Wellington, New Zealand Report of what it's like to live there - 08/01/08
Personal Experiences from Wellington, New Zealand
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
My 6th expat experience. Paramaribo/Suriname, Antananarivo/Madagascar, Moscow/Russia, Asuncion/Paraguay, Kathmandu/Nepal and from '99-'01 in Wellington ( My youngest son was born in Wellington).
2. How long have you lived here?
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US-Embassy from Nov. 1999 - August 2001.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
From Los Angelos 12 1/2 hours straight (don't make this trip if you're pregnant....dangerous!). Some airlines make a stop-over in Hawaii. Then once you arrive in Auckland (airport in Wellington too small for larger planes) another one hour with Air New Zealand to Wellington (Killer trip...but worth it)...From Europe : via Frankfurt/Munich, Amsterdam or Paris, through Singapore/Thailand to Auckland and Wellington could take more than 18 hours with/without layovers.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We were assigned government housing in Lower Hutt, a 15-minute drive up north from Wellington; bedrooms were kind of small. Homes have either showers or tubs and a laundry shoot to the basement where the washer/dryer was. All American stuff..., we had a small backyard, a large front yard...all fenced in. Embassy housing were not maintained well, due to lack of GSO employees (about 2 or 3 only) and lots of maintenance problems. Local handymen or plummers will come to the homes, instead of GSO workers.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Cheap shopping for sure....less than you would pay in the USA.Now, it's been 7 years we're out of there, and I don't really know the current cost of living ....but then it was reasonable to cheap. Try the Dutch Store in Lower Hutt and the bakery in Upper Hutt; Great coffee for you coffee lovers and New Zealand wine, although the white wine was reasonable to good not to compare to Californian wines...or those from France. Groceries were relatively cheap to moderate priced.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is McDonald's (be aware: drive-through window is for on the right-side, so when coming with your American car, make sure you have someone in the passenger's seat, since they drive on the left and have the wheel on the right,- or step into the restaurant to pick up your food), Pizza Hut, Bagel shop, they serve coffee and soup as well (walking distance from the embassy which is in Thorndon... a great place to eat), Thai restaurants (expensive though, but very good) several chinese and European restaurants, sea-food places (Nelson in the South Island has some pretty good ones)...all over the island.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Since I have relatives in Europe and South America, I used the local post office a lot. Very reliable but somewhat expensive. Packages I would send thru the Embassy, which was cheaper, but would take longer.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Didn't have any help, so I wouldn't know. Some members of the embassy had help others not. All depends if you can afford it or
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
There are ATM's all over town and in Lower Hutt and surroundings; We paid with credit cards most of the time wewent shopping, all save to use.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, some Catholic, Protestant and a non-denominational evangelical churches available.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, all available. Don't know the cost. I believe so. Cable t.v. available, the embassy helps you with the hook-up of it as well as with your internet connections. Don't know the cost now, but back then it was cheaper than in the US.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is widely spoken in NZ.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
The sidewalks, as I can remember, have all ramps and are excessible to all with wheelchairs. Not all housing have the accessibility, so make sure you'll let the embassy know before coming to Post. The embassy has an elevator.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
LEFT HAND SIDE, just as in Australia/England and allformer British colonies.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Don't bring an American car, although we brought ours since we came from Asia and had no other car...., but it is surely a handicap, since traffic is on the left side of the road. There are little or no parts available and hard to find a good mechanic who knows the American models. Although, we had a small American car (GeoPrizm), which was then okay to use. We brought our car from Nepal, where they also drive on the left-hand-side, and I had no problems.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, lower than you would pay in the USA. Embassy assist you with this.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
It was expensive to rely on the local phone company; but I guess everyone is using SKYPE or VOIP now...back then we did not have these available in NZ.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
I guess; friends had pets and they didn't complain.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Not that I know of. Contact the embassy if you'd wish to work there. They might know who to contact. In the local economy there is not much for Americans who seek work; In the embassy there is not much available either, unless you have the skills and someone goes on leave and you could fill in a position of secretary e.g. or become the CLO.For many years there was no CLO, morale was low and a year before we left the position was filled again.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Casual / formal depends on the occasion.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Good. It's windy in Wellington, but pollen could be a problem for some with allergies. Great weather all throughout the year...perfect temperatures ranging from the low 50's to the high 70's...never too hot, never too cold, unless you're in the South Island near Cook mountain..where there is snowfall and skiing..Just be aware, the wind may blow your hair in all directions. Bring a bandenna or such for after you've been to the hairdresser....Ladies, be aware of your skirt/dress, you might experience the Monroe-effect...
