23 things I’ve learned my first month in New Zealand

New Zealand expat

I can hardly believe  that it’s been over a month since I stepped off the plane in Auckland. Well a month and a half now as I’m back in Europe for work and my poor blog took a backburner for a week. My bad. It’s been 30 days of ups and downs, highs and lows, everything you might expect from a big move abroad.

New  Zealand has been everything I wished for and more. It’s almost hard for me to articulate my feelings and emotions so far on this adventure. That being said, it takes a lot for me to be at a loss for words. Born an overly verbose person who has trouble shutting up at the best of times, I’ve spent the past few weeks contemplating this big transition abroad and how best to share it with you all in the least wordy way possible.

Reflecting on my first month in New Zealand, if I had to sum up my experience in one sentence, it would be, “wow, that was a learning experience.”

New Zealand expat

Let me just tell you, I’ve learned a whole hell of a lot. From improving my kiwi slang vocabulary to acquiring some profound life lessons, the old adage “you’re never too old to learn something new” has never been more true than my first month down under.

Check out 20 things I’ve learned during my first 30 days in New Zealand

1. New Zealanders are the friendliest people in the world

Before I bought a one-way flight to Auckland, I had heard mysterious rumors of the friendliness of the kiwi people. And over the years when I was backpacking around the world, I often met people from New Zealand, and I was struck by how kind they were. That being said, I was not prepared for just how friendly and sweet EVERYONE is in New Zealand.

And I mean EVERYONE! Not even exaggerating.

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From the shopkeepers to the bartenders to the average person walking down the street, if there is one thing you can always count on in New Zealand is just how lovely and friendly everyone is.

Moving abroad is scary. Moving abroad to a new country without knowing a single person is absolutely terrifying. However, picking a place with super friendly people has made all the difference.

If I don’t leave New Zealand in a year a completely changed person, I don’t even know myself.

2. What Kiwi really means

Kiwi is the name of people from New Zealand as well as New Zealand’s flightless bird. Kiwis as we know them in America are called kiwi fruit. This is an important difference, as I’m sure you can imagine, especially if kiwis are your favorite fruit.

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3. Driving on the left is fun, until you get to a roundabout, then it’s terrifying

If I die in a road accident while living in New Zealand, there is a 80% chance that it happened in a roundabout. While in general I think there are a more logical way of directing traffic, it doesn’t make going through them in the wrong direction any less scary. I pretty much scream every time I go through one here, especially the ones with double lanes.

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4. The more sheep than people rumor is not false

So the rumor that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand is not exactly false, as I quickly found out. After leaving sprawling urban Auckland, the complete lack of people took me by surprise. Driving down to Wellington, I would drive for ages and sometimes not see other cars.

Once you get outside of the cities in Wellington, you quickly realize that there are just not a lot of people about. New Zealand really is the end of the world. And yeah, there are a lot of sheep. Everywhere.

But now that spring is here, all the lambs have been born which means adorable, fluffy, baby sheep EVERYWHERE!

New Zealand expat

5. New Zealand is freaking expensive, but not as expensive as Australia

When I was packing for New Zealand, I made an executive decision to leave my hiking boots at home. I figured I since NZ is such an outdoorsy place, I could pick up a nice pair once I got here. My old ones needed to be tossed and I didn’t want to waste the luggage space.

What a stupid decision, my god!

I went to go buy hiking boots in Wellington, and the pair I wanted was 450 NZD – that’s roughly 375 USD which is roughly twice as much as back home.

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Because everything is virtually imported to NZ, things are expensive. For example, I usually drop around $80 on my weekly groceries.

But then I went to Australia and realized NZ was cheap in comparison.

Looks like I’ll be hiking in my running sneakers!

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6.  NZ has the worst internet in the entire world

No, I am not exaggerating. I’ve had better internet in Africa. In Jordan. In rural Turkey.

When I first heard rumors of shoddy internet in NZ before moving there, I laughed it off. I thought those stories were not up to date or relevant any more. Boy, was I mistaken.

As I understand it from my tech friends, NZ is literally at the end of the under-the-ocean-magic-internet-cable. Literally, it’s the last stop for internet, which means it’s really bad, really slow, and really expensive. It’s also limited. LIMITED!! I didn’t even know limited internet was a thing!

Without a doubt this will be the hardest challenge I have to overcome this year.

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7. There are a lot of foreigners in New Zealand 

New Zealand is an amazing, empty place. I think one of my favorite things about this country is that it’s so remote with so few people. That being said, there are a surprising amount of foreigners to be found around the islands.

NZ has a very open working holiday scheme which means many people from around the world can come and easily get a visa to work and travel around the country. Also NZ is a popular travel destination. Pretty much everyone I’ve met has NZ on their travel bucket list.

This means there are lots of foreigners around town, which for me is both a positive and a negative. Negative because I want to go native and fit in with the locals which can be challenging, but also awesome because I get to make friends with people from all over the world.

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8. But no Americans in NZ

That being said, there are NO AMERICANS IN NEW ZEALAND. Fellow countrymen, where are you?

