You’re finally out of the destination airport. The adventures can begin now!
That nasty ‘left side’ thing
If you have, like us, a 500 km ride ahead of you to get from the Christchurch airport to the lovely little town Motueka, you can enjoy the amazing road through the mountains. Wide landscape, more “nothing” than “something” as far as you can see, time to relax and come down a bit.
The only danger on that road is you, at least if you aren’t used to drive on the left side. Rest assured, you will get used to it and after a year or so you’ll no longer have those occasional flashes of fear to be on the wrong side of the road while driving – promised. 😉
Please check the New Zealand Road Code to get familiar with the local rules.
English vs. Kiwi-English
Once arrived at your destination, you’ll meet your hosts and chances are that they are true kiwis. You thought you’re capable of speaking English? You may question that for a bit now. New Zealand English is quite sophisticated, especially on the South Island. Some vowels sound totally different to what you would expect. Take it as a challenge, it’s fun!
Internet in New Zealand
Don’t expect to find a high quality Internet connection when you arrive. If your accommodation is in a town center you’ll most likely get a reasonable fast DSL connection and about $100 buys unlimited traffic (needed if you want to do lots of Skype video chats home). But just a bit outside of town luck determines whether you can enjoy fast broadband Internet or a super slow uplink that pushes the bits individually through the wire. 4G coverage gets improved every year, so even rural areas can get >30 MBit/s broadband. Check the websites of the big telecoms like Vodafone and Spark to find what’s available at your address.
We wish we had done a bit more research on that topic before we arrived. We basically paid everything for the whole year with our European credit card. That works fine, as you can pay almost everything with a credit card and also draw cash at any ATM/cash machine. BUT: It’s incredibly expensive. When doing a payment in a different currency, credit card providers typically charge 2% conversion fee and the base-conversion rate differs significantly to the international bank exchange rate too – not in your favour. It doesn’t get any better if you wire transfer money (e.g. rent to your landlord) directly from your overseas bank account to New Zealand. The total fees are often around 6-10% total.
We strongly recommend you to set up a bank account when you arrive, even if you stay only for 3 months. Kiwibank offers a free bank account which can be created at any post shop that partners with them. You just need to fill a number of forms and you’ll get your EFTPOS card (which is a simple payment card that you can use literally everywhere to pay). To top up your new account, we recommend sending money from overseas via a trustworthy foreign exchange currency broker, such as NZForex. They charge only about 1% on top of the official rate.
First day at school
Our two little girls were 6 and 8 when we first arrived in New Zealand. Our biggest concern was that they would find it extremely difficult to follow anything that the teacher says. We were afraid that they would be excluded by the other pupils and we would have to cancel our New Zealand adventure early because of that.
Well, in short: Lots of concerns for no reason really.
We spent quite some effort and money in hiring au-pairs from English speaking countries for the last 6 months in our home country, to teach the children some English basics in the afternoons. But that didn’t work out as expected, as the children mostly refused to participate. Later in Motueka, we realized that all the effort wasn’t necessary at all. Within the first 3 weeks they learned much more English than during the 6 months before. They acquired the language at lightning-speed. After 3 months they were able to follow the teacher in full and after a year their English was better than ours after 8 years of English lessons at school.
Their teachers at the Motueka Rudolf Steiner School did a wonderful job integrating them into the classes.
Tolerance and open-mindedness
Quite different to Europeans, New Zealanders are very tolerant people and don’t seem to have lots of prejudices when it comes to other nationalities. No surprise really, as 1/4 of all New Zealanders were not born in New Zealand. We’re basically all immigrants, you just need to go back a few generations to realize that. So far, we never felt excluded or treated differently because of our nationality.
Don’t miss out on learning more about Maori culture. About 6% of New Zealand’s population is Maori. Most towns have a Marae which is a place to celebrate the culture.
Almost all towns around the country have rugby clubs for all ages. For New Zealanders rugby for is what soccer is for Europeans, it’s part of the local culture. You can hear the mighty Haka echo throughout stadiums as the All Blacks take on our Australian sporting rivals.
Plenty of other sports activities are available to keep you busy on Saturdays: Soccer, netball, hockey, cricket, horse riding, etc.
If your children would like to continue music lessons during their time in New Zealand, there are plenty of teachers available. We e.g. have found a great violin teacher for our daughter at the Motueka Music Network. Also playing the piano is quite common here.
Exploring the country
A year isn’t that long actually. Make sure you do a bit of planning in advance to make the most of your time on this beautiful island. Summer and autumn are the best periods to hike up the mountains or travel to the southernmost point. We did a 6-week road-trip only on the South Island during the summer school holidays. It was amazing, as we could explore all the regions that are off the beaten tourist tracks. Just to name a few locations that are definitely worth a visit: Wharariki Beach/Whanganui Inlet (Golden Bay), Karamea/Oparara Arches (Northern West Coast), Orepuki Gemstone Beach (Southland), The Catlins/waterfalls/beach-caves (Western Southland), etc.
Winters can be chilly and days are short, so you may want to stay in the area and only do short day- or weekend-trips. We recommend doing the touristic hot-spots in winter as they are much more fascinating without crowds of people. Such as the Abel Tasman National Park, Nelson City, Nelson Lakes, Punakaiki (pancake rocks), etc.
Spring is usually quite windy, so you may prefer inland bush walks over coastal routes, or even spend the spring holiday on a trip to the North Island (where it is a bit warmer) and go as far as the Cape Reinga.
Relax and come down
The most important advise we can give for your year is: Relax!
Don’t feel any pressure to do certain things. Let go and enjoy the uncertainty of a different life.