If you're thinking about living in New Zealand, the Maori name Aotearoa, I don't blame you. Named 5th best destination for expatriates by the World Expat Index in 2022, we have the lifestyle, low crime rates, and welcoming spirit that anyone seeking a move abroad would find attractive.
So, with some of the key criteria covered, and a long-term visa secured, how do you decide where to live? The North and South Islands both offer incredible scenery, numerous leisure activities - including world class skiing - and amazing places to visit. How to decide?
Your choice will, of course, be influenced by your work situation, hobbies, and other preferences. Would the warmer weather of New Zealand's North Island suit you best, or the snowy alpine winters of the South? Do you enjoy living in a big city or might you be ready to try a small town or even a rural area?
Our guide to the 9 best places to live in New Zealand should help you narrow down your criteria and make your choice.
Best Places to Live on the North Island
Auckland - Tāmaki Makaurau
New Zealand's biggest city is the country's main international gateway and a busy commercial centre, making it one of the best places to find career opportunities. The tech sector in particular is storming ahead.
Auckland is a very cosmopolitan city, with a wide variety of cultural festivals and live music events to enjoy. The Viaduct Harbour is a vibrant nightlife area, with its lovely waterfront restaurants and bars.
This busy city offers the best shopping facilities in the whole of New Zealand, not just in the center but in the suburbs, too. The bus network provides affordable transport.
When you need a break from the hustle and bustle, you don't have to go far to find a more relaxed lifestyle. Waiheke Island is a short ferry ride away and the beautiful beaches of the Coromandel Peninsula are in close proximity.
Aucklanders have two main gripes: the high cost of accommodation and the heavy traffic. Commuting in the rush hour is not fun.
While the city enjoys a temperate climate, it does get a lot of rain, even if you're here during the best time to visit New Zealand.
Wellington - Te Whanganui a Tara
New Zealand's capital is located around a picturesque harbor. Being the center of government, there are plenty of work opportunities for expats who have experience in policy and administration. The Miramar neighborhood is the center of a thriving film industry, thanks to Sir Peter Jackson of 'Lord of the Rings' fame.
Wellington is a compact city, easy to walk around and with a decent bus service to the suburbs. Like Auckland, it offers a great lifestyle thanks to its waterside location and many cafes, restaurants, theatres, galleries, and frequent events.
There are many expats in Wellington and the city is friendly and welcoming. I've lived here for several years and can confidently say that it's one of the best places to live in New Zealand.
As with most capital cities, living in Wellington can be expensive. Demand for accommodation tends to outstrip supply.
Our weather can be somewhat unpredictable and very windy. Temperatures tend to be cooler than in other parts of the North Island.
Hamilton - Kirikiriroa
Situated 75 miles south of Auckland, in the Waikato region, Hamilton offers city life at a lower cost than Auckland or Wellington. It has a large student body and is popular with young families.
The main employers are the dairy, manufacturing, and wholesale industries, plus tertiary education and research institutions.
Hamilton is served by the Northern Explorer scenic train, which runs 3 times a week between Auckland and Wellington. The small local airport also offers services to these and a few other New Zealand cities.
The region's rolling green hills offer plenty of leisure activities. A major attraction is the Hamilton gardens, which can be reached by bus. You can enjoy the gorgeous themed gardens and picturesque walks along the mighty Waikato River.
The weather can be foggy and very cold in winter. It's worth bearing this in mind when house-hunting. Find a place with good insulation and heating!
New Plymouth - Ngāmotu
New Plymouth won the 2022 award for Most Liveable City in its population category, from the International Awards for Liveable Communities. It enjoys a lovely ocean setting on the wild west coast, overlooked by majestic Mount Taranaki which gives its name to the region. Locals boast that you can ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon.
The region's dramatic scenery and natural beauty have attracted many artists to New Plymouth, leading to a thriving arts and cultural scene.
Major employers are the dairy, mining, and primary industries (petroleum, oil and gas).
Taranaki tends to get consistent rainfall throughout the year. The grey skies, silver seas, and dark sand can, on first sight, make New Plymouth look a little gloomy. Paradoxically, Taranaki is also New Zealand's sunniest region, recording the highest number of sunshine hours!
Palmerston North - Papaioea
'Palmy' is one of the most affordable cities in New Zealand and has one of the youngest populations thanks to the number of tertiary institutions in the area. This gives the city a lively vibe.
The local airport has good domestic flight connections and the Northern Explorer scenic train stops here.
Major local employers are in the education, logistics and distribution, healthcare, manufacturing, and information technology sectors.
