New Horizons, Open Spaces

Ian and Karien Visagie have found the lifestyle property that suits them and their children, on the fringe of Hamilton city.
New Horizons, Open Spaces

When Ian Visagie and his wife Karien started a family, it made them think about where they wanted their children to grow up.

So in January 2014, they left their native South Africa – and now enjoy the safe, open spaces of Hamilton and the Waikato.

Ian grew up in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, and studied electronic engineering in Stellenbosch, Cape Town. Almost a decade later, while doing development work for an electronic design company, he met Karien. After waiting two years for her to have a working holiday in the UK, they were married.

We decided to bring our furniture here, and that’s also good to do. Furniture’s very expensive in New Zealand.

Ian Visagie

Living in the Winelands area, near Cape Town, meant they enjoyed good weather and weren’t troubled by security concerns. But having children got them thinking about future opportunities and personal safety.

They drew up a shortlist of countries looking for people with Ian’s skills: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland.

“Weather-wise, it was actually only New Zealand or Australia that were options,” Ian explains. “But in the end, after we did more investigation, we thought New Zealand would be a better place, a bit more family friendly. And Karien is very afraid of snakes!”

Ian found most job opportunities were in Auckland, but they were keen to live somewhere more rural. He searched for jobs on the website Seek, and also contacted a recruitment agency, which got him an interview with Hamilton-based company Gallagher. Gallagher makes animal management, fuel and security systems, and after three Skype interviews – one with the recruitment agency and two with Gallagher – Ian had a job.

His work visa came after around a month, then they had three months to pack up and sell their house. “We decided to bring our furniture here, and that’s also good to do. Furniture’s very expensive in New Zealand,” says Ian.

dad playing with kids at home

Buying a home was the next goal, and the search highlighted differences between the countries. In South Africa the houses are better quality and larger, says Ian; here there are more older, wooden houses, frequently with dampness issues.When they arrived, Gallagher had arranged temporary accommodation for three weeks, plus a car. Ian and Karien found a house to rent, but their furniture hadn’t arrived yet – luckily, before arriving they’d made contact with another migrant South African family, so that family helped them with temporary furniture.

“We had that with our rental property – that was not a good experience for us. If you leave any leather products in your cupboard, mould will form on them. So it’s best to have a look at properties in wintertime,” he advises. “The newer houses are of a much better standard.”

Eventually, they bought a house on a large section just outside Hamilton. They would not have bought such a section in South Africa. “Due to the crime, if you go for a section or a bigger area around your house, you’re very vulnerable,” says Ian.

“Our section is about 6,000 square metres and there’s a lot of grass there for the children to run on. Now we can do gardening and grow our own vegetables.”

kids playing on swings

Ian’s job involves analysing problems in animal management technology so Gallagher’s products can be improved. He finds the workplace culture welcoming and quite similar to South Africa, where people “work hard and play hard.”

Children Sebastian, 6, and Mila, 4, have settled in well, perhaps because they shifted before starting school. Ian and Karien have found New Zealand’s education system to be of a similar standard to South Africa’s, although there it’s “quite expensive” to send children to a good quality school and here it’s free, although parents are asked for a small contribution.

They’ve registered with a primary healthcare provider (doctor), which reduces the cost of seeing a doctor, and all children under 13 are eligible for free doctor’s services too. “What’s new to us is that you have to go and wait, sometimes for an hour, to be seen, but it’s really good care.”

family walking through park

Adjusting to the climate took some doing, though: Ian says Hamilton is cold and damp in winter (though that helps keep the trees green), and all year round the sun is “really harsh”. On weekends, the family loves walking around Hamilton Gardens, the lake and other tracks. “In South Africa, if you want to go to a place where it’s maintained, then most of the time you need to pay for it. Here there are all these places you can go and it’s free,” says Ian.

“You can feel the difference if you go outside. You must wear protection in the sun.”

This is balanced by a sense of personal freedom. “Kiwis don’t judge people at all. They don’t care about, say, if I go cut off all my hair. Nobody will actually say something about it – they’ll just accept it.”

The Visagies are residents now, and making plans for the future. When Mila begins school later this year, Karien hopes to find work too. Then they’ll finish the house renovations and explore their adopted home country.

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