The Mole Diaries: Auckland
Originally from Poland, I am a languages student at the University of Nottingham. I have always loved travelling, and have lived in the US, UK, Poland, and recently NZ. Soon, I am going to Russia for my third year abroad. In my opinion, there is no better way to grow (in all ways) than by going abroad and getting not only a good education, but also life experiences that empower you and make you see that you are able to overcome any obstacle. If you want to learn more about my adventures and keep me company on my travels, feel free to check out my blog.
1. Why New Zealand?
Well, why not? Completely on the other side of the world, as far away as possible from friends and family, it is the perfect place to see how well you can survive out of your comfort zone. Not only is New Zealand absolutely beautiful, it is also a place that is often forgotten and rarely explored by tourists. I had problems along the way, but also great adventures, and in the end I came out of it unscathed with hundreds of stories to tell. In New Zealand I was able to see a part of the world I have never even dreamed of seeing. Need I say more?
2. How should you prepare?
It is advised to apply at least a month in advance for a New Zealand visa, but my visa arrived after just three days. I applied online and simply sent my passport to London. It all cost less than £50.
When purchasing tickets, keep in mind that the seasons are switched (English winter is New Zealand summer), so going during the European summer is cheapest. You have to have a stopover on your way there and the airport in Doha, Qatar is a great place to be stuck in. I had a nine hour stop there and was pleasantly surprised by all the facilities they offered – unlimited wi-fi, stores open 24/7, quiet rooms to sleep in, and a three hour tour of the city. All that for free!
3. What to pack?
If you are planning to first go to Asia, then you can splurge there on cheap clothing. If you are going straight to New Zealand, you should take everything with you as prices there are higher than in England.
New Zealand weather is similar to the British weather, especially in winter (May until September). It is colder in the South Island, with snow appearing there in April, so I would definitely take a waterproof jacket and a warm hoodie (unless you will get one at university, to add to your “University Hoodie Collection”).
Accommodation in New Zealand is quite expensive. You need to put aside at least NZ$200 per week, but this is if you are lucky. Most students go to New Zealand and stay in a hostel until they find a place to live, but this can take some time and a friend of mine spent three weeks in a hostel before she found a room to rent. I made the mistake of arranging my accommodation from England and, although I thought I was being careful, despite having numerous conversations with my future landlord and signing a contract, I got scammed.
I arrived in Auckland only to find out that no-one under the landlord’s name lives in the building. I got stuck in a foreign place with nowhere to go. But it is true that Kiwis (New Zealanders) are really nice people and I had complete strangers helping me find a place to live. Despite losing my deposit I found a great place to stay with some of the nicest people I have ever met. The situation was very scary, but those in a similar position needn't worry. Even when something goes wrong, Kiwis go out of their way to make sure that you are safe and feel welcomed in their country.
If you are staying in Auckland then you are staying in New Zealand’s largest city. In the whole South Island there are only as many people as in this city!
The bus service in Auckland is confusing; different lines have different prices and it takes some time to get used to. It is cheaper if you get a bus card, but you need to remember to tag on and tag off. But if you have a student card you get 40% off bus tickets! You can also take the bus to and from the airport. It costs around 15$NZ and is definitely a better deal than taking a cab.
Food is quite expensive, so you need to manage your budget. If you are not eating out and you buy cheap, you should still count around NZ$70 per week on groceries. And in the city it is not cheaper if you buy from produce markets, but, once you leave Auckland, you can great deals from local farmers.
You have to remember that almost everything in New Zealand has to be imported and that the country strongly relies on tourism. Store prices are higher and attractions are expensive. In my opinion, one should purchase everything they will need in advance, and save their money for bungee jumping and sightseeing.
Being a foreigner you will need to have your passport on you to buy alcohol and do some activities. They are very strict about this so if you are worried about losing your passport you can get an ID card, since they will not accept foreign IDs.
If you are spending a few months there you should get a bank account. They have a few different banks that allow you to open an account and, in my experience, ASB bank is the easiest to deal with. You will need to have an address to which they can send a letter that you will need to bring with you to open an account. It can take a few weeks, so take care of this in advance, before you set off for your adventure.
Wi-fi is not usually free here. You have a limit on how much wi-fi you can use at the university and the hotspots in fast-food restaurants often do not work. But you can find small cafes that offer free wi-fi and AMAZING coffee (I would say almost as good as in Italy).
6. Auckland University
The university education system is more similar to the American system than the British one. Students take papers (classes/modules) and have majors and minors. You can take papers across all levels, so it might be a good idea to try something out of your regular degree. Maori Language, perhaps?
The lecturers are very approachable and, like in England, student feedback is highly valued. There are fewer clubs at university, but there is a very strong LGBT community and a very strong support system for students, even providing them with food parcels.
The student card gives you discounts in restaurants and museums, so it is a good idea to keep it on you.
Insurance is compulsory and you need to buy it yourself. It usually covers accidents and illnesses, but you need to pay for routine visits and contraception. Medicine here is also more expensive, so if you tend to get ill when away from home then you may want to stack up on pills.
