We’ve been living in New Zealand for nearly a year now and have settled into ‘Living a Kiwi Life’. Although there are many similarities between New Zealand and Canada, there are quite a few subtle differences. Many people have asked what Life in New Zealand is like, so for Part 3 of our Moving to New Zealand series, we’re sharing some of our observations on how it compares with our life back in Canada.
One of the things we love most about New Zealand are its people and culture. We knew New Zealand was a great fit for us as we love adventure and the outdoors and that is a big part of the culture here. Kiwis love their country and work really hard to protect its natural beauty and native species. Nearly 30% of New Zealand is protected within 14 National Parks and there are many programs across the country that help protect their native birds such as Kiwis, Keas and Kakas.
People say Canadians are friendly, but New Zealanders (especially in the South Island and smaller towns) may be even friendlier! We had a fellow in Rotorua take 30 minutes of out his day just to show us a secret local hot pool. They’re very welcoming to other cultures and are always happy to lend a hand. Kiwis also take more risks and aren’t paranoid about ‘danger’ like people are in North America. You don’t have to sign a million waivers to take in adventure activities here – they put the ownership on you to be smart and safe. If you hurt yourself because you crash your luge cart, it’s your own fault (like it should be)!
The work culture here is very balanced too. There’s an emphasis on a work-life balance and people are quite social with co-workers. On my first day at work when I started to pack up for the day, I went to put my laptop in my bag and as I looked around, I noticed everyone else had left theirs behind. There was NO expectation to take my work home and answering emails after hours is not common (in our jobs anyways). It was so refreshing to know we could completely unplug after 5pm and not feel like we had to carry that baggage (literally) during our personal time.
I also love the social side of work. The first time drinks were handed out around the office on a Friday afternoon I thought back to my job back in Canada and how that would NEVER be allowed. HR would require a mountain of paperwork to be signed in advance to ensure no one sued the company if something happened. Since most people take public transportation here, and there is no culture of ‘sueing’ (and the law doesn’t allow it) there is less of a need for companies to ‘protect themselves’ by having strict no alcohol policies. The fact that many companies provide drinks for their employees to celebrate a long hard work week is just downright cool!
I look forward to Fridays now as it’s an opportunity to enjoy some casual conversation with my co-workers, providing an opportunity to get to know them on a more personal level. We’ve had bake offs, ping pong tournaments, World Cup foosball competitions and even setup the kitchen to be a ski lodge equipped with ‘mulled wine’ and an (electric) fireplace. There always seems to be an excuse to have ‘morning tea’ (snacks) whether it’s a send off for an employee, a launch celebration or just ‘cause’.
I truly enough the balance that I’ve been able to have with work here. Everyone works hard during the week and puts in extra hours when needed, but it’s always expected to balance out in the end.
Before moving to New Zealand I had no idea what ‘Kiwi cuisine’ was. One of my favourite things about experiencing a new culture is getting to taste all of its unique foods. I won’t go into too much detail here, as you can read all about our favourite Kiwi dishes on our ‘Taste of New Zealand’ blog, but overall we’ve enjoyed some delicious new fruits, tasty savory snacks, and more fish and chips than I ever thought we’d consume.
With regards to grocery shopping, overall food is a bit more expensive. But if you watch for sales (which happen every week) the prices can be quite comparable to Canada for a lot of items. The weekend markets are a great place to get fresh fruit and vegetables at really good prices – it’s a regular weekend routine for me!
Things like meat are surprising expensive, but again if you wait for a sale, the prices are much more reasonable (sometimes more than half the price) so stock up while you can! Mussels though are DIRT CHEAP! When on sale, you can get a kilogram of mussels for $1.99 NZD. That’s just over $0.75 CAD a pound!! We’ve definitely made this a staple in our diets – it’s so cheap and delicious it’s hard not to!
