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Life in New Zealand is geared towards getting outside. Considering the incredible landscapes, this is no surprise. Friendly people, a unique culture and a beautiful country all help make this country an expat paradise. It’s also a fantastic travel destination, just in case you don’t want to plant roots abroad just yet.
Although a slither in the Pacific Ocean, both the North Island and South Island have everything from the most modern of cities to uninhabited mountains. Everything about the country is extreme but a relaxed way of life helps expats settle into their new lives.
Generally speaking, expats in New Zealand will experience a moderate maritime climate with pleasant temperatures and little in terms of dramatic weather fronts. The far north tends to experience subtropical weather during summer and some of the inland alpine areas of the South Island can experience temperatures as low as -10°C in the winter. However, due to the country’s width, you are never far from the coast and generally mild temperatures. Mostly, New Zealand’s climate is dictated by the sea and mountains.
For sunshine, expats should head to the Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson or Marlborough. These areas receive over 2,350 hours of sunshine a year. However, most places in New Zealand receive over 2,000 which, compared to the 1500 offered by the UK, is music to expat’s ears.
In the summer months, the sun rarely sets before 9.30 pm, meaning long balmy days. New Zealand has next to no air pollution. This means that the UV rays from the sun are much stronger and can quickly burn skin. Staying in the shade, keeping covered up and using a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 is paramount.
Unlike areas of neighbouring Australia which suffer from flooding and tropical cyclones, New Zealand’s rainfall is spread throughout the year. Due to a constant supply of precipitation, the country is extremely green and fertile, which explains the abundance of farms and horticultural businesses. Generally, the northern and central areas of the country experience more rainfall in winter, whereas the south tends to receive their majority in the summer.
Many do not associate New Zealand with snow. However, from June to October, Canterbury and Otago often experience heavy snowfall. Most of the white stuff tends to fall in the mountainous regions of the North, such as the Central Plateau, or the Southern Alps on South Island.
Auckland Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
Christchurch Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
Wellington Springs Average Monthly Temperatures and Rainy Days
New Zealand is a multicultural country and New Zealanders, also called Kiwis, are known for being extremely friendly and welcoming. Most recognised are the Maori people and much of the country’s culture can be derived from them. The Maori were New Zealand’s first settlers and make up around 15% of the population today. However, there are an abundance of smaller ethnic communities present in the country as well.
Maori are tangata whenua; people of the land. Many foreigners first experience a Maori tradition when watching New Zealand’s rugby team, the All Blacks, play. Before every match the entire team, both Maori and non-Maori, take to the pitch and perform a haka; a Maori battlefield dance. It is a signifier of pride, strength and unity. It is also performed at weddings and birthdays.
Maori culture influences the lives of all New Zealanders and the country is dedicated to keeping it alive. It is rich with traditional arts, such as carving, weaving and moko (tattooing). Stories and legends provide life lessons and powerful teachings on spirituality.
In a broader sense, Kiwis are relaxed and open. The country doesn’t race through life and pleasures are found in being with the family, friends and outdoors. Many expats will notice that discrimination is rare in the country. It is against the law and all people are considered equal regardless of gender, race, and religion. Expats should exercise this same open-mindedness too.
English is the most widely spoken language in New Zealand. However, Maori become the country’s official language in 1987, followed by New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) in 2006. New Zealand was the first country to give sign language an official status.
Maori is used nowhere else in the world and keeping the language alive has received country wide support. Only around 5% of the population use it on a day to day basis but many media and arts schools teach in the language and encourage its use.
Despite some impressive rural terrain, the more urban areas of New Zealand are well connected and there a few problems getting around. You get the occasional mountain road that can be a little narrow, but some slow driving will help most expats in this instance.
Despite being split in two islands, divided by the Cook Strait, there are a number of ferries shuttling cars and passengers across this stretch of water every day. The journey takes 3 hours 30 minutes and for a car containing one adult the cost is $173 (NZD), around £92, for a single trip.
As long as your driver’s license is in English, expats are welcome to drive in New Zealand for up to one year. Before this period is up, a decision will need to be made to transfer to a local license or apply for an International Driver’s Permit. Driving in New Zealand is relatively stress-free aside from a congestion in big cities at rush hour.
When it comes to public transport, expats will benefit from a reliable and efficient infrastructure. It is made particularly easy to use due to maps and timetables for trains and buses being available at libraries, shops and stations.
