Moving to New Zealand for many is a dream of making a life on Middle Earth or Hobbiton: surreal and dreamlike. The two main isles that make up this fantasy country – North and South – are a mass of wild scenery and bold terrain. The country also boasts a low population density, which means that you will not have to compete for front views and the best spots. New Zealanders, or Kiwis as they are affectionately called, also have a reputation for provincial friendliness, which is a boon to newcomers.
Now that you’ve decided on your move, you need to research the best places to live in New Zealand. The country is divided into 16 regions, which all have their distinctions and advantages. We’re going to take a look at the most popular cities for expats in the North and South islands.
Living in Auckland (North Island)
Auckland is viewed as the economic capital of New Zealand and is a favorite for expats. It is very cosmopolitan, with a strong Polynesian community. With a little over 1.6 million inhabitants, it’s the most attractive for newcomers to settle in, despite a higher cost of living compared to other cities. Nevertheless, Auckland has a reputation to be the best in terms of jobs, health, education, and lifestyle in general. It also has a vibrant cultural scene, with the best diversity in food and entertainment.
Auckland sits on the Hauraki Gulf of the Pacific Ocean and therefore has some of the most beautiful beaches, including Piha, Pakiri, and Tawharanui. It is also surrounded by rainforest ranges of mountains, with about 53 volcanoes adding to the highly scenic quality of the city. This mesmerizing frame is a wealth of natural beauty to choose from for weekend getaways. Auckland therefore naturally seems to deserve its place among the best places to live in New Zealand for expats.
Life as an Expat in Wellington (North Island)
The capital of New Zealand has about half a million inhabitants and is a medium-sized city, with a slower pace of life. It tends to be preferred by expats moving to New Zealand with their families. As the political center of the country, Wellington tends to have a more formal atmosphere. But with its surrounding seas and hills, the city remains charming nonetheless.
Wellington is cheaper to live in than Auckland but also offers a quality lifestyle. Whether it’s beautiful neighborhoods on the slopes overlooking the ocean or top-range private schools, expat families will have the best amenities to choose from. A bonus is the booming film industry in the area, with mega productions such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit having been shot locally. Movie buffs, but also those looking to savor the best local flavors, or wander around and discover museums and galleries, will thus have enough to keep them busy.
Hamilton (North Island), a Cheaper Option for Expats in New Zealand
Hamilton has about 170 000 inhabitants and is an inland agglomeration, which sits on the Waikato River. Traditionally an agricultural area, the city is now diversifying and its economy is thriving. Its popularity is also due to its proximity to Auckland, making it one of the cheaper cities to live in New Zealand for expats.
The city is home to a large student population, therefore expats moving there can expect more reasonable prices in food, utilities, and transportation. There is a buzzing cultural scene, with a Food and Wine Festival as well as various film festivals. But the main attraction is Hamilton Gardens, which also boasts a yearly summer festival. The rest of the city can be discovered through its historic architecture and strong sports tradition, particularly in rugby.
Napier (North Island) for Wine-Loving Expats
This is a favorite with wine-loving expats moving to New Zealand. Located on Hawke’s Bay, Napier is the country’s second-largest wine-producing area. You can, therefore, expect gorgeous vineyards to surround this ocean-front town of about 63 000 people. They say good things come in small packages and it’s certainly the case in Napier. Not only can you enjoy the delicious local wine, but the city is also renowned for its fabulous fruit and excellent wool.
Maori history transcends this city, with local ethnic communities being a prominent presence. Napier also boasts a wonderful art-deco architecture, for those keen on that kind of thing. Newcomers in need of more adventure can enjoy the many waterways in the area offering a gamut of water sports. Another bonus here is that, as it is one of New Zealand’s smallest cities, it is one of the cheapest to live in too.
Christchurch (South Island)
Christchurch has been dubbed the Garden City of New Zealand. Here, great employment opportunities marry the most wonderful scenery enclosing the coast. Despite suffering heart-wrenching natural calamities and a shocking terrorist attack, this town has rebuilt itself. Its 385 000 inhabitants have come together stronger than ever. Christchurch therefore proudly wears its badge of courage and continues to attract expats as one of New Zealand’s top cities. It is, however, on the higher end when it comes to the cost of living.
This is a place where you can both ski and surf, but even more interestingly, perhaps find your way to Antarctica! The city is even a launchpad for supplies sent to the south pole. If you don’t make it that far, you can try roaming around the many parks and gardens which give the city its garden label. Or else, there’s a lively experimental music scene unfolding in Christchurch, with even a World Buskers Festival happening every year.
Moving to Queenstown (South Island)
Are you an expat than needs a constant adrenaline rush? Look no further. Queenstown tops the list of the most thrilling cities to live in New Zealand. Sky-dive, hand- or para-glide your way into this town of barely 15 000 residents. If not, just sit and sip some wine at any of the nearby vineyards, which are reportedly the southernmost in the world.
Queenstown might, therefore, be a better fit for expats who plan to live solo in New Zealand. Since it’s a tourist hotspot, there are likely to be opportunities for entrepreneurs or those with expert skills in adventure sports. Other than its impressive range of over 220 activities, the city also hosts a Bike Festival and Jazz Festival, to name but these. And for a bit of trivia, Hollywood actor Sam Neill was born in this lively little town.
Expats Love Living in Dunedin (South Island)
Dunedin is also a coastal city, with about 131 000 residents. It sits on the Otago Peninsula, walled by gorgeous hills and valleys around. Like most towns in New Zealand, this place is perfectly picturesque. Over and above its strong Scottish heritage, the city has a history of attracting settlers during the Otago gold rush of the 19th century. These days are long gone, however, and expats need no golden nugget to live comfortably in this town.
Home to the oldest university in New Zealand, Dunedin is also a UNESCO Creative City of Literature since 2014. But education isn’t the only thriving scene. Sports is also a major part of the town’s identity and expats with interests in rugby, cricket, hockey or netball will be served if they decide this is the best place to live in New Zealand.