Step 1: Choose New Zealand!
“Simply the biggest playground on earth” would be the best way to describe New Zealand. The country begs to be discovered by any means possible: plane, train, bus, car, boat, etc. I mean, any means of travel that I used were exceeded my expectations! For me, New Zealand should be a no-brainer compared to the other common gap year countries, such as Canada, Australia, USA or Japan. But here are some more down-to-earth reasons to choose New Zealand for your gap year on a working holiday adventure.
Here are 10 reasons to choose New Zealand for your gap year:
1 New Zealand is incredibly easy to explore
The transportation systems in New Zealand are some of the most developed in the world! With a great road network and bus network, any budget-conscious backpacker will find it cheap and easy to travel around New Zealand. For those that want unique scenery and have a bit of a train fetish, the three main train lines of the country are truly mind blowing. Finally, for the limited number of you that wants to rush from one place to another, national flights are fast and cheap.
The geography of the country makes it a breeze to travel through, back and forth, and in every way possible. New Zealand is so small that it only takes 10 hours to drive from Auckland to Wellington and then another 10 hours from Picton to Queenstown. With a 4 hour ferry cruise in between New Zealand’s North Island and South Island, it is almost possible to cross New Zealand from top to bottom in a day.
That said, you would miss a lot by rushing through the stunning landscape of the country. Take your time and take it all in. I travelled by bus most of the time, which was the best choice I could have made to see it all and meet awesome people.
2 The New Zealand job market is booming
When I landed in New Zealand, I was stressed about one thing and one thing only: would I be able to finance my travel during my working holiday? The answer turned out to be pretty clear and simple: yes, yes and yes! I actually finished my trip with more than expected, so I treated myself to a few weeks in Fiji and a month in Asia on my way back home.
I am only focusing on the “backpacker friendly” job market here, of course, but OH MY GOD it was so easy to get a fun job! I tried it all, working for a paycheck and working for food and accommodation (WWOOFing).
I started by working for accommodation, joining the WWOOF organisation after being advised by my contact here in NZ (see Number 4). It allowed me to live like a local for a while and be treated better than I would at home (damn, my brother) with great homemade food and activities during the weekend. Spending nothing for about four months throughout my trip, I strongly recommend you all to put on your gumboots and get WWOOFing!
Finding a paid job was crucial for me, as I came without a return ticket and spent most of my initial funds on travel, activities and hum… booze. Anyway, when I finally decided to stop travelling and earn some cash, it only took me a week to land a full time job. I earned more than needed, so I saved enough to head back on the road quickly to another great spot. From that point on I alternated WWOOFing and working with ease. It never took me more than a week and a half to find a decent job. Admittedly, I got great training and support for my job search by the team at Working Holiday Starter (see Step 4). But hell, I’ll take the credit for it anyway!
3 The working holiday visa for New Zealand is one of the easiest to get!
Some countries like Canada ask you for a manual paper application with cover letter, some others like the USA will require you to actually show up at the embassy for an appointment. New Zealand, on the other hand, has a very easy online application system with a surprisingly fast response time.
I got my visa application sorted in about 30-45 minutes (see Step 2) and received my actual visa only a day later. I cannot imagine a simpler system to get a work visa anywhere in the world.
Another good point of the working holiday visa in New Zealand is the restrictions. They are almost nonexistent. Aside from not taking a permanent job, it is fair game giving us working holidaymakers a great chance on the job market.
Edit: I heard that a limited amount of countries have more restrictions. Make sure to check the conditions of your New Zealand working holiday visa.
4 You will not be alone
Backpackers are everywhere in New Zealand. I mean EVERYWHERE! I met people from all around the world, from Brazil to Austria to Chile to Japan to USA to Malaysia… and much, much, much, more!
It is quite obvious that backpackers are a huge part of the NZ economy and most of them come alone. Friendships are formed every evening in the hostels of New Zealand. It is almost mesmerising to sit down in a busy hostel and look at group form as people talk to each other for the first time.
On the other hand, you will sometimes feel a bit tired of introducing yourself and answering the same kind of questions… So I made a game out of asking something different to everyone. Some of my random questions were point blank weird but it made the first encounter fun.
I am proud to say that I made some lifelong friends on the road, people that I shared incredible experiences with and that I could rely on in any situation even if I only knew them for a few weeks. Shout out to Claude, Martin, Tiffany, Allen, Komo and Lucy!
5 Mingle amongst locals
Let’s say it, New Zealanders are super friendly. Most people that have been to New Zealand will come back and tell you that Kiwis (New Zealanders) are the nicest people on the planet. Only minutes after landing in New Zealand you will feel at home. Even the immigration adviser that I met when passing through all the steps at the airport joked with me and gave me a few travel tips.
The most amazing example of the welcoming culture happened to me in Christchurch where I got lost. After about one minute trying to read a map, a nice middle-aged man asked me what I was looking for. He showed me on my way and invited me to dinner with his family the same evening. We had a great time and I bonded pretty well with his oldest daughter that took me for a hike the next day with her dog and boyfriend. It was a unique experience to be able to integrate with a Kiwi family for a couple of days without even trying. I was just part of the group instantly. If only I knew that before, I would have gotten lost more often.
