'No place like home': Move back to Christchurch a life-changer

Moving home has meant being closer to my lifelong friends and their growing families. Photo: Anna...
Moving home has meant being closer to my lifelong friends and their growing families. Photo: Anna Leask
OPINION: Anna Leask is a senior reporter for the Herald specialising in crime and justice. and host of NZME's A Moment In Crime podcast.

In 2008 she moved from Christchurch and was based in the Auckland newsroom for almost 12 years.

But in 2020 it was time to move home - back to the Mainland, back to her Super City.

Leask shares today what motivated her to move and why it was one of the best decisions of her life.

They say there's no place like home.

So, when my editor asked me if I would be interested in relocating from Auckland to Christchurch in mid-2020 it only took me an hour to make my decision.

Born and raised in Canterbury, I'd been living and working in Auckland for almost 12 years.

Until that day I thought I loved the big city.

I loved my apartment in Ponsonby, my social life, and living in the heaving and humid metropolis that is the City of Sails.

But the moment the offer of relocating was made I almost instantly knew it was time to move home.

My family are all based in and around Christchurch including at the time a young niece and a second one on the way.

I'd felt I was missing out on being part of their lives and was surprised at how much that gnawed at me.

The gnawing only increased after the 2019 terror attack and the first national Covid-19 lockdown, which were both events that reiterated the importance of my family.

Both of those things also unsettled me, in that I knew I wanted and needed to make a change in my life - but had no idea what that would look like

I actually said to my flatmate the night before the relocation was offered that "something needs to change but I don't know what and I think I need to spend some serious time working out what I want and what my future looks like".

My first thought when the offer came the next day was about what I would miss out on with my various friends in Auckland.

Lunches, dinners, events, after-work drinks, weekend trips and outings.

But after the lockdown life had really changed in that space and increasingly we weren't really doing those things anyway.

Moving home has meant more quality time with the family including my precious Nana, who turned 98...
Moving home has meant more quality time with the family including my precious Nana, who turned 98 in June. Photo: Matthew Leask
We were much more inclined to catch up over dinner at home and that was something still easily attained of a weekend with a sneaky cheap Jetstar flight.

And as my brother said when I called him for advice: "you can't stay there just for the social life, all I hear is blah, blah, blah - FOMO (fear of missing out)".

He also pointed out how I'd always maintained Auckland was never permanent for me, that I always said I'd come home and now was the chance to do it while keeping the job I loved and with minimal upheaval.

He was so right. But don't tell him that.

On the lockdown front, at the time, it was such an uncertain time.

Kiwis simply weren't sure how many we would have to endure; how many more times we'd be sent home to wait out another wave of the dreaded virus, whether it would only be Auckland plunged back into home detention.

While I had it good during the first lockdown, I dreaded having to do it again.

Moving home seemed to be a sensible move across the board.

And once I agreed to make the shift south, I could feel the weight of that unsettledness lifting each day.

While I knew I would miss my friends - a lot - I also knew the move was going to be really positive.

Within two months of moving home, I had purchased my first home - something I never could have done in Auckland on my own.

In Auckland, I was forking out $370 a week for my half of the rent in a two-bedroom apartment in Ponsonby.

It was a great place and I was lucky to have amazing flatmates in the four years I lived there and lovely private landlords.

But now I pay just $20 more than that a week towards a mortgage - for an entire property rather than just my half of an exorbitant but market-fair rent, and I don't need any housemates to make ends meet.

To say I am now living the dream in respect of my living arrangements is an understatement.

Being more present and available to family has been a huge positive and I love spending time with...
Being more present and available to family has been a huge positive and I love spending time with them without worrying about rushing away for flights and watching the clock. Photo: Anna Leask
The cost of living in Auckland, in general, was steep.

I was paying upward of $100 a month on transport to and from work - bus fares, parking and Ubers.

Now I can drive to work each day and pay nothing for parking.

Luckily our office is outside the central city but even if we were based within the famed Four Avenues there's free parking with a five or 10-minute walk from most office spaces.

And if I wanted to bus - public transport in Christchurch is super easy and ridiculously cheap comparatively.

Being close to family has been a huge change, particularly being able to attend birthdays, events, Christmases and the like without having to frantically organise flights and airport pickups and racing around like crazy to catch up with everyone in a short time.

Mum and Dad marked their 40th wedding anniversary just weeks after I moved home and I was able to help them organise their celebration; I can now have sleepovers with my nieces or take them to the library or just call in for dinner on a whim; I can go and visit my 98-year-old grandmother and childhood best mate whenever I want without having to plan it months in advance and spend hundreds of dollars.

All of these things sound so banal but when you live in another city it's these things you really miss and lament not being able to participate in.

Outside Covid restrictions, I've been able to get to Auckland regularly to see my friends and even though it sounds cheesy it's true that our catch-ups are less frequent in person but much more rewarding as we don't take any time for granted.

I'd even say my closest friendships in Auckland have become even stronger with the distance.

I do miss our old haunts - the favourite restaurants and pubs; the waterfront for walks, the beaches, the vibe and vibrancy of Auckland - Christchurch has just as much going for it.

Being home for family occasions like my parents' 40th wedding anniversary has been amazing. Photo...
Being home for family occasions like my parents' 40th wedding anniversary has been amazing. Photo: Anna Leask
And, with the money I am saving on the cost of living in general, I can also get overseas to see the Aussie mates more often than I could afford in Auckland.

There's no more living pay-to-pay and I've been able to, for the first time in my adult life, build savings and not stress about the cost of living.

As the city rebuilds after the 2011 quake there are more great bars, restaurants and facilities opening each month and we're not short of places to go and things to do.

And of course, we boast the best rugby team in all of the land which is a huge bonus and I'm definitely looking forward to that 14th Crusaders title in 2023.

It's fair to say I have absolutely no regrets about the move.

It was the best thing I could have done at that juncture in my life where things were starting to feel a bit stuck, a bit stagnant.

I often wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed in Auckland - would I have taken off overseas looking for a new path, would I have changed careers.

I think all I really needed was to come home.

I feel much more settled, I feel better off within myself and am definitely better off and much more secure financially.

Interestingly my other half and our mutual friend have also moved back within the past five years - from both bigger cities in New Zealand and abroad - and we all agree that our lives are better, calmer, richer on many levels and more fulfilling being back on the Mainland, back where our roots are, back where everything is just so familiar and easy.

Life is good here in Christchurch and it's only going to get better as the city grows and develops.

I cannot wait to see how Christchurch and Canterbury changes and moves forward in the coming years - and am genuinely excited to be part of our Super City.

-By Anna Leask

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