by Heather Kennedy
HELLO from New Zealand or Land of the Long White Cloud, as the Maori name translates.
I am a junior doctor, currently working in the city of Christchurch on the South Island. As someone who grew up in Copshaw Holm, I really couldn’t be further away from home. I moved here last November after training and working in Edinburgh.
I was unsure about which medical speciality to go into and was keen to experience living and working in another country for a period of time.
My year away has been steadily increasing in duration, which is testament to the positive experience I have had so far.
I quickly settled into life in Christchurch, being made to feel at home by both my surroundings and the friendly Kiwis (New Zealanders).
The similar landscapes and way of living have reminded me a lot of Scotland, with only the time difference as a constant reminder of the distance from family and friends.
The Scottish influence on South Island is often apparent; mountain biking at Cardrona, NZ and Cardrona, Scottish Borders have both brought a smile to my face.
I have assured many Kiwis that the word ‘wee’ is definitely Scottish in origin but have been confused by many Kiwi words and phrases such as jandals (flip-flops), tramping (hiking/hillwalking) and sweet (good/cool/ok).
For me, the main attraction of the country was the vast array of outdoor activities.
On my doorstep there are beautiful hills with a wide range of trails for walking, running and mountain biking.
I can get to the beach for swimming or surfing in 20 minutes and in winter I can be at a ski field in under two hours.
During my annual leave I have taken the opportunity to travel further afield and enjoyed the varied scenery and options for adventure.
My family visited in January, which was really special, and our action-packed holiday included a visit to Hobbiton and a relaxed day cycling between vineyards in the sun-drenched Marlborough wine region.
Of course, New Zealand has not escaped the COVID-19 pandemic and life here has not carried on as usual.
The spread of the disease to the country occurred later than that in Europe and, currently, the case numbers are fewer and rate of spread is less.
Border control and lockdown measures were implemented far earlier than in the UK and I’m hopeful that the toll on the population and health service is comparatively less.
It has been difficult to watch the news and hear about the impact on family and friends back home, especially fellow healthcare workers.
It is sobering that the freedom of movement around the world which allowed me to move here in the first place has propagated the spread of this terrible virus.
However, I have seen first-hand the resilience and compassion which a tragic event such as this brings out in people from the Christchurch mosque attacks last year.
Closer to home, the community spirit and kindness shown during the recent flooding in Newcastleton will provide a defence against this new challenge.
I’m hoping to visit bonnie Scotland in August but feel grateful for the connection of messages, photos and video calls in the meantime.
Kia kaha; stay strong.