New Zealand offers a lifestyle that is generally more relaxed and balanced than life in big American or European cities. Outside of Auckland, long commutes to work are unusual and traffic gridlock is practically unheard of. People have leisure time to spend with their families, and neighbors actually get to know each other.
While the urgency of American life may seem to be missing, New Zealanders get things done their own way—with quiet determination and a steely commitment to do whatever it takes. They call it “mucking in,” and it’s as much a part of New Zealand life as beer and rugby. You’ll rarely hear the phrase “that’s not my job,” as people here are not hung up on those details. Instead they will focus their efforts wherever they are needed most and get on with it. This attitude applies both in the working world and in the community, where people often fix their own homes and take on other community projects.
As with other Western countries, people in New Zealand are marrying later and having fewer children than they have in the past. At the same time the number of single-parent families is increasing, as is the number of unmarried couples living together. The number of married couples without dependent children is also on the rise, mostly due to baby boomers whose kids have grown up and moved out.
Kiwis take full advantage of the natural features of their country. They have a very high rate of participation in a range of outdoor activities including hiking (which they call tramping), mountain biking, skiing/snowboarding, boating, surfing, and gardening. Team sports like rugby, cricket, and netball are also popular at a grassroots level. You won’t find many couch potatoes in New Zealand.
Even in the big cities, the great outdoors are easy to access. Auckland is practically surrounded by water and boasts one of the highest rates of boat ownership in the world. It’s easy to see why they call it “The City of Sails.” Sailing is popular all over the country, from the local hobbyist to the Olympic level. Auckland played host to the 2000 America’s Cup yacht races, taking its place among the sailing capitals of the world.
While people in New Zealand may be laid-back in their daily lives, they have also garnered a reputation for going to extremes when it comes to entertaining themselves. It is the birthplace of bungee jumping, with a variety of jumps now available all over the country. New Zealand is also a hot spot for other extreme activities like jet-boating, skydiving, and white-water rafting. The latest invention for the thrill-seeker is “Zorbing.” A Zorb is a huge, bouncy plastic ball that you can crawl inside of and roll your way down a hill, becoming totally disoriented. Kiwis may seem to have gone a bit over the top with this stuff, but remember it was a New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary, who first made it to the summit of Mount Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay back in 1953. Hillary is New Zealand’s idea of a national hero, someone who sees a goal that others consider impossible and goes for it anyway—a true trailblazer!
Surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, and mountain biking may not be considered extreme by comparison, but they are all popular among New Zealand’s youth. Even the grown-ups are reluctant to stop participating in the sports they grew up with, so don’t be surprised if some of the surfers you see are sporting a few gray hairs!
When it’s time to sit back and relax, the average Kiwi will head to the local pub. Once almost exclusively the territory of men, particularly in rural areas, pubs now welcome women, although they may still be outnumbered. In the not-so-good old days pubs used to close at 6pm, causing a dangerous bout of binge drinking after work. The early closing laws have been abolished, but the problem of binge drinking remains one of New Zealand’s biggest social challenges. Drinking and driving is also a problem, particularly in smaller towns and cities where there is no reliable public transportation late at night.
Buying alcohol outside of pubs and bars is also quite easy. Even your local movie theater can provide you with your favorite drink to enjoy during the film, although the combination of wine and popcorn may take some getting used to! Shops and supermarkets are able to sell wine, beer, and sometimes premixed drinks. So if you run out of beer in the middle of the big game, you only have to pop over to the corner store, or “dairy,” to restock. For spirits and a larger selection of wines, you will need to head to a “bottle shop” (liquor store). If you’re eating out, it may be worthwhile to check if the restaurant is “BYO;” if it is, you can bring your own bottle of wine and for a small corkage fee they will serve it to you there. You can save a few dollars compared with buying wine from the restaurant, and you’ll be able to choose any bottle that you like. The legal age to purchase alcohol in New Zealand is 18, but parents and legal guardians are permitted to provide alcohol to minors under their care.
If the phrase “New Zealand cuisine” doesn’t bring anything to mind, that’s not surprising. The country is not known for its culinary style. The Maori stayed well fed historically by hunting birds for meat, fishing, and eating kumara. When the British came, they brought their own brand of bland, meat-and-potatoes cooking with them. Until very recently, the staples of the Kiwi diet were meat pies (just called pies here), fish-and-chips, and of course lamb. With the influx of immigrants from other cultures, there is now more to choose from at the supermarket. Indian and Asian ingredients are easy to find in the major cities, and ethnic and fusion restaurants serve up some distinctive dishes. A wide range of imported fruits is now available in stores, although they can be expensive. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are of excellent quality, but you’ll have to pay attention to what is in season at which time of year.
New Zealand’s strong dairy industry means that fresh milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are widely available and of excellent quality. You won’t find a lot of imported cheese, but you will be able to find the domestic version of all the most popular overseas varieties including cheddar, mozzarella, brie, blue, feta, edam, and Colby jack. Ice cream is popular all year long, and domestic brands like Tip Top and Kapiti are sold alongside international names such as Mövenpick and Cadbury.
So what will life be like for you in New Zealand? That answer is as individual as you are. Whether you’re off to become a banker in Auckland, a student in Southland, or a farmer in Marlborough, there is a good chance you can find a lifestyle that suits you. There’s no doubt that any move of this size will be a shock to your system, but it may be just the shock you’ve been looking for. It’s a small country with a big heart, so open yourself up to a new world and a new life in New Zealand.
Excerpted from the third edition of Moon Living Abroad New Zealand.