This picture shows 1100 schoolkids, all playing their ukuleles (well, actually holding them up in a 'uke salute') to welcome Ed Sheeran to Dunedin in New Zealand's South Island. Ed didn't actually attend his welcome concert, but that's not really the point. Instead, the point is that this is also a pic of my new hometown. At the end of last year, my family and I moved to Dunedin — and it's been pretty much non-stop adventure ever since! (Hence why this blog has been so badly neglected … )
My husband and I have always loved New Zealand. Every time we came here on holiday, we talked about how we could see ourselves living here 'one day'. I feel more than 'at home' here; I feel right here. I have read about people finding countries that feel like their 'soul home' (and, interestingly, it's quite often not the country where they were born) and it seems I'm one of those people. New Zealand feels like it's where I'm meant to be. So, before our daughter hit high school, and while I had a work opportunity to give us a secure financial start, we decided to take the plunge and move to Dunedin, UNESCO City of Literature and NZ's 'wild life capital'.
Its magnificent coastline is home to sweeping beaches and sheer cliffs, inhabited by seals, sea lions, penguins, and albatross. Its streets are lined with impressive Victorian buildings. There is more 'culture' than you poke a stick at, plus it's a student city (the University of Otage is NZ's oldest) which adds to the vibrant hum.
And the truly incredible thing is that everything seems to be within 10 minutes drive of anywhere else in the city. At first I didn't believe this could really be true, but we've tested it time and time again and, invariably, we're wherever we need to be in under a quarter of an hour. My daughter's school — 2 minutes. My work — 7. Mountain biking tracks — 10. Hiking trails — 5. Shops — 4. Beaches — 6. I could go on but it would get boring. Having moved from rural Australia where everything was at least 40 minutes' drive away, it's staggering how much more time we now seem to have in a day.
The end result is that I now seem to live my life just outside my comfort zone. With an infinity of outdoor experiences quite literally on our doorstep, my adrenaline junkie husband and daughter are in paradise. Me, I'm more of a book nerd, so I'm bravely going where I've never gone before! Hiking (or tramping I should now say, as the locals do) is something I've always enjoyed. Hiking up and down vertical cliffs (or at least that's how they seem to me), not so much. There's a very real fear of falling that kicks in at such times! But I'm getting better — I find a steady mantra of 'You're not going to die, you're not going to die' helps me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and the stunning scenery is ample reward.
Packrafting is entirely new to me. It's also new to my husband and my daughter, but he's kayaked before so brings a certain level of competence to it, and my daughter is fearless and a quick learner. They've soon moved on to tackling gentle rapids. Me? I'm just trying to stop turning in slow circles. But again, I'm getting there!
Of course, we've only been here so far in the summer. Days in the mid-20s are much more conducive to getting out and about than in the scorching Australian heat we're more used to, and we've all loved the cooler temperatures. But our Dunedin friends have warned us about winter. Actually, everyone here has warned us about winter. Some are optimistic: 'As long as you have the right clothes, you'll be absolutely fine. It's beautiful in winter — crisp and invigorating; and the ski fields are so close!' Others have been prophets of doom: 'The cold here eats your bones from the inside out. But just when you think it's going to break you, you get a day or two that's better and that gives you the will to go on.' Gulp …
At least there's lots here to occupy ourselves with indoors if the winter does start to 'break' us. An incredible library, museums, theatres, galleries, sports centres, umpteen restaurants and cafes. Dunedin does the unusual and the quirky brilliantly — from street art to lantern festivals — so I doubt we'll be bored!
Of course, we know that nowhere is perfect. And we're realists — there'll be things we don't like and times when life doesn't run smoothly. But just like the challenges we've encountered in our lives so far, we'll tackle them as best we can, as and when they arise. In the meantime, we can't wait to keep exploring our new home. Making new friends. Enjoying new experiences. Pushing our boundaries. Embracing our Kiwi life!
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