This past month (ok, month and a half) I have flown to NZ from the US, and I have flown from NZ to Europe. From San Francisco, Auckland is a 12 hour direct flight. From Wellington to London, it took me approximately 40 hours of travel time and 4 flights.

How many Brits have I met so far on my journey? Dozens. Germans? A million. How many Americans? One.

What the hell?

Expect a lengthly post about this phenomenon shortly.

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9. Rent is per week not per month

Completely random but for those curious-minded folks, apartments are listed with rent prices per week not per month. It’s a confusing but interesting phenomenon which somehow makes the extremely high cost of living more palatable.

And speaking of apartments, they are called flats like in the UK and the deposit is called a bond. Speaking English is hard.

10. Getting the bill in the restaurant

The first time I went out for a meal at a sit-down restaurant in New Zealand, I was surprised by several things. Firstly, the food is phenomenal. Seriously, there are some damn good restaurants to be found in this part of the world. And don’e even get me started on brunch.

However, at the end of the meal I was confused. When were they going to bring the bill? We sat and waited and waited and waited before getting the attention of someone to bring the check. Quickly they explained that you pay at the register and not at the table. Soon I figured out this was standard around NZ.

Can anyone explain this to me?

New Zealand expat

Instead of having the waiters bring you the check, it’s standard for you to get up when you’re finished and head to the register to pay directly.

This is not universal but I’ve definitely encountered it way more here than anywhere else in the world.

11. Likewise, you usually have to go up and grab a jug of water and cups

Same goes for water. Most of the time they don’t bring water to you, even if you ask. They have sinks or jugs set up for you to grab it yourself.

I haven’t decided how I feel about this yet. It’s an internal struggle between my inherent laziness and my urge to be in control of everything. First world problems.

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12. The brunch culture will blow your mind

Hi my name’s Liz, and I am addicted to brunches.

Heavy pancakes. Crispy French toast. Fluffy poached eggs smothered in decadent Hollandaise sauce. Swoon.

One of my favorite things about home was brunching with friends on the weekends. One of the things I hated most about Spain was the total dearth of brunch spots to be found. Lucky for me, NZ is the best of both worlds and has an amazing brunch scene. Everywhere.

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13. NZ has the best coffee in the UNIVERSE

In addition to a great foodie scene, there is a thriving cafe culture which means awesome coffee all the time.

I have not had a disappointing cup of joe since I arrived which says a lot considering I’m the world’s biggest coffee addict.

And just like there are new words for everything in NZ, I’ve learned a lot of new coffee vocabulary too. For example, when I get a nonfat or skinny latte, here they call it a trim latte. Makes me feel so classy.

Same goes for a flat white, a type of espresso coffee in New Zealand. A new favorite.

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14. Wellington is actually the coolest little capital in the world

I talked before about how much hype Wellington was getting and how it initially put me off living there. But then I arrived and fell head over heels in love with this city.

Proudly named the 2011 Lonely Planet “Coolest little capital in the world,” the buzz around town actually lives up to expectations. In short, Wellington rocks, and I am so so SO happy I decided to make it my home.

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15. Everyone in Wellington knows someone who works for WETA or the Hobbit

Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone is as big of a nerd as me, and they don’t realize that part of Wellington’s fame comes from the fact that it’s home to WETA, the design studio behind the Lord of the Rings.

Now with the Hobbit franchise in full swing, WETA employs tons and tons of people, which means when I go out at night, there is a good chance I’ll meet someone somehow associated with the project. That is, if they ever leave the studios.

I think you can imagine my reactions when this happens.

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16. Finding Peter Jackson has been harder than I thought

One month into my time in Wellington and I have yet to find and shake hands with the most famous son of New Zealand (apart from Sir Edmund Hillary), the man, the myth, the legend – Peter Jackson.

Of course I count this as a giant failure. Luckily I still have 1o months to go.

Anyone can make an intro for me?

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17. Windy Wellington lives up to its name

Wellington is nicknamed “Windy Welly” and let me just say, a more accurate epithet never existed.

I’ve been to some windy places over the years, but nothing could have prepared for Wellington. Most days it’s just average level of winds that will mess up your hair and might blow your skirt up. However, in just a month I’ve witnessed some wind storms where I thought the world was ending.

I’m talking wind that will blow your clothes clean off. One week we had 140 km/h winds for three days. I couldn’t leave the house. Those are the moments where you realize you’re living at the end of the world.

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18. Earthquakes

My first week living in Wellington we had an earthquake. I had gone out for a wine tasting that evening, so it’s safe to say I was pretty sloshed by the time I rolled home a few hours later. Climbing into bed, I was closing my eyes when the room started to shake. My hopes that it was just a big gust of the famous wind were dashed when my roommate popped his head in to check on me.

I’m from Virginia. We don’t get earthquakes. I don’t know how to react.

I know there are more and more bigger earthquakes happening in New Zealand, and let me just preface this by saying I am SO not ready for a big one.

