The police recruits who have taken up posts in Kaitaia over recent times come from all manner of backgrounds, but Probationary Constable Ellen Bernstein is unique, perhaps in New Zealand.

It is not unheard of for officers to leave the force to work in the church, but Ellen has done the opposite. The Cambridge-born and raised former Anglican vicar has exchanged that vocation for a life in uniform.

Ellen, who was ordained in 2012, made the move north almost 18 months ago, with her husband Noel. They are now happily ensconced on a small property outside Awanui, where they have room for a few head of beef and Ellen indulges her passion for gardening, including growing vegetables.

"I'm the gardener. Noel is my assistant," she said, adding that she had already discovered how powdery mildew thrived in the humid Far North climate.


The couple looked far and wide before deciding on their move north, Ellen saying she had had no expectation of finding a full-time role in the church.

"I knew I would be looking for a new line of work," she said, and she had no doubt that the decision to sign up to the police had been the right one, even if Noel, who she described as technically retired but busy restoring vintage valve radios, with a preference for pre-World War II models, had not been entirely convinced that she was sufficiently fleet of foot.

"He told me I couldn't run a bath," she said, but she had proved him wrong, several months of training taking her to the point where she could complete the mandatory 2.4km run within the time allowed.

Ellen emphasised however that despite the new direction her life had taken, she had in no sense 'left' the church.

"But this is my career now," she said.

Her immediate goal was to pull her weight within the team in Kaitaia.

"I want to be a useful cop," she said, "and there is a lot to learn."