What’s the best city in New Zealand to live in?


Written by Travis

There’s no best city in New Zealand to live in. The question is, which city best suits you? Having said that, the city that offers you a job is (initially) the best city in New Zealand, and since one third of New Zealand’s population lives in and around Auckland that means one third of the jobs are in Auckland. So Auckland is the most obvious choice of cities to move to. However, if you’re moving to New Zealand to escape the daily grind and get back to nature then moving to a city of 1.4 million people defeats the purpose.

These two blogs will give you a better idea of what life in Auckland is like:

https://brokenluggage.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/so-youre-moving-to-auckland-what-you-should-know/

https://brokenluggage.wordpress.com/2010/07/24/austin-aint-got-shit-on-auckland/

But what if you don’t want to live in a city with 1.4 million people? A quick glance at a map of New Zealand will show thousands of cities and make you feel overwhelmed. However, most of those cities have less than 20,000 people in them and only a few jobs, which you’ll probably have to wait for someone to die to get. Even then, the job will probably go to someone who is on a first name basis with the prospective employer. If you look at the list of cities in New Zealand with more than 20,000 people the list becomes much more managable. I’ll go through that list and tell you what I can of each city. However, bear in mind that this is only one person’s opinions, and they’re based on his limited experiences. I’ve also only included cities that I’ve been to. So I’ve left a few off, but if they weren’t impressive enough to draw me to them then that must say something.

Christchurch– Pop 360,00

Christchurch is built on relatively flat land, which means is has relatively straight roads (a rare luxury in New Zealand). The geography of the city allows business and subdivisions plenty of room to build. Immediately outside the city limits you’ll find rolling hills and picturesque beaches favored by people, seals, penguins and dolphins. I was put off by Christchurch a little because it reminded me too much of America with its strip malls and intersections. However, the locals swear by it, and if you’re worried about culture shock then the easy navigatability of this city will help ease you into your new life.

The downside of Christchurch is that its been hit by a series of earth quakes, and nobody knows if there will be more. As a result people are leaving the city in droves. This means the city is losing jobs, but housing prices are dropping, and the businesses that remain are desperate for employees.

Wellington – Pop 200,00 and Lower Hutt– Pop 100,000

If you like Seattle you’ll like Wellington and its sister city, Lower Hutt. The weather is notoriously bad. It’s cold, windy and rainy. However,the city has a vibrant indie feel to it. The main tourist street downtown (comparable to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street or Austin’s 6th Street) is called “Cuba St.” This anti-establishment, left-wing title is echoed in the city’s counter culture. The architecture is vibrant, and the surrounding mountains offer plenty of houses with a view (though usually the view is of dark clouds).

Hamilton- Pop 145,00

Like Christchurch, Hamilton has unusually flat land that is conducive to business. However, the city lacks impressive architecture and generally has a grimy Detroit feel to it. If I were a meth head I would move to Hamilton, but I’m not. So it would take a damned good job offer to lure me to Hamilton, especially when there are so many more spectacular cities in New Zealand.

Dunedin– Pop 118,000 (this shrinks significantly when school is out of session)

The weather isn’t perfect, but the architecture is stunning. Unfortunately, a lot of its Victorian mansions have been turned into slums for university students. Speaking of which, Dunedin is New Zealand’s quintessential university town. This makes it lots of fun for young people, but if celebrating the new year by burning couches in the streets isn’t your thing you may not want to settle down here. Also, when the university students are gone for summer break the population that’s left seems to be mainly red necks and geriatrics.

Hastings– Pop 75,000/ Napier– Pop 57,000

The Hawkes bay area where Hastings and Napier are located enjoys unusually good weather, and as such boasts a number of wineries. Napier is famous for its art deco architecture, but in my opinion they overplayed that card a little. Napier is a posh area that would be good to raise kids in, but young adults looking for a trendy scene would do better in Wellington or Dunedin. Hastings is a big farming town, and in 2012 it had one of the highest unemployment rates in New Zealand. If you’re not a farmer you probably don’t want to move to Hastings.

