Why I ditched the city girl life for a country cottage

Its a Saturday morning on the edge of Mount Burke Station, just off Lake Wnaka.
Ive just picked 20 peaches and pears from the fruit trees outside my cottage and I am going to make a crumble for dessert, just like my rural Southland grandmother used to.

Unlike her, Im no farmer. Im no permanent resident on this farm either. Im a writer, I am a renter and I am living the borrowed dream.

Through the rental market of our great countryside, Olivia Caldwell has finally been able to have a place to herself, a house that she does in fact call home, for now.

Not only do I have a mini-orchard here, I often pick flowers from my garden.

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I have privacy on my very own front porch, I have sheep and deer in the paddock in front of me and a short walk up the back the farm takes me to an incredible picnic spot, overlooking Lake Wnaka.

Ive become that movie character clich the journalist who uplifts to the countryside, fed up with city life. These characters are usually 60-plus, divorced, or going through a midlife crisis, sure.

In her new Central Otago location, Olivia Caldwell has privacy on her very own front porch, has sheep and deer in the paddock in front of her and a short walk up the back the farm takes her to an incredible picnic spot, overlooking Lake Wnaka.

At 32, I am more the Bridget Jones type, suffering city fatigue and done with sky-high Wellington rent.

There are a growing number of us figuring out we dont have to put up with the overpriced and sometimes unliveable flats of our big three cities, Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.

A lot has been written about the capital citys rental market, and it is all true. For little less than the price I am paying here in a countryside valley, I was living in a mouldy flat, shared with two blokes.

Olivia Caldwell's Wellington flat was shared with two blokes and scented with a mix of Ecoya candles, incense and mould. She wasn't sad to leave it behind.

I had burned every kind of incense for two years and even allowed a budget for Ecoya candles on the monthly, but the smell of wet socks never left. I never hosted dinners there, I was too ashamed.

I was indeed living in the best suburb there is, Oriental Bay. But I did do my research, and no matter where I looked across the city I couldnt find a place for just me that was warm, insulated and affordable.

Since leaving, my energy has lifted and my general mood sits between content and on top of the world. It makes me wonder, what are we renters putting up with just to be in the city and hold on to that corporate life?

It wasnt just expenses that made me leave. It was during 2020s lockdown that I realised I wasnt ticking my boxes properly.

Fresh fruit is right on Olivia Caldwell's doorstep.

I had a cool job as a TV sports journalist, I was swimming in Oriental Bay almost every day, and I was living the city girl dream. But lockdown made me realise I am not a city girl at all, not even close.

Those five weeks of being isolated from my family in the south, and no contact with nature and by this I mean livestock, and not the cute birds you find on the top of Mount Victoria made me realise I just wanted a garden to muck around in.

There is something to be said about the simple life. One without the traffic, the constant noise, the fast-paced city vibe or the stressed-out faces of Lambton Quay.

I wanted that rural life I grew up with, near my sheep farming gran, who never left the deep south. I am grateful I did get to leave, because Wellington sparked the most creative and bright version of me that Ill always keep.

Olivia Caldwell has moved to this cute cottage in rural Otago, where she can write in the garden.

It was luck that had me find this beautiful historic cottage, smack between Lake Hwea and Lake Wnaka, on a no exit road that my guests cant seem to find on Google Maps. In recent years, it had been used as an Airbnb, but with tourism numbers dwindling in the area, it was made available for lucky me.

When the kind farmers/landlords said I could move in, I took just 10 days to pack my Wellington flat and flee the capital.

But I had to leave some pride at Wellington airport.

As it can often do, pride was keeping me from being as happy as I can possibly be. Many friends my age battle this very thing. The prestige of being a bit of a city girl/boy, with a cool job, doing well in a corporate world, often outweighs the need to be close to family and have a front lawn or, in my case, a paddock.

There is something to be said about the simple life, says Olivia Caldwell.

Perhaps the best part of this story is, that in moving Ive found a love for work that Ive never had before. I didnt have to give up my career by leaving the city, I instead landed my dream job.

I am pinching myself that Im The Projects southern reporter, still on television despite leaving the city life behind. I have never felt prouder.

And not to waste the perfect setting, here at this secluded and quaint cottage, I am writing a book to be published this year. I sit outside under my veranda every morning with my garden grown rhubarb, churning out a word count I was never capable of at the office (sorry boss!), still managing to sneak in tanning time, before typing away in the warm evenings and watching the sun set behind Mount Maude.

If you want a garden, go rent a garden, believes Olivia Caldwell.

A more wealthy friend of mine visited my new pad. Without a hint of sarcasm, he agreed the peacock feathers, leopard print vases and splashes of pink all combine well with my cottage-girl image. But he made the point, that until you buy, you will never know that feeling of having a home of your own.

As a single girl, that feeling may never come. Even Bridget Jones pays rent. Through the rental market of our great countryside, I am able to finally have a place to myself, a house that I do in fact call home, for now.

So to my fellow renters in the city. Dont let the out-of-reach goal of buying a home put you off. If you want a garden, go rent a garden.

Olivia Caldwell is a journalist for The Project NZ, and formerly worked for Stuff.


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