6 New Zealand has received some awesome awards
All right, by this point you should already feel like there is no way you would ever want to take a gap year anywhere else than in New Zealand, but let’s convince you furthermore with a list of awards that New Zealand has received.
- 2014 Best Country in the World (three years in a row) by the Daily Telegraph
- 2014 Best Destination for Adventure by the Lonely Planet
- 2013 Best Destination for Nature by the Lonely Planet
- 2012 Favorite Country at the Telegraph Travel Awards
- 2012 Best Destination for Discovery and Exploration by the Shanghai Morning Post
- 2011 Top Eco-Tourism Destination by the Viagens e Turismo Awards
Keep in mind that this list is only what I could dig up and does not include any repeats, the awards won by Air New Zealand (that also got my award for the funniest airline in the world), and the awards given to the cities and regions. For example, Auckland has been in the top 10 of the best cities in the world and Queenstown has been named the “Purest Destination” in the world.
7 When it is cold back home you can go to the beach in New Zealand
Most of the working holidaymakers in New Zealand tend to be from the Northern Hemisphere, which means that when it will be winter in your Northern Hemisphere country, it will be summer down in New Zealand. This gives you a chance to make all your friends and family jealous when sending them a Christmas photo of you on the beach.
It also means that if you time your trip correctly, you could have 2-3 summers in a row. I met a German guy that planned his arrival for the end of September, escaping the German winter for the Kiwi summer. He planned to fly back home in early May just in time to trade, once again, the Kiwi winter for the somewhat better (?) German summer. I bet he was a totally tanned individual after that.
8 Earn valuable work and life experience
I can’t really decide if I learned more about life or work during my gap year in New Zealand.
On one hand, leaving everything I knew behind and taking a trip literally to the other side of the world made me independent and really boosted my confidence. I had never lived alone before jumping on the Air New Zealand plane that would take me to the other side of the world.
I will be honest, it was not easy at the beginning. But to any problem I found a solution! Ok, often the wrong one but I corrected myself and learned from my mistakes. I now feel like living independently is a second nature to me, like if I became a responsible adult all of the sudden. Shocker!
On the other hand, working in fields so far from my background and education taught me invaluable lessons and skills that I will use in my career back home. Most of my friends back home stick to their career path, refusing to step a single inch away from their comfort zone, i.e. “what they have been taught to do all their lives”. Here I am, with a CV full of different experiences and transferable skills that gets employers talking and shows them an open-minded individual who is adaptable and a fast learner. I think that the job market will like my new profile. Thanks, New Zealand!
9 New Zealand has something for every taste
Everybody knows that the adventure capital of the world will not disappoint. Whatever you are looking for, you will find it in New Zealand.
Looking for adrenalin? Well stop right there! New Zealand invented bungy jumping and has adrenalin activity around almost every corner.
Looking For a quiet time? Some of the most scenic spas in the world are hidden in the middle of country. Yes, I am pointing at you Lake Tekapo.
Looking for a feast? Delicious wines, tasty beers and world-class meals are available in almost every cities of the country.
Looking for work? Look at Number 2, New Zealand has a job for everyone.
Looking for lifelong friend? Locals are incredibly friendly but backpackers are a real community. You will find a friend for the day, if you want, or a friend for life.
Looking to connect with nature? With gorgeous landscapes and unique wildlife, New Zealand is the right place! Check out Number 10 below.
I could keep going on and on forever but you get the gist, New Zealand is awesome. You will love it no matter what you are looking for.
10 The landscape and wildlife are incredible
Do I really have to describe how incredible the New Zealand landscape is? Go watch a Lord Of The Rings movie already!
The New Zealand wildlife is not too shabby neither. New Zealand is home to unique species like the smallest dolphin in the world, a three-eyed lizard, majestic whales, and a flightless bird that is so popular it became the emblem of the New Zealand air force! But New Zealand’s birds are more striking than any other creature in the country. You will encounter them all around the country singing for you during your hikes and hiding themselves not-so-far-up trees that, if you pay attention, you will be able to get a great view of them almost every time. Other species of bird will try to steal your purse and, when failing, will settle for stealing your lunch. True story!
11 [Bonus] New Zealand is Middle Earth!
Probably the number one reason for most nerds like me to visit New Zealand is The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and its incredible scenic shots. From what I read, Peter Jackson used more than 150 locations in New Zealand to shoot his masterpiece. For such a small country like New Zealand, that is huge! Now when watching the movies, I see most places that we, as backpackers in New Zealand, have hiked, rafted, swam, etc.
Plus you’ll get to see the dreamy Hobbiton village and visit the Weta Studio where all the special effects for the movies were designed and made.
New Zealand itself is an insight into the movie like no other. Forget the DVD bonuses, just get a plane ticket and experience Middle Earth for real!