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By Willem Ockhuysen // After nine years away, I have moved back to New Plymouth, hopefully for good.
I’m originally from New Plymouth. I grew up here and went to high school here. As much as I enjoyed this city, I always wanted to move somewhere bigger, somewhere more energetic.
I studied in Christchurch for two years, then in Auckland for another two. I was enjoying the big city life, but it didn’t take long before it, too, felt small. I was always excited to eventually get out of NZ and explore more of the world. Luckily, the Taranaki girl I was dating had the same desire to travel as I did.
After graduating it felt like it was time. We applied for 12-month working visas in the US, packed our bags, said goodbye to friends and family, and unknowingly started on an adventure that would take us away from NZ for almost five years and take us to 40 countries.
We jumped right into the deep end by moving to New York City. I landed a graphic design job with a Kiwi expat I met once for a coffee. My workplace there had a view out over Times Square. It’s the most exciting city ever, and is still my favourite, but it never felt like a place I could live permanently.
After our work visas expired we toyed with the idea of sponsorship to stay in the States, before deciding for another change. We moved to Edinburgh. This time we had a two-year working visa. The UK was great but took a long time to adjust after NYC. The big selling point was how cheap and accessible it was to a bunch of other countries. We spent almost every long weekend and holiday break exploring Europe.
When our visas expired we packed up our things and spent just over six months backpacking, taking the long way from the UK to Canada (for another work visa). We passed through Europe, India, and most of South East Asia before landing in Vancouver. This was a life changing trip and one of the best things we have ever done together. It was amazing to learn that we could mesh with our surroundings no matter how different they were from our normal.
We had no plans to move back to New Zealand anytime soon. In fact, I never thought I would move back to New Zealand, and, if we did one day, we could only picture ourselves living in either Auckland or Wellington. It wasn’t until a recent trip back to visit family that the seed was planted, and I began to fall back in love with New Plymouth.
I felt like I was seeing the city with fresh eyes, viewing the city as a traveler. I noticed places like Monica’s Eatery, Len Lye Gallery, Ozone Coffee, Social Kitchen, and the West End Precinct. These places held their own even compared to some of our favourite spots overseas. It seemed these new places were attracting a more diverse crowd to New Plymouth as well. I was really impressed.
I noticed Strategy Collective were the ones behind most of these amazing places opening up. I was really surprised the city had a studio of this quality. I had heard of them before and had followed them on social media, but it wasn’t until I actually saw just how big of an impact they had on the city that I thought maybe I could move back to New Plymouth one day to be a part of that.
At this stage we were five months into our two-year Canadian visa. The timing was way off, but over the next few days it was all I could think about. It had been so long since living in Taranaki and we had seen so much of the world since then that incredibly home felt like an exotic place and different from what we had become used to. A couple of months later I saw Strategy Collective were looking for a new designer to join the team. I decided I would send them an email. A few Skype calls later I was signing a contract and things became real very quickly. Strangely, moving back to New Plymouth felt like the biggest move on our travels so far.
The rest is history. I’ve been back in New Plymouth working with the team for about six months now. I couldn’t be happier being back here. There are so many huge selling points for the city that I never really noticed before.
There may not be the best night life, but there are some great spots to grab a drink and listen to live music. We may not get the biggest bands stop by, but there is one of the best outdoor music venues I have seen. No 45-minute commute to work via public transport, but a leisurely seven-minute stroll to the centre of town. Houses are still affordable, the people are so laid back and friendly, there is the mountain on one side, and some of the best surf spots on the other. My partner and I both landed amazing jobs with good involvement in the community. We’ve got to meet some amazing people who do amazing things for the city.
I feel proud to live here and I am so excited to show our friends from overseas around when they come to visit.
We really have a little slice of paradise here, it just took me leaving the country and travelling the world to really take notice.