Settled at last.

And what a relief it is! Swans and I have been living out of a suitcase since we sold the house in December. Christmas in the mountains, then shacking up with friends and family, and most recently in a tiny extended stay apartment in Wellington.

Today, we signed a one-year lease on a flat in Mount Victoria. Finally, a place to call home.

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And what a place! Props to Jess for finding it. Comfy, furnished, walking distance to town … but the views. Man. That’s the Pacific MF Ocean! Just incredible.

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I should pause and point out how it went down. The day she toured the place, Jess rolled up to find another couple waiting on the porch for the leasing agent. Competition. We later learned it’s customary to schedule multiple showings at the same time. Once the agent arrive, everybody walked in together, and that’s when shark tank swanson took charge. When the couple stepped onto the balcony, Jess approached the agent (awkwardly I’m sure) and said something to effect of you rent this place to me godammit or find yourself at the bottom of that ocean, you got me? 

Well it worked! Now for the tour.

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And finally the most important room in the house … your room!

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That’s a big comfy bed with a flatscreen and WiFi. And it’s all yours. Just gotta get down here.

So consider this your official invitation to New Zealand. Stay as long as you like. If you’re the kind of person that works from home (Beef), or gets summers off (Andrea, Sarah), or your inner cheapskate longs to live rent-free (Garth), or you want to say fuck it all and hit the road (North), or you need a honeymoon base camp (Drew & Jess), or you’re forced to flee the country for legal reasons (Chad), or you gave birth to one of us (Sue, Debbie), or you’re a globetrotter with a box to tick (Kelly and Adam), or you work for a newspaper (Bill), or you just love a great adventure (everyone else) … if any of these apply, then get your ass down here!

It’s expensive, I know, but it’s totally worth it. We’ll make sure of that. I’ve added a calendar to the sidebar of wellingtonsummer.com. If you plan to visit, let us know and we’ll reserve the dates for you. Do it!

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Z for Zealandia

Hi everybody. Jess here again. Now that the house hunt is over (we move Saturday!), I’ve got more time on my hands to explore. Scott and I keep a running list of places we’d like to visit, many of which are weekend trips. But I can’t very well just sit around waiting for the weekend!

I thought it would be a fun to explore Wellington by alphabet. Move from one letter to the next, the hope being to stumble into a cafe, park or class I might otherwise miss. For an added twist, I’ve started with the letter Z – or as kiwis pronounce it – zed.

In the neighborhood of Karori, a 30 minute uphill walk from our place, there is a huge eco-sanctuary called Zealandia. It’s an urban restoration project that strives to preserve endangered species. According to its website, New Zealand has been an island for about 85 million years, and many of the plants and animals have evolved in isolation, without the threat of land mammals, save for bats. As a result, these species are highly vulnerable to the predators humans have introduced over the past few hundred years.

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Zealandia’s vision is to restore the area’s natural environment. Nearly a square mile of forest protected by this predator-proof fence, which keeps the possums, cats, rabbits and mice left wanting.

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After handing over the $17 entry fee, and shaking out my purse to prove I wasn’t smuggling a bobcat or something, I stepped into Zealandia and immediately felt like I was in Jurassic Park being stalked by a T-Rex.

Zealandia is comprised of many miles (er, kilometers) of trails (er, tracks) through native vegetation, with many steep tracks that reward ambitious explorers with killer views of Wellington. I set off with a map but decided to meander instead.

The first interesting animal I came upon was the Wellington green geckos, which I learned cannot blink and thus must lick their eyes with their tongues to keep clean.

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For the next 3 hours I strolled about, listening to chirping birds, reading about native animals, and avoiding the heinous Weta!!!

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Many of the tracks were bird-filled tunnels.

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Zealandia isn’t a zoo, so I had to keep my eyes peeled. A few of my best sightings were the Kaka – a large parrot – and the Tautara – an actual living DINOSAUR! Fun fact: the Tautara exists only in Zealandia.

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All that exploring can make a girl hungry – good thing my veggie burger was the size of a dinosaur! The Phoenix blackcurrant soda is my new fav, though a special treat at $4.50 a bottle.

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I’m not much of a birder, but I left Zealandia feeling relaxed and impressed with the conservation efforts. And happy for my downhill walk home.

Next up, the letter Y!