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
None. We all felt very safe in New Zealand...after coming back from Asia, you can finally roll down the window...without anyone bugging you for money....No security problems whatsoever. Some embassy housing had alarms but not needed. It's very safe where we lived.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Our eldest son had mild asthma; bring your own nebulizer and meds to post; Throughout the year the pollen could be at their peak...people who never had allergies would develop them there (but where on earth not?).It's windy all over New Zealand and the pollen and dust from the mountains just go all over...But our family was overall healthy. Our youngest son was born in Wellington; I, personally,did not have a great experience with the public
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
From sunny and windy to rainy and chilly. It doesn't get colder than 35 degrees F or hotter than 80 degrees F. Great weather all year round.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
No International school nor American School. Your child goes either to a Girl's private school or a Boy's private school or ...the public school system. There are good to excellent public schools, but long waiting lists and also depending the area where you live in...They work with bounderies and if you happen to live in the
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
None whatsoever. Kids with special needs really sufferin the NZ schools due to lack of knowledge among teachers/educational institutions who are not qualified to help or have no degree in special needs.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes, but I wouldn't know any, since my kids were in Kindergarten and higher elementary levels.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Small to mid-size. There is a Diplomatic spouse's group which are active in Wellington and organizes trips in and around Wellington, lunches and visit museums etc. Small but fun to join. The embassy community also tries to entertain in thehomes, or invite you over for birthday parties, which is fun. There are children's indoor playgrounds also available for birthday parties...or just for weekend fun.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Movie theaters, eating out, visiting other embassy staff for dinners or embassy gatherings, going with the cable car to the Botanical Garden, horseback riding, beaches beaches beaches....a 90km beach in the north of Auckland, surfing, kayaking, sailing..this is a sailors' paradise!...visiting the geysers and mudpools near Rotorua,(NZ has some active volcanos, caves,hot-air balloon rides and once a year NZ'ers participate in the
3. Morale among expats:
Back then it was okay.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Oh Yes....we loved it! This a great post for all. If you like museums, water sports, mountain climbing, and just exploring the beautiful nature NZ has to offer, this will be a great experience. Do visit Taupo, fishing on the lake, Rotorua (Maori village)where you'll see the Maori way of life, stick dances, cooking underground - a must see. The Maori are among the world's finest wood carvers and are about 12% of the population of a little over 4 million Kiwi's as the New Zealanders call themselves. Mostly from European origin (Dutch, English and some German), NZ now opens its borders to everyone who would like to come in and invest or start a new life. Many Asians from India, Singapore are settling down in NZ as well as people from South Africa. Do also visit Napier (for if you like sea-life), NZ wine districts from Hawkes Bay (oldest wineries) on the North Island to Marlborough on the South Island. Try out the ferry from Wellington over the Cook Strait to Picton, harbor in the South Island and see the beautiful archipelago of that area...hundreds of small islands a breathtaking view! NZ is a true paradise!
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Some families felt the discrimination if you had a dark skin, or don't speak the language well...or were non-New Zealander. We're a mixed family...and generally, the New Zealanders are very reserved having foreigners in their country. We did not experience discrimination per se, they are just cautious if they don't know you, but it was there. We had some NZ friends, who were very outgoing...these are friends/neighbors who've been abroad and traveled extensively, so no problem with them. I guess it's what you make out of your tour. We met many friendly Kiwi's (as the locals call themselves).We joined a small Protestant Church with an American as head pastor; The kiwi's would have rather seen a New Zealander as head...but no one took or wanted the job as pastor.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Oh my goody...too much to mention. If you like water sports, rafting, waterpark near Napier, biking/hiking, mountain climbing,fishing,scuba diving, canoeing, bungy jumping,and other
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
New Zealand is famous for their sheep. Sheep-skins or woolen socks/sweatersor anything made from wool; mother-pearl products in wood/stone. Nice wooden handicrafts made by Maori people.
9. Can you save money?
Yes, depends on what you spend your money on. If you don't travel a lot, you can. New Zealand is somewhat isolated and unless you are single or as a couple, traveling in and out can be expensive for a family of 4 or more....It's a 3-year tour, and unless you have hobbies, you can become home-sick. No one from our family came to visit...too far to travel to.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Oh Yes...definitely! We love NZ.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
American Car; Fur coats/winter gear (unless you go skiing on Mt. Cook and surroundings)...and umbrellas. Umbrellas will blow away or get destroyed in the wind.
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
NEW ZEALAND, Kiwi Country.
7. Do you have any other comments?
Bring a good attitude to post. The embassy is small to mid-size and everyone misses home in one way or the other. Try to stay busy and explore the islands. There is lots to see and do and an experience of a lifetime to be in the ''LAND DOWNUNDER'', as they call New Zealand and Australia often times.