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New Zealand is our first home away from home and we’re excited to be living in Wellington. Throughout our trip, we’ll be living in several cities and want to give you the scoop on how we did it. We’ll cover everything from visas, accommodations, and budget. So, without further delay…here’s our guide to living in Wellington.
Why Did We Choose Wellington?
I’m sure many people have been wondering…how did we end up here? When we started planning our trip, we did research on different cities in New Zealand and compared them based on:
- Affordability, because…well, we didn’t want to say in the most expensive city.
- Location and how easy it was to travel from that city to other places.
- Infrastructure, because we need places that were pedestrian-friendly and had a great wi-fi network.
- Climate, because as you’ve read we were not planning to pack for lower than 50 degrees.
Wellington came out on top, as sort of big city with a small town vibe. So far, it’s proven to be the case.
The Important Official Stuff
Legally, how easy is it for a United States citizen to travel here? Pretty easy if you’re just planning to travel.
The New Zealand Immigrant site has a really nice interactive tool that helps you figure out what type of Visa you need depending on how long you’re staying and your plans (working vs. touring, etc).
In our situation, we’re planning to stay in the country just under three months. With a valid passport, we were able to go through an automated system in the airport to get our Visitor Visa. With a scan of our valid passport (make sure it doesn’t expire within the next six months) and a quick snap of our photos, we were off. By the way, we didn’t get our passports stamped. It’s all electronic, which is a bummer for stamp collectors.
A quick note about what you can and cannot bring into the country. New Zealand and Australia are very strict on the foods you can bring in. Seeds, animal parts, fruits, vegetables – all that sort of thing are strictly prohibited and can incur a hefty, ($400) immediate fine, even if you didn’t know it was in your luggage. Even pilots and flight attendants have gotten dinged for this too, so reader beware. Prohibited items.
New Zealand currency is called New Zealand dollars (NZD). Right now (October 2017), the American dollar is pretty strong with $1 being equivalent to 1.40 NZD. We have a couple of travel credit cards (blog post coming soon!) that have no foreign transaction fee, so we’ve been comfortable paying using those instead of having to get cash. If you do prefer to have cash on hand, consider getting a US bank account that allows for free international ATM withdrawals, like this one from Charles Schwab. With this type of account, you can easily get cash when you need it no matter where you are.
How We’re Getting There
By plane! Ha. There wasn’t much of a choice in the matter. To get to Wellington, we flew from Los Angeles, California. We had a brief stop in Auckland for a couple of days once we landed in New Zealand. Then, we flew from Auckland to Wellington.
Wellington has its own airport, so it makes flying within the country very easy. So far, flying has proven to be the most economical mode of transportation between the major cities (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown). Our flight out of New Zealand to Australia even departs from Wellington.
Where We’re Staying
We booked two different Airbnb accommodations for our time in Wellington. While we did research home stays and apartment rentals prior to booking any Wellington housing, we felt that Airbnb was the safest and most reliable route. With Airbnb we were able to preview all possible rentals, know that our renters are verified through government ID and read real reviews to ensure we were finding safe and stable accommodations.
Wellington Airbnb #1
From September 18-October 31, we are staying in a room in Terry and Suzanne’s home. It’s been a great accommodation and we love the location, just about a 10-minute walk to downtown. We have full use of the kitchen and living room, plus our own private bathroom. Living with locals has also been helpful too – we’ve gotten a ton of advice on places to eat, things to do and what New Zealand is all about.
Wellington Airbnb #2
Then, from November 1-December 15, we’ve rented a basement apartment in Lower Hutt (a Wellington neighborhood) closer to the water. We’re looking forward to having our own space, our own little kitchen to cook and being within a couple minutes of the water. The apartment is in a house owned by a younger couple, so we’ll still have access quick to locals for advice too!
…But, What About the Food?
Wellington cuisine seems pretty close to America’s. In our research, we never came across many references to truly New Zealand-type dishes either. The biggest difference from Minnesota is the availability of fresh seafood at pretty much every restaurant or the meat counter in the grocery store. This is something you’d experience in a coastal city of the USA too.
Speaking of the grocery store, that’s how we’re planning to spend most of our food budget. It will be more economical in the long run and we want to make our dollars stretch as far as possible. Our go-to local grocery store here is called New World and they have a club saver card available to travelers that allows us to get discounts every time we shop.
Generally, groceries and eating out is more expensive than America. One of our biggest surprises was seeing how expensive a simple burger can be. In many restaurants, it’s at 22 New Zealand Dollars (NZD) or more. And if you’re hoping to stay nourished on local New Zealand produce, be prepared to pay for it. Anything fresh is typically twice the price you’d see in America unless you can find a great sale.
And the Booze?
Did you know that New Zealand is wine country? Yes, it’s amazing! Between all the local wines, ciders and craft beers, we know we’re never going to be able to try them all – but we’ll have fun trying.
Wine: Prices can vary for wine, just like in your local liquor store, but you can usually find some New Zealand-made wine on sale. The most affordable bottle we’ve seen is $7. A box of 3L on sale can be as low as $18. The upper limit can get pretty high.
Beer/Cider: The beer and cider is another story. You can expect to pay at least 4 NZD for a can (roughly 12 oz, or 340ml) of craft beer or cider. A 12-pack can run you close to 20 NZD – we’ve seen a 12 pack of Heineken bottles for $30. So, with that in mind, we aren’t planning to buy local brews on every trip to the grocery store.
What We’re Looking Forward to Most about Living in Wellington
Basically? Soaking up the New Zealand culture. We’ve already noticed a few differences just being here a few weeks. In addition to exploring the city and downtown on foot, we also want to make sure we check out:
- Wellington Botanic Garden
- Civic Square
- Parliament Buildings
- Te Papa Museum
- City markets, including the Harbourside Market, the Underground Market, Porirua Market and the Wellington Night Market
- Cuba Street
- Mt. Victoria Lookout
What We’re Budgeting
Here’s our budget for two people living in Wellington for three months. These budget numbers were estimated by researching the average cost of rentals and utilities for apartments in downtown Wellington. The remaining category numbers were based on how much Scott and I typically spent in Winona and then increased or decreased in comparison to the cost of living in Wellington for that category.
- Housing: $3,900.00
- Utilities: $690.00
- Internet: $150.00
- Food/Drink/Eating Out: $2.400.00
- Transportation: $150.00
- Entertainment: $300.00
Have you ever been to Wellington? What’s something we can’t miss? Leave us your Wellington story and recommendations in the comments.