Update from Jess

Hi everyone! Jess here, saying hey from the future. It’s Friday night here in Wellington, and I thought I’d share what I’ve been up to these past nine days as a Wellingtonian.

I’m extremely fortunate my new role with Allscripts doesn’t start until April 1st. This means I’ve been on “holiday” and allowing myself to ease into the kiwi way of life. Scott started his job right away, which means I’ve been flying solo.

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The first thing I learned is everyone here walks, so I set out to explore my new home on foot. My first task was finding Wellington’s version of Target. I needed a hairdryer, as my American version was sure to catch fire and scald my face. I found The Warehouse – think Big Lots with Nordstrom prices. We quickly realized how expensive — or as kiwis would say — how dear everything here is.

And that NZ hairdryer I bought died this morning.

During my explorations, I’ve noticed that kiwi girls wear short skirts and dresses. This surprises me as at any second a giant gust of wind could blow those skirts right up Marylyn Monroe style. I’ve also noticed people have really nice legs. Like really nice legs. I’m now understanding why they wear such short skirts! Even little old ladies have muscular calves.

Which leads to my next observation: Wellington is extremely hilly! The narrow winding streets lined with Victorian style homes reminds me of San Francisco. Wellington also has similar weather. It’s already quite apparent to me where the nickname “Windy Wellington” comes from. Locals like to brag that it’s three times windier than Chicago. I’ve been told I haven’t seen anything yet. I foresee ponytails and small earrings in my future. The other day my dangly ones were almost ripped from my earlobes!

Elsewhere, I’ve braved the roads and driven our rental car a few times. I made the mistake of driving to a house showing during rush hour, and man if I didn’t flip on the windshield wiper at least 10 times! Miracle no one was hurt on my maiden voyage.

I love that Wellington is a compact walking city as I’d rather walk 30 hilly minutes than drive. Next week my goal is to figure out the busses.

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A big part of my time here has been searching for a rental house. We’re in temporary housing until March 6th. After that, we’re on our own. We really lucked out landing our apartment in Te Aro, a great neighborhood and hip nightlife. Courtenay Place and Cuba Street are lined with bars and restaurants. Wellington actually has more restaurants per capita than New York City. If only eating out wasn’t so expensive and I had the metabolism of a super model.

Interesting side note about eating. There is no sales tax or tipping. The price on the menu is what you get.  Also, waiters never bring the check. They don’t make you feel rushed here. Kiwis are extremely polite and everyone I’ve encountered has been very nice. There is a sense of island time however. For instance, the light in our closet was installed with motion detection lights — very convenient when you open the door, but not so great when Scott rolls over in the middle of the night and the spotlight illuminates the room. I’ve asked our landlord about this for a week now and I’m still sleeping with a sleep mask.

I’ve spent the past week scouring rental houses on Trade Me — NZ’s version of Craigslist. I have the app on my phone and I’ve managed to use a month’s worth of data in less than a week. This will take some adjustment. I’ve seen promising houses online, and upon visiting them, I want to cry. The rental market here is very competitive. It’s prime time and demand is high. One of the rental agencies told me if I found a 7 out of 10, jump on it.

Then I saw 67 Hawker in the coveted Mount Victoria neighborhood. We received great news today and expect to sign the lease tomorrow. More on this soon!

I’ve also been enjoying window shopping on Lambton Quay, walking along the Pacific Ocean, and eating fruit like whoa. It’s fun to try new food like this lamb pancake.

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The other day Scott tried goat curry. He said it tasted like a delicious animal boot, whatever that means. There’s even an apple called smitten. I am quite smitten with the fruit AND chocolate. Kiwis love their sweets, but thankfully the price tag has kept my sweet tooth at bay. Whittakers chocolate is hands down the best ever. Good tip, Marko Baldo!

Earlier this week I checked out the Les Mills “extreme” gym. Extreme is watered down for this place. Walking in, I was greeted by pulsating music and three kiwis pouncing on me. I was given a tour, two free passes and set loose to workout. Each of the four floors has every piece of equipment imaginable. The biggest kettle bells I’ve ever swung! My body pump instructor looked like a young Richard Simmons, and the cheese factor was up there with Zoolander. I did get a good workout though I’m not sure the gym is worth $33 a week.

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Of course, running outside is free and Wellington loves their yoga. Today I took off from the apartment and found Tenera Park. I love taking off without a destination. I ran past a community garden and saw the fog rolling into the city from the top of a mountain. One minute I’m on the sidewalk — the next I’m running through a jungle.

