10 things you should know about studying abroad in New Zealand

Simon Hird  / /  Geography  / /  University of Auckland  / /  NZ

Hope you guys have all had an awesome year at Uni and are enjoying your summer holidays. I’ve just got a couple of weeks left of my year abroad at Auckland so I thought I would put together a collection of advice and some important things I think you should know about, if you are going to or are considering studying abroad in New Zealand. Some of these are specific to the University of Auckland, but I am sure there are parallels to other Universities in NZ and studying abroad in general.

Alpenglow on Mt Cook

1 . Finding Accommodation

Finding accommodation is probably one of the most important parts of planning your study abroad experience and it can sometimes be pretty stressful. There are a couple of ways you can go about finding accommodation:

 i. University accommodation.

The university managed halls are probably the easiest option to arrange prior to your arrival. There are so many options available to you for a range of different prices that you can check out at: https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/on-campus/accommodation.htm Like Manchester there is catered accommodation available, but these are more aimed at those just coming out of school. Whereas there are other halls geared more towards 2nd or 3rd year students such as Carlaw Park Student Village, Parnell Student Village and 55 Symonds. These are generally the popular choices amongst international/exchange students so you are bound to find a lot of people in the same position as you and loads of people keen to travel around New Zealand. You can apply for these in advance so have a look out on the website for how to apply and when to apply by! I would really vouch for University Accommodation. Particularly when you are flying to the other side of the world, it is really nice to know you have a  solid base ready for you. They also run a pick-up service from the airport, so you’ll have a friendly face waiting for you when you arrive in Auckland.

ii. Private Accommodation. 

The alternative is to go private and find your own room to rent in a shared flat or house. This can be a little bit more difficult and takes a bit more research but can work out to be a bit cheaper. Spare rooms or people looking for flatmates are often listed on sites like Trade Me or NZ Flatmates so these are good places to start. The University of Auckland will also provide assistance for those looking for private accommodation, they have a load of helpful information on their website and some contact details for you to get in touch with. There are also plenty of Facebook groups around for Study Abroad students in Auckland and groups for students looking for flatmates so make sure to search through these too! The only issue with private accommodation is that sometimes you must be in the country to sign for the agreement, which may mean arriving without somewhere permanent to move into. This is more than manageable but worth bringing into consideration when you are deciding when to arrive.

2 . Pack light but smart.

Most probably you are going to have maybe 1 or 2 pieces of check-in luggage and one piece of carry-on when you fly to NZ. Compared to how much you take up to Manchester for the year I imagine this will be considerably less, it was for me at least. So making the most of that space is super important. Saying goodbye to some of those ‘just in case’ items is a good way to start for sure. Think about what you will actually need or can’t survive without and what would be more economical to simply buy when you arrive. In no particular order, here is a list of things I wouldn’t study abroad in New Zealand without:

  • Sleeping bag – used this so many times on hikes and weekends away, definitely worth the space it took up in my bag.
  • Camera – for documenting the adventures. I also have a little tripod for astrophotography – the night skies here are incredible! Bring spare batteries too for those longer trips.
  • Hiking bag – make one of your check-in bags a hiking/travel backpack. This is the best thing for weekend trips or longer periods of travelling.
  • Good trainers/hiking boots – in the summertime and on some of the easier trails you’ll get away with trainers but consider bringing some good sturdy boots if you want to get out into some of New Zealand’s backcountry.
  • Tent – I personally think camping is such an awesome way to see New Zealand. There are so many free campsites around too so if you have a tent this can be such a cheap way to explore. I actually bought one out here but you could probably pick one up from the UK for less or bring your own, just be wary of sharp pegs and check the regulations but I have been fine so far flying with mine. Also consider getting a 4-season tent, it can get pretty chilly down in the Southern Alps at night, even in the summer.
  • Portable charger/travel adaptor – I have two UK to NZ adaptors, I’m personally not sure if one would be enough as I use both of mine daily. Also consider getting a portable charger/power bank – super useful f you are travelling and don’t have access to plugs for a few days.
Lindis Pass and the Milky Way Core
A little tripod and a long exposure can go a long way

