I love Auckland – it’s a great city in summer but in winter it has days when the endless ceiling of drab grey skies is seemingly only broken by icy blobs of rain and a sharp wind that sneaks under your clothes and chills your bones.
I tend to go into semi-hibernation, sleep work sleep, broken only by the dreary daily commute to work. It was on one of these blah days – get up in the dark, a long tedious drive home in the rain, when everyone in Auckland seems to forget how to drive and the radio presenters seemed more inane than usual, that I got a Skype call from a friend who had moved to Queensland.
After a bit of chit-chat and what have you been doings, I mentioned that my current contract was coming to an end and that I was on the lookout for the next. Lo and behold, my friend got excited, the stars aligned and the next thing I knew was searching Air New Zealand for flights to Hervey Bay so I could do a writing contract there for her for the next few months.
Hervey where? That’s what I first said. Hervey Bay. I had no idea where it was, apart from it sounded like the town from Muriel’s Wedding (that was the fictional Porpoise Spit). A quick google search revealed that it is small Queensland city that is part of the Fraser Coast which lies above the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Hervey Bay hugs the bay that lies behind Fraser Island and is largely known for its whale watching as the bay is a resting spot for humpbacks on their annual migration to and from Antartica. Considering its latitude, it has an almost perfect climate – neither too hot or too cold, rarely getting above 35 degrees in summer.
I was pretty much sold at whale watching – and after coming out the next day to scrap the ice off my car on a 4 degreeC Auckland morning, it couldn’t happen fast enough.
Getting there was surprisingly easy as Hervey Bay has its own airport which direct flights from Sydney with Virgin Australia and Brisbane with Qantas link. As I hadn’t traveled for about five years, I had recently got my new e-passport. Man, those things are great! Swipe and you’re through. When I landed in Sydney, I picked up my bags, swiped my e-passport, turned left to the Virgin bag drop and check in, walked out the door straight onto my bus to the domestic terminal, got off the bus, cleared security, got on my Virgin flight and before I knew it, I was arriving in Hervey Bay to a bright blue sky day and 20 degrees – in July!
After a couple of weeks here, I’m slowly adapting to my new home. At times, I feel like I’ve wandered into Cold Chisel song. This part of Queensland is a heady mixture of gum trees and cane fields on one side of town and sparkling calm blue water fringed by white sand beaches on the other. The oddest thing about Hervey Bay is that it faces due north – so even though we are on the east coast, we see the sunrise and sunset. It is very disorientating.
It is a relaxed regional lifestyle, and coming from Auckland the thing that has struck me more than anything is how easy it is here and what it is bloody hard work to live in a city with crappy transport and expensive housing.
My daily commute in Hervey Bay is 10 minutes and I am staying on a short-term lease in a two-bedroom furnished apartment at the Oceans Resort and Spa, across the road from a stunning beach, with swimming pool, gym, and parking for a very reasonable rent that is unimaginable in Auckland. If I wanted to buy a house here, it would cost me between $250 to $350k for a great property with a decent chunk of land.
Moreover, the city has kilometres of separated cycling and walking tracks that are safe and well used. Everyone (of all ages) bikes or walks without worrying they are going to be mowed down by a careless driver.
It is striking that when you live near where you work or have easy transport to it, and if you have affordable accommodation, then you don’t spend your life just trying to survive and have the physical and mental energy to do so much more – like actually enjoying your life!
Auckland is such an amazing city, but you know what, there are easier ways to live and easier places to live. We can lament the commodification of housing and bitch about wasting hours a day in traffic, but we do have choices – and there are plenty of regional centres across New Zealand and Australia that are hungry for families and talent to move there.