Expat Living: New Zealand with kids


At first glance, New Zealand’s South Island looks like heaven for a road trip: chilling on sandy beaches and glaciers, tramping through rainforests and vineyards, inhaling fresh air and eating even fresher seafood.

But then my kids photo-bomb this idyllic scene.

The soundtrack retunes to squabbling, the freedom of the open road disappears in a puff of mealtimes and toilet breaks, the compass points to a suitcase that needs to be unpacked and repacked every day.

Only a unique combination of military-style preparation and laid-back Kiwi charm could navigate my family along the road to hell.

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I am Indiana Jo – welcome to my Temple of Doom

Once upon a time, I went to Chad on a press trip. Fascinating country and quite a place of contrasts: one day I hitched a lift on the Finance Minister’s private jet; the next I had to push my own taxi to the petrol station when it broke down.

chad taxi
chad taxi

And then there’s Cameroon Airlines, who were supposed to fly me home to Douala. When it comes to Cameroon Airlines, here’s a word of advice: don’t.

My flight out of Chad was delayed for four days. On the fourth day I was out of cash and there isn’t an ATM in Chad, so I decided to go to the airport and adopt an African approach to waiting, which can be summarised as: sit, wait.

This is much more effective than the Anglo Saxon approach to waiting, which can be summarised as: sit, fidget, check watch, tut, stride about, check watch, question an official, sit, huff, check watch, try to read, get distracted, fidget, sigh, check watch, stride about, get sweaty, buy drink, spill drink on self, swear, sit, develop ulcer, die of frustration.

So I took a seat, parked my suitcase in front of me and noted, with some degree of prescience, that the windows had no glass in them. It was daytime and still light. I drank a cool coke. There were almost certainly insects, but I hadn’t noticed them yet.

A while later it was dusk. The bar was out of cold soft drinks, so I had a tepid coke.  When a bug landed on my bare arm, I shook it off.

Then it was night. The bar was out of all soft drinks, so I had a hot beer. There were so many insects, I only flicked away the ones that landed on exposed skin: the ones on my clothes could stay put.

Later, the bar was out of all drinks and it was African dark outside, but the departures lounge was lit up like a giant accessible moon, and all the insects in all the world streamed in through the open windows. N’djamena airport was like the Temple of Doom – and I was Indiana Jo.

When a door finally opened and the flight was called, I had to scrape an inch-deep layer of insects off the top of my suitcase just to get hold of the handle. Then I boarded the plane and spent the hour-long flight picking grasshoppers out of my hair.

Shame I don’t have a picture – but taking photos in African airports tends to get you arrested and, well, that’s a whole other anecdote. Once upon a time, this kind of thing happened to me - and I loved it. But now? Well... times change.

view from the backseat in a chad taxi

view from the backseat in a chad taxi

I just got back from a holiday in Corsica. Have you been? It’s lovely.

So why couldn’t I relax?

Is it because taking kids to a new place means baby-proofing all over again? The first thing I used to do on arrival in a boutique hotel was trampoline on the bed while simultaneously sniffing the free shampoo. Nowadays, I shoulder open the adjoining doors of our family suite and roll across the floor – SAS style – to recce the place for baby-traps. “OK troops! There’s unsecured stairs at 12 o’clock! Glassware, repeat, GLASSWARE at 6 o’clock! And... my god, there’s a FLOOR-LEVEL MINIBAR! Call for BACKUUUUUP!”

Or is it because I’ve changed? I’ve happily swopped a dugout canoe for a pedaloe: the Finance Minister’s jet for Easyjet: and being covered in insects for... er... not being covered in insects. All of the above are MUCH easier with kids.

I’m sure that my travel-MOJO will return in time. When my daughter has grown out of ‘exploring her boundaries’ by running away as fast as she can towards heavy traffic, and when my son has had enough of ‘investigating the texture of things’ by putting them into his orifices, then we will be adventurous again. Until then, Indiana Jo is hanging up her bullwhip... although, on second thoughts, it could come in useful next time that girl legs it...