Sunny new horizons

An unexpected move to Napier opened up a more relaxed way of life for Irish-Polish couple Liam and Aga.
Sunny new horizons

When Liam Coleman and his wife Aga Lychowska-Coleman moved to New Zealand in 2015 from England, settling in Hawke’s Bay was the last thing on their minds.

The couple initially lived in Devonport on Auckland’s North Shore and “absolutely loved it”, Liam says. “But the costs of living and housing in Auckland are very high.”

When a job in Napier came up, Liam and Aga visited the city before deciding to move south.

“When we came in March just after St Patrick’s Day, there was no-one around – maybe everyone had a hangover! We thought, ‘Whoa, this is very, very quiet compared to Auckland’,” Liam says.

One year on, Liam and Aga are very happy with the move. “We’re at a different stage in our life. We’re not all about partying; we’re happy living a more relaxed life and being able to afford a house,” Liam says.

They enjoy getting out in the sunshine, drinking “phenomenal coffee”, visiting local beaches and savouring the great food served up in the region’s restaurants and cafés.

Liam, originally from Tipperary in Ireland, spent three months in New Zealand as a backpacker in 2004. He loved it so much that he knew he would return. Convincing Polish-born Aga, who he married in 2012, to move to the other side of the world was no problem.

“She absolutely hates the weather in Ireland and England. It was an easy sell.”

After coming here on a Work to Residence visa, Liam is now a resident. He works as a structural engineer for the NZ Transport Agency, ensuring that the 4000-5000 structures – such as bridges and retaining walls – on the country’s state-highway network are safe.

Interior designer Aga works for Little and Fox, a boutique upholsterer and fabric store in Ahuriri. This lively suburb was once a fishing village, and now contains bars, restaurants and quirky, innovative businesses.

Travelling around the country for work is easier than Liam expected; there are no long waits at airports. “The first time I got a regional flight, I came to the airport two hours beforehand – and nothing happened until about 10 minutes before take-off! It’s like catching a bus, and it was so refreshing.”

Aga is using her design talents to decorate the three-bedroom home they have bought.  The timber house, built in the 1920s, survived a destructive earthquake in 1931; Liam recommends checking that a house has appropriate earthquake protection before you buy. 

The quality of Kiwi houses can be a shock for some migrants, he adds. “A lot of the houses don’t have central heating or double glazing.”

A lot of the houses don't have central heating or double glazing.

Luckily, the weather means you spend more time outside, he says. “Here, you can say, ‘This weekend I am definitely going mountain biking.’ In Ireland and the United Kingdom, you are stuck in your house a lot.”

They make the most of Hawke’s Bay’s sunny climate by walking in the hills and mountain ranges, and visiting uncrowded beaches where Aga loves to paddleboard. They also spend a lot of time walking their energetic dog Pepper. Bringing her over from England was a long process but the right decision, Liam says.

“She’s part of the family. She is a crazy dog – just like a box of frogs,” he laughs. “But if you’re thinking about getting a dog, I’d recommend getting your dog when you come out here because it’s quite an expensive process.”

Liam also goes mountain biking in Rotorua, and in winter the couple head for Ōhakune in the central North Island to snowboard or ski. The drive over and back is almost the best bit, says Liam.

“We drive over the Taihape road, which I would drive every day all day if I could. It’s a great mountain road to drive, with beautiful scenery.”

Although it is not so easy to travel to other countries from New Zealand, there is so much to see here, he says. “There is a lot of stuff you might have to drive across Europe to see; it is all condensed in one country here.”

Before moving here, Liam had read on internet forums that New Zealand had terrible internet quality. “But it has not been an issue. On one bluebird day [a beautiful, sunny day after snow has fallen], I wanted to go to the mountain – so I did a conference call with my laptop and phone over a 3G connection in a car park in Ōhakune. Ten minutes later, I was up the hill snowboarding.”

Napier is quieter in winter, “but in summer it comes alive”, he says. Tens of thousands of people attend the annual Art Deco Festival, a celebration of the Art Deco style that originated in Europe. Much of Napier was rebuilt in this style after the devastating earthquake in 1931 virtually destroyed the city. Between 50 and 60 cruise ships also visit each summer, Liam says.

“It is really, really busy. The places that were very quiet are packed to the brim. Everyone is outside, enjoying a drink in the sun.”

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