Simon, 26: Wellington, New Zealand

In this series I sit down and have a chinwag with some of my fellow expats from all around the globe. We cover what makes them tick, and ask them to share any advice they may have on moving, living their best expat lives and their pro-tips on making it in their new home. Hopefully their collective experiences help give you an insight into how to kill at the expat game.

1. Where do you originally consider yourself to be from?

North Yorkshire, England. Northallerton specifically.

2. Why did you decide to move, and how long have you been living in Wellington?

I decided to move because my family had moved over six months prior. I had visited for six weeks and really enjoyed it – so thought why not give it a chance. I took a sabbatical from the university I was at in England and came over. Nearly 7 years later and I’m still here!

3. What do you do for a living?

I work in the Commercial and Agribusiness team at ANZ, one of the major banks in New Zealand and Australia.

4. What is your favourite thing about Wellington?

There are so many things that make Wellington so great, it’s hard to single one out as my favourite. But the culture (from cafe’s, museums and the arts), and the compactness of the city (being able to walk everywhere) are definitely two main ones I’d say.

5. What are the biggest challenges or culture shocks you have experienced since moving to Wellington?

How isolated New Zealand is in general. The nearest country is Australia and that’s still a minimum four hour flight away. In the UK you could go anywhere in Europe in the same time or considerably less. Also the lack of infrastructure – the UK has an incredible railway and motorways for days. Here there is usually just one road to each place, and they all take ages to get to. Groceries are considerably more expensive here, a disadvantage of being in a small country far away from anywhere else. And despite all the dairy farming, the prices of dairy products in particular are very expensive.

6. What are the biggest advantages to living in Wellington?

You can walk everywhere – the CBD is literally maybe only 2km in span so you can get anywhere you need to go within 20 minutes. There are so many restaurants, cafes, cinemas, sports teams and festivals based here – there’s always something going on.

7. What are the biggest disadvantages to living in Wellinton?

The weather doesn’t tend to be all that inspiring. They say you can’t beat Wellington on a good day and that’s absolutely true. However sometimes those good days feel few and far between. Gusty Southerlies and a rather miserable winter suck (albeit is still warmer that winters back in Northern England were, and the South Island of New Zealand gets way colder).

8. Is living in Wellington expensive? What do the following cost:

Rent: Rent is definitely on the rise – probably per month you’re looking at $700-900 NZD for a flat.

Petrol: I don’t drive here, so I don’t have a car – not sure about the petrol.

Beer: A beer is around $8 NZD in a bar (although they don’t serve proper pints like in the UK – a beer is probably roughly 100ml less than that).

Aside from that, eating out is actually relatively cheap, mains are usually no more than $20-30 NZD in most places, and you can go to the cinema for just $10 NZD.

9. What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am a local radio host covering the city’s arts and theatre scene, so most nights you can find me at a theatre or event. I like to spend time with my girlfriend and my mates. I have a season for both the Hurricanes (Local Rugby Team) and the Wellington Phoenix (New Zealand’s only professional football team), and I still keep up to date with everything happening back in England when it comes to football and my team, Derby County.

10. What is the local food like? Is there anything you would recommend trying (or avoiding)?

There are so many restaurants covering every single type of cuisine that it’s really hard to think what the local cuisine is specifically. Kumara (local sweet potato) is delicious, Pavlova is a Kiwi tradition. Fish and Chips (said more like fush and chups) is also a Kiwi staple, and the fish is much nicer here than in the UK. Barbecues are out as soon as summer hits. But Wellington is also lucky enough to be blessed with amazing Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, and Italian Restaurants – anything you can think of really!

11. What are 3 things you would recommend doing for a first time visitor to Wellington?

1 – Take a trip either up the Cable Car or to the top of Mount Victoria to take in the stunning view of the city (if you go up the Cable Car, walk back down through the very pretty Botanical Gardens.

2 – Visit the National Museum, Te Papa, which is completely free and has some great exhibitions.

