We touched down in Wellington on the afternoon of Wednesday 25th January. We had now been travelling for a month. This week’s accommodation was an AirBnB right in the centre of town, exactly what we needed for our first base. We had started looking at houses to rent around Wellington whilst still in Dunedin but, without being in the city and available for viewings, it was somewhat of a futile exercise – now that we were here we didn’t think it would be that hard to find somewhere to live and I started to gently schedule our days.
Two of our great friends lived in Wellington and it was with them we would discuss potential housing plans, or spend evenings tasting delicious Vietnamese food, or wander around the city with on a lazy afternoon. They were lifesavers when we needed somewhere to crash for (what ended up becoming) almost a week, generous to the point of practically giving us the clothes off their backs – if we hadn’t had them I’m not sure what we would’ve done, because things were about to get a lot harder.
We had arrived in New Zealand, apparently, in the middle of a housing crisis and just as all of the students were starting to look for properties in Wellington. Over the course of the next 3 weeks we hunted fruitlessly for a house, putting in application after application for agency-managed properties and landlord-managed properties, all to no avail. The problem was we were basically identity-less – we had no credit history, no New Zealand references, no New Zealand jobs, nothing that tied us to this country, other than TS’ citizenship (but as he had been away for 8 years he may as well have not had even that), and as a result nobody wanted to touch us. On top of that, house viewings were so crowded potential renters were literally lining up outside houses for a look-in – it was a nightmare.
The police certificate had finally shown up – had actually arrived the day we left Dunedin – and with this final piece of the paperwork I was able to hand in my stack of visa paperwork, a month’s worth of collecting information and filling out forms. I placed it in its plastic folder with my passport and dropped it through the letterbox outside the immigration office, feeling both a weight lifted and an extreme sense of dread at sending my identification into the unknown. Two weeks later I still hadn’t heard back from immigration and I was starting to worry.
We moved from the floor of our friends’ house to an AirBnB in another suburb for almost 2 weeks. TS was still working all night, whilst house hunting all day. We saw up to 4 properties a day and had taken to carrying around UK references, copies of our passports and completed applications to give to the agencies as soon as we saw the properties. At one point I had to physically step in front of another woman to talk to the letting agent and practically threw our paperwork at her (not my finest moment). We finally got a break 3 weeks after we had started looking – there was a house in Miramar (the area where Peter Jackson has his studios), the current tenants were South African and looking for somebody to take over the property as they were moving into town to be closer to their new business. We headed over the same day to view the place – 3 bedrooms, a big garden, some work needed doing but it had so much potential. We practically begged the South Africans to consider us on behalf of the landlady and, amazingly, they did. They had already had 3 other groups come through that day (the ad only went up that morning and it was now 3’o’clock in the afternoon) but they understood us – they had been immigrants at one point too. They were young and trendy, the worked in hospitality and were creative – they got us. We found out that night that they had chosen us – we had a house. The sense of relief was overwhelming – we could finally stop looking for houses and just get on with setting everything else up.
We moved from the AirBnB to a friend’s house we were house/cat sitting for 10 days. It was peaceful to have a fully furnished house to ourselves – I cooked every night, listened to music, watched TV, played with 2 friendly cats (they brought us 3 mice (1 dead), 3 lizards (1 dead) and 1 bird during our stay) and managed to relax a little. Then I called immigration.
There was a backlog in the system, my visa hadn’t been processed yet and, whilst the website said partnership visa would take up to 4 months, they were now telling me that it was more likely to be 9 months. I panicked. 9 months without being able to work? I wasn’t sure we’d be able to survive on just 1 income, plus all of the new house expenses were beginning to mount up. What about my passport that was in the system? We had to fly out to Australia at Easter and I needed to go back to the UK in June, what was I supposed to do? We went down to immigration the next day and spoke to an official who explained that due to the recent earthquake and a lack of data entry processors there was a huge backlog of immigration cases. It was more likely to be about 6 months. What she didn’t mention, but I had heard from somebody else, was that Brexit and Trump had put a huge amount of pressure on immigration due to an influx of people wanting to flee the UK and US. Great – international politics had screwed us. She was much more helpful than the person I spoke to on the phone, however, and assured me that as soon as I was assigned a case worker things would move along a lot more swiftly. She made a note in the system that I had been told this and told me to come back and get my passport if I needed it before my details had been fully processed – it was apparently just upstairs in the building.
I remained in limbo and my 30th birthday was coming up – life felt rather bleak.
We moved into our Miramar house on the 18th February and celebrated with fish, chips and prosecco. The next four weeks were a blur of plaster dust and paint, as our landlady had decided to install soundproofing – a job which involved taking the ceilings down in two of the bedrooms and the kitchen. It was miserable – the plaster dust got everywhere, making all of our things chalky, no matter how hard we tried to contain it, and living in one room on the floor (as you’ll remember, our shipping was still in limbo somewhere off the coast of France) was equally frustrating.
Somewhere in there I turned 30. We spent the day at Wellington Zoo then returned for dinner out in town with our two good friends. It was a good day, if somewhat bittersweet. I didn’t feel any different but that was the issue – turning 30, somehow, seemed to me that I should’ve had my life a bit more together, not starting over in a totally new country from scratch.
February turned into March and the house was being pieced back together, bit-by-bit. The painter finished the ceilings in the rooms that needed work, then returned the following week to help us do up and paint the rest of the house (which, as mentioned, needed work). We were blessed with a great builder, plasterer and painter, and equally with a very sweet and understanding landlady who was happy for us to make changes in the house and was also working on the garden for us. She had plans to build me a veg planter and we spent many a day chatting in the sunshine as she weeded and hacked down overgrown vegetation. We replaced the light fixtures with help from the electrician, put up shelves in the kitchen, acquired a sofa and a comfy chair, and slowly started to make this space our home.
Then came the fleas.