When I was asked to write a post about life in New Zealand, I kinda thought “how much can there be to know?”
Nonetheless, here is my stab at summing it all up.
By way of context, I am 23, live in Auckland, the biggest city with the shittiest weather and traffic, have lived here since I was 8, am firmly working/middle class and not yet very well travelled, which I’m working on (see my about page). Bear that in mind as your frame of reference.
We still largely rely on commodities – primary is a huge pillar of the economy. We’re also good at food production and science and tech/hi-tech, health and have some great web businesses (though often they head overseas or are sold to overseas companies).
It’s easy and cheap to start a business here, though we don’t yet have much of an entrepreneurial ecosystem – connectedness is something we need to work on. That’s slooooowly starting to change. Startup weekends have arrived here. It seems like incubators, accelerators, economic development agencies, and entrepreneurs starting to work together more. And there are more business/startup competitions popping up – the BNZ/Webstock Startup Alley, the BNZ/Virgin challenge, the government’s Business Plan competition, the GO UK business plan competition, etc.
We have a few great success stories but we need more innovation and more risk taking. And there’s definitely consensus that many don’t dream big enough – once you’ve got the bach (holiday house), boat and Beamer (BMW) that’s where we stop.
There’s plenty of talk about lack of capital, though I’ve talked to some who say investors are very risk averse, forcing them to look overseas for cash. On the other hand another view is that if you’re amazing enough, money is never an issue. There’s the NZVIF (which just set up a new tech fund with help from Peter Thiel), the national angel association, Ice Angels and other investment groups (Sparkbox, No 8 Ventures, Southgate Labs, Movac, Angel HQ, Powerhouse Ventures, and more). See here and here for a little more on funding – but there’s a lot of bootstrapping and a lot of mortgaging the house.
There was the Knowledge Wave and the likes of the late Sir Paul Callaghan advocating for an economy increasingly weighted toward weightless exports driven by science and technology, but progress is slow. See here, here, here, here and here.
At the government level we’ve gone from the ministry of research, science and technology to the ministry of science and innovation and now to the ministry of business, innovation and employment. With any luck the proposed Wynyard Innovation Centre on the Auckland waterfront will go ahead, providing a business hub.
There are some large companies, Telecom, Fonterra, the banks, etc; but most businesses are SMEs.
Migrants have it tough. Employers want NZ experience and aren’t keen to take risks on outsiders (as above, they’re often very small businesses). Except, apparently, at the highest exec levels – the men running the biggest companies are often shipped in from abroad.
I’m thankful New Zealand is a relatively safe place to live. We don’t get bushfires and floods like in Australia or hurricanes like the US. We don’t have scary animals that will kill you. The Christchurch earthquake was unprecedented. The mid-lower North Island does get frequent mild quakes, however.
In Auckland, the worst you’ll get is rainstorms and the odd random water spout. The heat isn’t extreme – summer is usually in the 20s (Celsius, obviously). We don’t get snow; that’s restricted mainly to the South Island and at heights in the North Island – ie Mt Ruapehu. We all got exceedingly excited last winter when Auckland experienced new low temperatures and, apparently, the first “snow” in decades. Here, I present a photo of what said snow looked like in our carpark at work:
Okay, so no snow, and no tornadoes. What do we have?
Well, everything – lakes, mountains, islands, snow, beaches, bush. You are never far from the coast, we have dormant volcanoes scattered all around the city – Mt Albert, Mt Eden, One Tree Hill etc – so usually you’re not far from one of those little hilly paradises. There are parks everywhere – so much greenery! We have amazing beaches both in Auckland and around the country, and great skiing further south. Everything! Diving! Jetboating! Sailing! Bungy! Skydiving! Snorkelling! Tramping! You name it!
Most of the country is still largely rural with that oh-so-charming farm smell. Lot of small towns are very white. I got a fair few stares in Whakatane along with my Indian classmate on a field trip there, and encountered surprise from T’s family in Thames upon seeing me for the first time (nothing to my face, but he hilariously recounted their reaction privately to me later on).
Err, places to see – the guide books have it all covered, In Auckland – definitely the west coast beaches – Muriwai, Piha, Bethells, Waiheke. Up north – 90 Mile Beach, Russell, Goat Island, etc. The Coromandel. Taupo, Rotorua, Wellington. Hawkes Bay for the winos among you. And of course Wellington.
(See here, here and here for a few examples of stunning scenery.)
I haven’t been south of Wellington (which I ADORE) and hence we plan to hit up Wanaka, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Marlborough Sound, Kaikoura, Oamaru etc on our trip later this year.
Oh, and Maori is everywhere, especially out of the cities. A lot of place names (the ones that sound most alien to you, probably) are Maori.
There’s a huge drinking culture. A huge weed culture. A huge culture of really terrible driving (I do my bit by staying off the roads as much as possible).
On the plus side, I hear we have amazing coffee (I don’t drink coffee and haven’t really done my travelling yet so can’t comment). I love the kiwi accent, but I admit it can be hard to understand. People are pretty friendly. Perhaps not so much in Auckland; it can be hard to make friends. On the other hand, it is very multicultural and we have some seriously amazing Indian and Asian food. Not so much when it comes to interesting European restaurants here – guess it’s a measure of distance. On the other other hand, you can’t beat Wellington for being vibrant, colourful, artsy, inspiring, compact and walkable. You’ll need to like the wind, though.