3 – Treat yourself to an ice cream on the waterfront, and maybe hire a Crocodile Bike to see it all from Oriental Bay down to the Boatshed.

12. What is the easiest way to get around?

In Wellington, stay in the city centre and walk everywhere. If you don’t feel like walking or the weather is poor, there’s buses to take you almost everywhere, or catch an Uber.

13. What is the shopping like?

Pretty good. Wellington has a Golden Mile of retail down Lambton Quay and Willis Street, which have a lot of big chains like David Jones. Then there’s Cuba Street which is a haven for lots of quirky and unique stores. Out of town we have malls in Lower Hutt and Porirua, with hyge K-Mart’s and H&M.

14. What is the nightlife like?

Wellington isn’t really about night clubs in the traditional sense, it’s mostly bars which turn into dance floors on Friday and Saturday nights. There are some really nice places on Cuba Street, but if you want to dance, Courtenay Place is where you want to be. Often you may find yourself visiting four or five different establishments in one night, such is their proximity to each other. Nowhere charges door entry either, so you can move place to place at no cost. My favourite at the moment would have to be Sassy Loves Cash. Wellington is the craft beer capital of New Zealand, so there’s lots of micro-breweries and craft beer bars if that’s your thing. Young people also love to go out with friends to restaurants which offer BYO (bring your own). You can usually get a bottle of wine in supermarkets for under $10 NZD and you bring that with you to drink at the dinner for a small corkage fee of usually $5 or less. There are also some great karaoke bars.

15. What is the best time of year to visit?

February and March are probably the best for guaranteed good weather, it’s when the Fringe Festival and the International Arts Festival takes place (the latter biannually), and New Zealand school kids are back after their long break in January. November also tends to be really nice.

16. What do you miss about the UK?

All the little things really – British television, food or treats you can’t easily get here (or if you can they are SO expensive) – like Galaxy chocolate for example. I miss my friends and family, being close to the rest of Europe, and going to English football games just for the atmosphere and to support my team. I miss not getting to see as many large-scale shows here (in the UK each region has a theatre where major musicals tour, so you don’t have to live in London to see them all!).

17. Do you get homesick? If so, what do you do to make yourself feel better?

From time to time, but less as time goes on. It mainly happens during the summer months of the Northern Hemisphere, when down here in South we are going through our winter. You have to remind yourself about the good things you have here, and also (although this sounds bad), think of the negatives about your home.

18. For people looking to move to Wellington, what industries are good to get into?

In Wellington if you can get in to digital effects or the film industry, there’s hundreds if not thousands of jobs going on the Miramar peninsula with Weta Digital or Weta Workshop. There’s almost always a major blockbuster filming down there – most recently Mortal Engines, and soon the Avatar sequels (or the digital team doing effects for the latest superhero film). If not, there’s lots of tech start-ups and the like based here (Xero, Datacom and TradeMe to name a few) – so that’s always worth getting into.

19. What’s one thing you wished you knew before moving to Wellington?

That the weather was on the whole, not that great. And that we do not get major concerts because we don’t have an indoor arena big enough for them, so you will spend a lot of money going up to Auckland to see them.

20. What is the visa process like?

I’m not too sure – came through with my Dad and it wasn’t something I had to sort out.

21. What is the Expat scene like?

There are lots of British people in Wellington, we don’t necessarily all hang out together all the time, but I have come across and made friends with other Brits here, just through and social activities like indoor football. I know there are big expat communities for lots of other cultures and countries as well. And whenever England play in a tournament, or their rugby or cricket team tour down here, there’s always plenty of expats which show up for that!

22. What is the biggest misconception about Wellington?

Our former prime minister John Key said about five years ago that Wellington was a dying city – and that has certainly been proven not to be the case.

23. If you could give one piece of advice to other expats, or people looking to move overseas, what would it be?

If you never try, you’ll never know. You can always leave somewhere if it doesn’t feel like the right fit for you.

If you would like to keep up with Simon, you can listen to his radio show and follow him here.


All photos kindly provided by Simon.

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