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Family

Goodbye city life: one Kiwi family shares how their move to the country changed their lives

''I grew up on a farm in the Rangitikei and that kind of life has always had a hold on me. I knew one day I'd go back.''

It's 7am on a Wednesday and Sarah Wells is going to work. But instead of heading to the Beehive where she spent three years as a political journalist, work these days involves 3000 sheep, 250 cows and the 500ha Taihape farm Sarah and her husband Tom have leased from Sarah's parents since 2015.
Although Sarah, 37, loved her high-octane job with Sky News, as well as roles in TVNZ's Wellington and Auckland newsrooms, she always felt the tug of rural life. "I really enjoyed journalism and urban life," says Sarah.
"But in 2010 I got to a crossroads in my career and started thinking about the next step. I grew up on a farm in the Rangitikei and that kind of life has always had a hold on me. I knew one day I'd go back."
Later that year she did, moving to her family farm half an hour out of Taihape where she started as a junior shepherd. "It was incredibly hard, the hours were long and the work was really exhausting."
In 2012, on a weekend visit to Auckland, Sarah met police officer Tom, 35, through a mutual friend. Eight months later, Christchurch-born Tom transferred to Taihape's police station. But when he decided to try his hand at farming, the couple leased the farm, close to Sarah's parents. Son Ted arrived in 2014, followed by daughter Millie two years later.
"We really struggled with how we could afford a house and have a family in Auckland so that was a reason to go rural," says Sarah.
"But moving to the country was still a huge leap and there's no doubt farming is a tough job: there are days when we have to move stock in the snow and in summer, we can work from daylight to dark seven days a week. But we're passionate about the environment and farming as regeneratively as possible. Living here, we can teach our children about plant and bird life and protecting the environment."
Being "surrounded by beauty" is also a plus, with sweeping views over hills, waterfalls and valleys. "For me, living in a beautiful place is really important. I have a connection to the land that I never had in the city."
Rural life isn't always easy, though, with a tough economic climate taking its toll on the industry. "Once upon a time, there were 30 families living in our road, but now there are only two. If we want to keep living here we need to diversify, which is why we've started keeping beehives and turned an old store into a wedding venue. It will create more jobs and attract more visitors to this beautiful part of New Zealand."
Living in the country also means making your own fun and connecting with the community, says Sarah, who plays social tennis and netball, while Tom plays and coaches rugby.
"Our little community has an exceptional social scene, with things like wine tasting and quiz nights. In winter it can be tempting to hunker down and shut out the world so we make an active attempt to be social, including starting our own version of My Kitchen Rules with a few neighbours."
Sarah admits that rural living can have its downsides, but says she loves the lifestyle it gives her family.
In fact, the kindness of neighbours is a significant plus: "We didn't know our neighbours in the city but rural communities tend to have people willing to help wherever they can. One of our neighbours, for example, bottles her peaches free for us every year."
Living without cellphone service and going days without power and sometimes blocked roads in winter can take the shine off rural life, as can the lack of choices and constant worry about services such as postal, health or education being slashed.
"Even a shop closing down limits our choices. And of course, you can't just nip down the road for a bottle of milk or an ingredient if you run out half way though cooking."
The couple get their urban fix with a visit to Auckland and Wellington once or twice a year. "We'll eat out, go shopping and catch up with friends. But we love returning to the farm. We're very lucky to live where we do and to raise our children in this environment."

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