After a year of planning and paperwork, last month we moved to Dunedin, New Zealand. I’m asked quite often if I’d visited New Zealand before, and each time I answer, wryly, ‘Nope!’ I’d never before set foot in the country that was to be my new home. Until I met my partner, the extent of my Kiwi knowledge came courtesy ‘Flight of the Conchords’. He quickly changed that, introducing me to the bands of Flying Nun Records and Dunedin Sound, the classic cartoon, ‘Footrot Flats’, and the joys of men in ‘stubbies’ (read: short-shorts) and over-sized moustaches. He also had me watch a Youtube mix of classic Kiwi ads.
With these preparations under my belt, I was ready for the next big adventure. In the past, I’d lived (and barely survived) in San Francisco, studied abroad in Norwich, UK, visited Berlin, Frankfurt, Naples, Venice, Florence, Rome, and Paris, sailed down the Turquoise Coast off Turkey, and moved back to the UK to study American Literature MA, writing 14,719 words on 21st century, American literary adaptations of Freud’s case study of hysteria. Those adventures were met with grit and fascination and joy and sometimes tears. But now, for the first time, I was moving somewhere for an indefinite period. Unlike my two stints in Norwich, there’s no return ticket. We’re here for good – or at least, for three years. How would I find my new home?
I find the city itself quite charming. It holds unexpected (if you’re like me, unschooled in the history of New Zealand) parallels with cities which I hold dear. Like the city of my birth, Bellingham, and San Francisco, the city of my young adulthood, Dunedin became a major European settlement in the mid-19th century. The architecture reflects this history. While San Francisco’s well-known for its Victorian structures (I even lived on one street, deemed ‘historically important’ due to the number of intact structures), much of the city was destroyed in the two big earthquakes of the 21st century. Dunedin’s historical buildings are still intact, and it’s not uncommon to see 19th century homes with sweeping verandas and intricately wrought ironwork.
The flora of Dunedin feels like home, as well. There are many similarities to be found in the Dunedin’s damp climate and the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest where I was born and raised. I’ve suddenly developed an amateur interest in mycology, and document every fungus I stumble across. Still, the most impressive I’ve discovered yet were the football-sized puffballs in the Woodhaugh Gardens the very first day we arrived.
The music scene is still thriving in Dunedin. Many of the bastions of the Dunedin Sound (look it up – you’ll love it) are still active. The front man of the Verlaines is now the Head of the Music department at the university. Up and coming bands are thriving as well. Fishrider Records is a label to note.
If these pictures aren’t enough to convince you, take it from me: it’s beautiful here. Breathtaking. New Zealand has the same population as the city of Los Angeles. Unlike most parts of the United States, wide open space can still be found in abundance here.
I’m still slightly breathless and disbelieving about the fact that now we live in New Zealand. It’s not that over the year of planning, I didn’t believe it would happen. It’s that so much of the last fifteen months has been spent planning and hoping and dreaming about New Zealand. I am continuously metaphorically pinching myself, unable to believe it’s actually come to pass.