Rotorua – Pop 69,000

Rotorua’s foresighted city council has gone to great lengths to turn the city into a tourism mecca. There are hot springs and geothermal activity that make the area a geologist’s heaven. However, active sulfur vents make the town smell like rotten egg fart most of the year. You get used to it in a day or two and don’t notice it anymore, but  you still live in a town famous for smelling like rotten egg fart. Having said that, if other people don’t want to work there then there may be a job opening for you.

Invercargill– Pop 53,000

This town is located on southern most tip of New Zealand. This means Invercargill has two major setbacks: isolation and arctic weather. The downtown area has some beautiful architecture, but the whole town has a cloud of dejection hanging over it. It’s like so many isolated American red neck towns in the dirty south that all the young people want to escape from in their primer-painted hot rods but never do. Point in fact, the most famous person from Invercargill was a womanizing, suicidal mechanic. Most Kiwis I’ve spoken to have advised against moving to Invercargill.

Nelson– Pop 46,000

At the northern most tip of the south island, Nelson enjoys the best weather in New Zealand. The downtown area doesn’t have the most awe-inspiring architecture, but it’s laid out well. Plus, it’s got plenty of coast, and it’s a short drive to some of the most beautiful scenery in New Zealand. Most Kiwis I’ve spoken to would recommend moving to Nelson, and after spending a few days there I agree with them.

Timaru– Pop 45,000

Timaru is big but quiet. I was impressed by its sleepy, peaceful vibe, but younger emigrants may find it a bit dull.

Taupo– Pop 34,000

Taupo is a favorite tourist destination for Kiwis. It’s got plenty of tourist attractions, a breath taking lake, and it claims to be the sky diving capital of the world (a statistic I’ve added my number to personally). You would not regret moving to Taupo.

Blenheim– Pop 30,000

You can tell which regions in New Zealand have the best weather by the number of wineries they have, and Blenheim has wineries on every corner. If you’re the kind of person who likes the kind of people who like wineries then give Blenheim a good, hard look.

Queenstown– Pop 29,000

Queenstown is the quintessential tourist trap. A breathtaking lake nestled between prime skiing and hiking mountains makes this a favorite tourist destination for Kiwis. Some people complain that it’s over-commercialized, but it’s over-commercialized because so many people want to go there. The only problem is that since tourism is its main industry you’ll have trouble finding work in practically any other field.


Several cities that didn’t make the list because I’ve never been there are New Plymouth (Pop 70,000), which I know nothing about, Tauranga Pop 115,000 (which bills itself as “the Florida of New Zealand”) and Palmerston North (Pop. 82,000), which has been voted the worst city in New Zealand and John Cleese [from Monty Python] once referred to as the best city to kill yourself in.

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17 Responses

  1. You left out Whangarei, which isn’t impressive in itself, but it’s close to alot of beaches with a better climate then other parts of New Zealand to enjoy them more often.

  2. Travis,

    I’ve been considering a move to NZ from Australia,so I’ve visited a number of blogs written by expats in NZ and Kiwi media sites,yours is far more informative and objective, than most I’ve seen.

    Perhaps this impression is due to sample bias–there seems to be a rather high level of Australian bashing in NZ, not just from the redneck sector.

    • Glad I could help your research. Kiwi’s definitely joke on Aussies a lot here, but there’s no serious prejudice. It may be worth mentioning that most of the Aussies I’ve known here have moved back to Australia or are planning on moving back. I don’t know if they’re just being biased themselves or if there’s good reason to choose Australia over New Zealand since I haven’t been there yet. I do know (as I’m sure you already know) the pay in Australia is a lot better.

    • Well the Australia bashing is reciprocate in aussie so that’s a stupid comment. I’m kiwis and live in Brisbane and the aussies and it is worse here. Aussies have winat all costs and can be very racist. Let’s talk about indigenous people here and how they are treated even now in aussie.

