Stewart Island calling

Fionn (8), Ryan (12) and Aoife (9) will be spending the next year with their parents experiencing life on Stewart Island.

Leamington School teacher Alison Fitzsimons was browsing Facebook in October when an advertisement popped up that changed her life.

It was for a 12-month teaching contract at Halfmoon Bay School on Stewart Island.

“I wasn’t looking for a job – I was quite happy at Leamington – but I just saw it and my husband Paul and I talked about it and thought it was a good idea,” Alison said.

“We just thought wow, how cool would it be to go and do something different?  We travelled quite a lot in our twenties and have been pretty much back in New Zealand in our thirties, and we thought why not do something with our kids?  And none of us have been to Stewart Island before.  So, I applied for it and got it.”

Now the couple and their children Ryan (12), Aoife (9) and Fionn (8) are preparing to chuck in life as they know it and move to one of New Zealand’s most remote places.

Stewart Island is located 30km south of the South Island across Foveaux straight, with more than 80 per cent of its 1746 square kilometres set aside as a national park.

“The island has a population of about 380 and there’s only one shop,” Alison said.

“We’re not taking a car because there’s only 30km of road there in total, so there’s not really much point.”

The family will live in a school house in the tiny settlement of Oban on the island’s eastern side.

“The kids are really excited about being able to walk to school and go to the library by themselves and go to the beach every day,” Alison said.  “The school is right opposite the beach.  And we’ll be able to hear kiwi from our house at night apparently.”

The “simpler, slower lifestyle in rhythm with the sea and the tides, attuned to the natural world of bush and beach” promoted on the Stewart Island website has huge appeal to Alison and Paul.

“One of the comments the principal there made was ‘we don’t have wet lunchtimes, the kids have all got raincoats’ and that’s just great,” Alison said.

“This experience is actually just to go out and let our kids live life and explore a different part of New Zealand that’s unique and beautiful.

“It’s kind of about getting back to nature and letting the kids be kids for another 12 months.  We’re looking forward to exploring the island and the lower South Island, eating blue cod, crayfish and paua and maybe trying some mutton bird.”

The family will leave in mid-January and be back next year in time for Ryan to start at Cambridge High School.

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