7. Top Places
There are so many beautiful places to see here! Lord of the Rings was not exaggerating when they were showing those stunning views of New Zealand. You do not have to plan an adventure; you just have to leave your home to see breath-taking scenery. If you are limited on time then these, in my opinion, are the places you absolutely must see (in random order):
It's a big city like any other, but it is a great place to start, since there are a lot of very different things to do here: from climbing one of many Auckland’s volcanos, through exploring islands that surround it, to jumping off of the Sky Tower or the Harbour Bridge. Full of museums, parks and different neighbourhoods, Auckland is a city in which you cannot be bored. And you can see it on the afternoons and weekends, if you are living in the city.
2. Hobbiton Movie Set
Known as the Shire! An absolute priority for all “Lord of the Rings” fans. There are over thirty Hobbit houses there and once you enter, it is as if you travelled to a different world. I do not think that you'll need any encouragement to go there. Simply posting a photo of you in front of Bilbo’s door throws all your friends into jealous rages. And what other encouragement is needed?
A city you can see on the same day you go to Hobbiton. A city with natural hot springs, a short drive from the Shire. But it is not the springs that are the biggest attraction. From Rotorua you can go to explore a Maori Village, where they will teach you about Maori art and culture and later treat you to a traditional Maori feast. A great, otherworldly experience. If you dare you can even spend the night in the village surrounded by Maori ghosts and legends.
Maori found caves full of glow-worms. You can go Black Water Rafting, exploring underwater rivers, jumping off of waterfalls, climbing rocks. All that in pitch black with hundreds of glowing worms above your head that turn the cave ceiling into a bizarre sky of greenish stars. Sounds amazing? It is.
5. Cape Reinga
The place where two oceans meet. Sacred Maori land, from where their souls say farewell to the living. The farthest place north. The closest you will get to home, while still being in New Zealand. With the oceans meeting and mixing below you.
The adorable little capital. A small city, where you can explore a huge museum (for free!), see the parliament building, learn about New Zealand politics and see that a capitol does not have to be a busy metropolis. It can be a charming little place full of cafes, boats and gardens. And a “Lord of the Rings” movie set, of course.
7. Lake Taupo
A huge volcanic lake that you can see from the sky or explore by ship. You can see the Mordor Mountain and even climb it if you decide to do the exhausting and breathtaking Tongariro Crossing. Or you can just chill on a cruise to see Maori rock carvings. Here you can also do the cheapest bungee jump and even be dipped in a river!
The South Island capital. A beautiful city under the mountains reflected in a large lake. The adventure capital of New Zealand. It is here that you can do the largest or the oldest bungee jump, a canyon swing, sky-diving. Or just dance the night away in many clubs and bars.
The place where you can go whale watching and swimming with dolphins. If you are lucky you may even spot an orca! Does this need more recommendation?
A tiny town on the South Island. Here you can just unwind and relax. Swim in a crystal clear lake or climb one of the surrounding the town mountains to look down at New Zealand fields and houses. They have an old-time cinema, where you can eat freshly baked cookies, drink hot chocolate and stretch out on sofas, while enjoying a film. A town where you can hide from the world.
These are just a few places that are worth seeing. There are many more, and I have not seen a place here that would not be surprising or beautiful. It would be a waste to not travel in New Zealand - pack light, get a good backpack and walking shoes and just go out to explore. Here are a few ideas about how to get from place to place.
A popular way of travelling in New Zealand. Not only is it adventurous, it is also rather safe as long as you are careful. This is easier to do in the North Island, as there are fewer people and cars in the South.
Flying between cities is quite cheap. You can get a flight for less than NZ$100 and fly between Auckland, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin. A good idea to travel between islands.
3. Car Rental
A popular method of travel here, with many companies to choose from. You can get a regular car or a camper van. If your car has a toilet then you can park anywhere in New Zealand. You are not limited by anything but your petrol budget and it is a cheap option if you travel in a small group of people. You just have to remember to keep to the left side of the road and be careful on narrow, winding roads.
4. Public Buses
These can take you between cities. The cheapest option would be the “Mana Bus”, for which, if you are lucky, you can get a ticket for NZ$2. It is the same company that owns “MegaBus” in the UK.
5. KiwiExperience or Stray Bus
They organise bus trips. It is by far my favourite. Local drivers take you from city to city, stopping on the way to show hidden sights. They are your tour guides that tell you about the history and places. If you travel with them you also get a discount for activities. If you buy one of their bigger passes you can use them for a year, going around New Zealand as many times as you wish and staying in each city for as long as you want. You still have your freedom, but someone takes care of you, so that you do not have to fully organise your time yourself. And they guarantee you accommodation for a night in each place, which is awesome.
With all the things to do and see in New Zealand, it is impossible to experience even a fraction and still be bored. You can explore your surroundings or hike with a tent cross country, and either way come back with hundreds of stories and memories to make your friends jealous. Travelling here is an adventure that makes you question your idea of beauty, pushes you to your physical limit, and challenges you until your head is spinning. No doubt you will meet great people here from all walks of life and take in all the natural beauty that New Zealand has to offer. All you have to do is buy a good sunscreen, pack a backpack, and leave the house.