Filled with towering peaks, icy glaciers, lush fields and dales, all balanced on two islands fringed by beautiful beaches, New Zealand -- the other Down Under --draws immigrants from near and far, looking for a new lease of life. Its cities are consistently ranked as some of the best places to live in the world, and with a population of only 4.4 million spread across the North and South Islands, there remain plenty of untouched landscapes to explore and enjoy.
What is it known for?
If you are a rugby fan, you would probably say the All Blacks, New Zealand’s
national rugby team (who won the 2011 Rugby World Cup in October); if you are a
movie fan, you would say orcs and elfs (the Lord of the Rings trilogy was
filmed in many of the country’s most spectacular spots); and if you are an adventure
traveller, you would say bungee jumping and glaciers. All of the above is true,
along with the great wines, the music scene, a robust Maori culture and all more
sheep than people.
While New Zealand was originally settled by Polynesians 700 years ago, Europeans
came along in serious numbers in the 19th Century. A serious
recruitment effort to get Scots to emigrate to New Zealand took place in the
1850s and 1860s so Scottish place names abound, especially on the South Island.
The country is 900 miles across the Tasman Sea from Australia, and like its
larger neighbour to the west, it is part of the British Commonwealth.
The overwhelming draw for modern-day visitors is the country’s jaw-dropping
scenery and natural wonders, from the Franz Josef Glacier to the Waitomo Caves
to the Otago Peninsula. Sailing, surfing, hiking, camping, luging — name almost
any outdoor activity and New Zealand has it in spades. With an increasing
number of visitors arriving every year, environmentalists and the government
are concerned about preserving the unspoiled nature that is the country’s
richest natural resource. Sustainability is now the tourism watch-word.
Where do you want to live?
Auckland is by far the largest city in New Zealand, with a population of 1.3
million. Known as the City of Sails, it sits on a narrow stretch of land
between the Waitemata and Manukau Bays. The city’s suburbs stretch for many
miles up and down the coast. The most popular places to live, such as Westmere,
Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Ellerslie and Meadowbank, are within a roughly five
kilometre radius of the Central Business District (CBD). These are the areas
seeing the highest home prices in the country.
Nearby Hamilton, a smaller, inland city about an hour and a half drive
from Auckland, attracts many immigrants, particularly from Great Britain. Here
the most popular neighbourhoods, such as St Andrews, Flagstaff and Chartwell, are
in the eastern and western parts of the city, but all are close the Waikato
At the southernmost tip of the North Island sits Wellington, the capital
and diplomatic centre of country, built in the hills above the Cook Strait that
separates the North Island from the South Island. It has the country’s best
public transport, Metlink, and considers itself the coolest city in New Zealand
(as well as the windiest). “The areas closest to the city are the most
popular,” said Carey Smith, chief executive of Ray White New Zealand real
estate. “They include Khandallah, Newtown and Hataitai.”
Christchurch in the Canterbury region is the largest city on the South
Island and the second-largest in the country. It is also the country’s
electrical and engineering hub. The February 2011 earthquake and the
aftershocks that followed have caused people to look for properties in the
northwest of the city, in areas such as Hornby, or suburbs like Lincoln and
Kiwis are spoiled for choice no matter where they live, but “beach culture has
always been a big part of our culture,” said Shane Mason, an Aucklander and
video editor. “It’s pretty common to leave town during the summer and spend
Christmas and New Year’s at the beach.” From Auckland, popular getaways in the
Northland region for all sorts of water sports are Mautauri Bay, the Tututaka
Coast, Waiheke and the Great Barrier Islands. The Coromandel Peninsula and
Raglan, a surfing town, are hugely popular with North Islanders, as is the wine
region of Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay. Christchurch residents and Cantabrians
head to the west coast, Akoroa and the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs for
their breaks. “Most Kiwis have their own secret spot they can slip away too,” said
Mason. “I basically am happy anywhere with a beach and a barbecue.”
Australia, or the “West Island”, as it is cheekily nicknamed, is popular
for short, inexpensive shopping and sightseeing trips in Sydney or Melbourne,
or even for a rugby match. There are hundreds of thousands of Kiwis living in
Australia, so many go over to visit family as well. Flying to any other major
cities takes a long time: London is almost a full 24 hours and it is 13 hours
to Los Angeles. Even holiday spots in Asia like Bali can take up to 11 or 12
Renting can be difficult in New Zealand, as most people buy, so ex-pats may only
rent for a short time before buying a property. But be warned, rents are
expensive, as high as NZ$500 to 600 a week for a two-bedroom flat in the city.
House sales are recovering, but have not reached the boom levels of 2007.
At the same time, all regions have had an increase in the number of properties
sold. Auckland sale prices reached a new high last month: the median price of a
house there is NZ$490,000. “Prices have continued to firm, particularly across
Auckland,” said Smith. “The Official Cash Rate (interest rate) will remain at
2.5% until March 2012, giving confidence to home buyers and investors and keep
the second- and third-home buyer market active.”
Sales in Hamilton remain flat, with an average sale price of NZ$315,000,
and Wellington prices are rising, with an average sale price of NZ$392,000. The
earthquake in Christchurch lowered sales and prices in 2011.
“New Zealand is a good place to visit but a great place to live,” said Mason,
who currently lives in Berlin. “I’ve discovered there is no place like home.”
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