KiwiRail operates the passenger trains throughout New Zealand, although the network in Auckland is operated locally. Just like European countries, single, return and pass tickets can be purchased online and in all train stations. The only exception is Auckland, where tickets for travel must be purchased in advance. Commuters in this city can also purchase the AT HOP. It is a prepaid card (similar to the Oyster in London) and can be used on trains and buses.
Cities such as Dunedin, Hamilton and Christchurch rely on buses alone. Therefore, New Zealand’s entire bus network is second to none. Local and inner city bus routes are often contracted to private companies so expats are likely to see Naked Bus, InterCity and Newmans gracing the streets. Tickets are cheap and multi-pass options offer further discounts for daily travellers.
Lastly, taxis fall into three categories in New Zealand. There are the traditional single occupancy cabs, as well as group transport and shuttle options. The best option is to book with a trusted firm in your local area. However, if you are out and about, hailing a cab or hopping in one at a taxi rank is the norm. Fares, whilst understandably not as low as buses, are still affordable.
During the early 20th century, a public healthcare system was established in New Zealand. Over the years, a number of reforms have been introduced, resulting in a more mixed system comprising both public and private options.
Public hospitals provide free or highly subsidised treatment to citizens and permanent residents. Expats will need to be registered with a GP and have a work permit or permanent residence permit to benefit from system. However, those with work permits will have had to have held them for 24 months before qualifying for state healthcare.
Public facilities are funded through general taxes and free or subsidised treatment is not just limited to hospital-based car or emergency treatment. Other subsided or free services include: GP visits; prescriptions; ambulance use; x-rays; medical tests; dental treatment for children; childbirth and post-natal care.
To further subsidise any medical costs that may surface from public healthcare expats should apply for PHO (Primary Health Organisation). This is a government-funded programme which reduces the likes of consultation fees and medicine costs. The process can take three months so it is best for expats to become members of their residential PHO as soon as possible.
However, those living in New Zealand who want to bypass long waiting times and have access to state of the art facilities pay for private healthcare insurance. Those who are travelling in New Zealand would also benefit for investing in comprehensive travel insurance. New Zealand has a multitude of different private facilities, from radiology clinics and testing labs, to specialist facilities and recuperative care hospitals. Expats without a permanent residence permit, in particular, must ensure they have comprehensive private medical cover.
The New Zealand Dollar, shown as NZD or NZ$, if the official currency of the country. Each dollar is comprised of 100 cents. Expats will often see prices shown as $ instead of NZ$, but rest assured the price shown is for New Zealand Dollars, just without the ‘NZ’. Notes come as 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 NZD. Denominations of coins include 1 and 2 NZD and 10, 20 and 50 cents.
New Zealand has a sophisticated banking system and a cash, debit and credit society. Despite a complex infrastructure banking is very straightforward.
Expats wishing to open a bank account in New Zealand will notice different banks charging different fees and offering various interest rates. It is always best to undergo research before settling with a bank. New Zealnd’s most popular banks are ANZ, Bank of New Zealand, ASB and Westpac. Whichever provider you settle with, opening an account is very easy, just make sure to take the correct paperwork asked for – this will vary between banks so always ask if in doubt. Some banks even allow expats to apply for an account online before even entering the country. They will just need to visit a branch to pick up their debit or credit card.
New Zealand’s education system has been ranked one of the best in the world by the UN. Over 75% of the population have upper secondary or tertiary qualifications due to the importance and emphasis put on education.
School is compulsory for all children aged six to 16, although free education is available from the age of five until the end of the school year after a student’s 19th birthday. Many expats are baffled by the school calendar when first arriving in New Zealand. It follows a typical southern hemisphere structure, with the academic year beginning in late January and ending in mid-December.
Children whose parents are permanent residents are free to attend public schools. Parents with a temporary visa will need to secure a student visa for any children to attend a public school and expect to pay an international student fee or substantial ‘voluntary contribution’.
Expat children who are legible for free public schooling are welcome to continue their education on to Years 12 and 13. In New Zealand colleges, children study for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). This is an internationally regarded qualification and readily accepted by overseas universities. This results in fewer children having no choice but to attend an international school that offers the IB programme.
Unless expats have permanent residency, there are one of three options open to children. As previously mentioned, kids can attend state schools but pay an international student fee. Alternatively, they can study at a private school. Private schools in New Zealand receive around 25% of their funding from the government and the rest from school fees. Expats will need to find a private school offering the IB programme, A- Levels or IGCSE so their children are able to attend university in the future if they desire. Fees in private schools are more than an international student fee of a private school but significantly less than internationals schools.
