Embracing a sea change

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Embracing a sea change
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Half a world away from their old lives in England, Peter Drake and his family are embracing the relaxed atmosphere and beach life of Canterbury. 

When he is floating on his back in the sea near Christchurch, looking up at the blue sky, Peter Drake counts his blessings. 

"I think to myself, 'There is no way I could have ever seen myself doing this in England, but I am so glad I came out here'," he says. 

"Waikuku Beach is a fantastic place and there are usually not many people there. You can race into the water, dive under the waves and enjoy the freedom and relaxation it brings you. Sometimes you get bowled [knocked] over like you're in a washing machine, but that is all part of the fun."

Peter, his wife Susan and their son Ethan were living in a village near Cambridge, England, when Peter was made redundant. Friends had said the family would like living in New Zealand. Peter realised this was the perfect time for a change. 

He had considered Australia (he was too old) and Canada (it was too cold) as destinations, but New Zealand was the number-one choice. "I needed a complete break from the UK. I needed something to push me out of the depression I'd got into," he says. 

Susan and Ethan liked the idea of moving, although Ethan, now 15, was nervous after hearing about the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquakes. "We said, 'Don't worry, we won't live in Christchurch,' and we don't - we live in Rangiora!" Peter laughs. (Rangiora is a small town a short drive north of Christchurch. 

Coming here on a Skilled Migrant Category visa meant Peter did not have a job when the family landed in Auckland in September 2012. However, his skills in software engineering and computer science meant he quickly got an interview, then a job offer. 

He works as a system engineer at Tait Communications, which develops and manufactures high-technology communications systems. The Christchurch campus includes Tait's main manufacturing, research and development facilities, and there are Tait offices and customers worldwide. 

"I was particularly enticed by the job because it involved working with Tait products and products from other companies as well, so I can glue the two systems together." 

An average working day begins at 7am and ends at 4pm. Often during summer, Peter goes straight to the beach after work for a swim. In fact, the beach has become a central part of his life. A friend named Rusty suggested Peter might enjoy surf life saving at Waikuku Beach, approximately 10 minutes drive from Rangiora. 

Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) is a charity that teaches children and teenagers to be safe in the sea, through the Nippers and Rookie Lifeguard programmes, and supports local clubs to organise volunteer lifeguards at the beaches.

"I had never heard of Surf Live Saving. I turned up on a Saturday morning in October, at a cold, windswept Waikuku Beach, and stood there feeling a bit useless while Ethan joined the Nippers programme [for kids aged 7-12 yars]. I ended up behind the BBQ doing the sausage sizzle. After a few Saturdays of staying behind the BBQ, Rusty threw me his wetsuit and said 'Put this on and get wet,'" explains Peter.  

Jumping into the surf changed Peter's life. He has been on the committee of the Waikuku Beach Surf Life Saving club for five years, and has just become the club treasurer. 

"I have become more of a people person. During summer, I help coach the kids, and also patrol the beach as a patrol support person - essentially, a non-swimming lifeguard. I go swimming three times a week and go to the gym as well; I want to swim fast enough to become a lifeguard."

Susan prefers to stay at the water's edge, getting her feet wet while walking along the beach and throwing pinecones in the sea for their dogs to fetch. She has made friends through her church, and works part-time for an art teacher working with adults with intellectual disabilities. 

Everyday transactions feel more relaxed. "I like the fact that when you got to the bank, you can talk to the person without those see-through barriers between you. You just lean on the table and talk to them."

After a challenging start, Ethan has settled well at school and is now a junior leader at his church youth group. 

New Zealand's high cost of living is the biggest challenge. Everything from food to garden equipment is more expensive; Susan is just over six feet tall, and says, "I miss being able to easily get clothes to fit me, especially trousers."

Salaries are lower than in England, adds Peter. "We can't go out as often as we'd like, and we don't tend to have many holidays. All our money tends to go on the mortgage, food and the pets. 

However, the beach and the mountains make them feel at home. Peter laughs, "For me, moving to New Zealand has been the second best decision of my life - after marrying Susan!"

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