In fact, they are so prevalent, many Kiwis I’ve met have an earthquake app on their phone that let’s them know about them. Can I just stick with Candy Crush?

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19. No drunken behavior

I learned real fast my first month in NZ that I had to bring my passport out with me to the bars to show ID. I haven’t had to show ID to go out drinking since living in the US, let alone bring my passport.

NZ is also pretty vigilant about drunken behavior. They don’t let belligerent people in bars and will kick you out without a second thought.

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One of my last nights in Wellington I was out at a bar with friends and while we were waiting for drinks, a group of young drunk guys were getting rowdy on the dancefloor. Suddenly, I saw one of the bouncers head over to kick him out. Causing a scene, eventually the guy picked him up and carried the dude out on his shoulders. The kid was so waster he was high-fiving and cheering everyone on his way out. Hilarious.

20. The wildlife is slightly different from what I’m used to back home in Virginia

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21. Shit happens and you can’t plan for everything

So basically I’ve had the worst luck in the entire world my first month in New Zealand. I legally cannot write the specifics so far, but let me just say there’s a reason I’ve not been online as much as I meant to. My first month was a struggle, but I’ve been trying to make the best of it.

Something bad happened which I’m trying to deal with that’s costing me a lot of money.

If anything, it’s been a good lesson on trying to look on the bright side and be positive. Fingers crossed it will all work out for the best.

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22. No matter where you are in NZ, you are approximately 15 minutes from somewhere spectacularly beautiful

New Zealand is ridiculously beautiful. No matter where you are in the entire country, you are likely a stone’s throw away from a place that will make your jaw drop open in awe.

This is probably my favorite thing about NZ. I need beautiful landscapes and lush natural spots to feel comfortable and at peace. Lucky for me, New Zealand has that in strides.

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23. I already love New Zealand to pieces and I never want to leave

Only a month in and I can already see myself settling in NZ permanently. It already feels like home to me.

My whole life I feel like I’ve been searching for that special place where I can settle down. Maybe it’ll be New Zealand.

Have you ever been to New Zealand? Is it on your bucket list? Ever transitioned abroad before? What’s something you learned in your new country?

**I’ll also mention my friend Matt of Backpacking Matt who is based in Queenstown now runs an awesome site called Planit NZ which can help plan and book your trips to New Zealand and save you money. Matt helped me out a lot before coming – tell him I sent you and save 5%!

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999 Comments on “23 things I’ve learned my first month in New Zealand

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  1. Oh yes, New Zealand! I am still amazed that I managed to actually get on the plane and go back to Chicago when I was in NZ in 2010. It was by far the best travel I have ever had and I still think about going back and living there for a longer period of time, especially now that I have done a couple of international transitions and don’t feel like it’s such a terrifying thing anymore. Maybe when I finish my Masters…

    I can totally resonate with the LOTR thing. I wanted so badly to have a chance meeting with someone who was involved. Sadly, it didn’t happen, but hey, it’s a good reason to go back, right?

      1. Hi Liz, I live in California and I am planning to visit in December, January this year. Are you still living there? I loved your tips and your story. I am a Dental Hygienist and I am originally from Poland. I hope I can hear from you soon! Hugs! Margarite

    1. We were in NZ in October 2011 and met friendly Kiwis on a campsite, who invited us to stay with them in Wellington (yes they really are that friendly). Surprisingly they had WETA connections so we got to visit the board room and see the Oscars and other awards, and heard PeterJackson (so it is not quite meeting him but close?). They then took us to The Roxy, the cinema they co own with Jackson and others for a meal at Coco’s and a film. Two years later and we are still in touch, and we cannot wait to go back and see them and spend more time in probably the best country in the world. Also in NZ we met some people form Melbourne on another campsite and spent Christmas with them. NZ just brings out the best in everyone, except the grumpy coach driver who hates camper vans.

  2. I would love to visit New Zealand, mainly for the LOTR connection. (And the Narnia connection.) I don’t think I could live there permanently though, the weather is too much like England and if I move to the other side of the world, I want sun all year round!

      1. Hi, Liz My name is iyad. I started to think very well about moving and living in New Zealand. It is a beautiful and charming country and its people are friendly

    1. the top of the north island does have sub tropical weather, places like the coromandel and bay of islands has some of the best weather us kiwis have to offer, and its all beaches

    2. move to Nelson, has the best climate in the world. infact unless you move to fiordland we are nothing like englands weather 🙂 Wellington is another exception… heard alot about its wind haha

  3. I loved this, Liz! New Zealand sounds like such an amazing country! I know I wouldn’t mind slow internet and high grocery prices all that much, if I had spectacular landscapes, brunches, fantastic coffee, and baby sheep everywhere! 🙂
    I’m looking forward to reading more about your NZ expat experiences!

      1. Hi Liz, i am doing a school report right now trying to Convince Australians to move to New Zealand and these points have really been a lot of help! I personally love my country and couldn’t think of a thing but after reading this I’m almost tempted to move myself!

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