It turns out, oddly enough, that moving to the other side of the world requires some serious organisational skills. Throw in a global pandemic and a house sale, and it takes the logistics to whole new level of complicated.
To start off with, I thought a relocation would be a fairly simple process:
- Sell house.
- Give notice to schools and work.
- Book flights.
- Ship house contents and cars.
- Move to New Zealand.
While in a list format the process might seem simple, in reality the logistics and timings that go into an international relocation, let alone an international relocation in a global pandemic, requires research, patience and a fair amount of luck. So first things first: the house.
Our cold, tired Victorian property that we bought just over a year ago in the little village of Chilton in South Oxfordshire was proving to be more of a headache than a homestead. West House had (still has!) all the makings of a grand home with it’s high ceilings, wooden floorboards, ornate fireplaces, stables as well as lovely gardens and paddock. As with so many Grade listed properties in the UK, it’s previous owners hadn’t really understood how to look after it and when we bought it, West House was full of damp and mould, and the garden buried under a plethora of invasive vegetation.
We saw past all of that and once we had bought it, we slowly started the renovation process. But it was almost immediately obvious that the work that was needed to make it the kind of family home we wanted was going to be both extensive and expensive. So when the relocation opportunity came along, we gladly made the call to our local estate agent to start the ball rolling on the sale. We hoped that someone else would see the potential that we did. In fact, we didn’t actually need an estate agent as my friend knew of someone who was looking for a project with a lot of land after their vendor had pulled out of the sale at the last minute. For any Kiwi readers who might not be familiar with the pitfalls of the English housing market, this is one of the most unfair yet perfectly legal things you can when purchasing a property in the UK closely followed by gazumping and gazundering. They’re real words. Honestly. Google them. After two viewings, they made us an offer which we accepted; the house didn’t even go on the open market. Kismet? Maybe. A relief? Definitely.
Next. Schools. My daughter was thoroughly enjoying The Manor Preparatory School but my son was really struggling with the move to Abingdon Senior School, finding the work pressure and all-boy environment suffocating at times. We decided that we wanted to continue with private education but that a smaller school would be better. We also felt they would both benefit from a mixed education as well as a more relaxed learning environment but it turns out that this combination is really quite rare for a private school in New Zealand. They’re either huge (1,500 pupils), single sex or highly selective. The only school that met our demanding criteria was Whitby Collegiate. This tiny mixed private school (230 pupils at the time of writing) just outside of Porirua punches well above it’s weight, obtaining excellent academic results and providing outstanding pastoral care. Bingo. With no entrance exam or registration fee (take note, UK!) the school were more than happy for R and F to come along and see what they thought. No strings attached.
As I’m not a NZ citizen (unlike the rest of my family) we than had to work out which visa I needed to apply for during a global pandemic. With New Zealand’s borders still firmly closed, this was not as straightforward as we had hoped and we ended up contacting the New Zealand High Commission in London for guidance. It turned out that a critical purpose/visitor visa was the best choice in terms of a quick processing time. It took just over a month for New Zealand immigration to respond and they asked for further proof of my relationship with my husband including ‘photos with public recognition’. Cue dusting off the wedding album…….
In the meantime, my husband was going grey(er) trying to arrange the shipping of Minty. For those who don’t know, Minty is my much loved Nissan Figaro, a thirty-something Japanese import we bought a couple of years ago from a Figaro dealer in Didcot. The New Zealand Transport Agency were insisting that we provide the original import document in Japanese which we didn’t have so my husband resorted to hiring a Japanese import detective (yes, that is actually a vocation) to hunt down the elusive document and then translate it for us. The Transport Agency also asked for the car to be free of rust (really?) and that it must be spotlessly clean inside and out before it goes into the container. After a bit of research, my husband paid the Figaro dealer to carry out wax treatment on Minty’s undercarriage to ensure that any rust couldn’t fall off as well as protecting it from the elements.
Once my visa had been approved, it was time to bite the bullet and tell my manager about our move and that I would be quitting my job as Third Party Damage Team Leader at Thames Water. In some ways, this was one of the hardest things I had to do as I loved my job and my wonderful team. They were all very shocked but understood why this opportunity was too hard to turn down.
You’d think the most simple bit of the relocation would be booking the flights but no. Even this turned out to be more problematic than we thought. We had hoped to try and break up the flight by having a log layover in either Singapore or Australia but both countries required you to apply for a visitor visa if you were going to spend over 8 hours in the country, regardless of whether or not you left the airport. Horrified at the idea of yet more red tape, we deiced that we’d forget the layover idea and just do the whole journey in one go, with a minimal refueling stop of 2 hours in Singapore. We had arranged to exchange contracts on the 28 February and had planned to book a flight a day or so after this date but as the 28th neared and the New Zealand government backtracked on it’s phased border opening plan in response to Omicron, it dawned on us that we might not be able to get out of the country as quickly as we needed to meaning that we would be homeless, potentially for quite some time. We decided that Airbnb was going to be our best bet but without a leaving date it mind, all I could do was put a few places on my watch list……………….and wait. When Jacinda made her announcement we were sat in the lounge at West House, waiting with baited breath to hear when the country would open up to New Zealand citizens living in countries other than Australia. I had my laptop balanced on my knees, fingers hovering over the keys, browser open with a Singapore Airlines flight already selected, and when Jacinda confirmed the opening date was confirmed (14 March) our journey was booked with a few swift clicks.
And this is where logistically, things got even more complicated. The contents of our house had to be packed up and taken down to Southampton Docks where it would wait patiently for an available container ship. This process would take 2 days and obviously had to be done before we completed on the property. So we’d have to spend a week in our house with no furniture other than mattresses on the floor and an old sofa that we’d decided to leave. The televisions were staying too and we’d kept a few old plates, saucepans and a bit of cutlery aside to tide us over. And then we’d be homeless for a further two weeks.
Cue AirBnB. I chose a couple of properties from my watch list and booked 5 days in property in Blewbury (a couple of villages away from us) and then the rest of the time in Headington, just outside of Oxford. I had to make sure that the second property was within walking distance of PCR testing centre as our fit-to-fly tests had to be carried out on 12 March, our cars were being shipped on 10 March, and we didn’t want to risk taking public transport. It turned out that my idea of ‘walking distance’ was not my children’s idea of ‘walking distance’; the trip to the centre was a 10km round trip, involving the deceptively steep Headington Hill. I was not very popular.
When Claude was finally loaded on to the back of a flatbed truck and our PCR tests came back negative, we breathed a huge sigh of relief; we were a couple of steps closer to being in New Zealand!