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I’ve found keeping in touch with family and friends has been easier than expected. The toughest part is wanting to talk at night when my day is winding down, but it’s the middle of night back home. I’ve begun a morning routine of catching up with people at breakfast.

I also use that time to read a card from the very sweet box of letters my dear friend Allison sent me with. She handed me a box and said don’t open it until I land. It took me a couple days to get to it, but when I did I was flooded with so much love and support. Inside were cards from my dearest friends and family. This gift means the world to me, and I told Scott if our apartment catches on fire, I’d grab the box before him. Much love to everyone who wrote me. Also, much love to all our followers and readers. We’re both so thankful for the people who support us from afar. The connection with you all helps close that giant gap over the big blue ocean.

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More to share, but that’s enough for now. Until next time!

Jess

 

Wellington!

We made it to Wellington!

While that sentence hits home, let me share a recap of our first few days in the wonderful and wild NZ. You might want to grab a sandwich.

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We arrived Wednesday after a turbo epic 27-hour travel day. RDU > LAX > SYD > WLG. A couple on-demand movies, a few stilted hours of drug-induced sleep and we descended over the deep blue Pacific to the bushy green hills of Wellington. Home!

A tense 20 minutes with NZ customs officials later – in which four of our 17 boxes were searched – we were set loose, free to breathe that salty ocean breeze of lore.

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I was picked up at the airport by Go Rentals and driven to their nearby office while Jess waited with our stuff. I was given keys to a Corolla hatchback and directions to a van rental company, where I was to grab something bigger and return to the airport to scoop Jess and the boxes.

Sounds easy enough, but PEOPLE DRIVE ON THE LEFT HERE! I can’t put into words the stress of driving through downtown during rush hour on the opposite side of the road while trying to read paper directions and switch lanes in a highway tunnel looking for a road with nine syllables. I wanted to vomit it was so silly. Smash cut to me pulling up to the airport curb two hours  later. Think I told Jess I’d be like 30 minutes tops.

We loaded the van and drove into the heart of the city. Our temporary housing is a condo called Canvas in the neighborhood of Te Aro. As it was explained to us by our jovial, bushy-haired landlord Robert, we were exceedingly lucky to land the place. As we boarded the plane in Los Angeles, I was told to expect housing an hour outside the city due to high demand. Scoring this place was an immense relief. New, modern, furnished and a short walk to work. So money.

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Parking on the other hand. God!

On our first night, I left the Corolla in front of the condo as Robert recommended. It was a no-parking zone, but as it turns out, overnight parking in the city requires you to off your next of kin in the presence of city officials – a box that, even if I was game to check, I couldn’t have due to extreme exhaustion. Flash forward me waking up our first morning to a buzzing intercom (did I mention the airline lost a bag and was there to deliver it?) … I walk out to collect the bag and see SOME MOTHERFUCKER TOWING MY CAR!

I was so steamed. I burst onto the sidewalk, shirtless and shoeless, waiving my passport around, explaining it was our first day in the country and that I was told it would “probably be okay” to park there. It was a Scene. And although I was spared the tow, I was given a $130 ticket. Welcome to welly, yank.

Things have steadily improved. For starters, the weather has been great. Calm and sunny – a rarity for a city whose motto is “can’t beat Wellington on a nice day.”

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As is our style, we’ve been exploring at a pace that would make Shackleton proud. We’ve ticked off quite a few hotspots, visiting the Queens Wharf, Mount Victoria, Greg Denton Park and most the major bays and neighborhoods. Yesterday we made our first excursion outside the city to the pinot noir region of Martinborough, and then south to Palliser Bay for a night of beach camping under the stars.

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My first day of work at SAS was a breeze. A bright, modern office downtown overlooking the ocean, filled with smart, friendly people. I walked home with a two-beer buzz, an office happy hour spilling into a hilly walk through a clean city. The sun and sea on my side. Things seem quite good there. The job will be a challenge, but I feel my early-thirties gusto will be well received. Can’t wait to dig in.

Jess and I still have so much to do – rent a house, buy a car, get bank accounts, register with the embassy, rob a cafe, etc. But if these first few days are any indication, we’re in for quite an adventure.
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An Ode to Raleigh

A very exciting package arrived at our doorstep yesterday. No, not another pair of Sam Edelmans for Jess. Two work visas to New Zealand!

