Real Life

I left Auckland to take a job in the King Country that no one else wanted - and I'm living my best life!

Tracey Goodall made a throwaway comment: ''Imagine if we lived somewhere like this.'' And then they were living in that very place.

By Fleur Guthrie
Sitting down for a cuppa after cycling through the central North Island's picturesque Timber Trail, Tracey Goodall turned to her partner, Michal Mudroncik, and made a throwaway comment: "Imagine if we lived somewhere like this."
The outdoors-loving couple thought nothing more of it as they headed back to Auckland, but serendipity had already intersected.
Several days later, at work, Tracey's colleague asked if anyone had seen "that job doing the rounds on social media" for a general manager of Forgotten World Adventures in Taumarunui.
The tourism company's search for someone to fill what was advertised as a $150,000-a-year job had failed to attract any suitable candidates, with the story making headlines around the world.
"I thought, 'Wow, I better have a look because we kind of just wished for that'," recalls the bubbly 41-year-old.
"I hadn't been looking for another job. But it was [about] choosing a lifestyle at the end of the day. I have lived in a lot of different parts of the world, so moving didn't scare me. I love to embrace new opportunities rather than fear them."
Moving to Taumarunui was a lifestyle choice for the adventure seekers
With that in mind, last May, Tracey took the job no-one wanted.
She and Michal (34), waved goodbye to the big smoke and shifted to the King Country town, which has a population of around 3500.
And they're loving the change to small-town life.
It's afforded them the freedom to get the dog they always wanted – a Huntaway cross named Gizzy − and instead of spending time in traffic, Tracey now uses her free time to mountain bike, run or fix up their recently bought first home.
She's also joined the local Toastmasters, is on the board of Enterprising Taumarunui Incorporated and enrolled in te reo lessons at the community centre.
So were locals surprised to see the new GM in town turning up for classes?
"Yeah, I think they absolutely were!" she laughs. "I was like 'Kia Ora!' and gave a weird smile, but everyone was so relaxed.
"It's just so important to be in a country and speak something of the native language," says Tracey, who was born in Wales but immigrated to Australia as a teenager.
"In my previous tourism roles, we used to train the tour guides to know 20 basic sentences or pleasantries of every language. It's just how it was.
"Now being able to say my intro in Maori makes me feel more confident doing work presentations or speaking to international guests visiting here.
"It just guts me that Michal − who is from Slovakia and did the te reo classes with me − picked it up much faster, with better pronunciation," she jokes.
The couple met eight years ago while working at the San Fermin bull running festival in Pamplona, Spain. She was the festival coordinator; he, a tour bus driver.
They were "happily transient" until a move to New Zealand in 2016 made them start to question where they were going to put roots down.
"I liked Auckland; it was just [the] traffic and lifestyle issues. When I saw the house prices there, I was almost sick. We wanted our money to go into travel experiences rather than all bricks and mortar," she explains.
"So prior to this job coming up, we asked ourselves, 'Where are we going to move to?' because we wanted a more permanent home base."
Taumarunui is the smallest town Tracey has resided in since working in the Swiss alpine village of Lauterbrunnen five years ago, which has a population of around 2300.
Small towns are similar anywhere in the world, she believes. The great things about them can also be negatives – such as people knowing who everyone is – but for the most part, locals are always so friendly.
"When I first got here, I thought, 'Oh they're just being so nice because I've been on TV and they know who I am.' But then I realised, 'That person doesn't know who I am and they're genuinely welcoming,'" smiles Tracey.
Tracey and Michal now own not only their first house, but also a dog called Gizzy.
Now that they're the proud owners of a 1950s three-bedroom house (with a neighbour also from Auckland), the couple have encountered a new problem − there's not enough tradespeople in town to help with their do-up.
"We bought the worst house in the best street," she tells. "We've got a bit of work to do. My dad's a retired electrician, so I recently booked him a flight over from Australia and said, 'Come for six weeks and bring your tools!' He rewired our whole house."
While Tracey admits to missing big-city cuisine and shopping – she now "binge shops" in a main centre every two months − the outdoor adventures on her doorstep more than make up for it.
"People always focus on the main street of towns, yet I think it's what's around them that matters. Skiing at National Park is 30 minutes away or if we want to go to the beach in New Plymouth, that's not too far either. We're at the centre of everything. I'm living in an adventure playground!"

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