Why go to New Zealand? Because it is a fantastic country.
New Zealand has an absolutely incredible nature with open minded, helpful and nice people. If you, just as I did, want to ski / snowboard all summer then this is where you should go! But you do not need to be a ski geek to appreciate the country. There are endless things to do, for example great mountain hikes and there are beautiful waterfalls everywhere.
I – Christine, Emelie’s sister – spent a winter season in Wanaka on the South Island and I would highly recommend whoever that is looking to go there to do it. Just remember to bring warm clothes! The houses are insanely cold. But aside from that, the country overall has warmer winters than Sweden. Already late winter, we often sat in bikinis sunbathing after skiing and snowboarding all day. Also, you can ride your bike all year round. Really nice! I remember speaking to Emelie back in Sweden whom was freezing during a cold summer while I was sitting out on the patio sunbathing.
To stay in New Zealand longer than 3 months, and to work there, you need a visa. For young adults between 18-30 years (for Swedes, age span may differ in some countries), it is very easy to apply for a Work & Holiday visa online through the New Zealand Immigration. It took me about two days from the time I sent in the application until I was accepted. Compared to Canada, there were not even half as many papers to fill out, basicall all you had to do was to fill out the information online, pay the application fee and then apply. The only requirements are:
- you have to be a Swedish citizen and are able to prove that you have at least 4200 NZD (equivalent to just over 27 000 SEK).
- you will need a travel insurance to cover the entire stay abroad. With a New Zealand Work & Holiday visa you get to work in the country up to 12 months and during this period, you can also study for up to 6 months.
Another difference from the Canadian visa is that Sweden does not have a quota for the country, there is no limit to the amount of people who receive work visas each year.
When I traveled to New Zealand, I had a very vague plan. We had accommodation in Queenstown for a week, which I hoped would be sufficient to find something permanent and also to find a job for the season. It proved to be easier said than done. The prices for rooms are outrageous in Queenstown, we had a really hard time finding anything decent, either it cost way too much or it was filled with mold and you had to sleep on the couch. After recommendations from some friends we pretty quickly ended up in Wanaka instead. Wanaka was much quieter and with a more local vibe to it and it was also a lot easier to find accommodation at a reasonable price.
We found our home for the winter through RE / MAX and their department WAC Property Management. Wanaka really is a summer place so many, especially from Christchurch, own holiday homes in the village and instead of letting them stay empty all winter, rent them out to ski bums. WAC helps out with all the practical details such as selecting tenants and ensure that all the contracts get signed and rent is paid on time etc. They were extremely professional and I can highly recommend you to go through an agent like we did. It felt safe and we had an impartial contact throughout the period. From my experience I would say that it is easier to get together with some friends and rent an entire house rather than trying to find a room for yourself.
The houses are not isolated
Our place was awesome with great views over lake Wanaka. BUT – they do not isolate their houses! This applies to most of the houses in Wanaka (and most of the country, I think). Nor are there any reasonable way to heat them and with only one glassed windows it can get pretty cold! So if you do not want to spend all your hard earned money on utility bills you should be prepared for chilly temperatures inside. It was not unusual that we woke up to ice on the inside of the windows and 4 degrees celsius indoors. I slept with three duvets and I usually put the next day’s outfit under the covers with me when sleeping so I could survive getting dressed. Our only source of heat was a gas fireplace in the living room that was only lit when we were at home since the heat did not stay in the house. With the fireplace on for most of the afternoon and evening we could get up to 17 degrees in the living room, but it was still 4 degrees in the morning. So bring warm clothes!
Bring warm clothes!
Moreover, clothes are much more expensive so I repeat, bring warm clothes! A hot water bottle was my rescue, put it under the covers ten minutes before you go to sleep and might survive going to bed, it took me a very long time before I gave it a try since I associated it with old ladies (sorry grandma) but it was definitely worth the few dollars it cost.
It was not the easiest to find work. Wanaka is a city that attracts many seasonal workers but they still have a large percentage of permanent residents, which means that people tend to stay in their jobs for a long time instead of just staying one winter to later fly back home. If you are early, there are many jobs at the ski resorts.
With patience and persistence, I would say that you can always get a job, just do not lose hope if a month goes by before anything happens. We got down there mid-May, just over a month before the winter season starts and therefore the quietest period of the year. TWe heard a lot of rumors that lots of people had difficulty finding full-time work and got part time with a few days of work a week, but nor my friends or I never had any trouble with it.
I, and many others I knew, ended up working at the city’s supermarket, New World. A supermarket the size of Ica Maxi. I worked nights at the bakery department. I thought it was perfect because then I could spend every day up on the mountain. But working nights there was not the same as in Sweden. They worked eight-hour shifts five days a week and that really is hard on your body and mind. However if you work nights, do not forget sleep! Sleeping an hour in the morning and two hours in the evening does not work in the long run- believe me I have tried.
In order to work in New Zealand you need an Inland Revenue Number. You can apply from home but if you are not one for planning ahead of time (like me), it is possible to do it when you get to New Zeeland as well. Actually you are allowed to work without an IRD- number but then you have to pay 45 percent tax on your wage. I am unsure of how to do the application from home, but when doing it after you have arried you simply fill out a form from the post office. You also need an address to where the number can be sent (I used my hostel at the time) and two different types of ID, where a Swedish driver’s license is not valid. I did not know this before so ended up having to get a translation of my Swedish driving license to use as my identification document number two. It cost about $ 60 and took only one day. It might have been smarter to get international driver’s license since it works in several countries.
