11 Things Somebody Could Have Told Me About Living In New Zealand

By: Kristen

Having now lived in Christchurch, New Zealand for exactly one year, I feel like I can reflect on a few things that would have really been awesome to know when I got here. Sure, the expat life is for new experiences and learning as you go- but a little insider knowledge would have been pretty sweet. With that in mind, here's eleven random but useful facts that someone could have told me before I moved to New Zealand:

1. Understanding the wind patterns is key to survival. Every Kiwi knows that a Southerly brings icy weather up from Antarctica and the Nor'wester means grab your tissues, it's hay fever time. Expats must learn quickly that the weather is basically reported in the form of wind patterns. It may have something to do with New Zealand being a little island in the middle of a big ocean.

2. The term "partner" is synonymous with boyfriend or girlfriend. Where I come from, there are two types of partners. Business partners, and gay partners. When I first moved to New Zealand, I couldn't believe the odds… everyone I met appeared to be in a same sex relationship. My boss, my landlord... of course it doesn't take long to figure out. But everyone discussing their partners does sound weird at first.

3. It takes longer to get from point A to point B than you think. I know when you look at the map, your journey looks like a short squiggly line on a small island. But trust me. It takes every minute that Google Maps says it will, and sometimes even longer. You really can't rush it- the herds of sheep, massive diary trucks, gravel roads, and beautiful scenery won't let you. And neither will the police. 

4. New Zealand is where Japan's cars go out to pasture. Japan has such strict regulations regarding car safety and maintenance that rarely do the Japanese keep their cars more than 5-6 years. They get shipped all over the world, with New Zealand being a big purchaser of the old cast offs. It is very common to own a car which has all of its safety information (think on the seat belts and sun visors) in Japanese. Actually, the entire navigation display and climate control systems are in Japanese (not that many cars are new enough to have either of those...) Also, Japanese stereos frequently come with these cars- and can't even tune in to New Zealand radio frequencies.

5. Kiwis are born tough. Tougher than you. No matter what sport you do and how good at it, they've done it longer, they do it harder, and they are better at it than you. Surfing, mountain biking, heli-skiing, base jumping? I'm pretty sure they learn all that in 3rd grade.

6. You will be a part of an expat melting pot. In America, knowing someone from that faraway place, Canada, is rare and they are considered foreign.  In New Zealand, if you live in a city, half the people you meet will be from another country. Accents blend together and if you're like me, you kind of stop hearing them all together. Its really pretty amazing. Kiwis though, are hands down the nicest folks of the bunch.

7. Kiwi slang will just start slipping into your conversations. At first, you find yourself trying not to use Kiwi words because you feel like a fraud... then you find yourself starting to use them, but hesitating, and correcting. But before you know it, you're asking for just a wee cuppa with your brekkie. Don't try to fight it. It happens to all of us expats, like a right of passage. Just be aware: your friends at home will not hesitate to point out any use of a Kiwi-ism. 

8. Ordering coffee will be utterly confusing. Forget the days of drinking it black, or with milk. In New Zealand, you have to navigate the world of espresso. And only espresso. Flat whites, long blacks, bongos and fluffies. Best of luck, expats! I stick with tea.

9. At any given location you'll be within about an hours drive of something epic. Like truly, breath-takingly, mind-blowingly epic. Mountains, glaciers, high plains, rain forests, ocean bluffs, tree ferns, black sand beaches, braided rivers, glow worm caves…  The Kiwis explore and appreciate this land with true passion. With a little sense of adventure, there is always a way: a hike, a bike, a kayak, a boat, a plane,... a way to see all of it. 

10. Under the Holiday Act of 2003, it is illegal in NZ for businesses to ask employees to work on public holidays. Therefore, on public holidays, everything is closed. Also, on Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day (but only until 1pm Anzac Day) it is actually illegal for retail shops to be open at all and they can be fined big money for opening their doors. What does this mean for a couple of expats who just moved to the country 1 week before and are looking for food on Christmas day? Subway sandwiches from the gas station, after an hour of searching the barren city for signs of life. It's unreal, folks. 

11. Rent is weekly, not monthly. When you see that really nice house for $800 and you think wow, even I can afford that… you can't. (And if you can, will you adopt me?).

About the author

Expat Blog ListingKristen is an American expat living in New Zealand. Blog description: Im a California girl who moved to New Zealand with my cycle obsessed husband, my nursing career, and of course, my bike!
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Contest Comments » There are 5 comments

Scott Fellers wrote 10 years ago:

I always suspected Kiwis might be tougher than me… Ha ha. Funny but helpful article.

Jennifer Wraith wrote 10 years ago:

I have travelled to many places in the world and lived as an expat in Bali. Kristen nails many great points about living abroad! I felt like someone found the words to put with my traveling adventures! NZ is on my list!

Zoe wrote 10 years ago:

What a wonderfully positive comment on New Zealand. Just hearing what you had to say has made me so proud. I've lived in Christchurch, New Zealand, my entire life (admittedly only 18 years), and am preparing to head off to Australia for college. I'm really only beginning to appreciate what I've been taking for granted since I was kid. Posts like this are a good reminder. Thank you for being so kind to us. Everyone is welcome, and loved, in New Zealand. Ps. I love California so much.

Tamara wrote 10 years ago:

Thank you Kristen for the helpful hints and thank you Zoe for your warm comments. I will be there in February 2014 and I need all the help I can get. I have heard about the slang and figured I would have to get a Kiwi Slang book so I could at least understand. Plus I hope I don't say anything offensive with my slang. I am from the South in the US so I will have a Southern drawl, lol. I ask that all you Kiwis and Expat Kiwis be patient with me.

Rhonda Albom wrote 10 years ago:

LOL - It really is amazing how long it takes to get from one place to the next. And with the new lower tolerance of speeding, it's only getting worse. As for our car, we actually got it on action in Japan, and then it was shipped over. Our instruction manual is in Japanese. The holiday act is new to me, but it sure explains a lot. I am supporting our New Zealand expat team. ~Rhonda Also an American Expat in New Zealand

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