The father-daughter duo who left Mauritius to study in Tauranga

"When you come to a new country for the first time, it’s kind of hard. Knowing who can help you, adjusting to the country and the people, and being open to change will make it easier for you."
Del, Marie & Loanna

The father-daughter duo who left Mauritius to study in Tauranga

The funny thing about travel is that even when you come from a breathtakingly beautiful island nation like Mauritius, you still want to see the world. It was this very desire that brought Dedel (Del) Pothanah, along with his wife Marie and daughter Loanna, to New Zealand.

A policeman for a former Mauritian president, Del’s had always dreamt of living overseas. When he reached the 25-year milestone in the police force allowing him to retire with benefits, the Pothanahs started to think about where they should go.

Del moved to Tauranga to pursue his passion for cooking at Toi Ohomai’s Culinary Arts programme. Marie and Loanna – now a Year 13 student at Tauranga Girls’ College – joined him that same year.


Mauritius is a small East African island nation in the Indian Ocean. It is a multicultural country with influence from Asia, India, Europe and Africa and is renowned for stunning beaches, warm waters and a tropical climate. The locals speak Creole and French, many learning English as a third language.

“It’s a small island, only about twice the size of Auckland. Nothing is more than an hour away.” – Del

“If you like beaches and nature, Mauritius is one of the greatest places to go.” – Loanna

The Pothanahs lived in a town called Coromandel and it is much to their delight that there is a Coromandel in New Zealand as well. Del worked in former Mauritian president Karl Offmann’s four-man security team for most of his career while Marie worked as an aircraft engineer for Air Mauritius.


Del’s job saw him travelling with President Offmann frequently, giving him the opportunity to visit many countries around the world. New Zealand stood out for its friendly people, quiet and safe way of life, and beautiful scenery.

“It is a sunny place; the lawns are always green and well-maintained. People are friendly and drive with lots of discipline – no horns or traffic jams. It’s a nice, quiet life.” – Del
When Del retired from the police force, he decided to pursue two interests at once – he would live overseas while studying to become a chef. He arrived in Tauranga with Marie and Loanna set to join him later in the year.

“I came first because it would be easy for me to get settled, know the place, find a house. It also allowed Loanna to finish her Cambridge O Level studies back home.”


Del started studying Toi Ohomai’s Culinary Arts Level 4 and Level 5 – a two-year programme that would see him become a qualified chef with a New Zealand Diploma in Cookery.

“Cooking has always been my passion. I saw my Mum cook and I love to eat. Food unites people.”

Del has only positive things to say about his school experience. He’s enjoyed learning the trade inside out, refining his skill and gaining hands-on experience. Del has learnt a lot from his tutors, who are leading figures in the industry with international experience as chefs. He has found the staff at Toi Ohomai very helpful and accessible.

As one of the only mature students in his class – and with impressive life experience at that – Del’s younger peers have taken to calling him Boss, and in return he has found himself in a mentorship role on more than one occasion.


Nearing the end of his programme, his class is currently cooking for Atrium, Toi Ohomai’s chef-in-training restaurant that provides on-the-job training to its students and inspired food to its guests.

“The production we are making now is excellent – we served 70 people the other night. We all have the option to tell Chef what we would like to put on the menu – I’ve added a rice and sago pudding with pineapple relish.”

Del also works part-time at upscale Tauranga restaurant Mills Reef and will complete his four-week work placement at the restaurant before graduating. Upon graduation, he will have a three-year post-study work visa so he can gain valuable experience in Tauranga and work towards his goal of staying here long-term.


When Loanna arrived in Tauranga, early summer felt chilly, and the cold Pacific Ocean was a shock compared to the beckoning warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

“I was pretty excited for a change, to start a new life. But it was hard because it’s a lot colder than back home!” – Loanna

After adjusting to the climate, her next biggest challenge was the language. Back in Mauritius, Loanna studied written English but had not had much practice speaking the language. She was worried about what this would mean in New Zealand – would people understand her? Would she understand them?

“Once I started talking, it was fine. People appreciated that it wasn’t my first language and would slow down so I could understand.”


Loanna enjoys the hands-on, open-ended style of learning at Tauranga Girls’ College, quite unlike the memorisation-based education system she was used to back home. She likes the relationships students can form with their teachers.

“My favourite subject here is art. I’ve learnt to create art in a really different way.”

Loanna, a talented artist, explains that in Mauritius, a teacher might tell the class to draw a vase. Here the teachers give students a theme like ‘change’ and leave them to interpret and portray this theme themselves.

“It really inspires creativity.”


When Loanna first moved to Tauranga, she was 16 years old; in Mauritius, people have to be 18 before they can get a job or a driver’s license. With those freedoms just out of reach, it’s no surprise that these two aspects of life in New Zealand were very exciting. Just a month after arriving in Tauranga, Loanna secured an after-school job at Burger Fuel, working three evenings a week where she is enjoying the independence and camaraderie that employment offers.


With a Dad who travelled often and a Mum who worked as an aviation engineer, Loanna has always been fascinated by airports.

“I always wanted to work in an airport. I’m still deciding between mechanical engineering and working in the tourism industry.”

Loanna would love to stay in Tauranga and plans to apply to both University of Waikato and Toi Ohomai. Along with her parents’ help, she has gotten in touch with these tertiary institutions about admissions and is excited to start the application process as soon as she can.


Both Del and Loanna agree that the beaches and scenery are similar in New Zealand to Mauritius, while the climate and sea temperature is very different. While Kiwis are diving into the water, Del and Loanna prefer to stay onshore here, instead heading to the Hot Pools if they are keen to swim.

The food is different too, with tropical fruit like lychee and mango growing abundantly on Mauritius. But the biggest difference to Loanna is that, back home, the streets are full of people until around six pm.

“We eat, dance, play games, play musical instruments in the streets, and each school hosts a party called Fancy Fair once a term. Sometimes I miss the busyness.”


“When you come to a new country for the first time, it’s kind of hard. Knowing who can help you, adjusting to the country and the people, and being open to change will make it easier for you.”