New Zealand wine is also cheap. You can get a great bottle of wine at Pak’n Save for only $7.98 NZD that tastes better than you’d think the price would warrant! Overall though, we spend about $100-$120 NZD a week on groceries for the two of us to give you some perspective.
Eating out can also be expensive in New Zealand. Jordan and I don’t dine out much, but when we first arrived we went through a bit of ‘sticker shock’ when we first saw prices on the menu. However if you work backwards – accounting that taxes are included, tipping is NOT expected here and the exchange rate, you’d be surprised that the numbers work out pretty close to what we would see back in Canada.
Although New Zealand is filled with some amazing foods – there are some key items you just can’t find here! North American online stories like Martha’s Backyard and USA Foods provide you access to some North American favorites, however they do come at a premium. The only thing we’ve purchased so far that we absolutely can’t live without is Frank’s Hot Sauce. A couple other items we haven’t really been able to find here are GOOD dill pickles (they’re all sweet here), graham crackers and bagels (that aren’t outrageously overpriced)
If you’re in Auckland though, you can get some delicious Canadian treats like poutine, moose ears, ceasars and Canadian beer at Al’s Deli downtown! Seriously a great spot to get a taste from home!
Despite living in a country that also speaks English, when I first arrived I felt like the locals were speaking a completely different language. There are many common phrases like ‘heaps’, ‘keen’ and ‘sweet as’ that are thrown into daily conversations, and with the Kiwi accent mixed in, I initially found myself straining to understand. I would usually be a few seconds behind as my brain was slooooowly translating into Canadian English 🙂
Now though, I find I don’t even recognize accents anymore. In general, everyone sounds more or less the same, and it even takes me a minute to realize I’m speaking with another Canadian! On the other hand, when needed I am much better at picking out the dialect of someone from the UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Before they all sounded the same but now there’s key words and phrases that give them away.
If you want to know more common Kiwi phrases, our friend Liz put together a comprehensive blog all about the most common Kiwisims. Check it out here!
Making New Friends
There are a number of organisations and social groups around the country that you can join to help meet new people. MeetUp has groups in cities all over New Zealand that organise events every week that appeal to a variety of interests. Groups like the Wellington Newcomers Network organise events for people new to the city and next month we’ll actually be speaking at their event so if you’re local check out the event page!
With so many expats in the country, there are even country based groups like Canadian Club of New Zealand and the Canadian Wellington Club. We attended a Canada celebration at the local bowling alley where they provided Canadian themed prizes and cake! Was a great opportunity to meet some fellow Canadians in the city!
If you’re an outdoors person I would definitly recommend signing up with the Alpine Club or one of the local Tramping Clubs. It’s a great way to meet like-minded, active people and they organize trips nearly every weekend where you can go with a fun group of experienced people to get familiar with the backcountry. They also offer training courses. Jordan and I have taken some lead climbing courses and mountaineering courses with the NZ Alpine club and have made some of our best friends through that.
Cost of Living
Overall the cost of living is a bit higher here than in Canada. I’ve mentioned before a few things like gas, clothing and groceries that are more expensive, but if you want to compare a city in New Zealand with yours, check out the latest cost of living index here as well as New Zealand Now‘s comparisons.
For some reason I had assumed New Zealand had a climate more similar to Australia. I knew it was lush with rainforests and mountains, but I had expected it to be more tropical and hot. Surprisingly, New Zealand’s climate varies quite significantly across the country. Auckland area is quite tropical and rarely dips below 10 degrees any day of the year, and can easily stay in the high 20’s to low 30’s in the summer.
The South Island has a climate similar to Vancouver. It doesn’t get super hot in the summer and it does get snow on the ground in winter but it usually doesn’t stick around. It also rains A LOT so it is very lush with rain forests.
Wellington however seems to stay between 10-22 degrees nearly every day of the year. It’s only snowed here once in the last 20+ years and yet only gets past ~27 degrees a few days a year. It’s ALWAYS windy too so I found myself shelving the skirts and shorts for the most part as the wind always adds a bit of a chill to the air.
