Where city and nature meet

Wellington is an ideal place to work and play for Latvian couple Lelde and Janis.
Where city and nature meet

When Lelde Kukle first went into New Zealand shops, she found the shopkeepers a bit strange.

“They would say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ It was a bit of a shock. I didn’t know why a stranger was asking me such a question. And then I realised that it is common in New Zealand. People are really friendly and helpful here. They exchange smiles in the street; that really helps to make your day better.”

Lelde moved to New Zealand with her partner Janis (John) Purmalis from Latvia in 2015. John says they wanted to live overseas in an English-speaking country and the friendliness of New Zealanders was one of the reasons they moved here.

The couple have been residents in New Zealand for over three years, and now call the windy capital city Wellington their home. They live in an apartment in Mount Victoria, a hill suburb on the edge of the city with a 200m-high lookout over Wellington.

John wanted to live in the city, while Lelde prefers being close to nature. Living in Mt Victoria means they both get their way.

Lelde and John often walk or run along tracks and through bush to the lookout after work. “You can go up to the lookout and enjoy beautiful sunsets,” Lelde says.  “In the morning it only takes 20 minutes to walk into the city to work.”

 The couple also boogie-board in nearby Lyall Bay, or can walk 15 minutes to Oriental Bay for a swim in the sea.

John says they love hiking in Wellington and the rest of the country. “After 40 minutes of driving, we can be in a different part of the country. If you have a long weekend you can get to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (in the central North Island). That is probably one of the most beautiful walks in the world.” 

Lelde says New Zealand appealed because it has beautiful nature but no dangerous animals. “You can go hiking here and there is nothing that will kill you or bite you, except there are birds like kaka that might fly onto your head.”

New Zealand still has its dangers though, such as earthquakes.  

The couple felt the very large earthquake that hit Kaikoura, a town on the upper east coast of the South Island, in 2016. “We were about to go to bed and then the shaking started. We hid under the bed and it probably took a minute until it was finished. That was scary.”

But, she says, New Zealand does a good job helping people prepare for earthquakes.

John was confident his qualifications, particularly his computer science degree, would make it easy to find a job in Wellington, and he was right.

Being very organised helped too, as John and Lelde were both able to get Silver Fern job search visas. New Zealand offers a small number of these visas each year, allowing immigrants to travel to New Zealand and look for a skilled job. 

John soon got a job as a software developer in Wellington and they were able to apply for residents’ visas.

In 2017, John and Lelde joined a government accelerator programme that challenged participants to come up with solutions for government problems. They developed a software platform called Bosspac that helps small business owners manage their income, expenses and tax payments in an easy way.

John and Lelde decided to quit their jobs and launch Bosspac as a business. After successfully finishing the accelerator programme, they were accepted into Wellington’s business incubator, Creative HQ, which helps new businesses grow by providing office space, mentors, workshops and advice.

Lelde, who has a business and economics degree, says they have both picked up contract work on the side, so they can pay for Bosspac’s development themselves.

She is working as a business analyst for a retirement village operator in Wellington, while John is working as a technical architect for the Ministry of Education.

John says the hardest thing about living in New Zealand is being away from their families and friends, but they use Skype to talk regularly with them. Working as contractors also allows them to take extended time off between contracts to visit family and travel.

 Housing is expensive in New Zealand, and not as well insulated as European housing, Lelde says. “Even though winters are warmer here, it still might be cold in your apartment or house.”

Food is roughly twice as expensive in New Zealand as it is in Latvia, but wages here are higher so it is reasonable, she says.

The couple love the variety of food, cafes and restaurants in Wellington. They enjoy cooking and often go to the Sunday fruit and vegetable market on the waterfront, John says.

“We used to live in a place in Wellington where they had mandarin, lemon and feijoa trees. In Latvia, we do not have exotic fruits. It was so amazing to go out and pick my own lemon from a tree and it tasted so good.” 

The pair say they have made good friends in Wellington – but that took some time and effort. They joined groups to meet New Zealanders, including photography and leisure groups. 

New Zealand has been home for four years now but it still surprises them, John says. 

“Last Christmas we travelled around the South Island and some of the places, like the Punakaiki Rocks, were so beautiful they left us speechless.”  

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