New Zealand is home to some of the best international schools in the world. With incredible facilities, small class sizes and unparalleled levels of teaching, the price tag for expat parents is astronomical.
New Zealand’s cuisine has long been described as ‘Pacific Rim’; a merger of European, Asian and Polynesian ingredients, flavours and cooking methods. This infusion means that there is a vast array of fare to try throughout the country. An extremely popular and traditional New Zealand dish would include roast lamb or pork with all the trimmings. Oysters, scallops, mussels and whitebait are also popular seafood choices.
New Zealanders love casual dining, it is part of the relaxed Kiwi way of life. Therefore, barbecues are big business in the summer months. Fresh lobster is a grill favourite, as is venison. Expats will soon find they are spoilt for choice when it comes to fresh produce and barbecues are the perfect way to serve up some of the nation’s finest foods.
Many suggest that a true taste of New Zealand comes from sampling Maori hangi. Chicken or pork is placed in a large tray, along with potatoes and vegetables. A deep hole is then dug, lined with red hot stones a vegetation. The meat laden tray is then lowered into the hole, before being densely covered with another layer of vegetation and the hole filled with earth. After a number of hours, the meat is retrieved and expats can then taste the incredible smoky flavour.
Brits won’t be disappointed when moving half way across the world. One of New Zealand’s most popular takeaway dishes is fish and chips, always wrapped in paper!
Got a sweet tooth? New Zealand is known as the birthplace of the pavlova, named after the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. However, the title of pavlova inventor is hotly contested as Australia claim it is theirs. Problem is, Anna Pavlova toured both countries in the 1920s, and both stake a claim to its creation. Regardless, the meringue, cream and fruit delight is enjoyed by many throughout the country.
If not indulging in pavlova, you will find most Kiwis love hokey pokey; vanilla ice cream laced with chunks of honeycomb. If you love ice cream New Zealand is the place for you, the locals cannot get enough of it.
Cider and white wine are the top tipples in New Zealand. Due to the exquisite taste of New Zealand’s apples, the cider is championed. As a rule of thumb, the paler the cider the better. When it comes to white wine, any Marlborough Savignon Blanc is set to please any palette. Marlborough is New Zealand’s sunniest and driest region, producing superb grapes.
New Zealand benefits from low crime rates. Street and car theft, along with pick-pocketing is the only real issue and the majority of this occurs in large towns and cities. It is a case of remaining vigilant and keeping valuables out of site.
Most tragic events occur in New Zealand due to natural disasters and extreme sports. Landslides, earthquakes and floods are relatively common occurrences. Although few are fatal, expats should always keep an eye on local warnings and follow any advice given to remain safe.
Equally, extreme sports, particularly those that take place at sea, are something for expats to be weary of. Whatever activity you are taking part in remember to keep ocean currents in mind and be vigilant of sharks. Although there are dramatically less shark attacks in New Zealand compared to neighbouring Australia, they do still occur.
Even in New Zealand’s cities there is something natural about them. Being outdoors is part of life in New Zealand and there are countless opportunities to experience some jaw-dropping places. Envelop yourself in Maori life at Te Puia or feast your eyes on New Zealand’s most active volcano on White Island. Whether visiting or living in New Zealand, get a sturdy pair of trainers and get ready to explore.
Located on the southwest coast of South Island, Milford Sound is an inspiring landscape formed during the Ice Age. Author Rudyard Kipling descried it as the eighth wonder of the world due to its scenery. Majestic cliffs rise from fjords and mountains are crowned with epic waterfalls.
If you are an adrenaline junkie you need to head straight to Queenstown, dubbed the adventure capital of the country. June to October is ski season, whereas the rest of the year is dedicated to the likes of skydiving, jet boating, river rafting and bungee jumping. Why not plummet off the world’s highest cliff jump at Shotover Canyon Swing?
Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley
Home to a number of active geysers, visitors head to the valley to watch as water jets out of small holes in the earth. The landscape is other-worldly and dotted with bubbling mud pools which reach temperatures nearing 100°C.
However, the valley is also home to Te Puia, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. It is a fascinating place for visitors to experience Maori heritage.
Despite being torn apart by four large earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch has made an incredible comeback. The city has been reborn and expats can take in the new and old town with a journey on the Christchurch Gondola; a cable car that provides a scenic journey up the side of Mount Cavendish.
Get up close and personal with New Zealand’s most active volcano with a trip to White Island. If you set foot on the island you will need to wear a hard hat and gas mask – this is a truly active volcano! Another option is to take in its magnitude from the sky via helicopter.
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