  3. I am never sure why Palmerston North has such a bad rep. It is a university city. It has good picture theatres, A well laid out city centre, ‘The Square’. A professional theatre. Amateur theatre, Musical Theatre. Decent Museum. Good schools. 2 hours from Wellington. Affordable housing. Flat, but built on a series of river terraces so perhaps ‘stepped’ is a better term. Tararua Ranges close and visible.
    It is windy, as are many locations in NZ

    • Massey is a crapy University.

  4. I have lived in New Plymouth. It is a nice town with good facilities. Hosts a number of ‘Events’ annually. Many are held at Brooklands Park and TSB Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth. For example:-

    WOMAD is New Zealand’s pre-eminent cultural, music, arts and dance festival. People travel from all around the globe to perform and to enjoy 30-hours of music and culture like you won’t find anywhere else in New Zealand.

    Around 10,000 people gather each day for an exhilarating weekend of rhythms, sights and sounds in the lush surroundings of what is frequently described as one of the world’s most stunning venues.

    There is a renowned art gallery. Petroleum exploration and Natural Gas fields.

    It has one big disadvantage. Being right out on the west of the north island it is not on the way to any where. When we lived there it was a big deal trying to get people to come and visit. But I think this has improved with the advent of more promotion.

  5. Auckland is very crowded and many issues with traffick. Christchurch is racists, Dunedin way far away from everything and mouldy homes unless new. Wellington good but not if you are bicyclist- Christchurch is better for that but houses can be full of mould overall unless new. Queenstown expensive but expanding- very cold at night. All NZ practices nepotism but that is more practiced in South Island for sure. So it is about who you know. South Island can be a bit redneck and North Island is more diverse and tolerant of others. Wellington is expensive to live and so is Auckland. Most NZ used houses and rentals have problems with insulation- they did crappy job and power prices are high- this is an issue.

  6. Good

  7. I lived in Nelson for 7 years, very nice but like a lot of New Zealand cities it’s limited work wise, plus it’s isolated geographically. Property is expensive.

    Also lived in Tauranga which was also very nice. Good location in that it’s a couple of hours drive to Auckland.

    I think your appraisal of Dunedin is a bit unfair. It’s a beautiful city with amazing architecture – their council is also trying very hard to regenerate some of the old buildings around the city that have been left empty. Cheaper housing and some amazing scenery.

    • I’ve lived in Dunedin for about 10 years now and the a) housing here is beyond bad (mold, condensation, drafty crappy old windows and no insulation). The council is not doing anything about it and me and my partner
      b) paid for tiny shitty studio room which had share bathroom and kitchen between 8 other rooms with no parking – 230 per week which is 920 per month. The
      c) wages here are also shit and i guess it depends on where you work, but minimal wage is $15.25 and after
      d) massive tax you would be lucky to get around $11 an hour. The
      e) power is another thing, we lived in the house with 3 of us and on average our power bill was $240 in winter ( we tried to avoid using heat pump as much as possible and didnt even have oil heaters as they are super expensive) and about $150 in summer.
      f) Now for the weather its always cold and actually snowed 6 times last year (now imagine trying to get to work sliding on your ass from hills (oh did i mention that dunedin has a very large montain range)).
      So in general, this is my opinion and my life but I haven`t heard anything good about Dunedin from non-dunedin born people. Dunedin born somehow are brainwashed and love the city i guess its something to do with nostalgia etc
      I also forgot to mention that due to housing, cold weather a lot of Dunedin people suffer from asthma (house conditions) plus other respiratory problems and mental disease (depression and others again due to quality of life here).

  8. You forgot New Plymouth!

  9. I had to laugh aloud at your review of Hamilton. I’m from the states and after getting stuck there a night, I definitely had the same impression. The college side of town by the river is a bit nicer but I wouldn’t want to live there.

