After traveling on and off for a few years, I finally took the leap to “live” and work in a foreign country – New Zealand. I began the journey by staying in Auckland for three weeks. A welcoming place for young people, New Zealand ranks high regarding shares of foreign-born residents, especially in the largest city, which is at 40%. Auckland in particular is a great gateway for those setting up a (temporary) new life. A strong community of foreign students and residents, and temporary workers flourishes in the city – we live together, work together and assist one another in navigating our new home – even my banker said she started her life in New Zealand on a Working Holiday.
Every place has an atmosphere that feels different to a visitor, however Auckland has familiar vibe, as if it’s some American coastal town (minus the accent). Like every major city there’s a business center and tourist hub situated in the heart with a few distinct neighborhoods clustered around it, each with their own flair. Outside of this urban core are a network of suburbs complete with green athletic fields, Crossfit gyms and little malls. Driving a personal vehicle is very popular and there are plenty of big trucks and vans. Things look like home but sound differently. A bit like Minneapolis, there are many green spaces for people to just be outside while in the city. I enjoy people watching and these little areas make it so easy to enjoy an ice cream or coffee and see what’s going on in the neighborhood. It’s also great to just be able to get me-time (a backpackers dream) and relax while still being in a public space.
Yes, some things are different here, but it’s been easy to adapt. One of the first things I did after arriving was buy a bicycle in order to get around quickly and get acquainted with the layout of Auckland. I must say the cycling here is horrible – poor infrastructure and dangerous drivers put the city, in my experience, as the worst Westernized urban area I have biked. This broke my heart a bit since it’s my favorite way to travel but hopefully I’ll stay safe when I do go riding.
So what am I doing in New Zealand? Working in tourism- absolutely unrelated to my professional background. Not on a long term work arrangement, I have a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) which qualifies foreigners age 18 – 31 for non-permanent jobs all over the country. This visa is normally used by travelers to fund their time exploring more deeply than a simple holiday and provides cheap labor to the New Zealand economy. The experience can be just for fun and personal growth or be thoughtfully blended into, or begin, a career path. Occasionally a WHV-holder is offered a normal working visa through a sponsor employer but the vast majority are here to try new things and meet people. So far I have meet WHV’ers from sixteen countries and have been brushing up on my foreign language skills, and even learning new vocabulary (and I don’t mean Kiwi English, which is it’s own thing)!
After staying three weeks in West Auckland volunteering with a hostel, I will soon begin work near Paparoa National Park. I will bake bread and treats and do whatever other help is needed at a retreat (basically a nice lodge with many cabins set in a rain forest). A low stress, part-time job perfectly situated for outdoor recreation was exactly what I had in mind when I sought a New Zealand WHV. There will be enough time and energy in the week to socialize with and get to know local people and live the “kiwi lifestyle” and I will walk away with enough cash to go camping and hiking for a few weeks when the position wraps up. Although it’s been fun, I am ready to step away from the backpacking community for a bit and immerse myself in a routine more typical to a New Zealander and be in a setting more Kiwi than foreigner. I came to experience how life is here and hope to learn a lot about New Zealand culture, work-life balance and all the little things that make it unique.
Before starting my job, I have been making my way down the North Island, enjoying hikes and the outdoors. New Zealand’s wealth of varied landscapes is impressive. Native bird songs, the strong breeze and occasional rains set a relaxing mood and outside of Auckland weather has been great. I especially liked the glistening blue waters of Lake Taupo and milky-white, thermally active Lake Rotorua. My absolute favorite place has been Tongariro National Park where I completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 19 km hike through three volcanic peaks, across wide craters and around jewel-colored lakes. The hike is extremely popular with nature-lovers and the Lord of the Rings fandom, as the park was used as a set and inspiration for many scenes in the films. The South Island nature is also impressive and I’m really excited to see it for myself. Spotting a penguin in the wild is one of my dreams and with some luck it could come true in the next few weeks.
I invite you to follow my journey in New Zealand. I will be living and working near Paparoa National Park in the South Island for several weeks. If you’ve been to New Zealand yourself, I would absolutely love to hear what you did and about the overall experience. As always, thank you for reading.