My New Zealand Working Holiday Experience
You have probably landed on this page because you’re wondering what it’s like to go to New Zealand on a Working Holiday visa. (Or maybe you’re creeping through my archives, I’m not here to judge). Well, you are in luck because I can probably give you some insight on what to expect. In 2016, I went to New Zealand with my partner Emmett and, honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Some months of our trip were really exciting and included allllll sorts of noteworthy activities. Other months - while enjoyable - were definitely not full of #adventure. For example, during month 6 all we did was babysit and bake. Regardless, the whole ten months allowed us to really & truly live and work in New Zealand. It didn’t take long before the country began to feel like a second home. Here’s the breakdown:
North Island Times and Touristy Things
DISCLAIMER: I’m going to be real with you, this section is long. Travel-wise, month one was one of our busiest months. I promise that after this, all of my monthly recaps won’t have nearly this many photos. P.s. This is all new content to the blog so that’s also part of why it’s a bit dense.
Auckland & Waiheke
In Auckland’s “Central Business District” (the Kiwi/Aussie term for downtown), Emmett and I worked on familiarizing ourselves with our new temporary homeland. This mostly involved us buying iconic Kiwi treats - like Pineapple Lumps candy bars and L&P soda - and stalking/photographing all the native birdlife. Neither Emmett nor I are birders at all - however, New Zealand wildlife is pretty much just birds. And they’re all… kind of weird and beautiful? So, on Day 2, we bought a bird guide. Favorite Highlight: Meeting those native birds for the first time at Auckland Domain.
On Waiheke, Auckland’s island-bound suburb, we started to break into hitch-hiking a bit which made navigating the island quite a bit easier. We spent our days there peeping even more birds and walking along gorgeous beaches and coastal cliffs. Favorite Highlight: The Matietie Historic Reserve - Cable Bay Walk (see photos below).
After Auckland, we took a bus three hours north to Paihia. We checked out the first European settlement at Russell, walked to and from Haruru Falls, and made lots of new friends. Favorite highlight: staying in Mousetrap Backpackers (one of my favorite hostels so far) and enjoying the company of staff & travelers alike.
The Coromandel Peninsula
We spent a few days on the peninsula and they were both rainy. On one of those days, we stayed inside and watched movies. Why? Cause even when you travel, you sometimes just want a lazy rainy day. On the second rainy day, we dragged ourselves out and walked between all the major tourist sites in the drizzle. The famous Coromandel Cove was definitely beautiful but difficult to enjoy being soaking wet and cold. Favorite highlight: soothing our cold, achy feet in a self-dug hot tub at Hot Water Beach (see below).
After a hellacious hostel stay in the city of Hamilton, we headed down to Waitomo to check out the glowworm caves. They did not disappoint - the dots of glowworms sparkled like otherworldly constellations above us. It was one of the most memorable moments of our early trip. Thus, the favorite highlight: black-water tubing below the glowworms.
Rotorua, Taupo, & Wellington
Finishing up our travels on the North Island, we spent a whirlwind week traveling through Rotorua, Taupo, and then Wellington. We bounced down a hill in a water-filled ball, took in the incredible steamy, geothermal landscape in Rotorua & Taupo and then got a glimpse of downtown Wellington. Favorite highlight: spending a day walking around Te Papa (“Our Place”), the National Museum of New Zealand. It was totally free and full of immersive exhibits that really let us get to know our new home country.
Volunteering & Hitch-hiking the South Island
We had been gradually taking longer and longer hitch-hiking trips on the North Island, so by the time we arrived on the South Island we felt comfortable enough to make that our main method of travel. Starting in Picton, we gradually made our way to a Helpx (help exchange) stay in Greymouth on the South Island’s West Coast. While there, we helped our host out by cooking, cleaning, digging, and weeding her family’s small orchard.
Hitch-hiking to Christchurch, Dunedin, & Invercargill
We continued hitching and made our way to Christchurch, where we checked out the spring blooms at Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We also got saw a surprising amount of leftover rubble and ruins from the earthquakes of 2010 & 2011 - including the very crumbly Christchurch Cathedral.