3 . Public Transport and Driving in New Zealand

One of New Zealand’s shortcomings is definitely it’s public transport network. In Auckland there are a number of train lines and the bus system is relatively frequent, particularly around the CBD, which may come in handy if you choose to live a bit further away from Campus. However for the most part if you live on Campus you probably won’t need to use public transport all to much in Auckland. Although I would recommend that even if you live close to uni and the city you should get an AT Hop Card when you arrive. This is essentially the Oyster card of Auckland and with you student card can give you really good discounts! All you have to do is register your card and load on your student concession, which gives you roughly 50% off the original cash fare. This will work on local ferries, buses and trains around Auckland.

Out of Auckland the public transport definitely diminishes. There are cheap buses available to you between the main towns of New Zealand, such as InterCity or The Naked Bus, with some fares as low as $1. There are also loads of internal flights and airport choices within New Zealand, which can be a really quick and cheap way of covering large distances. However with both of these options you are slightly limited and may have to arrange separate transport to those places you really want to go to, which can be expensive and mean you may have to sign up to a tour. Tours can be great if that is your kind of thing, but personally I don’t think they necessarily give you the freedom to properly explore this incredible country.

Car hire of Campervan hire is by far the most preferred method of travelling in New Zealand. This way you have the freedom and choice each day to decide where you want to go, when you want to go, how long for, and it also gives you the chance to be more fluid if you realise there is somewhere you really want to go or the weather changes etc. rather than being tied down to a fixed itinerary of a tour. Hiring a car and independently travelling may seem a little daunting but New Zealand is so geared up for it and is probably the safest country to do it in. There are so many hostels, campsites, and freedom camping spots around the country for you to drive between as you explore some of the less touristy spaces of New Zealand at your own leisure. I can’t emphasise more the fact that roadtrips are the best way to see New Zealand. Here is a few car companies I would recommend based on a few different categories:

  • Jucy – cheap, geared up for young travellers, lost of branches around NZ for you to drop off and pick up your car
  • Ace – really great customer service, solid cars and cheap
  • Apex – a little bit more expensive but a lot more car for your money, the car pictured at the top is an Apex rental car we had in the South Island (~$70 a day for full insurance between 5 of us, working out at roughly <$20 a day each for transport including fuel).
  • Trekker Adventures – for if you really want to get out in the wild in a classic Defender.

4 . Weekdays are for studying. Weekends are for Roadtrips.

I’m going to start by saying that you shouldn’t necessarily take this literally. What I am trying to say is you need to work out a good travel/study divide so that you maximise both. I took me a while to work out the balance and reading Tom Allanson’s recent blog post I can see I’m not the only one. It’s very easy to get swept up with being in a new country and wanting to explore as much as you can which might push your studies to the side. But equally as sad would be to totally focus on your studying and not give yourself the time to see and experience new places in your host country. The way I have tried to do it this semester is to work hard during the week and spend most of my time at uni getting work done to give me free time at the weekends. That way you can have the weekends as a time to relax and explore the incredible country you find yourself in. A weekend probably isn’t enough time to justify a trip to the South island from Auckland but there are so many weekend trips possible in the North Island. Here is a few to get you started:

  • Bay of Islands – Paihia, Cape Brett Track, Kerikeri Falls, Whangarei Falls (on the way)
  • Cape Reinga
  • Waiheke Island
  • Great Barrier Island
  • The Coromandel – Owharoa Fals, The Pinnacles Hike, Cathedral Cover
  • Tongariro National Park <= an absolute must do in the North Island
  • Wellington – City, Wairarapa Coast, Tararua Ranges
  • Hobbiton

DSC08557

As well as the weekend you will have two weeks off in the Mid-semester so make the most of these longer periods to go further afield e.g. South Island, Australia, Pacific Islands etc. If you are coming for the year you also have the close to 4 month summer to look forward to… I’ll get back to that in bit.

5 . Push yourself academically.

