Moving to Wellington, New Zealand

Name: Richard and Olivia Walley
Age: 31
Occupation: Civil Servant
Emigrated from: Colchester, UK
Moved to: Te Aro, Wellington
Daily Commute Time: 20 minutes walking, 10 by bus
What were your reasons for emigrating?

It was never really a matter of leaving the UK, it was always ‘coming to’ New Zealand, if that makes sense. We just wanted to do something different, have an adventure, take steps to have the kind of lives we wanted. Lots of people used to say ‘oh yeah, I can see why you’re leaving, this place is going to the dogs’, but it wasn’t that at all. We thought England was a great place (well, alright, maybe more me than Liv), but NZ is what’s right for us at the moment.

What were your reasons for choosing New Zealand?

Probably sounds silly, but process of elimination. We decided we wanted to live overseas for a while, and as neither of us are particularly fluent in foreign languages, we needed to go somewhere English-speaking to work. The choice was therefore America, Canada, Australia or NZ. America and Australia were ruled out immdeiately as they didn’t appeal that much (gun crime and stupid politicians for USA, and as far as OZ goes I couldn’t see the appeal of moving to a desert). That left NZ and Canada. We decided to try NZ for a holiday first, fell in love and didn’t bother going to see Canada!

We were just absolutely bowled over by how beautiful the place was, and how friendly and straightforward the people were, and how… dunno… sensible everything is (more on that later). I think the one thing I remember from that first trip we took out here was that EVERYTHING was beautiful – there were simply no grotty bits. Everywhere we seemed to go, everything was surrounded by forests, or mountains, or beautiful hills, or something. Even Parliament has a wooded hill right behind it. Of course, now we’ve lived here for a while, we’ve found there are some slightly less pleasant bits, but generally, those first impressions still hold true, and there’s nothing here even remotely like, oh, Tower Hamlets, say.

What differences have you noticed between your NZ town and your home town?

In a funny way, not as many as you’d think. We used to live in a village just outside Colchester, and Wellington is a really unique city in that it’s probably best described as a massive village. It’s quite small for a city, physically and population-wise. There’s a real community spirit, people are very proud of their city, and you tend to meet your friends just walking down the street. Oh, and everybody knows everybody else’s business ;-).

I suppose some differences are that there’s an incredibly vibrant arts scene, fantastic cafes and bars, incredibly cheap high-quality eating out, really nice open spaces, museums and galleries, the streets are safe to walk any time of the day or night, it’s home to the largest indoor cinema screen in the southern hemisphere… Sorry, this is turning into a tourism ad, isn’t it?

Streetscene from Hataitai, Wellington
What do you like best about New Zealand?

Oh, this is a long list. I suppose you could distill it down to the general principle that it’s like somebody picked up England and fixed everything that was wrong with it – all the silly little irritations that contribute to making your everyday life miserable. A few examples could be:

You can do most of your official transactions with minimum fuss. For example, you can change your address at the bank by ringing them up and telling them you’ve moved, rather than needing to make an appointment three weeks away with the ‘relocation officer’, who needs to see the birth certificate of your grandparents and the results of a DNA test.

Customer service over here is excellent. If you go into a TV shop, a nice polite person who ACTUALLY KNOWS SOMETHING ABOUT TVs will tell you which one is best for your budget, as opposed to a monosyllabic teenager grunting something about asking the manager.

Every single newsagent in the country has a hot oven with pies in it. Not particularly nice pies, but it’s still fantastic comfort food. It makes you wonder whatever the rationale was for keeping Ginster’s pasties in the fridge.

In a similar vein, rather than being kept on a warm shelf, every single shop which sells wine (even the local newsagents) keeps the white in a fridge. Presumably in the space freed up by putting the pies somewhere nice and warm.

People are polite and friendly. Everybody, even teenagers, says ‘thank you’ to the bus driver when they get off the bus. Seriously.

The Treaty of Waitangi. It’s probably best that you look this one up, but it’s wonderful that real, ongoing actions are taking place to compensate Maori for some of the shoddy things that happened during colonial times, and also establish a constitutional basis for a genuine ongoing partnership between Maori and more recent settlers. I can’t think of anywhere else in the world which has something like this.

