Moving abroad to Australia via New Zealand and Costa Rica

Moving to Australia from New Zealand the long way round

Yesterday (27 Jan 2009) was one of those long-awaited happy days which was also tinged with sadness. It was then end of 18 months of carefree travel and the start of a settled suburban existence in our new homeland, Australia. It was the day when out three kids, Luke aged ten, Max, seven, and Kiara, four started back at school after two months hanging out with the family. I think saying that the last two months have been busy would be a bit of an understatement. In fact, we’ve been so busy that I just had to consult my passport, if not to see exactly where we’ve been, then at least to tell me when we left our previous home and arrived here. The visas and immigration stamps reveal that we left Costa Rica, our home for over a year, and flew to Los Angeles on the 28th of November 2008. Our trip to the USA was a short and sweet one. We stayed in Orange County with American friends we’d met in Costa Rica and visited Venice Beach and Disneyland before heading off on Thanksgiving Day to our new, and hopefully final destination, Queensland, Australia, arriving here in the 29th of November 2008.

As I looked through my passport for my exit visa from Costa Rica I did get a bit distracted. There are so many bureaucratic stamps in there and they serve as poignant reminders of our travels from New Zealand, which we left in May 2007, through Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and back to Costa Rica. Then of course there are numerous stamps from Paso Canoas on the Costa Rica-Panama border where we were regular visitors. We were living in Costa Rica on tourist visas so we had to leave Costa Rica every two to three months and re-enter to fulfill immigration requirements. Let’s just say that the journey from our last permanent home in New Zealand to our new permanent home in Australia has been by a slightly circuitous route. Although actually, if you look at a globe you’ll see that Queensland and Costa Rica aren’t really that far apart at all. From Australia, head north east as the crow flies, over the equator, keep going for about 14,000 kilometers and you’ll be there. As nature proves in this next story, if you’re buoyant and designed to survive long distances at sea with no fresh water or nourishment then it’s really no distance at all.

When I was in Costa Rica I loved to beach comb for seeds. The tropical rain forest produces an amazing variety of delightfully simple, stunning natural seeds of different shapes and colors. The common thread is their perfect smoothness and inherent power to one day unleash their latent energy, harness the optimum conditions of moisture and light and grow into a resplendent rain forest tree. That could be what appealed to me so much about those seeds. I tried to get other people interested but got the feeling that no one quite appreciated them as much as me. There was a small, gray, oval seed with a delicate mosaic pattern that looked like ceramic. There was a medium-sized nut-brown seed with a darker or lighter stripe girdling it’s middle which fit perfectly in a closed fist. Then there was the biggest of them all, a rich brown, flat and often heart-shaped seed which could get so big it covered the palm of your hand. The Costa Ricans called it corazon, meaning heart so even the name had a definite appeal.

When I left Costa Rica I took a bag of these seeds with me to Australia. I knew that in Australia there are strict customs and quarantine laws and I would need to declare all types of food, plant material and animal products on my arrival. That way Australia can ensure that no new and unwanted pests and diseases get into the country where they could threaten its land, agriculture and livelihood. I knew that my beloved seeds would most likely be confiscated and destroyed at the airport but I thought I’d give it a go. I had no intention of actually planting the seeds, I simply wanted a bowl of them on my coffee table to serve as a kind of worry bead and remind me of the jungle and beaches of Costa Rica. But the kind customs agent broke the news to me gently that my seeds would need to be destroyed which was very sad. Since then I have been cheered to discover that those seeds are now coming back to me. One morning after a night of heavy rain and stormy seas, I was delighted to find a corazon seed on my local beach right here in Queensland . But this corazon didn’t have the dull sheen of the young seeds I’d coveted in Costa Rica, this corazon was cracked and dried. It’s husk was threaded with fine hairs, its rounded edges overgrown with tiny sea creatures like flat limpets and several larger shells also adorned its sides. This seed had a history, it had made an epic journey traveling over 7000 nautical miles to join me here in Australia. Although it didn’t have the virgin beauty of its Costa Rican relatives who had just fallen from the tree and been carried down stream in a storm to be washed up on a local beach, this shell had traveled far and wide and stood the test of time. It had survived being bashed and battered by storms across two continents, it had crossed the equator under its own steam, taken on passengers and kept traveling south, its youthful patina had been replaced by fine lines and crustaceans. Perhaps most amazing of all it still had that power to put down roots, grow and evolve into a magnificent tree and in all likelihood it would given half a chance. This was a seed I could relate to.

Since then I have found many more corazon seeds and even some of the other smaller seeds I loved in Costa Rica. They have found a way to evade Australian quarantine regulations and join me here and for that small miracle of nature I am truly grateful. But I seem to have got off the track here. The busy two months since we arrived in Australia have been filled with house hunting and the acquisition of furniture, cooking utensils and wheels of all sizes, from a big 4WD car to bikes, scooters and skateboards. There’s been paperwork too as we opened bank accounts, got local driving licenses, enrolled the kids in schools and reacquainted ourselves with all the trappings of modern life. We’ve also hosted two family members, Auntie J and cousin R from New Zealand and granny from England and showed them the sights including Noosa National Park, Noosa River, the hinterland of Mount Tinbeerwah and the Eumundi markets as well as Tin Can Bay and Great Sandy National Park to the north and Mooloolaba and Coolum to the south. To be honest it’s hard to imagine how we would have managed without Auntie and Granny who each stayed home with the kids on numerous occasions while my husband and I forayed out to buy stuff, sign stuff or prove our identity. So to Auntie, who looked after the kids for twelve hours while we shopped in Ikea and stuffed as much as possible in and on the car before heading home, and to Granny who looked after them for a mere nine hours while we went to the Ports of Brisbane in a rental truck and took possession of our personal belongings which were shipped over from New Zealand, I am truly grateful.

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