From London to New Zealand

Seven years ago, when Sarah Young set off on the trip of a lifetime, little did she know that it would turn out to be more than just a holiday.

Back in late 2004, Sarah Young was tiring of the single life in London and decided that the time was right for an adventure. So she rented out her Streatham flat, bought a round-the-world ticket, and got on a plane to Australia. “Before I left the UK, I really didn’t think I’d stay. But at my leaving bash a friend told me that he’d had a dream, or a premonition, that I wasn’t going to come back.”
After four months travelling in Oz, Sarah made it to New Zealand, for which she had high hopes. “I’d heard a lot about the country from friends who’d been there, and they’d all told me how fab it is for the outdoors.” Being an outdoorsy kind of a girl, Sarah felt instantly that there was something special about the place, and it seems that she had no problems settling in. “I arrived on a Thursday, on the Friday I found a temp job, and on the Saturday I found a flat. Within a week of arriving in Wellington I felt totally at home, and I knew I wanted to stay for at least the year of my working holiday visa.”
Having sorted out the practicalities of life in a new country, Sarah quickly set about making friends. “My flatmate, Claire, was a fellow Pom. We became great buddies and met loads of people together. I also joined the Wellington tramping and mountain-eering club in that first week – it was totally nerve-wracking to turn up to a new club by myself, but it was the best thing I could have done.”
It was through ‘tramping’ (Kiwi for hiking), that Sarah not only fell in love with the local way of life, and the beautiful countryside, but also with a certain local man. “I met Alistair through the tramping club. We were on a four day tramp over Easter, in 2006. On the third day we were staying in a back country hut by a lake, and he went skinny dipping. I thought, ‘Wow! I want some of him!’ I then persuaded him to come on a tramp I was leading a few weekends later, and I made it extremely obvious that I thought he was quite special. We had our first kiss on the ferry coming back to Wellington.”
Meeting Alistair didn’t cause Sarah too many qualms in terms of whether or not to return to the UK – because she’d already decided to stay in New Zealand. “I’d been given NZ residency in late 2005, so I was already entitled to stay by myself – and I wanted to stay. Alistair coming into my life just compounded that. Although, it does stop me from moving back to the UK and when I go through hard times, when I’m missing my family and friends back home a lot, I have often wanted to jump on a plane – but I wouldn’t want to live life without Alistair.”
The couple did come back to the UK, in the summer of 2007, to get married, and, in late 2008, back in New Zealand, Sarah discovered that she was pregnant. Sarah is very close to her family, and had anticipated finding it tough, going through a pregnancy so far from home. “I was expecting to hate it, and to really want my family here. But it was amazingly fine. Skype is fantastic.”
And Sarah’s experience of giving birth in New Zealand was also reassuringly comfortable: “The midwife was amazing, and the hospital staff were fantastic. The after-birth care is great here too – at most you would share a room with one other mother, but usually you’ll have a room to yourself.”
In fact, from a cultural perspective, Sarah reports that parenting in New Zealand has not been a huge leap. “The Kiwi attitude to children is similar to the UK, and we base most of our parenting ideas on the UK – the kids are all in bed by 7pm.”
Sarah, who has just given birth to a second daughter, Harriet, is currently on maternity leave, but she has also spent time as a full-time working mum, and has nothing but praise for Kiwi nurseries, and the local school system, “The childcare we send Bella to is fantastic, she loves it. Children start school here on their fifth birthday, a little later than in the UK, which some say is better. We haven’t used it yet, but I get the impression that the state education system is great.”
“Some people describe living in NZ as like living in the UK during the fifties. Far fewer people, and one hundred metre traffic jams are big news! The only difference is the accent – Bella picks up her cuddly teddy bear and says ‘beer’, and a chair is a ‘cheer’!”
“Unfortunately, since I arrived in 2005, the cost of living has increased dramatically. Friends who have recently visited the UK tell me how much cheaper it is to live there than here now. When I arrived in NZ, it was the other way around.”
Although, in many ways, life in New Zealand is not a far cry from life in the UK, it’s impossible, at times, for Sarah not to be conscious of the sheer physical distance that she has managed to put between herself and her close family. “I couldn’t have chosen a country further away! And it’s hard, watching your children grow up, and knowing that your parents are missing out on so much. We have vaguely talked about moving back to the UK, but never seriously, because I don’t think Alistair would ever move there. The only places we could conceivably live, and have the kind of lifestyle that we have in Wellington, are areas like the Lake District, remote Scotland, Cornwall and Devon – all places where finding employment would be tough.”
Beyond the occasional bout of homesickness, though, Sarah is pretty happy with her life as a mum on the opposite side of the globe, “It’s a great country to bring up children in. It has good schools, loads to offer in terms of extra stuff to do – lots of green space and wilderness – and great people. I just always have to have money for a flight home saved up in my bank account – that’s just part of living here.”