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So you’re moving to Auckland: what you should know

The first thing you need to understand about Auckland is that the city doesn’t stop at the city line. It’s like Los Angeles where the city sprawl has grown so big that you can drive through 4 cities and think they’re all one city because the buildings just run together all the way across. The actual city, what you will come to see as Auckland if you live here, is a giant blob that’s shaped like a stack of runny eggs spilling down from Auckland’s North Shore and all the way to Papakura. So when you go job hunting, don’t assume that all the jobs are directly at the little point on the map specifically labeled “Auckland.” See the rest of the streets on the map? Those other streets have jobs too.

Looking at a map of Auckland you’re likely to get fixated on the CBD (central business district), which is the area around Queen Street. On a map it looks like Auckland revolves around this area. This isn’t necessarily true. It would be more correct to call the central business district the North Eastern professional business district. Here’s why.

The CBD is where the Sky Tower, most of the universities, a few high rise office buildings, most of the real expensive hotels, the fancy night life, red light district, yacht harbor and tourist shopping is at. It’s like downtown New York…except without the constant fear of immanent death and rude taxi drivers.

There are a lot of jobs in the CBD, but they’re mainly high paid professional office jobs and minimum wage retail service jobs. If your skills don’t have you standing behind a cash register or sitting in an office cubicle then you might not want to focus your housing and job searching in and around the CBD. I’m not saying don’t look there. Just, expand your search really far away as well.

I want to say a few more things about the CBD, because you will go there eventually. The CBD has several major roads you should know about. Queen Street is the main street, but running perpendicular across the south end of Queen St. is Karangahape Road. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce that. Most locals can’t either. So everyone calls it “K. Road.” That’s the red light district, and everything about it is dilapidated. Head north down K Road for a kilometer or two and you’ll run into Ponsonby. Ponsonby is a microcosm of Austin, TX. It used to be the bohemian place off the beaten track, but when the business district grew over the backstreet, the back street sold out. Now it’s an over commercialized den of upper middle class young people pretending to be hip. Don’t get me wrong. There are some nice clubs and shops on Ponsonby. Just wait to go there until you have a lot of extra spending money. And dress nice to avoid condescending looks of disapproval.

If you head due east from Queen St. for about two kilometers you’ll cross a bunch of college campuses and a couple of parks (that are all completely safe to walk in) and find New Market. It wouldn’t be incorrect to call New Market a strip mall, but it’s really something more. It’s a long street lined (on both sides) with all the stores you’d find in a quality mall. Scattered randomly between the shops are chain and ethnic restaurants. It’s a good place to go if you’re looking to buy overpriced designer clothes for an interview.

So the CBD is shaped like a pitch fork with Ponsonby, Queen St. And New Market making up the points and K Road is the bar on the bottom connecting them. Once you leave that pitchfork area you start getting into suburbia. However, this is suburbia on acid.

Auckland is a melting pot of architecture. Most of the houses were designed by early British expat frontier folk who built these massive frontier farm houses with solid wood floors and long hallways. (You’ll probably end up sharing a flat with 5 other adults in one of these giant houses). Then they covered them in Victorian style awnings, windows, porches and roofs. Eventually the city grew over the farm houses. Apparently art deco architecture was all the rage back then, because now you’ll find leaky faux adobe/pueblo-style homes all over the place. You can tell which houses were built in the 80′s. They look like the cars from back then: faded pastel colors, broad and box shaped with boring window shapes. Then the modern Euro trend took off in Auckland. A lot of old crap buildings have been torn down all over town and replaced with minimalist shipping container houses with hipster angles and frosted glass everywhere. There aren’t a lot of apartment complexes in Auckland for some reason. Which is probably why housing is more expensive in Auckland than it is in New York City. Investment Tip: There’s money to be made in apartments in Auckland outside the CBD.

Auckland’s haphazard architectural style is made more spastic by the area’s geography. Imagine if 12 volcanoes just popped up in the middle of Los Angeles and warped all ground between them so that now there are hills everywhere. That’s Auckland. There’s not a straight road in the whole damn town. Everything curves around something. This means half the houses have amazing views, but the other half lost their view of the sky.

Speaking of the sky, it rains most of the year, which nourishes the already nutrient-rich volcanic rock so that every seed that hits the ground bursts forth vibrantly to life. So now giant elephant ear plants, palm trees and every oversized tropical flower is exploding out of the fences of every yard in suburbia. Now squeeze in over 800 parks, and that’s what Auckland looks like.

And it gets weirder. Somewhat randomly throughout the surrounding sprawl you’ll find mini-main streets of varying sizes. These are smaller, poorer, more ethnic, more local versions of Ponsonby, Queen Street and New Market. St. Lukes is large and highly commercialized. Onehunga’s strip is large and very local. There are no clubs on Mount Eden’s main street, but there is in Elerslie. Other towns like Mangere Bridge have short streets with token establishments: a dairy (aka cramped, dusty convenience store run by Indians, Arabs and Asians), a Turkish Kebab restaurant with one table, an awesome fish and chips hole in the wall, 4 places to get coffee, a tiny liquor store with shitty hours, an Asian vegetable shop, a pharmacy and one out-of-place business like a vacuum cleaner store or real estate office. These main street areas always have awnings over the foot paths (aka sidewalks) plastered with faded old ice cream ads.

No matter where you live in the greater Auckland area you’ll probably live within walking distance of at least one of these mini main streets, and that’s part of the charm of living in Auckland: walking down to your town center for a coffee or driving around town aimlessly trying to find a new main street with some hidden gem of a restaurant or novelty store.

This suburban sprawl radiates east from the CBD until it hits the ocean and south until it hits Manukau. Even the people who live here can’t agree how to pronounce “Manukau.” Radio commercials always pronounce it “Monico,” but in conversation I always hear people pronounce it, “Manicow.” Manukau is a second CBD that’s more industrial and not touristy. The rent is cheaper there than around the Queen Street CBD, and you’ll probably have more housing options. However, the farther south you go the more likely you are to get shot or accosted by a meth head. From what I understand, Papakura and Mangere Township are two of the most dangerous places to live. They’re not Compton by any stretch of the imagination, but still not the first choice for frail, pasty white people.

Manukau has lots of blue collar jobs and decent neighborhoods around it. A lot of the big industrial stores are there. So if you know you’re going to be buying a lot of widgets for your business you should plan on doing a lot of shopping in and around Manukau.

Right outside the airport is the industrial area. If you do warehouse work there’s a good chance you’ll end up there. If you’re anyone else, you don’t need to be there. Don’t reserve a hostel just outside the airport for the first week you live in Auckland. You’ll be staring at warehouses, parking lots and trucker food restaurants wondering why you moved to a post-apocalyptic country.

The three most important factors you need to consider when picking your first house or hostel in Auckland is food, shopping and transportation. You’re going to have to go grocery shopping all the time. The farther away you are from a grocery store the more exhausting, daunting and expensive your life will be. Countdown is the big grocery store chain. Look for housing close to one. You can also do your shopping online and have your groceries delivered from Countdown for a small fee. Pack N’ Save is a failed attempt at imitating Costco or Sam’s Club. You can do your shopping there, but the selection is bad, and I never noticed much of a savings buying in bulk there.

In addition to food, you’re also going to need towels, silverware, bed lamps, pillows, blankets, underwear, chairs and every other little thing that fills up a house. You’ll need to buy a lot of basics first, and you won’t realize what you need all at once. So you’re going to have to make regular trips to some place where you can get all this stuff. You can wander around every main street in Auckland looking for enough random shops to fill all your shopping needs or you can just go the Warehouse. The Warehouse’s selection sucks, but it will serve a vital role in your life nonetheless, and the closer you can position yourself to one the less painful and inconvenienced your domestic life will be. If you want to do some super, super cheap shopping immediately after arriving in New Zealand you should check out the flea market and the Mangere Township weekend market (not to be confused with the Mangere Bridge weekend market). Look them up on the internet for more details. You can just catch a bus to either of those though. You don’t need to live next door.

The last thing you’ll need is transportation. If you don’t take anything else into consideration, look at the bus and train lines running through Auckland and get close to one of them. You’ll find them at www.maxx.co.nz. The public transportation system in Auckland isn’t the best in the world, but that’s the worst thing I can say about it. It’s simple to use. It’s clean. It’s safe. It’s respectable. The better you understand it and the more you use it the easier your life will be. Be aware that buses won’t stop for you unless you wave them down.

When it comes time to buy a car you have 3 options. If you’ve got more money than time you can do a Google search for car dealerships and take a taxi to one. If you moved to New Zealand with less than $30,000 to your name you can take the bus to the Elerslie Car Fair any weekend and haggle with a local. Just make sure to get there early. That’s how we bought our first New Zealand car.

You’ll find the biggest selection of the cheapest cars on www.trademe.co.nz. That’s also a great place to buy home furnishings. The site works just like EBay. If you can’t figure out how to use it you shouldn’t be moving to a foreign country, especially New Zealand since TradeMe should be the first place you look for a job too.

Having said all that, here’s a rundown on Auckland’s towns starting on the North side of town going South:

The North Shore- If you take Highway 1 over the harbor it’ll take you to Northcote Point. This area and everything around Takapuna, Hauraki, Baywater, Devonport is a really nice place to live, but it’s expensive, and the traffic over the harbor bridge is terrible during the morning and afternoon commute.

Waitakere/Swanson- Rich people houses.

Glen Eden/New Lynn- Has a reputation for being a bad neighborhood, and it’s proud of its reputation.

Hillsborough- Nice neighborhood with good access to the highway and bus routes. Rent is a little high, but it’s not the worst. This is a good place for established professional working couples to raise a family.

Grey Lynn/St. Lukes- An okay area. It’s close to the night life and a lot of shops, but traffic is going to be a big part of your life.

Mount Eden/Three Kings- Everything down Mount Eden Road is nice. It’s not the highest class side of town, but it’s a good all-around place to live. If you can’t figure out where to live, start here.

One Tree Hill- Kind of a rich neighborhood.

Onehunga- You could say it’s kind of lower class, but it’s got character, and it’s conveniently located.

Oranga- This is a shitty neighborhood.

Remuera/Mission Bay/Botany Downs- Very nice neighborhoods. Bankers live here.

Ellerslie/Mount Wellington- There’s nice parts and bad parts. It depends what street you live on.

Mangare Bridge- Quaint area. Nice water front. It’s not the nicest side of town, but it’s affordable without being true ghetto.

Mangare/Mangare East/Favona/Papatoetoe/East Tamaki- This is the ghetto. Don’t move there.

Manukau- This is your standard concrete city. There are lots of jobs in Maukau and lots to do. There’s also traffic and noise, but you might be into that.


8 Responses

  1. Hi Travis,

    Great post, we are still deciding between Auckland and Wellington as to where we want to settle when we move over and this type of insider information is invaluable.


    • I haven’t been to Wellington yet myself, but all the Kiwi’s I’ve talked to agree that it’s a more cultural city and more authentically Kiwi. I think more people would choose to live there except that the weather is so bad it actually makes it not worth living there to a lot of people.

  2. Pray tell…how did you manage this ‘with no jobs, visas or housing’. , what line of work are you in? I live in the UK working as a Police officer and after 19 years the antipodean draw continues to pull….but how do you get in without visas or jobs?

    • We did have visas, but the story is a little more complicated than that. We had applied for a resident’s visa by taking the skilled migrant path (Amber is a teacher. I worked in IT). Everything was approved, but the final step was to get a job offer in New Zealand. Nobody in New Zealand would risk hiring us if we didn’t live in the country. There are plenty of workers in New Zealand to fill all the positions we were applying for. So we moved her on a holiday visa expecting to find work. We screwed up there because we should have applied for a working holiday visa. Once we found that out we applied for working holiday visas and sat around our flat in Auckland until it was approved. Then we went and got jobs, which was hard to do because most employers would only hire current residents even though hiring us would make us a resident. Once we showed the New Zealand immigration board that we had jobs they put the final seal of approval on our residency visas, and now we’re residents.

      I hope that makes sense.

      The housing issue is a whole other story that I’ll probably dedicate a blog to soon. I’ll mention right now that finding places to stay was easy. We just used hostels until we found http://www.trademe.co.nz, which is what everyone in New Zealand uses for advertising flats for rent and roommates wanted.

  3. Really great post, my job has offered me a promotion, pay rise and relocation package, meaning I’m moving from Welly to Auckland in a few weeks, and I have no idea where to start (being an ex-pat and not knowing Auckland at all).

    This blog is super informative. Thanks heaps.

  4. Hello! Me and my partner will be moving there in a year time. My mother and son has moved there 4 years ago with my new step family. My bf will be continuing his study and I’ll work part/full time. Even tho I have family there I would like to start independently with facts like this. I like your advice and explanation. Please keep in touch. Much appreciated. Btw my bf will be studying at massey uni. What location wud be the best to move in as a start. Would prefer own place. No sharing.


    • Mount Eden is a good place to start. It’s relatively safe, cheap and centrally located.

  5. I am terrified at the idea of getting on a bus. I want to move to new zealand in 10 years (I will be 35 in ten years) and live there until i wake up in heaven. I will want to buy a car and a house. Are grocery stores walking distance? Is there a way I can avoid having to take a bus? New Zealand is beautiful. How much money will I need for a small flat and a car?

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