Sunny new horizons

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

Sunny new horizons (03:32)

Went back home last year and it just reinforced how rubbish the coffee is back home. The coffee is just phenomenal here.

Hi, my name is Liam Coleman. I'm originally from Tipperary in Ireland and these days I live in Hawke's Bay, Napier. 

My job is I'm a Principal Structures Engineer for the NZTA. Based here in Napier, but I have a national role that basically looks after all the structures on the State Highway network. 

We have about four to five thousand structures and that's kind of bridges or culverts and then we look at auxiliary structures. Things like retaining walls, gantries and some of the minor assets.

Any given day, I say you can't really plan this, I suppose you try to plan it as best you can but things can come out of the blue kind of thing as well.

Now and again, you might have to go out and if there's maybe a problem structure. Problems you might find bridges is corrosion of elements, so on concrete, you have cracking, spalling. Steel structures you get corrosion, reduce section, which affects the life load carrying capacity of it.

It's quite funny, actually, the first time that our regional flight, I'd never flown regional in my life. So usually you go for flight you show up two hours beforehand and then I came to the airport here two hours beforehand, and nothing, nothing, nothing until about ten minutes beforehand. And you have your online check-in and it's like catching a bus, and it was actually so refreshing to actually fly regional because there's none of that hassle or headache that comes with flying internationally. It's like catching a train or a bus in Europe and it would be the equivalent to that kind of thing.

I think I'd say originally I backpacked here, back in 2004/05. I think I knew always wanted to spend a longer stint in New Zealand, and I spent three months here and then basically left and went back home. And I always kind of felt there was kind of something left back on the table, and then I think it was just maybe a little bit of itchy feet, just for myself and my wife. And I decided, I think just applied for a job.

My wife is originally from Poland, so she absolutely hates the weather in Ireland and England. So it was an easy sell for her, you know, moving to New Zealand. There's really good weather, there's great scenery. It was tick, tick, tick. 

So then we move down to Napier and it was by chance, I think we were out having drinks with some of the guys from work in Opus and one of the girls there was just saying. "Oh there's a fabric store called 'Little and Fox', just over in Ahuriri. You should definitely check it out." And it just happened they were looking for people, and had a very informal interview. Long story short: they offered her a job and she absolutely loved it there. 

Little and Fox is a kind of fabric warehouse. Aga's background is an Interior Designer. She did fine art in school as well, so she's that way inclined and that's kind of her background. 

If you have a dog, or if you are thinking about getting your dog before you come travelling, I'd recommend getting your dog when you come out here. Because it's quite an expensive process. One of the things that helped us was we went to Europe for six months before that, so the dog had already got her passport, had some of her vaccinations, had been microchipped. So that pretty much took about three months off the process. I think it's part of the family. 

 Napier had a massive quake, I think one of the biggest. I think it was the highest fatalities in the country from a natural event, back in 1931 I think. Which destroyed large parts of the city and essentially the city was rebuilt in that kind of 1930s style Art Deco, which kind of adds that little bit of spark to the city as well. 

And I suppose the big thing that might be a shock to people is the quality of housing. A lot of them don't have central heating or double glazing, things like that. The winter in Auckland is like an Irish summer. If you had central heating and double glazing, then it'd be an absolute breeze. 

We've never really felt deprived by coming her or missing anything. Everyone thinks it's a pretty small country, but it's actually a really, really, big country. 

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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