Today, for our Motherhood Around The World series, we chat with Katie Wolf, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband Adam and their two young daughters — Hazel, 3, and Maggie, 1. Here, she talks about double rainbows, going barefoot in the grocery store and the wonderful way Kiwis take care of new mothers…
Katie’s background: After Adam and I got married in 2011, we moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to Auckland for his job in merchandising. I’m a therapist but am currently staying home and taking care of our girls, who were both born here. Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand (a third of the country’s population lives here), but the laid-back culture makes it feels like a small town.
On the scenery: New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful. Everywhere we turn, one of us is always saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s pretty.” Our house looks over the ocean, and you can see Rangitoto, a dormant volcanic island, in the distance. Sometimes we’ll take the 30-minute ferry and hike around the bush (the indigenous forest). The girls love the wild gray branches of the trees and listening to all the birds. There’s one bird called a tui, whose song makes it sound like it’s talking.
On wildlife: There are basically no dangerous animals in New Zealand — like venomous snakes or scorpions. When hiking in the States, you’re always aware that there could be something out there, like a bobcat or bear. Here, we never worry about our kids running ahead. Nothing that can harm you except your own clumsiness!
On swimming in the ocean: The beach has become a huge part of our everyday life. Many beaches have amazing playgrounds; our girls love the oceanfront swings. No matter what time of year, you can always find a New Zealander swimming in the ocean! When we first moved here, I found the water too cold and would barely dip in more than a toe. But when I was pregnant with Maggie, my third trimester fell smack in the middle of summer. I needed relief from the heat, so I started swimming in the ocean every day. It was a special time for me, floating weightless in the sun with Rangitoto in the background, wondering how life would change with a new baby. It’s one of my fondest memories here.
On bare feet: When we first arrived, I was shocked to see so many people running around barefoot. Both kids and adults would be without shoes in restaurants, while shopping, at the doctor’s office, everywhere. Yesterday, I saw a man barefoot at the grocery store, and it’s the middle of winter here! Children are required to arrive and leave school with shoes, but they don’t have to wear them at school. I used to think it was so surprising, but now half the time my own girls aren’t wearing shoes either. The other day, I ran out of the house to go to the store and I looked down and I was like, ‘I guess I’m a Kiwi because neither my children nor myself have shoes on and I am not going back to get them.’
On community toys: New Zealand is incredibly family friendly, and most stores, wineries and banks have boxes of toys to entertain kids. The hardware store has a bouncy castle, and our local café has a trampoline in the back. Even the local pharmacy has a car on a track — it’s nothing crazy, but my daughters love it. Sometimes I’ll walk through pretending to need something so the girls can play. The guy will be like ‘Are you waiting for prescription?’ and I’ll say, ‘Oh, um, I’m just looking for something. Hazel, five more minutes!”
On bungee jumping: New Zealand is where bungee jumping began. It’s a huge part of the tourism industry and a rite of passage for a lot of travelers. I’ve never done it but I love watching people jump — and so does three-year-old Hazel! About once a year, we go to Queenstown on the South Island, and stop by the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, where A.J. Hackett started organized commercial bungee jumping. There’s a viewing platform — surrounded by gorgeous snowcapped mountains — where you can stand with the people who are trying to get the courage up, people who are supporting those jumping and then people like us who are just watching. Hazel loved it, saying ‘Oh my gosh!’ and shrieking when people jumped. We would tease her and say if you want to, you can go next, and she’d yell, ‘No, I’m not big enough!’
On Christmas in the summer: Christmas lands in the middle of summer here, so our friends will often host Christmas parties or BBQs at the beach. We will see Santas dressed up not in Santa suits, but board shorts and flip flops! The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand, and Māori culture is woven into everyday life here — so many Christmas songs, like ‘Silent Night,’ will be sung in Māori. Often people will do a Māori roast, which is meat cooked with heated rocks in a pit underground. The traditional Christmas dessert is pavlova cake with fruit.
On pregnancy: Both Hazel and Maggie were born Auckland. I saw a midwife through the entire pregnancy up until six weeks postpartum. (You typically only visit an ob-gyn if you have a high-risk pregnancy or complications.) My midwife Breda was an extremely maternal Irish woman, who grew up in a family with 13 children. She came to see me every week of my pregnancy, delivered my baby, and then visited me once a week for for six weeks after. It felt like such a luxury to have her come to me in my home. I’ll always remember her weighing Hazel for the first time. She said, ‘I do things kind of old school,’ and got out a homemade sack and put Hazel in it and held the scale up to see what she weighed. She was so great, I was thrilled when she agreed to deliver my second child, too. When I was pushing Maggie out, she started laughing, and instead of saying ‘It’s a girl,’ she said ‘It’s another Hazel!’ She now feels like part of our family.