One thing I do love is I can scooter all year round here. And so far winter has been pretty amazing. Yes it’s definitely colder, but most days the sun is shining and the sky is blue – can’t get much better than that! Plus winter sunrises on my way to work are pretty incredible!
We’ve been lucky enough to not have had to experience much of New Zealand’s healthcare system but what little I have has been very positive. In January I came down with the WORST flu of my life but was luckily treated quickly, easily and given PLENTY of drugs to help me get better. Unlike Canada, do you have to pay $50 to see a doctor (refunded if you have benefits) so it does make you think twice about going for just any old cold.
In order to get a permanent family doctor, you need a minimum 2 year Visa but it was as easy as calling a local clinic and scheduling an appointment with a doctor within a few hours to get medical attention. New Zealand is also quite advanced with its processing system – with clinics texting test results and being able to take a photo of receipts to submit a claim. You can read all about my first health care encounter here.
New Zealand also has a progran called ACC that provides comprehensive, no-fault personal injury coverage for all New Zealand residents and visitors to New Zealand. This means you can apply no matter how you got injured, or whose fault it was and can recieve payment towards treatment, help around the home while you get better, and assistance with your income if you can’t work because of your injury. Similar to Canada this public program is funded by taxes that are deducted from your income.
For more information on Healthcare, and a variety of link for getting setup in Wellington (and New Zealand in general) check out this comprehensive page here.
The ONE downside to living in New Zealand is the risk of earthquakes. We had never experienced one before moving here, and last winter when Wellington experienced two quite severe ones back to back – people kept asking “WHY on earth would you move there!!”
It was a risk we were willing to take. Upon arriving we immediately downloaded the app GeoNet as it provides alerts and notifications of earthquakes around the country. We have been lucky and have really only experienced one of any magnitude but it was definitely an eye opener and made us realize we had NO IDEA what to do if an earthquake hits.
We were actually in the middle of skyping my dad when a 5.3 magnitude hit Wellington on a Sunday afternoon. We began yelling at each other – ‘DO YOU FEEL THAT??’ and once we realised it was in fact an earthquake we ran around in circles not really knowing what to do! My dad thought we were joking but once the commotion settled down he couldn’t believe he had just witnessed it! There was little damage around the city – just some smashed bottles in grocery stores and the LOTR eagle fell down at the airport.
We’ve now realized we need to be better prepared for an earthquake and have begun creating an ‘emergency kit’ of stocked food, water and some basic supplies. To learn more about how to prepare for an earthquake and other natural disasters visit the EQC website.
While in Christchurch we got a taste for the devastation an earthquake can bring. The damage is still evident as the downtown area has some streets abandoned since the earthquake. I highly recommend checking out the Quake City museum – it provides a lot of information on earthquakes and some touching stories of the people who experienced the earthquake.
Living away from Family
Lastly, the hardest thing about living here is being so far away from friends and family. No matter how much you love a place, it’s never the same without your loved ones. We’ve been lucky enough to have both our parents and some close friends visit us already, but we spend our weekends skyping with friends and family back home. The ~17hr time difference can make scheduling those skype sessions a challenge, but one piece of advice I would give is MAKE SURE you take the time to keep those relationships. It can be easy to get caught up in your new life here and make excuses for the time difference, but it’s so important to keep those connections.
I honestly don’t know how people lived abroad before tools like Skype existed. Although it’s not the same as being there in person, it’s still great to be able to see faces and hear voices of your loved ones and helps make the physical distance not seem so far away.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our Moving to New Zealand series all about Preparing to Leave, setting up Upon Arrival and Life in New Zealand. With our 1 year anniversary in New Zealand coming up, it was a great way for us to reflect on our journey and share our stories with others who hope to do the same! If you aren’t convinced yet that you should consider living in New Zealand yet, check out our Living a Kiwi Life web series and it may convince you!