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Dr Alex Williams describes how he planned a sabbatical trip to New Zealand ­ with kids in tow

Escaping grey, wintry England for the warmer climes and great outdoors of New Zealand may seem like a bit of a pipe dream. But if you're prepared for a lot of form filling and don't mind rooting around for that old degree certificate then it could become a reality for you too.

For me, it all started as something of a dream a few years ago. My practice agreed I could take six months off but I never got around to organising it. My wife and I had been backpacking for a few months about 15 years ago, which whetted our appetite.

The next time we thought about it was when we had a month-long family holiday in the South Island two years ago and vowed to return. But now my daughter is 10 and due to change to secondary school at the end of next year; we had a certain feeling of 'now or never'.

Full steam ahead

The first step was to reaffirm that the practice were still happy for me to go, and when the green light came last year it was full steam ahead in preparation. Then I had to find a job. At that time an advert appeared in our LMC newsletter for locum GPs in Rotorua and they have been very helpful in sorting out all the administration.

You have to apply to the New Zealand Medical Association for temporary registration and this involves sending copies of your degree and any postgraduate qualifications. I found my degree certificate fairly easily (well my wife did). But could I find my

MRCGP certificate anywhere? I had to apply for a certified copy, and this can take up to a month. So take care to apply in plenty of time.

Next came the certificate of good standing from the GMC but they kindly faxed that to New Zealand House for me. I will need to take the original as well as my other certificates to an interview I have to have when I arrive in New Zealand. This has all been arranged by e-mail and so has been hassle-free so far.

Next comes the work visa (not permit) ­ another 10-page document you need to submit with plenty of supporting evidence of appropriate qualifications and registration, your offer of work and, most importantly, your onward flight booking that shows you are planning to leave eventually. There are numerous supporting leaflets to read about your health and whether you need to have a chest X-ray or police check and of course the accompanying fee to pay.

Finally a passport photo, passport and letter from a partner confirming you have been working for at least a year, and you are off to the New Zealand High Commission and an anxious wait ­ although you can trace the process of your application online!

We are taking our three children who are all at primary school, so they will miss two terms of school. We are trying to enrol them in a school at the moment. Having researched this, we have found one very popular school in Rotorua (in a leafy white-collar suburb).

Unless you live in this area you can't send them to school there. We have gone for a school in Ngongataha, which has a more ethnic mix. I spoke to a GP in the Lake District who had used this school last year and she and her children were all very happy there. They had a family website with stories and pictures of their travels and experiences for friends and family to read about.

We are planning to keep in touch with the school in the UK by e-mail and take some preparatory work away for my daughter to study towards key stage 2. I must say I feel they will learn a vast amount more by the experiences we will have while travelling as a family.

When we arrive in Auckland we will stay with my cousin for a few days and we are hoping he will be able to purchase a cheap family car so we will be mobile. Our

schedule is a bit tight as we have to attend a registration meeting in Auckland one day and some computer induction in Rotorua the next! I sense I may be making that trip alone!

Different styles

I will be working in five different practices over about 10 weeks so will have to be a fast learner when it comes to computer systems ­ and different styles of practice.

Alex Williams is in New Zealand for six months; he is a full-time partner at a research practice in Exeter; he completed his VTS in 1990 and has been a GP trainer since 1995 ­ he is a hospital practitioner in respiratory medicine

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