Not sure how to feel about hitch-hiking? Check out my post on the Do’s & Don’ts of Hitch-hiking in New Zealand.
After Christchurch, we accidentally took a hitch-hiking detour through the Mackenzie Basin. It ended up being a pretty happy accident because we got to see some incredible views of the Southern Alps.
Next up: Dunedin. We thought for a hot minute that we’d settle in Dunedin because it was such a lovely seaside city. We spent our days looking at backpacker job listings and doing a bit of exploring.
On one of our last days in Dunedin, we inquired after a work exchange listing about 3 hours drive south in Invercargill. Turns out we were a good match and our soon-to-be supervisor told us to come on down. We began our work of painting a small 8-bedroom hostel for four hours a day in exchange for a lodging.
Finding a Home in Invercargill
It didn’t take long for us to feel at home in Invercargill. There is definitely not a backpacker scene in Invercargill. However, staying in our little hostel*** still afforded us tons of opportunities to make friends with native and foreign travelers alike as they stopped in town on their way to other locations. We really enjoyed our routine of painting earlier in the day and then spending our evenings chatting with people from all over the world. Invercargill is also home to some really lovely parks and a stunning rugged beach, which kept us entertained when we weren’t staying in the hostel.
***I would name the hostel here and definitely tell you guys to go stay there but it is actually closed down now.***
For more on Invercargill, check out my guide to the city here.
Halloween, Melbourne, & The Birth of Savvy Dispatches
Halloween was our first holiday that we celebrated in New Zealand. And we were pretty much alone. We saw only one store that had Halloween decor for sale and maybe two more with Halloween-themed candy. Halloween is just not celebrated in New Zealand like it is back home in the States. There was nary a trick-or-treater in sight. We didn’t let that stop us, though. We ate some candy, carved a pumpkin, and watched scary movies on Netflix with other hostel guests.
….We were, of course, still painting the hostel one room at a time…
Until we hitch-hiked our way to Queenstown Airport to catch a flight to Melbourne, Australia to see our favorite band King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard put on a festival.
For more about our four day excursion to Melbourne, check out my post about finding vegetarian food in Melbourne’s Northern Suburbs.
After hitting our nineteenth country, I was feeling like maybe it was time for me to put all of my travel knowledge and experiences in one place. So, on one of the last days of November 2016, I hit publish on my very first blog post.
Southland for the Holidays
Back in Invercargill, Emmett & I started hustling to find a part-time job. We’d put a serious drain on our finances by traveling to and from Australia after a month of laying low in Invercargill. The holiday season was in full force in Southland & we went to a Christmas parade, a street festival, and a choral concert to get in the Kiwi Holiday spirit.
The week before Christmas, we made fast friends with a Swiss backpacker named Natascha. We made eggnog, she made cinnamon cookies, and then the three of us had Christmas Eve dinner together in the hostel common room.
Our hostel was run by a really awesome young family with three kids. We’d become friends with their precocious 6 year old at first and then soon enough we were spending time with them every day. They were absolutely fantastic hosts and generous friends. Christmas Day was made all the better because we celebrated it with them and got to see the kids’ excitement over their gifts on Christmas morning. Then we had a big hostel family feast for brunch. Being able to spend Christmas together really made us feel like Invercargill was our home and we were part of the family. *Sidenote: I’m choosing to leave out their names and faces to protect their privacy :)
Babysitting & Baking
We were slowly starting to realize that it might be impossible to find temporary work in Invercargill. Luckily for us, our generous host family offered us some paid work babysitting their super cool children and doing some gardening. We spent our days still painting, then hanging with the littles, and occasionally doing some garden work. Our free time became occupied with baking experiments and (for me) blogging. We made a new friend in Dutch backpacker Judith, who taught us how to make Dutch-style pancakes. The three of us also successfully made croissants from scratch and Emmett made sourdough from scratch as well. It was a bread heavy time.