  10. NZ can be a very culturally racist country… Auckland and Wellington (it has earthquakes a lot too- check geonet site NZ) are probably the most accepting of other cultures. Christchurch was the worst from my experience re racism. I have lived all over NZ and the xenophobia can be bad in smaller cities. If you are English, Scottish, Irish or of Caucasian European descent, you will be liked and get work quickly, but if you are American or Asian, unless you are highly skilled in areas of need or bring a lot of money with you, you will not get work or get ahead easily. Invercargill, though isolated, has many nice people. Queenstown/Wanaka area is very hard-up for money and even using the library computer is going to cost you. Dunedin is friendly despite its partying student scene which is one of the worst for drinking and going crazy. I do like aspects of Hamilton as you are close to many nice places to hike and I would definitely put Raglan on my list of best places to live for a small town in NZ as it is a bit earthy, trendy and anything goes and anyone goes- a small surfing town with a huge health-organic food scene. Although someone said Nelson is a nice place- it is full of sandflies most of the year and you can get bit for up to 7 years until you become immune to sandflies or take lots of B1 and wear guard all the time. I find Nelson a bit run down and many people who live there want to move out as they are isloated and flights and fairies to get out are not cheap. Jobs are hard to get in NZ as it is a Kiwfirst mentaility and also runs on who you know – places like Hamilton can take you a year to get a decent job but you may have to know someone to get it. Wellington is the best for jobs (maybe Christchurch too as so many people have left but I am not certain). Auckland is also good for jobs. Bullying can be a part of the work environments in NZ so be warned and check the Health and Disability Act on rights. Taupo was not mentioned on here and is a nice place but lots of crime as the cost of living is high and jobs hard- food is very expensive there too. Wanaka is lovely but probably one of the most expensive places in New Zealand- for food and everything really unless you go during off peak times- the town is now 8K and grows to 30K during peak times. If you are going on a working holiday visa I would go to many of the smaller areas like Waitakere, Coromandel instead of Auckland, Tauranga, Napier, Raglan, Rotorua, Nelson, Akaroa, Wanaka, etc.. as they are very interesting places to spend time in. Wellington is my favorite city in NZ but I do not like the windy weather or the earthquakes- it is the most socialist and Auckland is the most conservative by comparison. Hamilton is the most growing city but it is hard to get decent jobs there and many of the locals have farming mentality, meaning they are not very progressive. Invercargill people I have found to be very nice but all over NZ you will find it a bit Victorian. Laid-back means going the Kiwi way. If you resist or have a problem with it, you will experience difficulties as dealing with conflicts is definitely not the Kiwi’s forte.

  11. I love New Zealand!! Spent time there in my early thirties bicycling and camping/ hosteling on both islands. I would choose South Island but just by a small margin. Want to move back there. Hopefully soon!!!!

  12. I’ve lived in Dunedin for about 10 years now and the a) housing here is beyond bad (mold, condensation, drafty crappy old windows and no insulation). The council is not doing anything about it and me and my partner
    b) paid for tiny shitty studio room which had share bathroom and kitchen between 8 other rooms with no parking – 230 per week which is 920 per month. The
    c) wages here are also shit and i guess it depends on where you work, but minimal wage is $15.25 and after
    d) massive tax you would be lucky to get around $11 an hour. The
    e) power is another thing, we lived in the house with 3 of us and on average our power bill was $240 in winter ( we tried to avoid using heat pump as much as possible and didnt even have oil heaters as they are super expensive) and about $150 in summer.
    f) Now for the weather its always cold and actually snowed 6 times last year (now imagine trying to get to work sliding on your ass from hills (oh did i mention that dunedin has a very large montain range)).
    So in general, this is my opinion and my life but I haven`t heard anything good about Dunedin from non-dunedin born people. Dunedin born somehow are brainwashed and love the city i guess its something to do with nostalgia etc
    I also forgot to mention that due to housing, cold weather a lot of Dunedin people suffer from asthma (house conditions) plus other respiratory problems and mental disease (depression and others again due to quality of life here).

    • I am thinking of moving to new zealand but your review of most cities leaves much to be desired and please honestly what do you mean by the fact that massey is a crappy university…

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