Our media are pretty parochial; you’d be surprised at what is front-page news, most likely. Radio, online, print and TV are dominated by 2-3 players, and as Seth Kugel notes, we still love our broadsheets, though we do have our tabloids too. And we have a butt ton of magazines – there’s one for every niche. And he’s right; there’s lots of walking around barefoot, no tipping (though many restaurants increasingly try to encourage it) and price tags are honest. No extras slapped on at the till.
There’s also definitely a bit of tall poppy syndrome. We’re pretty self deprecating, but defensive of NZ (as I imagine most people are about their own country – I can talk shit about my mother, but you can’t – that kind of thing).
Here’s an understatement: housing is expensive. We have an obsession with property, as well as a housing shortage (especially in Christchurch since the quakes). The average house price? More than 6 times average income. Interest rates are high, which is good for savers, and obviously, bad for borrowers.
There is no way we can afford to buy in central Auckland; we will be forced further out (we’ll be going west).
We currently pay $320 a week for a two bedroom place although the second room is barely deserving of the title ‘study’ or ‘office’ and we certainly couldn’t rent it out. We have a single garage, deck and huge yard. Before that we paid $250 (later $280) for an apartment on the bottom floor of our LL’s house (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, no lounge). Rent is usually paid weekly, sometimes fortnightly. Property agents charge one week’s rent plus GST as a letting fee (rare these days is the private landlord who does their own letting); bond can be up to four weeks and is held by the Department of Housing.
What most people do is rent a room in a house (could be anywhere from $100-300 a week). General market rents can be found here, although I caution that the reality is actually higher, especially in Auckland. Oh, and if you have pets? Good luck. Nobody will rent to you (the odds are very, very, very low). If you want animals, buy a house.
Houses themselves…steel yourself for lack of insulation. I can tell you all about damp, mould and being able to see my own breath in front of me in my bedroom. Every time we’ve been house hunting, I’ve sunk into a fresh state of depression. The state of some of these places is unbelievable and downright unlivable. There’s lots of awful shabby stock, though new houses can be just as bad as old as we had a huge problem with leaky homes and new construction not long ago.
In Auckland, we tend to be snobbish about what areas we live in and it’s tough to get around without a car (though we get by with just one car).
Speaking of … Cars are expensive. Car registration is pricey ($300 plus for a year) and motorbikes even more so. Insurance, too (more than $1k a year for full coverage for our 1998 car, worth $5-6k. Downgrading that next renewal). Petrol is now $2.20 a litre.
Wages tend to be low; taxes run from 10.5% to 33%. We get four weeks of annual leave every year and our retirement scheme, Kiwisaver (recently introduced) is optional – if you are enrolled, your employer has to chip in and the government puts in a little every year as well. It’s common for people to take off overseas (usually the UK, sometimes Australia) shortly after graduation to spend a few years abroad working and travelling.
Healthcare won’t bankrupt you here, nor will education. The ER is free; subsidised prescriptions are $3; and while I haven’t been to a doctor since uni (where it was either free or extremely cheap) I suppose at $40ish a pop it could be worse. There are no financial barriers, technically, to getting a university education – government student loans are available to all and if you don’t qualify for a student allowance you can borrow a certain amount for living costs (which I wouldn’t recommend…)
Food, on the other hand… I used to get frustrated with comments on my grocery posts. No, I can’t cut costs any lower. Yes, this is what food costs. I shop at the cheapest supermarket, and try to get to separate butcher and grocer. Let’s go over a few supermarket staples (ranges vary based on season/brand/sales)
onions/potatoes – from $2 a kilo
pasta – from $1 for a 500g bag
bananas – $2-$4 a kg
capsicums – $1-$4 each
cucumber – $1-$3 each
tomatoes – $2-$8 a kg
grapes – $4-$10 a kg
spring onions (not even proper food! A garnish!) $1 to $3
bread – $2 to, I don’t know, $6?
milk – from $3.50 for two litres
flour/sugar – from $2 a kilo
eggs – $4 or so for a dozen (though you can get those trays of 20ish? for $5-6)
There are great local farmer’s markets, and also lots of Asian grocery shops, thankfully.
When I first started working at a cafe in high school, a basic flat white cost about $3.50. Now coffees are closer to $5. Expect to pay $15-20 for brunch/breakfast out. At Subway, the six-inch sub of the day is $3.90 and meals at McDonalds and the like are around $8ish. A beer in town will be close to $10, a cocktail closer to $20. We do have good bakeries and fish and chip shops, amazing seafood depending on where you are and our dairy products are second to none. And if you can find a good pie these days, well, then you’ve just experienced a key slice of kiwi life.
What else? Clothes are expensive and poor quality. Electronics are expensive. Well, everything, really, as we’re so far away from everywhere else and don’t make any of this ourselves. We have data caps and horribly slow internet (even Stephen Fry says so); mobile calls and data are expensive, hence texting still rules.
Anything I’ve missed?