A love letter to Palmerston North
OPINION: When I was growing up in Hamilton in the 80s, the bustling wee city was to me an oversized cow-town filled with farmers and students.
It was the perfect size to get around on adventures; big enough to ensure that not everyone knew everyone, but at the same time you didn't have to go far to find someone you knew.
I eventually moved on to Wellington in my mid-twenties and as much as I loved my time in the capital, it only confirmed what I already knew: I'm just not a big city girl.
So when love lured me to Palmerston North, it's fair to say some friends and family enjoyed a good wee scoff at my 'downgrading' of location.
*The dangerous game of comparing lifestyles
*Exam pressures are gnawing at this 'mombie' brain
*From tiny seeds romance can grow ... but so can weeds
*There's no thrill quite like unexpected parcels in the mail
*This mum's 'road train' makes her stand out, but she's not the thief
You see Palmerston North has many similarities with my Waikato home town, the most obvious of which is that both seem to be the butt of many national jokes.
I just need to live in Gore to get the New Zealand trifecta in armpit towns.
I get it; neither the 'Tron nor Palmy, with their landlocked, river-dominated landscapes, boast impressive vistas that will be on the front page of a Lonely Planet any time soon.
Both host an array of, what I will call, interesting locals, and both are usually places you pass through on the way to somewhere far more exciting.
But what I have learnt, in my almost five years of living in the Manawatu region, is that right now, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.
Stop laughing, it's not a joke, and I can probably link my enjoyment in living in Palmerston North with two things.
Firstly, while it feels like the majority of New Zealand is crumbling under the weight of its out-of-control house prices and urbanisation, Palmy has been in its own little bubble. Yes, the house prices are rising, but when they were bugger all to start off with, it is still an extremely affordable place to live.
It is because of this that we have the incredible and rare ability to be a sole-income family, and for me to choose to stay home with the kids while they are little.
Living in the regions even allows me the luxury to have those said kids in care for a couple of days a week so that I can further my studies.
If we lived elsewhere in the country, and had we wanted to maintain our pre-baby lifestyle – heck, even just wanting to put food on the table while paying a mortgage – I would have had to put two kids under 2 in to care fulltime, all for a few spare hundred dollars after the childcare bill is taken out.
Don't get me wrong, I realise this is an absolute must for so many families out there. Many don't have a choice.
What regional life has given us is choice.
The second reason I have become such a fangirl of Palmerston North happened when I became a mother.
At first I found it a bit isolating, being away so far away from friends and family, but I soon found my crew who will now be lifelong friends.
They're a mix of born and bred Manawatu folk, and others who were, like me, here "under duress".
As the kids have grown, I've come to truly love the fact I can meet up with a friend at a cafe, only ever a 10-minute drive away, and almost always be guaranteed a park outside my destination.
Parking will either be free or a couple of bucks for a couple of hours. Total.
None of this $8 or $12 an hour like in Wellington.
Come weekends, there's always something on, and a lot of the time that's free, too.
The Esplanade Day held earlier this month was the perfect case in point.
It felt like the majority of Palmerston North was there, and yet a park was easily found and despite the crowds, lines were short.
It's hard to explain but I just had this surge of love for my new home and the community I have around me.
Whether it's out hunting rocks in parks and posting photos on the Palmy Rocks Facebook page, (honestly, a lot cooler than it sounds, I promise), or that silent nod to another stressed-out looking mum as we drudge through The Plaza mall, Manawatu has grown on me.
Living is easy here, I tell people who ask about it.
If you picked up our life now and plonked us in any major city in New Zealand, it wouldn't be this easy, so it really makes me think about those who are doing it tough, weighing up big moves in order to balance their lives up a bit.
Palmerston North will always be my children's home town and while they may come to cringe, much like I still sometimes do when mentioning my Hamilton roots, for now it will do quite nicely.