Waikanae, Kapiti Coast, NZ

Waikanae Beach
Waikanae Beach, with Kapiti Island in the background. Image by Laura.
Name: Laura
Age: 40
Occupation: Post-graduate student
Number Emigrating: 4
Emigrated from: Pacific Northwest, USA
Moved to: Waikanae, Kapiti Coast
When did you arrive in NZ: January 2008
My Story Written: 2013
Daily Commute Time: None, I work from home, but my partner has an hour on the train each way

What were your reasons for emigrating?

George Bush got elected a second time and that made me get serious about something I had always wanted to do: live overseas. I had lived across the country from my family the whole of my adult life, so moving abroad didn’t seem so different to me. I had first travelled to the UK when I was 15, and I just fell in love with how different other countries are from the US.

What were your reasons for choosing New Zealand?

We had visited New Zealand many years previously, and we found the people here to be so friendly, and the scenery so beautiful, we just loved it.

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

Queen Charlotte, Marlborough
Queen Charlotte, Marlborough. Image by Laura.
I lived in an inland town in the States, but here in NZ we are right by the coast. And what a lovely long beach it is, with no crowds! A traffic jam is a rare thing.

We lived in Wellington for a while when we first arrived, and it reminds me of a smaller version of San Francisco. In general, New Zealand has a lot in common with the laid back, liberal West Coast vibe that I experienced when I lived in Portland, Oregon. But we have much more sun here!

Also, winters here are very mild, and very short compared to Spokane. I went for a walk yesterday in a t-shirt (it’s June), and winter will be over by September. Long fall and early spring.

What do you like best about New Zealand?

It is a great place for my kids to grow up. They don’t care about brands, having the latest gadget, having a cool car, etc. I worry about them less too. Sure, they have crime here, but not on the same scale with gun violence that is so common in the US.

Whenever I come back from a trip to the US, I just feel the relaxation start as soon as I cross through customs back to NZ.

What don’t you like about New Zealand?

I wish all the houses were insulated well and I wish central heating was the norm! But now that we own a house, we have taken care of that.

Things do cost more here. Then again they have to be shipped a long way.

When the Kindle was invented and I could stop paying for new paperbacks (at $30 each) I was thrilled.

What do you miss from your home country?

Good Mexican food. But now I know how to make tortillas from scratch (and it is really easy!).

How easily did you find work in New Zealand?

I went back to graduate school (called post-grad here), as soon as we arrived. But my partner took about 2 months to get a full time job.

Train Journey
Train Journey. Image by Laura.

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

Since I work from home, part time, it is really relaxed! But my partner works in a real office and he has noticed the differences. I like it that he wears a suit now, whereas all his previous jobs had been khakis. He loved commuting by train. He has made great friends on his commute, loves the views, and gets work done too.

His first job here didn’t really match his skills, but now that he is in his second job, he is finally being challenged. His job now is better than anything he could have done in the States.

How much money did you bring to New Zealand:

I can’t remember how much, but the bulk of our money is still tied up in our US house, since the housing market collapsed at the same time we were leaving. We started from scratch here again, and had to save hard to buy a house. Don’t ask me about our car, it’s a not too fancy.

How much money do you now earn?


Happy Feet, the Penguin. Peka Peka beach's most famous visitor ever!
Happy Feet, the Penguin at Peka Peka Beach. Image by Laura.

How much did you pay for your house:

NZ$310K – It’s a large 2 bedroom, with a quarter acre section and a view. Walking distance to schools, train and shops.

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

Probably went down, honestly. But partly because our equity is still tied up there. But we happily accommodated to shopping less and hiking/going to the beach more.

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

The improvement is too big to be calculated. It’s priceless.

Do you have any other comments?

It was difficult for our families when we left the States, it seemed like we were going to the far end of the world and they were not terribly supportive (understandably). Over the years, they have come to see what we love about New Zealand and really like visiting here themselves.

My tips

Paddling in Lake Wanaka
Paddling in Lake Wanaka. Image by Laura.

• Don’t immigrate unless both you AND your partner really want to come. It’s hard moving countries, and it needs to be something you are both supporting enthusiastically. Don’t worry about the kids, they are more adaptable than the adults (unless they are teenagers, in which case they should to be enthusiastic about the move too).

• New Zealand is not for everybody. In general, it’s quite rural. If you need constant nightlife and big city action, there is not much of that. Wellington has one street that is hopping all Friday and Saturday night, but it’s pretty quiet other than that. As cities go, I love it. Compact, beautiful, great public transport, cafes, arts and just vibrant.

• When you arrive, join a club (or two). New Zealanders are very friendly! But you also have to put yourself out there. It’s a rare Kiwi who will come knocking on your door asking to be friends. The easiest way to make new friends is to go somewhere that you share an interest, old time car club, hiking club (they call it tramping here), sports club, anything!

• Prepare yourself that it won’t all be smooth sailing. Things will cost more than you expect. It will take longer to find work than you expect. The quality of the rental stock will be worse than you expected. So give yourself a break occasionally. Take a little mini-holiday to see some of the wonder sites of New Zealand. Get yourself exercising to reduce some stress. Set yourself a small goal (learning to make pavlova from scratch) and celebrate the successes.

Hiking on Kapiti Island, off the Waikanae coast
Hiking on Kapiti Island, off the Waikanae coast. Image by Laura.

• It takes a while to feel like New Zealand is home. I found that it felt more like home once we took a little holiday and came back. Also once our furniture and art arrived, I settled more easily.

• Read the news. Read the NZ news before you arrive so you figure out what the issues are. Once you arrive read the news from your home country, it will remind you why you left.

• Migration will change you, but you will still be yourself. I didn’t magically loose 15 pounds moving here. But I did discover that I loved reading, and libraries are good in my area. So I developed a free hobby that keeps me happy. You will have “a new life” by moving to a new country, but you will also have to change. It takes adapting, learning new systems, new laws, new foods, new standards of workplace behavior. Next year I have promised to do Christmas dinner on the BBQ since I was so hot roasting turkey this year! (Yes, you can get turkey, just go to the butcher)

• You can still keep your own cultural traditions. There is a Memorial Day service at an old US Marine outpost near us and I take the kids so they see our American cultural tradition. But they also go to the ANZAC service as well. Thanksgiving is now something we do with friends, and they love it.

Your Story

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