Palmy's landscape is flat - unusual for New Zealand cities - but the Ruahine ranges are not far away. This scenic area offers various outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and camping.
Palmy doesn't have the photogenic appeal of other New Zealand cities. Sometimes this leads it to being unfairly dismissed as 'boring'. British comedian John Cleese famously described it as a place to go if you ever want to kill yourself. The locals retorted by naming their municipal rubbish dump after him.
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Best Places to Live in the South Island
Nelson - Whakatū
The attractive, affordable city of Nelson has the best weather of all our 9 best places to live in New Zealand. Its location at the northern tip of the South Island places it right in the center of the country, in the second sunniest region. Nelson is well-connected to other cities by air.
This area of New Zealand offers a more laid back lifestyle and is the perfect location for digital nomads. But you can still enjoy a great work-life balance if you take up a job. Nelson boasts the lowest average commuting time of any New Zealand city.
Job opportunities are available in manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, and tourism and also professional, scientific, and technical services. One niche employer is the craft beer industry. Nelson hops are highly-prized and sought-after by the world's brewers.
The Nelson Tasman region has picturesque towns to explore and a stunning coastline. Breathtaking Golden Bay is a couple of hours' drive away.
Despite its pleasantly warm climate, Nelson does occasionally experience extreme weather conditions, leading to periods of drought or flooding. Fortunately, these events are rare.
Christchurch - Ōtautahi
One of my favorite places, the wonderful city of Christchurch - New Zealand's second largest - is located on the east coast of the South Island. Significantly damaged during a succession of catastrophic earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the community has pulled together to rebuild and restore.
Christchurch offers great shopping, excellent bars and restaurants - some of which overlook the River Avon - and plenty of cultural events. It also has wonderful green spaces like Hagley Park and some gorgeous period architecture.
The major employment sectors in the Canterbury region are agriculture, manufacturing, and construction along with professional, scientific, and technical services.
The airport has both international and domestic connections and there's a good bus service between the city and suburbs. For weekend getaways, you have the Southern Alps and the beautiful beaches of the Canterbury coast and Banks Peninsula on your doorstep.
Post-earthquake restoration is a long-term project and parts of the city still feel a little dilapidated and forlorn. On a positive note, the stories of resilience, determination, and optimism that you'll hear from this community will inspire you.
Queenstown - Tāhuna
Okay, so it's not actually a city - but I had to include beautiful Queenstown in the list of best places to live in New Zealand.
Nestled within impressive alpine ranges and overlooking the serene waters of Lake Wakatipu, this scenic town is a tourist hotspot. It's as popular in the summer months as in winter, when skiers and snowboarders flock to the region. If you're not into these sports, you can escape from the cold winters into cosy bars and hot springs.
Landing at the local airport, weaving through the mountains, is an adventure in itself and requires specially-trained pilots. Flights are available from the major cities in New Zealand and also Australia.
Queenstown was hard hit by the Covid years but is recovering well. There are plenty of jobs in tourism and hospitality, with many businesses experiencing staff shortages.
Queenstown's main problem is its lack of affordable housing for tourism workers, who tend to earn low rates of pay. The local authorities are acutely aware of the issue and are working to find solutions.
Dunedin - Ōtepoti
The 'Edinburgh of the south' boasts some fabulous period buildings thanks to its gold rush past. Although known for its Scottish settler roots, Dunedin is also steeped in Maori culture and history.
Home to highly-regarded Otago University and its notoriously party-loving students, Dunedin is known for its great coffee scene and excellent restaurants. The city's location on the Otago Peninsula places it close to beautiful beaches, pounded by the Pacific Ocean. Surfers will be pleased to hear that this area is known as the 'cold water Bali' - you can usually find a long surf break on beaches like St Clair and Whareakeake.
Public transport is good and cheap, with regular services to the suburbs. The local airport has flights to other cities in New Zealand and also to Brisbane in Australia.
Dunedin's economy is growing, with job opportunities available in tertiary education, health, civil construction, technology, manufacturing, and production.
The weather can be cold and bleak, especially in winter - but there's still plenty to enjoy.
Alternative Places to Live in New Zealand
If town life isn't for you, I know people who move around the country doing seasonal work in farms, orchards, and packing houses. There's a huge shortage of workers in this sector and it's possible to find such work all year round. Simple accommodation is often provided along with meals and a family atmosphere.
Another option, suitable for digital nomads, is life on the road in a camper van. I know some Australian bloggers who do this and they love it!
I hope our list of the best places to live in New Zealand has helped you narrow down your shortlist, and wish you a fantastic stay in our cool little country. Kia ora.
Hero photo of Milford Sound by Aneta Hartmannová
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