Tonya and Gerard Callebaut made the move to Taranaki from Cape Town, South Africa in 2007, having avoided the lure of Australia.
“A lot of my friends were emigrating from South Africa to Australia and we were about to follow,” Tonya says, “I visited New Zealand in the 1990’s and had a great time, and my husband was drawn to the picture perfect views that the New Zealand lifestyle seemed to offer, so it won out, and here we are!”
While Gerard had never been to New Zealand, his passion for kayaking and vocation as a petrochemical engineer may also have factored into their decision. When it came to choosing where in New Zealand to move their lives to, Tonya and Gerard feel that Taranaki chose them, rather than the other way around.
“Once we had decided on the country we wanted to move to, the next decision was where in that country. We didn’t want a repeat of Cape Town’s traffic woes, so ruled out Auckland,” Tonya says.
“From there I googled, Engineer and Oil and Gas job opportunities and this little place called New Plymouth kept on popping up so New Plymouth it was!”
The couple committed to the “mountainous pile of paperwork” required to emigrate, and made the move, finding it easy to settle into their new life in New Plymouth. They handled the process themselves, with help from the New Zealand Immigration website, though concede it’s likely a harder and lengthier process now.
“It’s expensive to move so far, but we were assisted by my husband’s new employer. The process took a year, and the biggest preparation was for our animals – they needed six months’ treatment before leaving and a further three months in quarantine here. It was stressful at the time, but made settling in a lot easier,” says Tonya.
“Leaving the dream home we built in scenic Cape Town was also difficult, but a few days after we arrived I was able to safely walk with my toddler to a park without feeling uneasy and it just felt right.”
This safety aspect was seen as major attraction in coming to New Zealand, while New Plymouth offered small city living with big city employment opportunities, plus good schools.
While Gerard was able to continue as an engineer, since starting his own consulting business, Tonya didn’t find a lot of demand as a stock broker in Taranaki, so launched her own online business in 2012 which has taken off.
“There’s just no comparison between our old and new workplaces. The traffic was terrible and really ate into our time beyond the office. In New Plymouth we can cycle to work and get in a swim or walk at lunch, though now we’re both home-based we can fit work around family life.”
When the growing family first arrived in New Plymouth, they bought a house in the central suburb of Strandon, which they outgrew when their second child arrived.
“In comparison to South Africa, we didn’t feel there were any bad areas here, and the centre city is so accessible from anywhere that we weren’t too concerned about where we bought. We needed more space and found a house in the suburb of Frankleigh Park, which has turned out to be perfect for us, with a good school in walking distance from our house.”
“It must be one of the few places left in the world where kids can ride a bike or scooter to school on their own and walk up the road to play at their friends for the afternoon.”
“We’ve also joined in that great Kiwi tradition of buying a run-down bach in Opunake – a beach settlement just half an hour away - that we escape to whenever we can, whatever the season,” Tonya says.
“New Plymouth, and Taranaki in general, has an exceptional range of things to do, especially for an outdoors oriented family like ours. General day to day accessibility to after school activities is so easy that many kids get exposed to a lot more and have an opportunity to participate in many more things as it’s easy to get them around due to short distances and no traffic.”
The average weekend will see the family outdoors as much as possible, whether that’s swimming, mountain biking, hiking, kayaking or fishing. Whenever possible the family heads to the big events that are regularly held around the region, such as WOMAD, and sporting events like the annual New Zealand Surf Festival and World Cup Triathlon. In winter they can be found in the region’s many cafés and burgeoning theatre and art opportunities.
“One thing we’ve noticed is that there isn’t the same level of childcare available to support double income families. This has had a wonderful benefit though – by staying home and bringing up the family I seen what a blessing it is and I now wouldn’t have it any other way!”
One downside to Taranaki’s lush landscape is the level of rainfall required to keep it green – a stark contrast to South Africa.
“I do battle with the long springs and long periods of rainfall, but have learnt to take the good with the bad - when the sun comes out there are very few places that can beat what activities Taranaki has to offer. We’re starting to embrace the season changes and enjoy getting out on our mountain bikes in autumn and winter when it’s too cold to hit the beaches.”
The battle with the weather has served to compound the family’s commitment to the region.
“The night we were awarded citizenship, we ran from the car in pouring rain and ran back to the car in pouring rain,” Tonya recounts.
“I decided I’d had enough and now that we had our citizenship, we could move to Australia where it was hotter and drier and I had friends living there. I booked a two week visit to get a feel for the area of Australia they were living in, but found that when we went to the beach there it was a 20-minute drive, the skate park was 30-minutes in the opposite direction, and it was another half hour to get to a movie and two-hours in traffic afterwards.”
“My husband didn’t say a word all holiday, and it rained in Australia on and off the whole two weeks. We got back from our reconnaissance trip and were home from the airport in ten minutes and it was gloriously sunny. I felt proud and lucky to be a kiwi, and have now embraced just how easy it is to live and raise a family here.”
Tonya suggests anyone looking to make the move come and check out Taranaki in summer and meets as many of the locals as they can. And when they return permanently, to remember that if all you’ve got to moan about is the weather, you’re not doing too badly!