There were a lot of banks to choose from. But keep in mind that many charged a fee every month while some were completely free. It is definitely worth it to speak to the different banks and finding out more about their particular conditions. Some banks you could not even sign up with unless were a citizen. I chose to go with Kiwi-bank, the same company as the country’s post offices. The only downside was that their opening hours were not as good as others, but otherwise everything was completely free. They even let you choose a print (between some options) on your debit card which I find cute.
There are a few different phone operators to choose from and it may be worth comparing the different ones since they differ a lot. I got a normal prepaid card with Spark. Most of the foreign workers got a prepaid card since you did not need a subscription and usually got as much for less money with prepaid cards. Spark included 500MB of data, 100 minutes free calls and free texts. In addition, which was the best perk, it included 1GB WiFi/day at all Sparks WiFi zones. They have set up small stations all around the country where one can connect to their wifi. So simple! Basically you had 30GB of data a month as long as you stayed within the WiFi zones.
Swedish ID cards do not work as identification in the country so to avoid having to drag your passport every time you go out for a beer or buy alcohol at the pub, you need a so called 18+ card. The application was quite tricky. http://www.18plus.org.nz/ You find the forms at the nearest post office and to submit it, you need:
- A photograph of yourself (should be in the format of a passport photo)
- A New Zeeland address, you must present your lease or similar.
- Pay $ 35 in connection with submitting the papers.
- An authorised person’s signature (to witness that the information is true) – this part was most difficult to find. We tried to get the police to sign for us but eventually got referred to a list of phone numbers of people who were ”justice of the peace”. The list was out of date at last we got to visit an elderly man’s home, swear an oath and then get our papers signed.
Public transport is almost non-existent in Wanaka. You get around on foot / bike or by car. I think there was a bus to the mountains but it was very expensive and I really have no idea where you would get on it anyways.
At first we were without a car which actually worked just fine. New Zealand has a hitch hiking-culture which is amazing. People hitch everywhere and you always get picked up. It is customary to pitch in $5 as a thank you for the ride, but many are just happy for the company. There are also many different Facebook groups where you can both hitchers and car owners wanting some company – eg. Cardrona and Treble Cone $5 Carpool. It was a great way to get to know new friends who you also could ride with up the hill.
Buy a car
I and one of the people I lived with, Ryland, chose to get a car since it was a little awkward to go to the (unofficial) hitch-hiking spot every day. We paid $ 1600 for an old Opel Corsa from 93 that had been meticulously maintained by the previous owner. It held without major damages throughout the season, but keep in mind that if you’re buying a car to take you up the mountains, the roads there are in terrible condition.
Snow tires are not allowed
Towards the end of the season there were many who chose to park the car before the exit road and then hitchhike the last bit just because the cars took such a beating. Another thing that is a must are snow chains! In New Zealand you are not allowed to have snow tires (this is insane) so instead they use snow chains. If you were not good at putting on snow chains before you will be after a winter season, I promise. Four-wheel drive is recommended since the way up is steep and narrow. However, we only had two-wheel drive and were just fine, I drove up more or less every day. As long as you are driving in a steady pace and use snow chains when road conditions are bad you should be fine.
THE SKI RESORTS
There are a few diifferent mountains in the Queenstown/ Wanaka area. A good idea is to consider the type of riding you are looking for and pick your resort on that basis. One reason we moved to Wanaka was because half of the gang wanted to ride the park at Cardrona and the other half wanted freeriding in Treblecone. There is also the Remarkables and Coronet Peak which are closer to Queenstown. I never went to any of those resorts there but from what I understand Coronet Peak is quite small while Remarks is similar to Cardrona.
However Cardronas park is better. With its own high-speed lift you got many runs in a day. The lift also made it easy to get to know like-minded park riders. The park crew really spoiled the riders shaping it at least 6 times a day so that everything was kept in mint condition and they changed features constantly so you never got tired of them. The jumps were incredibly well constructed which is probably one reason to why the Winter Games is held there every year.
Treblecone I can not say much about since I have not spent much time there but it was steeper and many skiers prefer the area. They have better backcountry opportunities from what I understand. Although freeriding in New Zealand can not be compared to Canada’s champagne powder or the Alps endless dump you can still have a lot of fun there.
QUEENSTOWN vs. WANAKA
If you can not get enough of the parties and the city pulse then Queenstown is for you. The city never sleeps. There are a lot of tourists there which is a reason to all the endless tourist attractions and activities. It is in other words not possible to be bored there. It is also not possible to save money when since there are so many temptations. Leaving aside the high pulse Queenstown is stunningly beautiful. The views of the lake and the Remarkables in the background is amazing. A quick hike up one of the smaller hills nearby the town will get you to crazy great views over Queenstown and its surroundings.
Wanaka is much more chill in comparison. With only a few bars and bit more of a everyone knows everyone- feeling. Wanaka is also incredibly beautiful with Lake Wanaka and the mountains in surrounding it. If you are interested in shopping, there is not much, just a few street fashion shops (which had some very nice stuff) and some small boutiques with more unique stuff.
What really wowed me was the neighbors attitude towards each other, they all got each others back! There was a facebook group that more or less the whole village were members off – Wanaka Trading Post : Supporting Locals & Local Businesses. Daily you would see posts of lost dogs, chickens and other things and the feeling I got was that everyone almost always got their lost property back. You got around everywhere by bike even though the city itself was pretty outspread.
Good luck, I hope you will get a lot of great experiences in New Zealand!