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Corina Wilson's is the quintessential story of a Kiwi who meets their someone special abroad and decides to put down roots away from home. Having lived all around the UK, Corina made Northern Ireland her home 3 years ago. With a land size just larger than the Bay of Plenty, this is a small, beautiful place, where you can have a different kind of potato dish with every meal of the day, and are a stone's throw away from some of Europe's most beautiful sights.


 

One way ticket to Dublin

I left New Zealand 10 years ago with a one way ticket to Dublin, €600, backpack and hiking boots I knew no one and had no job. In the past decade, amongst other things, I've washed dishes in a hotel off the Connemara coast, worked as a supervisor in a 4-star hotel, spent a winter in Lapland working logistics for Santa, managed a YHA hostel in Wales then agreed to a marriage after a first date. Today I'm a stay-at-home Mum with two wee ones back in hubby's home country of Northern Ireland. It's been a learning curve for us both as he'd been away working in England for 20 years but we've decided that Norhern Ireland was a better choice for raising a family. The changes in the country while he was away means that today, army patrols no longer occur. While unrest and sectarian violence flares on a regular but very localised basis (much like you get in every country), this hardly registers on UK news, let alone in the world media as it did before the Good Friday Agreement.

Beautiful Emerald Isle
With a land size just larger than the Bay of Plenty or just over a third of Canterbury, Northern Ireland is a small and varied country. While never far from the sea, the water at its warmest is still baltic to this Kiwi's blood so no long summer days spent body surfing the waves without a wetsuit. However, you have the advantage of longer daylight hours in the summer with it stretching until 10 or 11pm. That said, kayaking, SUP and surfing have all exploded in NI over the past decade and if you’ve got the right gear, there’s plenty of opportunity to explore the rugged coastline. The beaches are sandy and clean with many patrolled by the RNLI lifeguards during the summer.

There are plenty of other things to do in the outdoors and, as Albert Wainwright said, "there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." The Mournes offer decent hill climbing and the added advantage of coastal views with plenty of other elevated climbs in the country from Fermanagh to the Sperrins. The size of the country means day trips can offer a multitude of experiences.

St George's Market is a large Victorian covered space in the heart of Belfast and while there, visit Check Out My Buns, a yummy coeliac, gluten-free stall run by another expat Kiwi. The Gobbins cliff walk in Islandmagee has recently reopened after extensive work having lain dormant for many decades. This was the original NI tourist attraction (before the Giant's Causeway) and was the catalyst for the railway to head northwards from Belfast over a century ago. 2019 marks 400 years since the walls surrounding Derry city were completed and even though the area was a hot spot during the Troubles, the walls still remain intact and it's a relatively easy walk along the top. If understanding history is your thing, a tour of the walls, Cathedral, City Hall and the Bogside where the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960’s began life, will give you a profound understanding of Ulster’s troubled past.

County Fermanagh is dotted with lakes and waterways to explore but no matter how isolated you find yourself, the skies just do not feel as large as in Aotearoa.
 


 

Social Lifestyle

If you like watching a bit of sport, get along to see the Belfast Giant's ice hockey team or a GAA football or hurling match. Motorcycle road racing is also big here with many weekend events as well as the annual Northwest 200 and Ulster GP races. Like NZ, sport is very accessible to watch and if Ireland is playing rugby, get yourself to Kiwis Brew Bar in Portrush for atmosphere like no other including a proper cinema on the third floor for watching the game! Alternatively, tickets to the Ulster Rugby homeground of Ravenhill in Belfast are easily enough to come by for most matches with the compact stadium offering good natured, family friendly games.

Live music is regularly heard at your local, where the public often turn up with their own instruments or sing along in a lively ‘trad’ music session. Music, like storytelling and a self-deprecating humour, similar to us Kiwis, is in the blood of these natural born entertainers. These sessions probably originated back in the day when houses weren’t able to be heated adequately so they used the local pub as an extension of their living spaces to congregate and socialise.

School and tertiary education to a high level in NI is free but the standard is comparable to paying for private schooling in the rest of the UK 

Potatoes, Chips & More Potatoes

Eating out in Northern Island is comparatively cheaper than England or the Republic of Ireland but this doesn't detract from the quality. From a Kiwi point of view, it was an eye opener that hot chips can be and often are served with anything and everything from a Chinese takeaway to a steak or pasta. Order a sandwich and it'll come with a handful crisps on the plate. 

Who'd have thought that you'd get potatoes in Ireland? As my sister commented on a recent visit, you can have a different kind of potato serving with every meal of the day. For breakfast, it’s an Ulster Fry with potato farl and hash brown. For lunch, potatoes in fresh seafood chowder with Irish wheaten bread (that and a Guinness are their own separate food groups). While for dinner/supper it’s always an Irish pasty with chips. 
  


 

Travel, New Embassy & the Rest

If travel is your thing (and let’s face it, Kiwis that have made it this far like to explore), a real attraction is the closeness of so many destinations for a weekend or week away. It's less than 3 hours to Malta, slightly less to Malaga and just over an hour to London. Belfast International Airport has recently opened up new routes and I hope this trend continues. Dublin is a couple of hours by direct bus from the centre of Belfast and offers further far reaching destinations. You can now fly from Dublin to Auckland with only one stop off in the UAE.

The NZ government has an Honorary Consul in Belfast so if you're here and get stuck, ill or lost, you don't have to contact London for assistance. Late last year, a NZ Embassy was opened in Dublin, so even though the Republic of Ireland is a separate country, it is nice to know that NZ is there to help no matter which side of the border you find yourself. And as there is (currently) no hard border, you may have crossed over the border without even realising. If you're driving, just be aware that in the north, signs are in miles and in the south, kilometres. Petrol prices may also look cheaper in the North but in reality, they are very similar and the optical difference will be the one between pounds and euro. You'll often find businesses close to the border will accept both currencies.

For now this is home with a small 'h' but I hope to one day return to live in New Zealand but whatever the future holds, Aotearoa will always be Home with a capital 'H'.

MORE ON EXPAT LIFE

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AUTHOR

CORINA WILSON

Corina is from New Zealand but over the past decade has lived in the Republic of Ireland, Finland, Wales, England and now Northern Ireland, where her husband calls home. Having been blessed with two wee girls, she has taken a break from 20 years in the paid workforce to be a stay-at-home mum and loving it. Corina is also involved in volunteer work including creating and maintaining the online presence of ‘Kiwis in Northern Ireland’. She enjoys travelling, experiencing different cultures and meeting new people and with a young family in tow, exploring Northern Ireland on road trips is a regular occurence.

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Part 12