That means it’s go time. Our flight to Wellington is booked for Monday at 5:20 p.m. Wow. We’re leaving this great city in just six short days. In light of this, I thought I’d kick off the goodbyes with an homage to my hometown.

An Ode to Raleigh

Nine years in Raleigh
A city so smitten I am it’s so pretty.
Just take a walk down Oberlin
Or around the swampy ferns of Rocky Branch trail.
Circle the art museum.
It’s not what you make it
It’s been made
By people like Charles Meeker, Greg Hatem
and Sean Wilson

Fly in to oak trees
Not into them silly!
Look out the plane window
Or through your fingers at Fred Fletcher park
Or out the ping pong window at Big Boss
Millions upon millions!
Our quiet magnet
The compass spins and you’re right back home
In the city of oaks.

BBQ nachos at Raleigh Times Bar!
Croquet in the Rose Garden!
I bet the stage is empty.
Slurp a few at 42nd Street OB
Then hit a few at Wil-Mar.
What’s playing at Rialto?
Oh who cares. It’s past three now.
Let the sweat drip to the beat
At the Paramount pool.
Glitz in the shadow of an oak tree.

I’ll remember those gray winter days at Umstead
Just me and the squirrels.
Adrift.

The best part is
It’s friends like family.
Volume up, windows down on the way to the beach!
A blazing sunset in Linville Gorge
A perfect set at Kings
Hopscotch.
Hopscotch. Hopscotch. Hopscotch.

Five Points you should know.
A burger at Cap Club
A puff at Havanas
A slice at Lily’s
A long walk to your car after midnight.

I found my true love in Raleigh
A city so smitten we are it’s so pretty.
425,000 strong
Feels like a million and one
People.

But if there’s one thing I’ll remember
Raleigh in a nutshell
It’s that greenway bike ride in the fall.
Just me and the squirrels.

Raleigh you were good to me.
I will love you forever.

New Zealand!

I don’t quite know how to say it, and you probably already know it, but here goes – JESS AND I ARE MOVING TO NEW ZEALAND!!!

Gives me basement tingles just writing that. In two weeks, we’ll buy our one-way tickets, say our goodbyes and fly from Raleigh to Wellington, where we’ll live on a three year work visa. Have we been to New Zealand? Uh no… it’s like 8,000 miles away!

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So how did all this come about? The move is made possible by my employer SAS Institute (recently named by Forbes the #2 best company to work for). After a year in a contract writing gig, a permanent opportunity arose in NZ and boom I was the man for the job. They’ve made relocating a breeze, helping with visas, taxes, flights, etc. Their generosity will be repaid tenfold when I report to that small office in Wellington’s Central Business District.

For Jess, once her employer Allscripts caught wind of the move, they made her an offer on the international sales team, allowing her to work from home in Wellington. Pretty doggone rad. She starts as part-time, leaving heaps of time for enjoying the area’s many beaches, wineries and sheep-shearing competitions.

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As mentioned, we’ll be in Wellington – the nation’s capital – situated on the southern tip of the north island. Lonely Planet calls it the coolest little capital in the world. We’ll give you the scoop after we arrive, but when I asked Jeeves, he said it’s a winner for culture, scenic beauty and friendly people. The beer scene is also hopping. We hope to rent a little house with ocean views in one of the hilly neighborhoods near downtown. Dream big man why not!

Leaving friends and family will be a heartbreaker. Truly. You know who you are. We love you more than you know. Nine years we’ve been in Raleigh, and it’s been top shelf and beyond. I already miss the greenways, oak-lined streets and cozy little southern cosmopolitan buzz only Raleigh can bring. A better city would be hard to find.

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But we’re not gone yet. The picture above shows the 131-page visa application we submitted to NZ officials last week. That’s like a hundred trees. Assuming our visas are approved, we’ll be gone early February. Until then, let’s get together and toast the future. After all, if you’re reading this, you’re coming to visit. It’s a done deal. Just make it down there. We’ll handle the rest.

And finally, about this blog… Wellington Summer is the sequel to our last blog Girdwood Summer, which documented our 2011 move to Girdwood, Alaska. That summer was perfect beyond words, and in many ways, this move follows in those footsteps. As such, the bloggers within us are coming back to life, so expect a similar avalanche of stories, photos and travels as we begin our Wellington Summer!

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