Twenty-five years after she left Oamaru, Fiona Stratford felt the time was right to come back.
This time, she brought husband Ben along with her.
Mrs Stratford, who attended Waitaki Girls’ High School, left Oamaru at the age of 17 to pursue a career in the Royal New Zealand Navy in the medical field, based at Auckland’s Devonport Naval Base.
“I’m not sure I was convinced about tertiary education at that stage,” she said.
“I enjoyed the physical side and the challenge of doing basic training, and the thought of travel with the navy. I was only in there for two years, because then I decided to get a tertiary education.”During her time in the navy, she played for its squash, netball and basketball teams.
She then studied nursing in Auckland, and worked at Auckland’s Greenlane Hospital for two years before she relocated to the United Kingdom, again working as a nurse.
“I was there for quite a few years, and I came back to New Zealand in 2000. I worked in Auckland for a couple of years … then I went to work on a cruise ship as a nurse based out of the United States.”Her travels took her to the likes of Canada, Alaska, Bermuda and Mexico between 2001 and 2004.
She returned to Auckland, working as a nurse in the emergency department at Auckland City Hospital.
It was during that time she met future husband Ben, originally from Norsewood, who now works as a contracted technical manager at the North Otago Irrigation Company and has his own business, Mainline Aqua.
The couple married in Oamaru in 2007, while still living in Auckland.
They remained in Auckland for a further seven years, before they moved to Oamaru in 2014 with their children Macey (6), and Jackson (3).
Mr Stratford, who worked for an irrigation company in Canada between 1996 and 1998 and in a similar role in Taupo between 1998 and 2003, before he relocated to Canada for a further two years, said when a job opportunity came up in Oamaru, he felt it was worth a shot.
“We certainly wanted to look at opportunities out of Auckland and to get out of the big city … it was either Taupo or Oamaru, and the work opportunities were better in Oamaru.
“It was a great opportunity to try small-town New Zealand again.”Mrs Stratford said the family had been “quite settled” in Auckland, but was happy to be back in Oamaru, where she worked as a nurse at Oamaru Hospital before taking on a role as a nurse educator for the North Otago Asthma Society.
She believed Oamaru had changed a lot since she left _ for the better _ and enjoyed the laid-back lifestyle the town offered.
“The growth was evident. There’s the Steampunk and all the cultural things that are happening. There’s the Alps 2 Ocean, so we’re out with our bikes and enjoying that.” Mr Stratford said life was so much easier in Oamaru, and believed there would be no way the family would have been able to enjoy a “couple of acres” of land in Auckland, as they did in Oamaru.
He said they planned to stay for the mid-term at least.
“We are happy with everything here. We’re not in a bubble like you can be in Auckland.”