I’m sure this month comes across as mad boring to readers but we were really happy just living and working in Invercargill during this period.
Roadtrips and Reuniting with CJ
The seventh month of our Working Holiday quickly became one of the biggest of our trip. We a) bought a car, b) realized we’d have to leave Invercargill to find more work, and c) flew to Auckland to reunite with Emmett’s sister/my best friend CJ. You know what? I’m actually going to break down this month into those very sections.
Getting a Car = Let’s Take this Show on the Road
Our host family graciously - didn’t I say they were generous? - sold us an old car that they had for about $1,000 NZD. Our car, which we deemed Poot Poot, was a trusty old 1999 Subaru Legacy Hatchback. Though we had really enjoyed hitch-hiking, it was super thrilling to be able to just get up and get on the road. Especially since we were based out of Invercargill, which was only a few hours drive from some of the most beautiful scenery in all of New Zealand. (Milford Sound anybody?)
Here are some posts about drives we did that month:
Wrapping Up Life in Invercargill
By the time we actually left, we’d been in Invercargill for five whole months. Those five months had flown by (for real) because we felt so at home with our adopted family. When we weren’t driving all over the place in our new vehicle, we were spending tons of time with our hosts. It was really hard to say goodbye, but we did make plans to see them again before we left the country for good.
One other random - yet very Kiwi thing - we got to do was go to the International Sheep Shearing Competition which just so happened to be held in Invercargill.
CJ Reunion in Auckland
CJ was flying in for a semester studying abroad at University of Auckland. So we flew up there to meet her and help get her settled.
I actually wrote a post about it that sums it up pretty well: Auckland & Waiheke with C.J.
Moving to Motueka & Seeking Employment
Once we flew back to Christchurch from Auckland, we drove up to Motueka in the northern part of the South Island to look for work in the fruit industry. It was not an easy process. I wrote about our arrival in Motueka, living out of our car, and our job search in this post here.
Want the scoop on how to live in your car in New Zealand? Click on my how-to guide here.
Eventually we did secure a job in Motueka. But - due to a summer of bad weather - the day after we signed our contracts, we found out we’d have to wait another two weeks to actually start. While we were really struggling financially, we had just enough money to buy food & gas to do a couple of side trips around the region. Here are some posts about those excursions:
Then! Finally we started working full time at the fruit packhouse. I’ve got a post all about working at the packhouse here.
Full-Time Fruit Packing Crew
Apple season ended after our first few weeks at the packhouse and then we were onto kiwifruit. Sorting fruit was SO tedious but the packhouse was seriously THE BEST place to make friends. There must have been 60+ of us backpackers from all over the world working in the packhouse at the same time. We made so many close friends, and the work-sponsored parties were a pretty fun time.
(Click on an image for more detail).
Bucket List Roadtrip
Fruit season ended and we said goodbye to our big crew of backpacker friends in Motueka. Then, with three months of savings, we hit the road with plans to check off some big items on our New Zealand Bucket List. Emmett and I did A LOT of stuff over the course of three weeks. We drove from the top of the South Island to the bottom and back, took the ferry to the North Island, and drove up to hang with C.J. in Auckland again before heading to Vanuatu.
I wrote a lot of posts about our (honestly very epic) roadtrip, all of which you can find below:
Congrats, you made it through this long-ass post recapping my New Zealand Working Holiday experience! I hope you found it enlightening to see my real life example. (Or at least enjoyed the pictures).
If you want just the stats - including how much we spent - check out 10 Months in New Zealand: Statistics.
Ever wondered what it might be like to #travel to #NewZealand on a #WorkingHoliday visa? In this post, I recap my 10 months spent doing just that! Spoiler alert: It was one of the best experiences of my life. 🌏🎒🇳🇿https://t.co/r1ofMUavyH pic.twitter.com/J6tze7PnCd— Sav Fersner (@savvydispatches) September 29, 2018