Long commute no deterrent

ANNA PEARSON
Last updated 13:00 05/11/2012

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A burgeoning group of self-described "Nelly-Welly commuters" are proving you can live in Nelson and still have a career in the big smoke.

Numerous people in the Nelson region see weekly or regular travel as a small price to pay for their tailored lifestyles.

They travel to Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch or Dunedin, packing out Nelson Airport first thing on a Monday morning, and return to their families or rural properties at the end of the week.

Jo Bertenshaw, the personal assistant to Air Nelson general manager Grant Kerr, said trends were hard to determine as she had no data on commuting numbers.

However, she met a lot of commuters while she was working in the Koru Lounge a year ago.

Wellington was the most popular destination, followed by Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin.

"There were people travelling for all sorts of business - government workers, corporates, lawyers."

Golden Bay Air co-director Lisa Sheppard set up an air service between Takaka and Wellington with her partner, Richard Molloy, six years ago, so when the time came to return to corporate life, she could do just that.

Ms Sheppard, who moved to Takaka when her 6-year-old was born, starts her new job as the Civil Aviation Authority's principal policy adviser in Wellington this week.

"There are no jobs like that in Golden Bay. Having the air service is pretty much what allowed me to do it. I need to be able to get home and over to Wellington quickly," she said.

And the commuters come the other way too.

Suter Gallery director Julie Catchpole, who has a husband and a 15-year-old son in Wellington, has been commuting from the capital to Nelson for five years.

"My job is quite a specialist area - not a great number of opportunities arise. I really enjoy working at the Suter, and I really enjoy working in Nelson," she said.

"I don't know if there are as many regulars that come to Nelson from Wellington, but people [from Nelson] certainly stream off the plane in Wellington on a Monday morning."

Golden Bay Air has about 100 commuting passengers, which Ms Sheppard said made up the bulk of its business.

"The majority of them have contract work, and they might go two or three days a week. There are more and more people realising they can base themselves in a paradise like Golden Bay and still have a working life in the city," Ms Sheppard said.

The air service went year-round with its first winter season last year, and regular passengers were offered discounts for the 50-minute flight to Wellington, with prices ranging from $129 to $189 per trip.

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Sounds Air administration manager Kim Whitehead said the air service's 7am flight from Nelson on a Monday, with a dozen seats available, was always full.

"They have formed a wee club, and they travel every week. Most of them come back on the Friday at 7pm."

Ms Whitehead said commuters made up the bulk of Sounds Air clients over winter, including people who went to Wellington for a day. Some bought chunks of 10 flights at a time.

Nelson woman Emma Scheib travels to Wellington every second Sunday for work as a research adviser with ACC.

She spends the week there, leaving her 3-year-old daughter at home with her husband.

Mrs Scheib said they chose to live in Nelson so their daughter could grow up knowing her extended family.

"I'd rather be with my daughter every day. However, I enjoy my job and it pays well compared to anything I could get in Nelson."

Strait crossing offers 'perfect' lifestyle choice

Mahana woman Melissa Francis spends two days a week in Wellington, working for an IT company called Fronde.

"There's currently a joke going around that if there's a plane crash one Monday morning, Wellington would lose half of its IT capability," she said. "We all catch the plane on Monday morning, it's like a bus service - it's quite funny." Ms Francis said she knew of another commuter, who worked in the IT industry, who had been doing it for almost 13 years.

"The commute is nothing. I would say it's two hours door to door. My commute is less than some people commuting from Upper Hutt."

Ms Francis' colleague, Matt Thompson, has been doing the commute for three years, after he moved to Nelson with his wife and four children to be closer to their extended family.

He started doing four days a week in Wellington, where he and his family lived for 15 years, and has slowly whittled it down to two.

"Wellington is really the IT capital in New Zealand. There are just far more opportunities for me. I probably wouldn't be able to get the role that I'm doing [in Wellington] in Nelson," he said.

Ms Francis said commuters were often aged 40-plus, most had worked overseas, and many had grown-up families.

She said living in Nelson was about lifestyle, "and you need a way to support that bad habit".

"You get your city and your latte fix, bad weather fix, and then you come home and it's a nice rural lifestyle. It's perfect."

 Air service does the job

Golden Bay Air co-director Lisa Sheppard starts her new job as the Civil Aviation Authority's principal policy adviser in Wellington this week, and so begins her commuting lifestyle.

Ms Sheppard and her partner Richard Molloy, both with private pilot's licences, set up an air service between Takaka and Wellington six years ago.

They moved to Golden Bay for lifestyle reasons, with a 2-year-old and a newborn.

"We owned a small plane and we took a day trip flying over Takaka [from Wellington] seven or eight years ago, and we wondered why nobody was running an air service," said Ms Sheppard. Mr Molloy will continue to run Golden Bay Air, while Ms Sheppard gets back into the corporate world.

"The CAA is boosting its policy expertise. The team is growing, so my first job will be to help develop the policy team. I think if I didn't go back now, it would start to get a lot harder," she said.

Ms Sheppard said she would not have been able to go for the job without the air service she and Mr Molloy set up.

"I don't think many people create their own air service, just so they can commute to Wellington.

"It [Golden Bay] is just such an amazing place to live. It's worth the sacrifice."

Suter 'worth sacrifice'

Suter Gallery director Julie Catchpole has been commuting to Nelson from Wellington since 2007, with a husband and 15-year-old son back in the capital.

"A few days before I started here, we moved from Palmerston North to Wellington. A couple of days later, I came here."

Her husband, a business mentor, had been the commuter in the family up until then, from Palmerston North to Wellington.

"The irony is he has been commuting back to Palmerston North because he lectures in the marketing department at Massey."

Mrs Catchpole was the Suter's acting director to begin with, while it was becoming a council-controlled organisation.

"It actually took longer than I suppose anybody thought for that to happen. The whole palaver took two years."

She said the Suter was "pretty special" and well worth the sacrifice.

"I guess it is [a sacrifice] in how much money you spend on it, which you could spend on other things."

Mrs Catchpole lives in a rented flat, and goes back to Wellington at least once a month.

"I couldn't bear it if it was longer than that. We [my family and I] talk on the telephone at least once a day, sometimes more. When you're first in this boat, it takes a long time to get from Friday to Monday."

She couldn't afford to go back every weekend, because of the cost and work obligations.

Bumpy flights no issue

Liz Scott-Wilson became a "Nelly-Welly commuter" when she moved back to New Zealand from London in June.

She and her partner, Carol Scott, decided to base themselves in Nelson for family reasons.

"We planned it so that we would be living in Nelson and working in Wellington," she said.

Both work in IT, and leave Nelson for the big smoke early on a Monday morning.

"They [the air hostesses] are busy cheerfully saying hello to people. It seems like a very convivial kind of flight."

Ms Scott-Wilson works for the Conservation Department and spends Monday to Thursday in Wellington.

On Fridays, she works in the Munro State Building in Nelson's Bridge St.

Sitting around in airports and "bumpy landings" were a small price to pay for the type of work she could do in Wellington and the money she could earn.

"It used to take an hour and a half on the train to get into my office in London every day. Here, if I leave the house at 7.30am, I'm in the office by 9.30am."

Ms Scott-Wilson said an $800 Starfish card she had with Air New Zealand, which gave a 30 per cent discount on flights, had already saved her about $800.

She said commuting was a long-term arrangement, and a lifestyle that she seemed to share with a lot of other Nelsonians.

- The Nelson Mail

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