If someone had told Bridget Milburn 10 years ago she would be living in rural New Zealand with husband Dave, three children, 11 Shetland ponies, Charlie the horse and a goat called Sausages – and running a thriving shoe business, she would have laughed hysterically.

This is the kind of life you can’t predict, she says from her Gladstone villa. “And it’s a far cry from living and working in the city of Manchester.”

Bridget and Dave arrived in New Zealand from the UK in 2007 as backpackers. They fell in love with the country but had no thoughts about staying until Bridget saw a job advertised in Wellington. “The job was in the energy efficiency sector and similar to what I had been doing back home. We hadn’t even been to Wellington but I thought I’d apply and see what happened. If it came off, great. If not, we would carry on with our travels.”

Bridget got the job. She shipped her fine china collection over from England, and she and Dave settled in Wellington. They married, started a family and ticked along nicely for eight years. Then, says Bridget, the itch to live in the country started. So too did a need to work less and be at home with the children more. “Since moving to Wairarapa, we definitely have more family time,” she says. “And the children are as free as birds to roam all over our lifestyle block.”

Importantly, Wairarapa living has allowed Dave to mix a commute with working from home and Bridget has been able to launch her business, Love Avarcas.

“I’d been mulling over Love Avarcas for ages. It’s a simple idea, based on my love of Avarcas sandals. I discovered the brand when I travelled in Spain in my 20s and have lived in Avarcas ever since. My last pair started to wear out when we left Wellington, and I couldn’t find anything that came close to replacing them.”

That’s when Bridget contacted the family-owned factory in Spain and became an authorised seller of the hand-made shoes. “I sell online and at the markets at the weekends. This means that through the week I spend time at home with the children and the animals. We are loving our new-found freedom – and loving the Gladstone community too.”

Story by Lisa Caruthers
Photography by Rebecca Kempton