The ACC. Another one to look up, but basically the idea is this. Everybody pays into what amounts to a massive national insurance scheme, which pays out whenever anybody hurts themselves (or is hurt by somebody else). The flip side of this is that you’re not allowed to sue anybody for personal injury. That means no predatory lawyers, no trip-over-a-paving-stone-sue-the-council, no headlines about kids not going on school trips because schools are terrifed of legal action, nobody dying while they wait for their asbestosis claim to even be heard by a court… This is what I meant above by everything being sensible. It seems as though the entire country is run on a basic principle of common sense, more or less.

Being a barista or a barman is a career, with training and qualifications. People who serve you coffee know and care about the coffee they’re serving you. If you go out for a cocktail, the barman will know how to make a decent Martini pretty much automatically, rather than forcing you to choose from a brightly-coloured vinyl menu of crude double-entendres. The country still looks beautiful. A funny thing, but a lot of New Zealanders are really proud of their country, and love living here. It’s really refreshing that so many people think that they live in the greatest country in the world and are really happy about that. I suppose it helps that they do actually live in the greatest country in the world…

What don’t you like about New Zealand?

Not a lot, as you’ve probably guessed by now! I suppose the low incomes are the one thing I’d fix. We were really lucky when we came out here, in that we both got jobs which paid us more or less what we were earning in the UK. But it was sobering when we slowly realised that in doing that we’d moved from just below the national average wage in the UK to about the top ten percent of earners in this country. I get the impression that people out here generally don’t earn a lot of money, and I think that’s something that you should really plan for if you’re on your way over.

The only other thing – television out here is APPALLING. You’ve probably heard that elsewhere, but I should stress that it’s so bad that when we moved house we decided there was no point plugging the ariel into the telly. However, that’s turned into a weird bonus in a way. We buy all the really good stuff on DVD, and spend our evenings doing old-fashioned things like conversation and hobbies, and our lives are much richer as a result. It’s an approach I’d recommend if anyone wants to try it!

What do you miss from your home country?

Very little. More people than things – all our really good friends and family are over the other side of the world. But Skype is a wonderful thing, and we’ve made some really good friends out here too. There are only two other things, really. Beer is one. Although there are some decent beers out here if you dig long and hard enough, essentially the stuff you buy in pubs is uniformly too cold, fizzy and flavourless. If you’re a CAMRA member, or into decent beers, you’re going to find that bit quite tough. The only other one is that they don’t do ‘chinny reckon’ or ‘itchy beard’ out here. Nobody knows who Jimmy Hill is. That’s about it, really. Oh, and Private Eye.

How easily did you find work in New Zealand?

Pretty straightforward – we arrived in the middle of October, and I started my job at the beginning of November. Civil servants (they call them public servants over here) are in pretty short supply in NZ at the moment, so I think I probably just got lucky. Having said that, I did apply for a LOT of jobs before and after we arrived, probably about thirty or forty in total leading to five or six interviews. It’s an interesting paradox that employers, well, government departments anyway, are very willing to do telephone interviews and speak to people overseas, but it’s far easier to get work when you’re actually here. That was my experience, in any case. On the other hand, Liv picked up a two-month contract the same day she got her work visa, so it could just be me!

How does your working life in New Zealand compare with your previous work experiences?

It’s different, and interesting. I can only really speak for the public/civil service, but the differences are quite pronounced. Firstly, the public service over here is much more professional. A lot of store is placed on qualifications (I was astonished at one of my interviews when one of the interviewers mentioned I was ‘very well qualified in economics’ – he was talking about my A-level!). More or less everybody who works in government has a degree in a related subject – economics, politics, law or something similar, and you are expected to use that knowledge in your work, in terms of statistics, evaluation, monitoring, budgeting, advising ministers, the works really.

The professionalism makes for a wonderful working environment, and people take their work seriously and work hard. They are always interested to find out more about the field they’re working in, rather than simply operating on opinion and whatever they’ve done before. There are fewer entrenched opinions in the workplace, and working relationships are much better.

