A quaint and charming seaside township with cafés, restaurants and shops. A boating Mecca for visitors from all over the world. Forests, golfing and fine dining. I could quite easily be speaking of Lymington, my home town, but I am not. I am talking about my new home town Russell, in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.
Actually, I grew up in Milford-on-Sea and spent my childhood at the beach, swimming, windsurfing and sailing at Keyhaven. A wonderful childhood, where I would be gone from morning to night with other local children from the village. Hours spent swimming at the beach, socializing at the Buttery in Lymington and later on at the Chequers or Fisherman's Pubs. I wonder if the children, 30 years on, still enjoy the same freedom? It is a long time ago and when I go home to visit family and friends, I am amazed at how things have changed. The traffic, the busy pace of life and the seemingly endless development of the countryside is all so foreign to me now. I am sad to say I feel like a foreigner in my own country.
Home like it used to be, in Russell New Zealand!
Home for me now is much like the Lymington of my childhood, except the weather is 'so' much better. Our children have the freedom to roam and it is still safe to be gone all day. My son swims, sails and instead of crabbing he fishes, but he can also go to school barefoot, play rugby and he performs the Maori Kapa Haka with pride.
Russell is rich in history and Maori tradition. It is nestled up in the north of the North Island of New Zealand. It takes some getting used to but in New Zealand, 'north' means warmth and 'south' means cold, because everything is back to front in the southern hemisphere. When its Summer in England, it is Winter in New Zealand. This difference of the seasons has brought about the ever growing migrational populus of Russell. We call these visitors 'swallows' and they migrate with the weather. These swallows (British residents, many of them from Lymington) own a property in the UK and also a home in Russell. They migrate with the seasons enjoying summer in the UK and then summer in The Bay of Islands -missing that 'oh so wet and dreary' British winter. Life can't get much better than that! In Northland we enjoy a sub-tropical climate which means that most of the year is spent outdoors. Good, clean, healthy living. With hundreds of miles of unspoilt sandy beaches, the Bay of Islands is made up of over 140 Islands with crystal clear water of the Pacific Ocean. Similar to the Caribbean but without all the people. Most of us own a boat of some sort and enjoy fabulous fishing and picnics on the island's secluded, sandy beaches. Lymington has Bournemouth and Southampton close by. We have Kerikeri and Whangarei. Lymington is about 2 1/2 hours from London and Russell is about 3 hours from Auckland. Both towns are on the coast and close to the forest. The similarities are many.
The Russell Community is a special one. We open our hearts and welcome newcomers. It is a very cosmopolitan community with people from all over the world and all walks of life. The thing I value most about the Kiwi way of life is how Kiwis have their feet well and truly on the ground. It does not matter who you are, what you have or where you come from. Kiwis are not impressed by wealth or status. I am lucky enough now to be a part of this wonderful community.
It is a Maori tradition that in the end you should always return home. There are times when I am torn and miss the beauty of the New Forest and dare I say it, Marks and Spencers, but if one is to go by the adage 'home is where the heart is' I will always have a special place for Lymington in my heart, but Russell, New Zealand is home. From Russell to Lymington, I wish you all well!
By Louisa Barton, Russell, New Zealand