A new home, for now

Isaac's childhood home, where we live for now

A week after checking out of quarantine, our little ten-seater plane came around the East side of Great Barrier Island and swooped in to land on a flat grassy field. I’ve taken the 30-minute flight half a dozen times before, but always had a return ticket and a plan for how long we’d be visiting. It felt strange and good to think I was arriving here to make it home, without any idea of when we would leave again. Our toddler snoozed in his seat and our little one squirmed to get out as my husband’s parents waved at our plane from the parking lot.

I was alone with the kids arriving at our new home. Isaac took the five-hour ferry ride with our newly purchased 2006 minivan. We’ve always been a car-free family, but our main goal in the week we spent in Auckland post-quarantine was to buy one. Back in the states getting a minivan is a sort of badge of parenthood – they’re joked about, but also celebrated for how amazingly practical they are (all that trunk space! Room for multiple carseats!). Isaac’s brothers were quick to let us know how uncool minivans – or “people movers” as they are called here – are in New Zealand. They tried to convince us to get a station wagon, but no.

The kids love the car, and so do we. We spent a few days with Isaac’s brother and his family, running errands and taking care of annoying life admin like trying to get me a New Zealand bank account (unsuccessful so far) and tax ID number (still pending). Then we backed our glorious minivan up to the grocery store to pick up our $700 “click and collect” online order to take across with us to the island. It was three carts (I mean “trollies”) of food and produce and diapers (I mean “nappies”), enough to stock our pantry for a week or two. There are a few tiny grocers on Great Barrier, but you pay an island price at them. Best to stock up in town.

Then we bid goodbye to our beloved extended family and to one of my least favourite cities in New Zealand (sorry, Auckland, you’re just not for me) and headed for our new home on the island.

Our kids have both been more adaptable than I would have expected, but when I woke our toddler up on the plane and said “we’re here,” he jerked awake and yelled “I’m so excited!” We’ve talked for months about arriving here, always calling it “New Zealand, where Nana and Grandpa live.” After a short drive on twisting roads up a valley and a steep driveway not too far from the beach, we pulled up at their property and stepped into the old empty house we’ll be living in. Isaac’s parents built themselves a new cottage up the hill, so we have always stayed in this older house when we came back to visit Isaac’s parents every year. The smell of the place was instantly familiar. My in-laws went to great lengths to make it feel like home for us, stocking the kids rooms with toys and Isaac’s old books. They even built a sandbox out back. Our toddler was over the moon.

After digging in the sand for a while, Jude asked “where are we going next?” with hesitation in his voice. When I told him "nowhere, this is our home, where we are going to build our tiny house," he relaxed. Isaac arrived from the boat with all our bags and groceries and we settled in for the night.

The sun sets early right now, around 5:30pm here. It makes putting the kids to bed easier, but as the winter evening got chilly, I began to worry about keeping them warm enough. The house is as draughty as it is beautiful, and the wood stove is the only way to warm the place up. We run on a solar power system which can’t handle things like space heaters. I layered our little one in two sets of merino wool pajamas and two sleep sacks, then warmed up his travel crib with hot water bottles. Both kids still woke up multiple times in the night, having never slept in a 57-degree house before.

In the morning the sun heated the place up, and over breakfast Isaac and I divvied up the most important tasks. I wanted to unpack and give the house a little love, and we also needed a compost system for food scraps, yard waste, and biodegradable diapers. We got word of some free pallets down at the local sports club, which we could use to make a big square open-top box in the yard. Trash collection on the site is limited, so everyone composts and recycles as much as possible.

Starting with the rafters, I dusted the house top to bottom, sweeping away the daddy long legs spiders that innocently take over when no one is looking. I could feel the house coming alive as I worked, as strange as that sounds, as if every forgotten bookshelf and baseboard was happy to be paid loving attention. In all my visits here I have thought this house had a great soul, and it was as if dusting it off to make it our home brought it back to life.

As I swept every floor and windowsill, I could feel my own spirit lighting up after these few hard weeks. Even the weather appeared to be welcoming us to our new home, and the kids headed out to the sandbox in short sleeves and sun hats. I know that most people would prefer a day in a cushy office over a day physical labor in an old house, but not me. This work made me realise I have chosen the right path. I have always been a homesteader at heart.

By day three on the island, Isaac had chainsawed a path up the hill to our tiny house site. The trees are small and come down easily. Today my task is to head up and walk the area to figure out exactly where our house should go, and I can’t wait to get a feel for the land.

Meanwhile, COVID has gotten in to New Zealand, despite their best efforts to keep it at bay. A handful of cases popped up in Auckland and the country has gone into lockdown. If we hadn’t made it to the island when we did, it could have been tough to get here. As it is, we get to bubble up with Isaac’s parents and our pantry of groceries and ride it out.

There's a saying: "Everything will be alright in the end. It it's not alright now, then it's not the end." Despite the challenges of this last month, everything has come around to being alright. I think it's safe to say this phase of our adventure – moving – has reached its end.

Now it's time to build something. I can't wait.

Future path to our tiny house

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