This is really something I hadn’t thought about before I came abroad. For me on a pass/fail year abroad I foolishly thought a lot of it didn’t matter and I finally wouldn’t have the stress of trying my hardest to get good grades. But this lack of pressure did quite the opposite to me. I chose the courses I wanted to do, the courses that interested me and dove into completely new topics that I had never studied before, purely because I wanted to. No longer was I at a point where I had to choose courses that I thought I would get good grades in or the course with the least coursework. I based my decisions entirely on whether the course content was something I valued or was interested in. And I ended up doing quite well. Perhaps I was naive. In fact I know I was but the experience helped me discover again why I am at University, which can sometimes get lost with the constant chase for good grades.

So my advice to you, even if you aren’t on a pass fail year is take new courses, experiment, within reason of course. Take hard courses, take postgrad courses and push yourself. Get to know your professors, engage with them and they will be more than happy to support you. Something I was really taken aback by was the support and openness of the staff here – they still want the best for you even if you are just there for a short time. For example I was able to take a postgrad course run in the Maldives looking at Coral Reefs, something I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing before I came here and chatted to staff about it. At the end of last semester I was asked to present some of my research from Geog 330 at the ANZGG Conference with Academics from all over Australia, New Zealand, US and Europe. As one of my professors here said, New Zealand is productive open space in with so many opportunities to push yourself, so by all means make the most of it.

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Presenting research at the ANZGG Biennial Conference in Greytown, New Zealand.

There are of course a number of academic differences between studying at The University of Manchester and the University of Auckland, which may take some adjusting but overall I have found it overly positive academically here. Have a look at my academic differences blog if you want a bit more insight.

6 . A southern hemisphere summer is way better than an English one so don’t be afraid to leave the UK in early July.*

*I guess this is only an issue if you are here on a year abroad or here for Semester 1. If you are here for Semester two I guess you get the best of both worlds so you can ignore this bit.

One thing that I know puts some people of studying abroad in New Zealand and the Southern Hemisphere in general is the need to leave the UK maybe only a few weeks after you finished your previous semester in Manchester. This might mean you miss out on that summer internship you wanted to do, or some time to save up for your year abroad or simply some time off. I think by the end of my first semester of studying here I was definitely ready for a break from studying after 3 semesters pretty much back to back. My first semester (Semester 2 of the academic year here in the Southern Hemisphere) ends at the beginning of November, with next semester not starting until March. That’s almost 4 months of time for you to play with. I decided not to go home and travel as much as possible in mine – you can check it out here if you want an idea of what you can do with all that time. Let’s just say it was the best summer I have ever had and rather than being something that put’s you off I would urge you to see it as an incredible opportunity to see the part of the world you are studying abroad in.

7 . It’s a safe and open place to be.

Following the recent horrifying events in Manchester my thoughts are with those who were injured and those who lost loved ones, they were far too young. But seeing the strength and unity of the city shine through on social media even from the other side of the world has been really heartwarming. This ode to Manchester from Tony Walsh epitomises the spirit of Manchester brilliantly.

The community in Auckland and New Zealand is just as strong as Manchester’s and I have felt at home here as I did in Manchester. The people are kind, open and almost always up for a chat (or yarn as they would say). I am yet to feel unsafe in Auckland City, even late at night we all feel very safe walking about the city. It feels as if everyone is out to help you in NZ – definitely a mentality worth adopting whilst you are here.

8 . Tramping and the New Zealand Hut Network.

