Family preparing for life on island

Francine Vella loads the boat, as her husband Alex King and son George Vella-King (13) look on,...
Francine Vella loads the boat, as her husband Alex King and son George Vella-King (13) look on, before setting off to Quarantine Island in preparation for taking over the caretaking role on December 30. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The trip into town will not be quite so quick for the Vella-King family, but they are looking forward to the slower pace of life as caretakers of Quarantine Island, in Otago Harbour.

Alex King, Francine Vella and two of their three children, Rebecca (16) and George (13), will move to the island later this month, replacing Graeme Furness. Eldest daughter Meghan (18) will stay in town.

"We're pretty excited. It's the right time of year to move on to the island," Mr King said.

Ms Vella had been involved with the St Martin Island Community, which holds the lease on Quarantine Island, for eight years and was until recently its council chairwoman.

When the vacancy came up, it was Rebecca who encouraged the family to consider applying.

She was involved in the EnviroSchools programme, The ReGeneration project, and loved the outdoors.

"She's the keen one and she's not here for the start," Mr King said, of his daughter, who was on holiday.

The family live in Normanby and expect life on the island, a five-minute boat ride from Otago Peninsula, to be slower. Ms Vella had given up her sports co-ordinator job to take on the main caretaking role and Mr King would divide his time between the island and his business in the city.

"We won't be able to just run into town quite as easily, although it'll be busier getting the kids into school every day," Mr King said.

It was not the first time a family had lived on the island.

Douglas Black and Kathy Morrison also made the regular trip across in the boat to take their family to school.

The prospect of having to get up earlier and be more organised did not endear the move to George.

The idea of the boat ride to the peninsula and then catching a bus into the city for school was not appealing, he said.

"I didn't want to come."

Apart from George, the family was looking forward to the challenges - learning to be farmers (there are 35 sheep on the island), getting used to the wind, and for Ms Vella, learning to operate the boat.

"We'll have to get used to coming out in all weather; raining, stormy, windy or calm."

They would also host the numerous groups booked in at the lodge, with their first group arriving for New Year, just a day after the family moves in.

In her spare time, Ms Vella hoped to continue the tree planting on the island.

The family had initially committed to one year on the island, but might stay longer if they enjoyed the experience, she said.



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