I suppose in summary, I am working harder, longer hours at a much higher level for similar money, but I’m really enjoying the work as my working life is not taken up battling/managing my colleagues. Plus it’s nowhere near as tiring as I swapped a 2.5 hour commute to work for a 20-minute stroll!

How does your standard of living in New Zealand compare with your previous country?

Pretty much exactly the same in terms of money and what we can buy with it. It’s a bit of a myth that NZ is a cheaper country than the UK – it’s not really. A couple of things are cheaper, stuff like domestic flights, taxis, public transport, beer from an off-license and cigarettes, but nothing’s really cheap enough to make you go ‘wow, that’s cheap compared to home’. Oh, actually, no, I lie. One thing is, which is eating out. You can get a fantastic, really well-cooked gastropub lunch somewhere for about the equivalent of five quid, and if you’re spending the equivalent of 30 quid a head on dinner, you’re basically in the finest luxury restaurant in the country. And the food in Wellington is genuinely AMAZING.

Another one to watch out for is that there’s been a property boom out here over the last few years, so property in Wellington does cost a similar amount, maybe not to London, but certainly equivalent to somewhere like Colchester. We just bought a one-bedroom flat in need of some doing up for the equivalent of about 90,000 pounds. Obviously, considering it’s 20 minutes’ walk from parliament, that’s fantastic compared to London, but I think the days of buying a six-bed mansion with the equity from your UK property are behind us now.

How does your quality of life now compare with your previous country?

So much better it defies belief. We’re less stressed, we get enough sleep, we don’t argue, we go for long walks, we get enough time to exercise AND relax in the evenings, we eat well as we’ve got time to cook properly, we go out more, enjoy ourselves. Life is just wonderful.

Do you have any other personal experiences or observations that would be useful for people considering immigrating to New Zealand?

I suppose the one thing I would say first of all is that Wellington is probably the coolest city on the planet. A lot of people (us included) pass through Wellington and don’t really give it a lot of thought. And they’re probably right – as a tourist city it’s not great. We moved here simply because it’s where the civil service lives and that’s my career.

But once you have lived here for a few weeks, you’ll slowly find yourself getting the point of Wellington. It’s not the architecture or anything physical, it’s more the people, the cafes, the atmosphere – as I said, this is a fantastic and much under-rated place. I would take it over Auckland any day of the week.

Other than that – tough what to pick out really. Immigration NZ are really nice people, try to ring them and talk to them, they will give you a lot of help. If you’re coming out here and planning to apply through SMC once you’ve found a job, get your police check done before you leave the UK. Oh, and ship everything you can! We did a bit of guesswork that it’d be cheaper to sell things like our washing machine and furniture and buy new stuff when we got here. We were wrong! I suppose my final piece of advice it to get on and do it. You won’t regret it.

Read more UK to NZ Reviews

Hawkes Bay – Ruth
North Shore, Auckland – Alison
Franklin District, Auckland – Alison and Matt
Christchurch – James
Invercargill – The Hart Family
Invercargill – Kat and Bob
Tauranga – Kymberley
Tauranga – Dianne and Paul
Wellington – Stephen

What are your own views of life here? Share them at my Story. Or you can read more views about life in NZ.

2 thoughts on “Moving to Wellington, New Zealand”

  1. Hi, having read your information and about your experience that was all positive, what advice would you give me. I am a single person and have applied to be a Store Manager for a retail company in N/Z. At present, I have passed my first interview and awaiting the 2nd, which will be held on Skype this month. I have thought about coming to N/Z for a long while but didn’t take the plunge until now when the interviews seem to be taking off. I have been asked from the company what package am I asking for(moving not wages)….I didn’t answer as it is only at interview stage. I have spoken to someone recently who thinks it could cost up to £10000 with the cargo and insurances ect. However, I still seem to do a lot of investigating. Would you say it to be wise for a 44 year old single lady to come to N/Z as I feel I need to do something with life now rather than treading water in the Uk for many more years.
    Kind Regards

  2. Being a kiwi living in the u.k. Thinking of comming home. Totally agree with all you have said. Might come home now, home sick.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *