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I never dreamed of living anywhere but Melbourne until I visited Queenstown, New Zealand for my brother’s wedding. That visit planted the seeds for a year-long working holiday.
I was smitten with Queenstown. It was stunning and the vibe buzzed like Mardi Gras. After my brother’s I do’s at a local art gallery, I hit the road and travelled north for three weeks. As I explored Christchurch, Wellington, Rotorua and Auckland I couldn’t shake my impression of Queenstown.
After returning to Melbourne I tried to get back into the swing of my daily routine. I couldn’t. Without giving myself time for second guessing I quit my corporate job, bought a one-way ticket and said goodbye, for now, to my family and friends.
It was time to take a punt on something new.
Panic didn’t set in until I landed at the Queenstown airport. I panicked because I didn’t know how or where to find a job, or what kind of job to even look for. Then I needed to find a place to live and start to make new friends.
After settling in my hostel, I soon discovered a few avenues for job advertisements: Trade Me (like eBay), the local newspaper and hostel notice boards. There was no shortage of job opportunities and I soon found myself in an overwhelming pool of interviews.
But the Queenstown job market can be competitive because of the transient nature of the town. As much of a cliché as it sounds, I decided to just be myself and to find work that I would be happy doing. That’s the key to a working holiday, isn’t it? Finding work you enjoy and that makes you happy.
My first interview was a job trial at an upmarket cocktail bar where they expected me to know the difference between a pinot noir and a pinot gris. (I’d stated on my CV that I worked in a bar for five months in Melbourne, which wasn’t actually true.) Within the next few days I had three more interviews and I was offered each job including the cocktail bar. I was finding my feet!
Or so I thought. I chose the job that suited me best but it fell through within four weeks. My bank account groaned.
Back to square one.
It was a long shot but I sent my CV to YHA Queenstown. They hired me for reception and frontline sales. I was chuffed! This would be a dream job. Working in tourism in Queenstown meant I would be able to enjoy many of the tours and activities that travellers do, but I’d get to do them for free because it’s then easier to sell those tours and activities to guests. Queenstown is home of the adventure/adrenaline bucket list and I soon ticked off skydiving, bungy jumping (three times), white-water rafting and horse riding.
Everything was finally coming together.
I was lucky even though my Queenstown lifestyle was significantly different than my Melbourne life. My income was almost half and my rent was more than double. Saving became a pipedream.
But I couldn’t put a price on adventure. I had an amazing job, I found an awesome house and I settled into the best group of friends I could ask for.
The only possible drawback to living in Queenstown was that it could be exhausting! There was always something going on. I might dance all night at a gig, do a pub crawl or go to a party at a friend’s house. It was always someone’s birthday, going away party or a tourism industry function. I often found myself out five nights a week and completely drained for the few days I had to myself. I guess that comes with the Queenstown lifestyle.
I found my feet in Queenstown and I learned a lot about myself in the process. I learned that I can keep working towards a goal and, no matter where I travel or choose to live, I can make things work by tackling challenges one at a time. And have fun along the way.
I’m settling back into Melbourne life now and my friends and family are glad of it. And so am I, but I do miss Queenstown so much already. I might need to start making plans for another working holiday ...
Top tips for a New Zealand working holiday
Third-party agencies will offer to sort out the small stuff that’ll get you on your working holiday … for a fee! There’s really no need because if you take these steps, you’re on your way:
You’ll want to sign up for an IRD number, without one you’ll be taxed at a higher rate. ird.govt.nz
Be sure to set up an NZ bank account. No need to do that until you’re here but bring two forms of ID.
When applying for jobs be upfront with the employer and let them know your intended or planned travel times.
Have two quality references (your most recent employer is a good idea) on hand who are contactable by email and phone. Don’t sign that contract until you understand your rights!
Superannuation is compulsory in Australia but optional in NZ. Decide if joining KiwiSaver is right for you. Keep in mind that KiwiSaver can be transferred to your Australian super later.
If you leave NZ before one year or work less than 12 months in a tax period, you may be eligible for a refund.
And if you have any lingering questions about moving, living or working in NZ, newzealandnow.govt.nz offers info and tips to get you settled.