On breastfeeding: Breastfeeding is a really big deal here. There’s a huge governmental initiative to encourage mothers to nurse their babies for at least a year. It is pushed pretty hard with posters like these around the city. Breastfeeding in public is not a big deal; I always felt comfortable nursing wherever I was. Today more than 8 out of 10 newborns in New Zealand today are breastfed, compared with just over half in 2000. If you want to give your newborn formula in the hospital, you have to sign something that says you’re acknowledging what you’re doing. I already knew breastfeeding was something I wanted to do and was fortunate that my body cooperated, but if you had different plans I think it would be a tough road. I always felt for those mothers.
On toy vans: New Zealand also has an amazing non-profit organization called Plunket that supports families all over New Zealand. They run a free hotline, available 24 hours a day, and you can call anytime to talk to a nurse about your baby. They’ll install your carseat, they organize fun playdates, or you can stop by a center to breastfeed in one of their comfy chairs. They also have toy vans that drive around and set up at parks. We’ll look on the schedule, see where the toy van is that day, and go!
On working out with kids: The Kiwi women I’ve met here are strong and capable — I’d say most Kiwi women are killing their own spiders, if you know what I mean! Last year I started doing Crossfit with a group called FitMum, which provides childcare. Their motto is ‘role models not super models.’ I remember when Maggie was having a clingy week, and I ended up doing the bike with her on my shoulders. Another time, the coach modified the workout for Maggie to be my actual weight so I could hold her. The kids love to play on the equipment after class; I always have to drag Hazel and Maggie out of there. It’s one more example of how kid friendly New Zealand is and how children can be included in as many aspects of life as you want them to be.
On rugby: On date nights, we’ve gone to rugby games — it’s huge here and considered the country’s national sport. The New Zealand team is called the All Blacks. Before every game, the whole team does the Māori war dance called the Haka. If you’ve never seen it before, Google it now. It is really amazing. Hazel actually did a mini one with her classmates during the Matariki New Year celebration at her school.
On exploring the country: Since we moved here, we’ve traveled all over the North and South Islands. Both Hazel and Maggie took their first trips when they were three months old. Usually we’ll rent a cabin, or a ‘bach,’ and the owner will leave out ‘gumboots’ for everyone, even little ones for the girls. At one bach, the owner had built a cedar hot tub in the middle of the bush. In order to get there, he left a note saying, ‘Take two rights, then the third trail on the left.’ The whole experience felt very magical and unique to New Zealand.
On being in the middle of nowhere: When we took a family trip to Martinborough, Adam’s colleague suggested we check out Cape Palliser. He gave us the same type of directions — ‘Take a left and a right and follow the dirt road’ type thing. We ended up hiking up to a lighthouse, surrounded by seals so close you could have touched them. It was the most spectacular day, and there was not another soul in sight the whole time we were there. When we’re traveling, I always feel like we’re in the middle of nowhere. New Zealand actually has more sheep than people!
On rainbows: The temperature is moderate in Auckland — it gets down to 50 in the winter and up to 75 in the summer — but the weather changes so quickly that I’ve stopped looking at the weather report. I’ll look outside and it will be sunny, so I’ll wrap the kids up and grab the dog. During those 10 minutes, it will start pouring rain. But if you wait a few minutes, the sun will be back out again. Because of the rapidly changing weather, there are so many rainbows — and double rainbows! I’ve already seen five this week. Half the sky will be bright blue and the other half will be dark, and there’ll be a rainbow across them both. It’s so beautiful.
On food: One of our favorite things is to get fish and chips for dinner and sit by the beach. Every little town has their own shop with fish wrapped in newspaper. On a Friday night, we’ll see tons of families at the beach with their fish and chips and adult beverages for the parents. The coffee here is also truly amazing. My girls and I walk to the cafe every morning. The most common drink is a flat white, which is somewhere between a latte and a cappuccino. For little kids, they have a ‘fluffy’ that is steamed milk in an espresso cup served with a marshmallow on the side. Hazel can’t get enough of them.
On loving New Zealand: Recently I was talking to the head chef at a restaurant and he said, ‘I’ve just been been here six months and I’m never effing leaving.’ I hear that sentiment echoed a lot — people come and never leave because they fall in love with New Zealand. It’s paradise here. Adam and I both pinch ourselves all the time that we get to live somewhere so beautiful. It’s a love that I will always have, even though we’re not going to settle here permanently as we don’t want to be so far from our families forever. It’s going to be very bittersweet to leave. The physical beauty and lack of people make for a phenomenal quality of life.
Thank you so much, Katie!