Why New Zealand? That was the question I was asked most often as I prepared to move there from my home in Toronto. The answer is not a simple one. This country calls out to many of us, for a variety of reasons. For me, it was the clean air, scaling back to a smaller city, and enjoying a healthier, more active lifestyle. For others, it’s an escape from the rat race or a safe place to raise their children. Whatever the specific reasons are, people usually move to New Zealand for a lifestyle change.

Horses on pasture. Photo © Michelle Waitzman.

Horses on pasture in New Zealand. Photo © Michelle Waitzman.

People usually move to New Zealand for a lifestyle change.New Zealand’s first immigrants came from Polynesia. The Maori settled in this cool, southern land they called Aotearoa (The Land of the Long, White Cloud). For centuries they had the place to themselves, until European whalers and sealers arrived and made themselves at home, too. So began the long and tenuous coexistence of New Zealand’s two dominant cultures—British and Maori.

Kiwis, as the New Zealanders call themselves, are generally a very friendly bunch. People here value humility and resourcefulness. When you’re this isolated from the rest of the world, you’ve got to help each other out. That’s what being a Kiwi is all about.

Living in New Zealand has many advantages. The unemployment rate is low, it’s a comparatively safe country to live in, and there is a great attitude toward finding balance in your life. On top of that, the scenery and recreational opportunities are unbeatable! Mountains, beaches, forests, lakes, rivers, glaciers, and even active volcanoes make this a fascinating country to explore.

Urban lifestyles in New Zealand are also more laid-back than in larger countries. With just one city of over a million people, this is not the height of cosmopolitan living, but there are plenty of shops, cafés, theaters, and restaurants in the main centers to keep you busy. You’ll have everything you need, even if you can’t necessarily find everything you want.

Moving to New Zealand probably won’t make you a millionaire or propel you up the corporate ladder. Instead, you’ll find yourself eventually slowing down to the rhythms of the South Pacific. It’s a place where one person can still make a difference, and people are willing to give just about anything a try, especially if someone says it can’t be done.

Without a doubt, moving to New Zealand changed my life. It allowed me to go for a hike in the bush without getting into a car first. I stopped having pollution-induced headaches. I paid more attention to when local produce was in season, instead of relying on imports from thousands of miles away. And perhaps most importantly, I fell in love with another immigrant who was looking for the same lifestyle change as I was. By most accounts, my immigration story was a success.

Your story will be different from mine, but with a bit of luck and the right attitude, you can also find your happy ending.

What I Love About New Zeland

  • Going for a hike in the bush without driving anywhere first
  • The tui, a bird that sounds like R2D2
  • Skiing on an active volcano
  • Having friendly conversations with complete strangers
  • Not hearing about “smog warnings”
  • Going to the beach on Christmas Day
  • Seeing people walk through town in bare feet
  • Watching the All Blacks perform a haka before every rugby match
  • Sir Edmund Hillary (the first person to climb Mount Everest) is on the $5 note, not a politician.
  • People politely asking where I’m from, because they don’t want to insult me by guessing wrong.
  • Even though it is a small country with little international influence, its leaders are not afraid to take an unpopular stand on an issue, even if it contradicts their closest allies.
  • Every time there’s a warm, sunny day, everyone goes outside, no matter what.
  • There are cities where 15 minutes in the car is considered a “long commute.”
  • Seeing dolphins or penguins in the harbor now and then
  • Stopping at the local dairy for an ice-cream cone after a “tramp” in the woods
  • The national animal is a bird that sleeps all day and can’t fly.
  • Kids are still allowed to climb the trees in the schoolyard.
  • Your boss would find it strange if you didn’t use all four weeks of your vacation time each year.
  • It will take me many, many years to try all of the local wines and decide which ones I like best.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Living Abroad New Zealand.