You’re moving where?!?

In the winter of 2003—an extremely long and cold winter in New England—Steve was asked to come to New Zealand to work with former Dialogic/Intel colleagues who were starting a new company in Auckland. I was feeling in need of a change, after all we’d been stuck indoors for weeks, so I agreed to come along for a few years.

When we broke the news to families and friends, their first reaction was, "You’re moving where?!" But their second reaction was either that they’d been to New Zealand and loved it or that they had always wanted to go to New Zealand and would come visit us. Steve had traveled to New Zealand a number of times on business and once to bicycle the South Island; I had been once on vacation in 1996. So with the decision made, we started to assemble at least 50 pounds of paperwork to apply for New Zealand residency, which would be necessary to stay longer than three months. Also, we started the process to import our dog, Sam. Both of these activities became all-consuming for months. By July we had been granted visas and Sam had her import documentation, but had to wait until October for the results of a series of blood tests for rabies and other diseases.

Now we had to decide what to bring in two enormous shipping containers. We’d rented our house in Cohasset and Steve had rented a house in New Zealand during a trip in September. Since our house had been rented furnished, we were "only" shipping "household goods" including computers, bicycles, books, camping gear, some small pieces of furniture and a limited amount of kitchen stuff. The containers would take a month at sea to arrive. Our friend Peter, a fisherman/philosopher, phoned from his lobster boat when the Maersk Auckland arrived in Boston Harbor, so we knew our stuff was on its way and we were soon to follow.

Steve and I and Sam left Boston in October. The goodbyes were the hardest part—dinners with both families, dinners and lunches with dear friends and a goodbye party with some of our closest and oldest friends. By the time our friend Sally drove us to the airport, I thought I was goodbyed out. Not to be, I was so overwhelmed I could barely say thank you and goodbye. Sally and I hugged as tears rolled down our cheeks. My enduring hope is that all the family and friends who promised to come visit us will be able to do so.

So off we flew, Steve, Sam, Ellen and about 300 pounds of checked luggage!

LAX layover

We had decided to fly to Los Angeles, spend the night and travel on to New Zealand the next day. Because of the dog-import requirements, Sam needed to visit a veterinarian in Los Angeles for one final health check, a dose of heartworm medication and an application of flea and tick preventive. (Some day I’ll jot down the dozens of vet visits, blood tests and affidavits required to import Sam to New Zealand before we even got to this point.) Our day in Los Angeles gave us time for the vet visit as well as some exercise for Sam before her 12-hour-plus flight.

We arrived in Los Angeles late at night. I was nervous waiting for Sam to be unloaded from the plane, after all she had never flown before and she hates loud noises. I paced around the bottom of the oversized-luggage shoot until I saw her crate making its way along a conveyor belt and down a steep ramp. Inside the crate Sam was fine, wagging her tail and glad to be off the plane. (Me too, wagging my tail and glad she was off the plane.) We went to the LAX Hilton to spend the night. Sam trotted through the over-done marble lobby like this was her daily walk in the woods—tail high and wagging, happy to greet anyone else who happened to have a late-arrival check-in.

Air New Zealand to Auckland

Sam had to be left at a cargo terminal late in the afternoon where a USDA veterinarian came to "seal" her into her crate (they use lead seals similar to the ones on scales and postage machines). These seals tell the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) people in New Zealand that the crate hasn’t been opened since Los Angeles and that the dog inside is the one with the import permit and the microchip (but that’s another story).

Steve and I then headed off to the people terminal and our flight. Security at LAX has made the airport into a nightmare maze of checks-points and screening gates. Because Steve was coming to New Zealand to work, his carry-on bag was stuffed with computers, cables, a wireless antenna and many other bits of very suspicious electronic gear. Needless to say, security examined every single bit and every last piece.

As we were boarding the plane, I asked the flight crew to check if Sam’s crate had been loaded onto the plane. They called down to the cargo deck and came back chuckling. Yes, Sam’s crate had been loaded and she was fine. There was also another dog for her company who was transiting from England as well as 1,000 mice. Yes, that’s right, 1,000 mice. These two dogs must have spent the flight discussing that very odd smell and those squeaky noises. We can only assume they were lab mice. Who would ship 1,000 field mice?

There is no question that the flight is long but at least a large part of it is at night and offers some hope of sleep. We arrived in Auckland about 6:00 a.m. local time. As we went through immigration, the inspector looked at my passport and saw that I was a "new" resident, arriving for the first time. He offered a hearty "Welcome home!", which felt very odd indeed.

It took a bit to gather up our luggage (all 300 pounds plus carry-ons) and get a rental car, but we then headed out to the quarantine kennel to make sure that Sam had arrived and was in good condition. Because she is in quarantine from the moment of her arrival in New Zealand, she had to be picked-up at the airport by the staff of the quarantine kennel (i.e., we didn't get to see her until we got to the kennel). The kennel is out in the country and the staff had given us permission to come directly from the airport (normal visiting hours start at 11:30 a.m.). The staff told us she was well and that she had seemed a little confused when she first got there (I can well imagine). Sam greeted us enthusiastically, much to our relief. After dispensing dog biscuits liberally, we headed to Clevedon, a town near the kennel. We had decided that a few days rest in the country was a good idea before we started trying to assemble a home. In addition, we wanted to make sure that Sam settled in well for her 30-day quarantine.

Waiheke Island

In September Steve had visited New Zealand to meet with his colleagues and to do some basic tasks such as finding a rental house and establishing bank accounts. He stayed with our friends Mark and Marine on Waiheke Island, which is a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland. Coincidentally he found that the house next to theirs was for rent. Steve toured the house and signed a lease (so to speak). While this has turned out not to be the easiest of places to set up housekeeping, it has some distinct advantages.

Waiheke is about 12 miles long by 6 miles wide. It has 8,000 year-round residents and many people live here and commute to Auckland. In this sense, it seemed a lot like Cohasset in size and commuter population. It also is a resort community and the population swells to 30,000 in the summer. The island has lots of conservation land and beaches as well as vineyards and olive groves.

Unfortunately it’s also difficult getting things here. Shopping is poor and the selection of most everything is very limited. If you want (as I most often do), you can head off to Auckland. But then you have to have such things as furniture delivered, which is not too difficult but very expensive.

In addition, I spent the first three weeks going to the mainland every day to visit Sam in the kennel. I know, I know, it sounds excessive and it was. The kennel staff highly encouraged daily visits, saying that the visited dogs were much calmer and better-adapted. We’d already spent a zillion dollars and many worries getting her to New Zealand, so what’s another three weeks of spending five to six hours a day, every day traveling to the kennel?

Anyway, that’s how a New England couple and their dog ended up 12,000 miles from Boston. Stay tuned and I hope to let you know more about our life, our travels and adapting to a new and somewhat foreign culture. As the immigration officer said, welcome home (at least for a while).


Last update:
Monday, December 27, 2004
Copyright 2004 - Ellen Freda