One Year in Queenstown New Zealand
January 1, 1970
by Katie Cleary
After taking the plunge and moving overseas for a year, here’s a short guide on how I set myself up in my new second home – Queenstown, New Zealand.
1. Applying for the Working Holiday Visa
My love for travel started in 2014 when I decided enough was enough for now with the 9-5, packed my bags and went on a 5 month trip around the world. One of the places that had always been on my list was New Zealand – so far away, so beautiful and where LOTR was filmed! How could I not?! (I’m not ashamed to say the LOTR thing was a big factor!) I spent two weeks travelling down the country with a friend. In my second week, I discovered Queenstown…wow. I couldn’t get over it. From the landscapes – the snow-capped mountains, the beautiful lake and super clean and tidy town, to the weather – a place where you had beautiful, sunny skies in the summer, and three huge ski fields right on your doorstep in the winter – I knew 100% this wouldn’t be my last time here.
Fast forward a few years, back in my 9-5 routine and the bug comes back to bite me. I’m ready to go off and see the world again. By this point, I’ve met someone (Lewis) who luckily is interested in travel just as much as I am (admittedly, it is always going to be easier to take the plunge with another person), we agreed to make this a trip of a lifetime and apply for our NZ working holiday visas.
Being a Brit, the process is relatively easy.. you follow the NZ immigration website step-by-step, answering some non-probing personal questions, pay your submission fee (when I did it in 2016 it was £98) and voila! my application was approved within two days and I was ready to go!
2. Picking Queenstown
Now, even though it was up in the air between us as to where we were going to plonk ourselves for the year, I knew in the back of my mind Queenstown was my one. I assured Lewis that I was right, and being a good lad, he agreed. We flew into Auckland with the plan to buy a cheap car and drive down to the South Island.
Using Trade Me (NZ equivalent of eBay) we found a Mitsubishi RVR (..me neither) for $1400, who would be our trusted NZ chariot for the next year. She was as old as me, a bit rusty, but she did the job and we fell in love with her, naming her Tilly. So off the three of us went!
3. Starting Your New Life Part 1. – a Job!
After a pretty epic 3 week trip (will post another blog!) through both the North and South Island, we had arrived. I remember driving over that hill and seeing the gorgeous mountains I remembered I got a huge wave of excitement, but also anxiousness. I was scared! What the hell was I doing!?
We pulled up to a hostel that we had booked in the centre and immediately were on the computers to get everything kick-started… CVs, house hunting, job hunting. I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t stressful, there were a few crossed words! I knew that I wasn’t going to get an office job- I was in a completely different environment, I wanted to do something completely different for myself. I’m experienced in sales, and love fashion, so thought retail could be the way to go. I also discovered ‘Lakes Weekly Bulletin‘ after I’d found a job.. this is a free weekly magazine which is dispersed around town, and the majority of roles including retail, hospitality and tradies will be listed in there.
Lewis, whose background is primarily in banking, decided to be more outdoorsy and get a job in construction. The easiest thing to do here is to head to an agency and they will quickly place you in a temporary position whilst you look for more long-term employment. The three main agencies specialising in Tradies (and more) are: Trade Staff, One Staff and Add Staff.
The next day I printed out a handful of CV’s and braved the rain to go and introduce myself to the stores around town. We were there in September, which is a good time to look for a job as it is just coming out of ski season, so a lot of the working holidayers have left. I secured an interview pretty quickly, and a few days later I got an offer! Starting my new role in a boutique store in the heart of town that weekend – winning! I can’t guarantee it for everyone- but from what I saw throughout the year, it isn’t too hard to secure work in QT (contrary to what they say) as long as your not too picky.
REMEMBER: Before you secure a job, you will need a bank account (I went with ANZ) and an IRD number – an IRD is sort of like your NZ National Insurance number and can take around 10 working days to process, so get onto it as quickly as possible! This can be set up from any post office. If you don’t have an IRD – you can’t get paid!
4. Starting Your New Life Part 2. – A House!
As far as house hunting was concerned… that’s a little harder. The rent in Queenstown is a bit of a problem (it is expensive in NZ in general) so a house share is necessary. We were a little shocked when we started looking, but just set our budget at $300 per week and began hunting. Almost everyone in Queenstown advertises on Facebook, a group called ‘Queenstown Trading’. *Most people look in Frankton or Fernhill, both either side of the centre.
After about a week of hunting, I stumbled upon a 1-minute old post (you’ve got to be quick!) of an amazing house up in Fernhill (about 30-minute walk from the centre) I messaged straight away, and within 10 minutes we were on our way to view the room. We fell in love with it straight away and told the head tenant we wanted it… What I didn’t realise in Queenstown is that since there is such heavy competition for rooms, it is exactly that. You’re in competition with others and have to wait a few days for them to be ‘interviewed’ also essentially. I wasn’t happy to be living the hostel life for a few more days, but I understood. Eventually, I got the call – the room was ours! Feeling like we’d won the X Factor, we hopped in Tilly and headed out to The Warehouse (think from washing machines to wheelbarrows) to start kitting our room out.
