Kiwi life: 'Moving from London to New Zealand literally saved my life'

Sarah shows off her breast cancer survivor’s T-shirt
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Sarah shows off her breast cancer survivor’s T-shirt

Brit Sarah Bernstone lists our public health system as one of the biggest advantages of moving to New Zealand.

What's your name and where are you from?

My name is Sarah Bernstone and I was born in England, lived in the Lebanon and Portugal as a child, and studied in Scotland.

Sarah with Rhys Darby on the set of a Tall Poppies episode,.
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Sarah with Rhys Darby on the set of a Tall Poppies episode,.

What inspired your move, and how long have you been here?

When I married a Kiwi in 1997 it was always on the cards that we would one day bring our children to NZ to experience the classic Kiwi childhood he remembered so fondly. We made the move to Auckland in 2009, and he changed career radically – from managing hedge funds to running his own recording studio.

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Sarah Bernstone and her family in Wairoa.
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Sarah Bernstone and her family in Wairoa.

What do you do here?

I work as a receptionist and office mama for 2degrees; on my afternoons off, I try to get out to a beach with the dog.

What surprised you most when you first arrived?

Toby the dog - on Auckland's Karekare beach at sunset.
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Toby the dog - on Auckland's Karekare beach at sunset.

How the "100 per cent clean green New Zealand" image did not refer to anything tangibly "green" in environmental terms – recycling seemed pretty basic and plastic bags were in every store; clapped-out old cars polluted the roads; waterways were unclean; there was deep sea drilling; and there seems to be a lot of denial about climate change.

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On a more positive note – I loved the whole two degrees of separation thing. I took a call at work from my husband's second cousin in Invercargill; I've met Rhys Darby twice (even got to be an extra on Tall Poppies) and one year, we went to Art in the Dark on Friday then randomly met the creator of our favourite installation at a party on Saturday.

What are the greatest advantages to living here?

Sarah Bernstone with her favourite food - eggs benedict.
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Sarah Bernstone with her favourite food - eggs benedict.

I love the laidback lifestyle – I kicked off my shoes and never looked back!

But for me personally, the best thing is the health system; I had my first mammogram at 46; they discovered DCIS, the precursor to breast cancer, and found it was growing very fast; within eight weeks I had had a successful mastectomy and the cancer had not spread. Had I been in the UK, I would not have received screening for another four years, and given the malignance of my cancer, even if I had found a lump maybe six months further down the line, it would have been terminal. Moving to New Zealand literally saved my life.

Disadvantages?

Distance - from everywhere – both inside and outside New Zealand.

How expensive do you find it compared to back home?

Food at supermarkets is pretty expensive – though eating out is surprisingly reasonable. However, there are so many free things to do here – going to beaches, surfing, tramping, swimming at waterholes, coastal walks, events like Music in the Parks, night markets etc.

What do you do in your spare time?

Our spare time is spent exploring; I made it my mission for several years to visit 10 new places per year. I also enjoy new experiences like blackwater rafting in Waitomo, the harbour bridge climb, hiking up Rangitoto, sailing to Waiheke and sand surfing at Te Paki dunes to name but a few.

What are your favourite NZ foods?

Brunch – eggs bene, eggs florentine, poached eggs on toast – the brunch culture here is awesome!

How do you get around?

By car – public transport is too limited after living in London.

How do you find the shopping?

I am a huge fan of Savemart [recycled clothing store]. Regular shopping is a tad expensive. Fortunately, Kiwis are less judgmental so nobody comments when you are in last year (or last decade's) clothing.

Favourite after-dark activity?

Movies in the Park or Silo Cinema at Auckland's Silo Park in the summer

What are the top three things you recommend for visitors?

A trip to Rotorua. Ninety Mile Beach. A walk on one of Auckland's west coast beaches – Karekare is our favourite

Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about home?

Home is New Zealand! But if you mean the UK, then it has to be Muller corner yoghurts!

How easy is it for you to go home?

I no longer miss the UK so the long, expensive flights are not an issue any more.

If you could change one thing about New Zealand, what would it be?

The negativity amongst some of the population is frustrating, like the tall poppy thing. Kiwis have a tendency to bemoan their fate a lot, little realising how good they have it compared to so many other countries even when polls confirm this; education here is way better than the UK and the US, but the current government constantly looks to these countries when introducing more and more standardised testing which is extremely backward.

Do you know an expat who has made New Zealand their home, email travel@stuff.co.nz with Kiwi Life in the subject line.

 - Stuff

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