Hooked on Northland life

After living inland in South Africa, the Diers family love how easy it is to access the coastal delights of Whangarei and its surroundings.
Hooked on Northland life

Sometimes, the little things show you how far your family has come. When the Diers family lived in Johannesburg, approximately 500km from the South African coast, they could not take up activities such as kayaking, boating and fishing.

Two years after moving to New Zealand, Shane Diers says he, wife Janine, and children Grayor (6) and Milla (5) now do all those things.

“The other day we caught our first kingfish, so we were absolutely stoked [delighted],” he adds. “Recently we got out to the Hen and Chick Islands, so we’re slowly pushing out boundaries there. The boat is capable of far more than that, but we’ve got to break into it slowly.” 

Janine adds, “Out on the water it’s calm and peaceful. It’s a nice day for us to spend together as a family, rather than being inside and watching TV.”

The family left South Africa looking for an adventure, says Shane, but also because they were concerned about crime levels and their children’s future education.

“Getting the children into a university would be very, very difficult in South Africa. There are a lot of quotas coming through and it limits one’s ability to get into tertiary institutions. We needed to move to a country where they can compete on an even keel,” he says.

Shane’s sister was living in New Zealand at the time, so he had already visited twice.  His brother-in-law mentioned Whangarei could be what they were looking for: a large regional city “in a stunning area close to the Bay of Islands, close to the Tutukaka coast”, says Shane.

He received job offers from eight different cities around the country – “New Zealand is very short of radiologists” – so they could choose which region to live in.

Shane arrived in June 2015, three weeks before the rest of the family because of a delay with Milla’s visa. This turned out to be a good thing, as he was completely new to Whangarei and had to rely on his GPS navigation device to help him get to the house he had rented.

“But I found the wrong house. I walked into the neighbour’s house and sat down on my new couch, which was in fact the neighbour’s new couch! I was later directed by the rental agent to the house I had rented,” he laughs.

By the time Janine, Grayor and Milla arrived in July, he had figured out the best place to go for groceries and other essentials, and done some tax-related paperwork.

“It’s much easier to explore a place as an individual without running around with the whole family, because it’s quite a stressful time and you don’t really know what you’re doing,” says Shane.

Coming from Johannesburg (population 5-6 million) to Whangarei (population 50,000) was a big shock, says Janine, “but at the same time it was awesome. There’s less traffic, and places are never crowded. Even going to the beach on December 24, it was busy but not like we had to park miles away.”

Janine worked as an IT (information technology) consultant in South Africa. She and Shane decided that since they do not have family and friends here to help with childcare, she would focus on the children for now.

Shane is a medical doctor, specialising in diagnostic radiology: using X-rays, scans and other techniques to diagnose and treat illnesses. 

He was delighted that Whangarei Hospital, where he now works, had just installed a number of very high-tech scanners – because it’s always fun to work with state-of-the-art equipment. 

Getting the children settled at school was challenging, says Janine. There were several key differences to South Africa, such as the length of the school day, and the way sports are run. 

“You need to really do your research in terms of where you live for where kids are sent, because schools are zoned. I like it, because all your neighbours are the kids who go to the same school. It creates a community. But you need to know where you want  your child to go to school, and then choose where you want to live,” she explains.

Janine is glad they sent their furniture over in a container, because there is very little variety in Whangarei’s retail shops. 

“Food is a lot more expensive in New Zealand, but then you get used to it,” she adds. She has also become used to the phrase “going to someone’s house for tea”: at first she assumed ‘tea’ meant a cup of tea with cake, while Kiwis use that word to refer to dinner. 

“There are ups and downs like everything else. You need to make an effort to fit in with the customs and culture, and be accepting of everything New Zealand has to offer,” Janine advises. “I find Kiwis to be the most accommodating, lovely people in the world.  I’ve never had a situation where I’ve been made to feel like I’m an outsider.” 

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