5. Making Friends can be Hard
You will come to quickly realise, and any long-term Queenstowner will tell you – it is a very transient place. There are a lot of people from overseas on working holiday visas who are passing through. However, that being said, I have made some of the best friends in New Zealand who will be friends for life, and they make it worth it.
On the other side of the coin, it is actually very easy to make friends! There is an events centre in Frankton with a lot of team sports you can join. For example, Lewis started his own football team and joined a local league, where he met a really good group of lads, they would go on nights out, weekends away etc.
6. Food and Drink!
A very, perhaps the most important factor! The food, coffee and nightlife in Queenstown is, in my opinion, AMAZING! Food-wise, you have your standard fast food chains; which are hugely overlooked due to the amazing dinner options on offer. Below I’ve listed a few of my favourites:
- Fat Badgers – If you’re a pizza fan, then this is for you! ginormous 20″ pizzas with fresh ingredients. You can also buy pizza by the slice – amazing for a work hangover!
- Devil Burger – No lie, the best burger I’ve ever had. You may hear a lot about Fergburger, but Ferg has nothing on the Devil! on top of the burger being better, there are hardly ever queues (you’ll understand why that is a benefit when you see the Ferg queue) this place is more of a local joint – also try the curry cheese fries!
- Flame – A little more upmarket, this steakhouse was incredible! I had mussels as big as my head! This is a good date venue or for a big group outing, or if you’re not feeling being social, you can take away!
- Cookie Time! – A trip to Queenstown isn’t complete without a trip to Cookie Time. Incredible, soft baked cookies, great cheap coffee (they do a daily happy hour at 8 am $1 coffee!) and crazy milkshakes. They even do a coffee delivery service around town, just text your order and one of the lovely girls will deliver it with a mini fresh baked cookie ?
The nightlife is also great in Queenstown, ranging from upmarket cocktail bars to dingy house clubs. Below are a couple of my favourites:
- World Bar – A quirky bar with amazing food, great music and teapot cocktails! Great vibe in here, be sure to keep on the lookout for Bitchin Bingo once a month, not to be missed!
- Cowboys – Okay, this one is a little cheesy but fun! a (you’ve got it) cowboy-themed bar with a cowboy hat on arrival, a mechanical bull and huge steins of beer for $12. We’d usually start the night in here with a stein or two.
- Vinyl Underground – more of a late night bar (its usually pretty dead before 11 pm) this little club serves up house, electro and dance music until the wee hours. BONUS it is opposite Devil Burger which is also open until 4 am, so your post night out burger is only a few stumbles away!
7. Getting out is healthy
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve visited a few places now, and Queenstown is hands down my favourite place on this planet! However, it is small which is sometimes a bit claustrophobic. And you can get homesick and need a distraction from your day to day life. There are so many amazing places just a few hours from QT, for example, Milford Sound is a four-hour drive away, where you can take an incredible boat journey, and see sights that you won’t ever believe. Likewise, just an hour away is Queenstown’s little sister, Wanaka. Perfect if you don’t want to stray too far; great to chill out, have some lunch, take in the gorgeous waters of Lake Wanaka and watch the kayakers and paddle boarders (or indulge yourself!)
Another way to clear your head in Queenstown is going on one of the many beautiful walks, just a stone’s throw from your front door. From the Kelvin Peninsula track, gawping at the huge houses to the quick but tough Wye Creek trail to get a birds-eye view of the lake; there is something for everyone (and they’re free!)
8. Leaving Queenstown
Unfortunately for some, there comes a time when you have to say goodbye.
After seriously toying with the idea of extending our visa for another year, we decided to move on to pastures new. Not because we were ready to leave.. trust me, every morning when I did my walk into work and saw that lake and mountain view, I was seriously torn. But we had decided we wanted to travel South America. If you are wanting to extend your visa, it is fairly straightforward, a similar process to applying, except this time you need to pass a medical.
Finding new tenants for our house was easy due to said housing crisis mentioned earlier. I donated a load of my stuff to a friend who was staying long term, as well as selling household items on Queenstown Trading, including Tilly :”'(.
The hardest part was saying goodbye to this amazing little town that I had called home for the past year. I had loved every single minute. and saying bye to people I had met that I was leaving on the other side of the world, not knowing when I would see them again.
In conclusion: If you’re considering it, do it!
Moving to Queenstown has been hands down one of the best things I’ve ever done. I think that living in a new country gives you a greater appreciation of life, broadens your mind and the most exciting part – meeting new people who you would never have met if you hadn’t taken that step. I have made friends for life from all over the world who I’ll never forget and will see again!
Remember: a comfort zone is a wonderful place, but nothing ever grows there!