Freezing and often with a fine film of mould that's acting as a minimalist thermal blanket. I've encountered bathrooms with slatted windows which don't even pretend to keep the wind at bay. Tepid water is often dribbled from an ancient mixer tap which, if you touch it will go icy cold and then blast a brief scalding dash of steam.

Our place is luxury compared to that. For sure, the bathroom needs work... but it's manageable for now.

And back to Wellington

Having delivered George to his new home, time to fly back to Wellington for the move - part two. In a previous life, I flew globally a lot... I was collecting air miles like they were going out of fashion and 'had status' on Air New Zealand. Which was great.

This flight back to Wellington will be my last flight 'with status'. So from this point forward, flying becomes an ordeal again. Best I don't fly very much.

One advantage of a lot of flight experience is that you learn to plan which side of the aircraft to sit to see the best views. For the flight from Invercargill to Wellington, sit on the left hand side (the 'A' seats)... because that way you get to see the magnificent Southern Alps and all the braided rivers flowing out of this young mountain range that's still growing quickly... and therefore eroding quickly.

The views were simply stunning with the first snows of winter creeping down from the high country. It was a great way to end a productive and fun trip.

Now to get the last of the packing and cleaning completed ready for removals on Wednesday... just five days away. Gulp!



Bluff, Southland, New Zealand


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