Personally I have found that the best way to see New Zealand at it’s best is to go hiking, or tramping as they call it here. New Zealand in general is not an overly touristy place but there are some definite hot spots, and lots of those epic spots you’ve seen on Instagram or tourism websites can be quite busy during the day. What’s worth noting is that the epicness only increases as you get away from New Zealand’s classic road side stops and out into the wilderness. There are so many hikes out there, from just a couple of hours to multi-days trips. New Zealand is really geared up for it and you should definitely make the most of it, or give it a go if you aren’t sure if it is your thing. The DOC website has all the hikes listed that you can search for by location, which will give you information on duration, location, difficulty and a description about the tramp. There are also DOC information centres dotted around New Zealand that are always super helpful in directing you on good hikes to do, giving advice on weather conditions and just helping you out, so be sure to pay them a visit. New Zealand has 9 Great Walks that are pegged as showing some of the greatest landscapes in New Zealand over a few days, however there also so may others that are perhaps not as popular and shouldn’t be overlooked. A big part of New Zealand’s tramping experience is the Hut system. Huts are dotted around New Zealand and offer bunk accommodation in some really remote parts of the country. These are perfect overnight stops on some of the multi-day hikes and I would recommend that everyone coming to New Zealand should experience a hut stay at least once. Waking up in one of these Huts in the middle of beautiful mountains is an experience that will stay with you for a while. A few hikes/huts I would really recommend:

Day hikes:

  • Rob Roy Glacier
  • Hooker Valley Track
  • Mt Roy – go early or stay till late to avoid the crowds
  • Tongariro Crossing – again go early
  • Sealy Tarns (halfway up to the Mueller Hut – can be done in a morning)

Overnight hikes (some of these can be extended if you look for other nearby huts):

  • Brewster Hut and Mt. Armstrong
  • Angelus Hut, Nelson Lakes
  • Mueller Hut, Mt Cook National Park
  • Liverpool Hut, Mt Aspiring National Park
  • Mt Brown Hut
  • Tararua Ranges
  • Barker Hut, Arthur’s Pass
  • Mt Heale Hut, Great Barrier Island
  • The Pinnacles Hike (can be done in a day or overnight at the hut)
  • Cape Brett, Bay of Islands (keep this for a sunny weekend)
IMG_8064.JPG
Sunset from Mt Roy, Lake Wanaka

9 . Prepare for the Weather.

I read in a blog post before a came here about New Zealand often having 4 seasons in one day (Although Crowded House had already alluded to this being the case in this part of the world… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeYEyCDRHmE), this is not a lie nor an exaggeration. I’m not saying the weather is that extreme, in fact in Auckland it is relatively mild most of the time. But rather it can be very interchangeable and rain can roll in even on the clearest of days. The South Island can be pretty chilly though, even in Summer and perhaps home to even more unreliable forecasts. Layers are good. Rain coats and swimming trunks should both be packed on any weekend trip.

Wear suncream. At the fear of sounding too much like a parent I still think this is worth mentioning. With very high levels of UV as a result of the depletion in the Ozone layer around Antarctica alongside the outdoors lifestyle of New Zealander’s, New Zealand now has the highest rate of melanoma skin cancer in the world. So make sure you’ve got some strong suncream with you throughout the year.

Overall though the weather in New Zealand is pretty perfect. Warmer and more consistent summers than the UK and consistent snow cover in the South Island in the winters. You can hike mountains in shorts and t-shirts in the summer only to come back and ski down it in the winter.

10 .  Working Abroad

If you are on student visa and from the UK the chances are that you are able to work abroad. HOWEVER, MAKE SURE YOU CHECK YOUR VISA TERMS! Each Visa can be different but if you are a British Citizen you may be allowed to work up to 20 hours a week whilst you are on study abroad. This can be handy if you want to earn some money alongside your studies and travels.

A good place to look for Jobs is the Student Job Search website. They have a huge, regularly updated list of student jobs available around New Zealand, ranging from fixed contracts to one-off jobs in a wide array of categories. A number of societies will also offer jobs out to their members, for example I have worked as a photographer through UoA PhotoSoc. One-off jobs are a great way of boosting your funds whilst not having to fully commit if you are looking for something more casual.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list but I hope it helps somewhat! Feel free to post any questions in the comments or drop me an email simonhird1@gmail

Cheers,

Simon

🤘 🖖

P.S. If you guys want to see a few more photos feel free to check out my Instagram: @simonhird 

and…

the Instagram run by study abroad students at The University of Auckland if you want more of an insight into day-to-day life of an exchange student @studyabroad_auckland 

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