A visit to New Zealand was always on the Ellington family’s ‘bucket list’ but their keen sense of adventure brought them to Taranaki from Kansas City, Kansas for much more than a holiday.
“We were quite happy in Kansas but wanted to have an adventure that would enable us to grow as a family, plus we were a three-hour flight to the sea, and almost as long to the mountains,” says Brad.
“We’d never been to New Zealand, but had always wanted to come. We thought why just visit, why not move?” Jenny says.
The family – Brad and Jenny and three kids Lindsay, Skyler and Owen - put everything in storage with a view to returning to Kansas after a year, a time limit Jenny says was imposed by the family.
“We arrived at the end of June 2011, with the plan of staying for a year, and we’re still here. The call to stay was unanimous!”
It was Brad, an emergency physician, that planted the seed for the adventure, having seen adverts in medical journals for positions in New Zealand.
“Brad did the research and found the job. I had faith that he would choose somewhere pretty great for us to live, but it wasn’t until I got on the plane that I started asking questions,” Jenny says, “All credit to him though, for finding this amazing little gem!”
“I’d spent a lot of time on the Venture Taranaki website, particularly the aerial videos of the region and the coast at Tongaporutu and the Coastal Walkway, and we had read that the city was judged the most liveable city of its size in the world by the United Nations,” Brad says.
“There were a lot of things that sold us on Taranaki, but the one that we couldn’t pass up was the ability to ski and surf on the same day, something I managed to do this year.”
Before discovering Taranaki, the family had heard of Queenstown, but didn’t know much else about New Zealand.
“We’ve since visited Queenstown, and it was beautiful, but confirmed our suspicions that it might be a frontier town, and a bit cold. Plus Taranaki is closer to Auckland and Wellington, and meant we could surf,” says Jenny.
Brad’s commute is another great aspect of their new home – he’s now just 12 minutes from work at Taranaki Base Hospital, with one stop sign, no traffic lights, a mountain on one side and the coast on the other. It’s a pleasant change from his former 30-60 minute commute, which often felt like it was gaining a new traffic light every other week. But the benefits don’t stop once Brad arrives at work.
“Work is a lot less demanding, and the work-life balance is so much better here than in the States,” says Brad.
“It’s just a simpler and easier way of life – with all the good bits of life in the States in the 1950s. The consumerism we were used to just isn’t in your face here – we don’t shop and don’t feel compelled to,” Jenny adds.
Choosing a place to live was easier than expected too, with the family renting a home in the coastal village of Oakura.
“On the day we arrived we were taken for a drive around the area, and as soon as we drove into Oakura we were sold on it. The accessibility of the beach, the friendly community and high number of expats, and the chance to have all our kids at the same school meant that Oakura chose us just as much as we chose it. It’s been really easy to fit into the community” Brad says.
“There’s just so much happening here; two Rugby World Cup matches with USA playing, WOMAD, and what was potentially the decider for the All Blacks vs. France tour. For a smaller community it just offers so much.”
“The strength of oil and gas and dairying in Taranaki means it doesn’t just have to rely on tourism, so there’s a lot going on that makes it a really vibrant community,” Jenny says.
“When we arrived we picked up Venture Taranaki’s Must Do’s pamphlet, and ticked off all of them. It was a great introduction to the region.”
That sense of adventure hasn’t left, and a typical weekend will see the family on various sports fields, off the coast on surfboards or paddleboards, or setting out to discover more of New Zealand.
“New Zealand is fantastic to explore - here it’s not always about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible,” Jenny says, “You drive through all the small towns in New Zealand, whereas in the US you go around them on four-lane highways. Driving to Wellington normally takes four and a half hours, but our first time it took us eight, as there was just so much to explore along the way.”
“We love that it takes a bit of effort to get here. It’s a bit isolated but in a good way. All the prime real estate is taken by caravan parks and not Club Meds.”
The process of moving required a lot of paperwork to be completed, but beyond that wasn’t difficult.
“We filled out the forms, sent them away, and a week later had two-year Visas, though we’ve since gained residency. Other than putting our things in storage there wasn’t much cost involved. We took our time to plan the move. We weren’t rushing it so there wasn’t much stress.”
Depending on who in the family you talk to, the most difficult aspect of the move was leaving either their extended family or the family dog behind, though through the wonders of Skype and regular visits, they’re seeing more of some members of their family than when they lived in the same country.
When it comes to advice for others making the move, the family caution against travelling too light.
“We arrived with just a couple of suitcases each. Thinking we were only here for a year. In retrospect we would have brought a container over with more things that reminded us of home,” Jenny says.
If any further example of the lifestyle benefit were necessary, Jenny points to the school system.
“The education system here is different, which is something I really noticed as an educationalist. The kids don’t even need to wear shoes to school – they thought they’d died and gone to heaven they’re so happy,” says Jenny.
“The US is very focused on standardised testing, where here the emphasis is broader, on all aspects of the kids. Our children are becoming really well rounded, happier and not stressed – there’s plenty of time for that later in life.”
Unless, it would seem, they remain in Taranaki.