So you’re thinking of moving your family to Auckland? A smart choice, my friend, and I’m here to support you every step of the way. You’re in safe hands: I have over twelve days of experience living in this fine city.
So where to start? You realise Auckland’s in New Zealand, right? It takes a while to get here. Most European travellers end up in transit for over 24 hours, often with multiple delightful stopovers. You think Australia’s far away? It’s another 1000 miles from Australia to New Zealand.
Auckland’s in the north of the North Island, nestled in bays and almost surrounded with water, with a hot, sub-tropical climate in the Summer, and a Spring climate that mostly resembles Scotland in the rain (i.e. Scotland). The population’s almost 1.5 million – about a third of New Zealand – so it’s by far the country’s largest city, although Wellington’s the capital. The city centre is clustered around Queen Street, and smothered with German backpackers who play guitar all night (and a surprising number of homeless people), but Auckland sprawls out for miles, with most of it only accessible if you have a car.
New Zealanders decry Auckland as “not real New Zealand” and tiresome travellers (still mostly German) sit hungover in hostel kitchens and complain that it’s boring and that the rest of the country’s better. But hey, it’s pretty much the only city in the world built on an active volcanic field! What’s that? I’m not convincing you to move here? Right, let’s start again.
I’ve got a case study for you. Rosie & Ross were once my youth group leaders when I attended church in Audley in sleepy middle England as a teenager. They were the first and last people in that position to treat me like I wasn’t a child and as a frustrated adolescent I’ve always been grateful to them for that. Nine years ago, they moved to New Zealand and settled in the Auckland suburb of Titirangi where they now have three children. (You can follow Ross’s blog on being a Dad at www.daddysphere.com.) They’ve kindly already fed me lunch once and dinner twice (with two more dinners sent my way in tupperware) and helped me to see Auckland outside the city centre. In return, I zipped around their daughter’s school on a scooter and ran around their garden playing football and bouncing on a trampoline, which obviously I only did to entertain the kids.
The job of raising three children is unbelievably full-on (for another case study, see: my parents) and Rosie & Ross do an amazing job of balancing a thousand tasks with a lightness and a sense of humour amidst it all. The kids they’re raising are incredible too: positive and curious and active and creative and friendly and engaged. I think New Zealand maybe helps as well.
New Zealand is obviously a beautiful country, and children growing up here are lucky to have an endless panoply of nature to explore. But more than that, what I’ve seen of Auckland suggests a place more relaxed than most of Europe, and especially England, and especially London. People are friendlier too, and those in customer services go out of their way to help you in a manner that’s frankly astonishing for someone engorged on the British approach to human interaction. The official guidance for entering the country on a working visa says that you need to have documented evidence of your visa, proof of funds and insurance. The reality of immigration was that they barely looked at my passport and had no interest in how much money I had or how long I was planning on staying. (That said, they really really cared about whether I had any fruit in my bag or soil on my shoes.) They were possibly the first immigration I’ve experienced that actually seemed to want me in their country.
During the school holidays, you can take your children to their local school to play in the grounds. In fact, you can take your children to any local school. Contrast this to London schools, where there aren’t any grounds, and if there are, they’re closed in the holidays, and if they’re not, you’d have to complete a five-step security clearance involving interpretative dance just to be allowed into reception. There are reasons for this of course, and London schools do the best they can – and there are some fantastic primary schools in London! – but given the choice, I know which one I think is more beneficial to a child’s development.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a boarding school in the middle of a Malaysian jungle that bred astonishing quantities of creativity. The freedom we were granted was frankly terrifying – driven into the jungle as pre-teenagers, given machetes and left to find our way back to school was a typical Saturday morning excursion – but it fostered within us a defiant spirit of free-thinking and active-imagining.
I haven’t felt that spirit of adventure for a while, but it’s already evident in New Zealand’s stretching hills and reaching seas. If I ever have children, I’d be hugely tempted to raise them in New Zealand, even Auckland.
Snapshots of New Zealand