Once you’ve committed to making your move to New Zealand, choosing a place to live is probably the biggest decision you’ll face. New Zealand is roughly the same size as Great Britain or Japan, so you can’t expect to have the same landscape, climate, or work opportunities in every part of the country.
The North Island is somewhat more cosmopolitan, but if you’re looking to get away from it all, it may not be the best choice.New Zealand has a wide range of towns and cities, some bustling with business and others enjoying life at a snail’s pace. You need to find the region or city that best suits your needs and the lifestyle you’re hoping to achieve.
To begin with, there is the matter of choosing between the North and South Islands. The South Island is less populated and has more spectacular mountains, but with a sparser population there is less development and infrastructure. The North Island is somewhat more cosmopolitan, but if you’re looking to get away from it all, it may not be the best choice.
I recommend making a list of what you’re looking for in your new home. Include things like the types of work that have to be available, activities you’d like to do (such as skiing or sailing, which depend on being in an appropriate place), conveniences you consider important (such as shopping malls, multiplex cinemas, or fitness clubs), and what sort of climate you’re comfortable in. Then as you consider your options, it’s easier to see which places meet your needs.
The majority of immigrants end up settling in Greater Auckland, which is no surprise considering it houses about a third of the country’s population. But for some newcomers, living in a city of over one million inhabitants almost defeats the purpose of moving to a small country. Immigration New Zealand would prefer newcomers to be spread throughout the country, so to stem the flow of immigrants into the city, they award extra points on visa applications for moving anywhere other than Auckland. You can improve your chances of being granted residency by accepting a job or starting a business outside of Auckland, but for many, Auckland will still be the best option.
Living in Auckland is popular because it offers the widest range of cultures, employers, and products in New Zealand. The latest figures show that more than half a million of the city’s population of 1.4 million were born in another country. Due to the sheer number of consumers, many items are available in Auckland but difficult to find in other parts of the country. This can be especially important to immigrants, who are sometimes looking for familiar items from home. Many Muslim immigrants settle in Auckland for the greater availability of halal foods, and Jewish immigrants find the same advantage when looking for kosher foods (although they are still difficult to find). Other ethnic groceries are easier to buy in Auckland as well, making the transition easier on Asian, Southeast Asian, and European immigrants.
The comfort of having other immigrants from your homeland around is something that attracts a lot of people to Auckland. It is large enough to have significant multicultural communities, so that immigrants don’t feel alone. If hanging out with other expats is important to you, there’s a good chance that you’ll find a group of them in Auckland no matter which culture you’re from. There are, of course, immigrant communities in other parts of New Zealand, but they are smaller and more scattered.
If you are from a smaller town or city, Auckland can be overwhelmingly large. This is a big, sprawling city, and many compare it to Los Angeles (although it’s not as huge) due to the fact that most residents commute in and out of the city daily on a series of congested highways. On a more positive note, Auckland is almost surrounded by stunning bays and extinct volcanoes, making it one of the most scenic large cities in the world.
Most national offices for New Zealand companies are located in Auckland, as are the New Zealand offices of many multinational corporations. So for employment, it is by far the largest pool to draw from. The only industries for which Auckland doesn’t offer the most opportunities are primary industries like agriculture, forestry, and government.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Living Abroad New Zealand.