Across the Ditch - Part 2

As exciting as it can be to embark upon a change and all it represents, moving itself can be a tedious and taxing experience at the best of times – moving countries even more so. That said, as an Australian, New Zealand is probably the easiest international move one can make – you can more or less turn up with your passport and stay as long as you want. Your Australian ID is sufficient for most things, there's access to reciprocal healthcare and, to a certain extent, a shared language and cultural reference points. Even so, there’s still the matter (and expense!) of moving your stuff, getting it cleared through customs, finding a place to stay while you get yourself organised, and then figuring out where to call home in an unfamiliar town.

One of the best things about this move therefore has been the relocation assistance provided by AUT, for which I feel very fortunate. Not only have they covered both our flights, a few weeks of temporary accommodation upon arrival and a transfer from the airport, they’ve also paid to ship our belongings over and provided the services of a team of relocation specialists to arrange everything. This meant that while I was at Bond for my last day, enjoying well-wishes, baked goods and gifts, movers came to our house, took an inventory, packed everything up and took it away on the truck while Doug supervised. It made a nice change from lugging mattresses down three flights of stairs in St Kilda, catching the bus to the storage place and lugging cardboard boxes home, trying to pack weirdly shaped bits and pieces, or stuffing everything into a friend’s old bomb and doing six or seven round trips. Or at least Doug tells me it makes a nice change – I usually find some urgent paperwork that needs doing whenever the prospect of manual labour reaches threat level orange.

The help hasn’t ended there. The relocation team offered to help us find a place to lease in Auckland’s competitive (and expensive!) rental market, and to position us well with the agents, given our funny accents and lack of local references. From the moment I heard about this aspect of the move I was curious as to what form this kind of assistance would actually take. Well, now I know.

It began with a ‘needs analysis’, where before arrival we were encouraged to let the relocation folk know what kind of neighbourhoods we like, our budget, what we’re looking for in a home and what kinds of amenities are important to have nearby. From this, they sent us a list of neighbourhoods we might want to consider and encouraged us to check the listings on TradeMe, which is a sort of combined Gumtree and real estate website that New Zealanders use for buying and selling pretty much everything. We sent a few examples of places we liked to Juanita our relocation specialist, who also sent us a list of places to check out.

Doug and I arrived in Auckland last Monday night, whereupon we picked up two bottles of duty-free Baileys, watched Game of Thrones and reflected upon our good fortune. On Tuesday morning we went to the bank to set up our accounts and access cards, did a bit of reconnoissance and got new sim cards.

On Wednesday, Juanita picked us up and took us on a drive around the various neighbourhoods we had discussed to get a feel for them in person, see the kinds of places available and judge the various distances and levels of convenience of each. Juanita has lived in Auckland for many years and gave us an excellent rundown of each area and what to expect. For the curious, the tour included the Central district, Parnell, Orakei, Mission Bay, Kohimarama (or Kohi), Remuera, Newmarket, Mount Eden, Kingsland, Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, Herne Bay and over the bridge to Birkenhead. Several hours later, we were dropped back at the hotel with much greater confidence and instructions to focus on one or two neighbourhoods and shortlist some places for which Juanita could arrange inspections.

Although there were several areas we liked (and a few we were able to eliminate from our enquiries), we decided to focus on the central district. I don’t want the expense or headache of having a car if I can avoid it, and part of our goal of a more active lifestyle involves walking to work. Having a nice modern apartment in the city for a year or so would allow us to get to know the city better, get settled in and then make a more confident and purposeful move to a preferred neighbourhood later on.

It’s actually not as easy as you’d think (or not as easy as I thought) to find a modern apartment in the city. Auckland is incredibly spread out, and most of the housing consists of older style bungalows that have since been divvied up and remodelled into townhouses. Apartments are a relatively recent development, and while these are almost all located in the city and central area, they tend to be either small student shoeboxes or executive-style arrangements that come fully furnished and suit someone who is hardly home, rather than someone trying to make a home. The two bedroom unfurnished apartment with a proper kitchen in Auckland city is a rare beast (at least in our price range) and over the next couple of days we inspected most of the ones we could find.

Doug and I went to a few by ourselves on Thursday, which we liked but disqualified for various reasons (too dark, not enough ventilation, too difficult to work with the space). On Friday Juanita came with us to see three more. It was bucketing down, which turned out to be a good thing because the wet weather meant hardly anyone else turned up. Juanita did indeed position us well with the agents – I can only imagine how intimated I would feel coming to an inspection where my competition brings their own relocation consultant – and this also had the benefit of keeping the agent occupied while we looked around the apartment properly.

As it turns out, we liked all three places but for different reasons. Each offered a different experience (quiet off-street sophistication in an architecturally designed building; or convenience, facilities and great views bang in the centre of town; or plenty of space and light in the middle of a bustling neighbourhood). Each had a few bonuses and nitpick points, and all were the same price. We needed to put in applications that day, so the three of us spent most of the day debating the various trade-offs between what Isaiah Berlin would call incommensurable goods.

Quiet sophistication

Quiet sophistication

Bustling neighbourhood

Bustling neighbourhood

Late on Friday we decided to put in applications for both quiet off-street sophistication and space and light in bustling neighbourhood, and left the outcome in the hands of fate. On Monday, we might be offered either, neither or both (in New Zealand, on weekends the week ends, it seems).

By the weekend, Doug had got sick and I was burnt out and needed a rest before starting a new job on Monday. But I was also restless and wanted to explore, and there was still a lot to organise now that we had a better idea of where we might end up. We were going to go to a cat cafe on the other side of town, but we didn’t. We were going to look at furniture, but we didn’t. Mostly I can’t remember what we ended up doing, but I think it involved – in no particular order – podcasts, watching the football, catching the ferry to Devonport, and being annoyed at not being able to find a place to top up our AT Hop cards. Somewhere in the last week we also managed to fit in going to see Wonder Woman (one of the best superhero movies I’ve seen, which may not be saying much) and Baby Driver (manic, hand-made and good fun).

On Monday I had my first day at AUT (more on that next time) and Doug – still sick – was left to deal with the other matters. As it turns out, quiet off-street sophistication had already been leased by the time we did the inspection, though the agent’s manager didn’t tell the agent. But we were offered space and light in bustling neighbourhood (a rare find in Parnell at our price point) and made arrangements to sign on Tuesday for a move-in date of 5 August. We also heard that our shipping container had arrived in Auckland and was due to clear customs by around the same date – a happy coincidence and one that means less downtime and dead rent than quiet off-street sophistication would have, where we would also have had to source our own whiteware. So, while aesthetically we would’ve preferred the other place, this one is a good result and will be a great place to stay for the various friends and family we hope will come visit.

Juanita is now getting the utilities organised for us, and sooner or later the movers will come to the new place and set all our stuff up. It’s been a hectic week, but it feels like not only have we arrived, but we’ve arrived in style. It’s the smoothest move we’ve ever made, but looking back, it’s only a lot of bumpy ones beforehand that have made it possible.