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Intro to Small Town New Zealand

Written by Travis

A while back I did a post about cities in New Zealand with a population greater than 20,000 since those are the towns with the most jobs where new immigrants might want to move to. But if you’re moving to New Zealand for the lifestyle you might want to live in a small town. While the job market will be harder to break into, you can always keep an eye on the jobs section of TradeMe and Seek and find that one of these small towns offers work in your career field. If nothing else, the following list may help you plan your first road trip once you move to New Zealand or at least give you a better idea of what’s out there in general so New Zealand will feel a little more familiar when you get here. There are a lot of amazing towns that didn’t make this list. These are just ones I’ve been to or heard a lot about. So if you’re a Kiwi and your town didn’t make the list, feel free to leave a comment about how great or not-so-great your town is.

Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel Peninsula

Coromandel Peninsula (Including Thames, Coromandel Town and Whitianga to name a few)-

The Coromandel Peninsula has a lot of small towns with populations of around 1000, but these numbers swell in the summer months. The Coromandel Peninsula is a favorite vacation destination for Kiwi tourists, and it seems to be a popular place for wealthy Aucklanders to buy their summer home. All of the towns cater to the tourist industry and thus offer more fun attractions than you’d normally find in such small towns.

Oamaru (Population 13,000)- Oamaru was a booming port city a century ago before a storm destroyed its port and all the major industries went bust. During its heyday the town sprouted a magnificent Victorian downtown area and neighborhoods full of enormous Victorian houses that you can now buy for a fraction of the cost you’d pay just about anywhere else in New Zealand. If you’re not impressed by the city’s architecture the two penguin colonies will definitely steal your heart. The city needs to fire its politicians and hire the people responsible for making Rotorua an international tourist destination. I predict that in a few decades Oamaru will finally get the attention it deserves from tourists and industries, and when that happens you’ll wish you’d bought some of the cheap property they’re practically giving away there now.

Kaikoura (Population 2200)- Kaikoura is damn near the perfect beach town with views of seal colonies on one side and breathtaking views of the mountains on the other. The main strip runs right along the beach and has all the restaurants, bars and beach-wear shops you need. Go to Kaikoura. Go.

Hanmer Springs (Population 800)- Nestled high in the evergreens high in the central mountains of the South Island, Hanmer Springs is centered around a massive and very posh thermal hot pool resort. This is where the rich go to relax and boost the property value. Like Oamaru, 20 years from now you’ll really wish you’d bought property here when there was still undeveloped land to be bought.

Arrow Town (Population 2100)- Arrow Town is an old gold-mining town that exploits the hell out of its roots for the sake of tourists. It feels like an Old West American gold mining town except for all the Jade stores selling Maori-inspired jewelry. The town is quaint and peaceful, and it’s a short drive to famous Queenstown.

Gore (Population 12,000)- There is no reason to go to Gore…just so you know.

Greymouth (Population 13,000)- There’s nothing exceptional about the city of Greymouth, but it makes the list because it’s the largest city on the west side of the south island, which is one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. So Greymouth is sort of like an outpost town on the edge of a wild and beautiful frontier. If you’re coming to New Zealand for adventure then Greymouth may be a good home base for you.

Takaka (Population 1200)- Takaka is located in the ridiculously beautiful Able Tasman Peninsula. Cut off from the rest of the world by a long, winding mountainous road, Takaka has become a favored destination of hippies looking for an out-of-the way place to sell hand made art and smoke weed.

Ohakune (Population 1200)- Ohakune is your quintessential ski resort town. So if that’s what you’re looking for, this is where you’ll find it.

Raglan (Population 2600)- Raglan is the quintessential surfer town. So if that’s what you’re looking for, this is where you’ll find it.

Waiheke Island (Population 7600)- Waiheke Island is just a short ferry ride from Auckland. The commute could be expensive if you plan on working in Auckland, but there are some jobs on the island itself, and once you go there you might not want to leave. It’s got all the beaches and wineries you need, and if there’s ever a zombie apocalypse you’d be hard pressed to find a more secure and comfortable haven.

Warkworth (Population 3200)- Warkworth is a great all-around small town. It’s got a charming and bustling down town area that wraps around a sleepy river. It’s also a short drive to some seriously awesome beaches like Goat Island. It’s not too far from Auckland if you ever get the hankering for the big city, and you can stop at Snow Planet to do some indoor skiing on the way.


One Response

  1. Hi Travis and Amber,

    I really appreciate your blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights! We moved to NZ from a small town on the Central Coast of California with our two teenage children in August 2013. We are absolutely loving it in NZ, and have no plans to move back!

    A little background… We spent a year living in Ellerslie, Auckland in 2001, which was quite honestly was the worst year of my life! I absolutely hated living in Auckland and wanted nothing to do with NZ ever again (or so I thought). Fast forward 12 years and our 15 year old daughter has decided she is will move to NZ and go to university when she graduates high school. Being that my husband had taken her and her brother back to NZ on numerous occasions, we knew she was serious, as she has always loved it here. My husband and I thought it would be good to get her settled, and were wanting a lifestyle change anyway. We were fed up with American politics, and the work-work-work, buy-buy-buy mentality, and decided that “an at least 2 year” move to NZ would be just the thing we all needed! Luckily our employer in California agreed to let us work remotely.

    Moving was a HUGE undertaking! Not only the paperwork, but we decided to bring everything with us (minus the stuff we could live without), because the first time we moved to NZ we sold everything, without realizing how much more difficult that would make settling in and feeling at home. It’s amazing how much comfort your belongings can bring you! So we decided to bring our things things with us this time, which really made a difference. And if you think about it, selling all your stuff is a pain in the ass—and you don’t get much $ for it—then you just have to turn around and re-buy everything again anyway, which is MORE of a pain in the ass! Might as well bring the stuff you need and like.

    In choosing a place to live, we knew we wanted to move to a small town (but not too small) that was no more than an hour or so drive from Auckland. My husband’s mother, step-father, two siblings as well as a bunch of family live there, so we wanted to make visiting convenient. We had been through Warkworth many time before, and decided it would be the best option for us. It turned out to be a great decision and the transition couldn’t have gone better! Phew!

    I would definitely recommend Warkworth for small town NZ living. It’s a great little town, with everything you need for the most part, and if you need bigger shopping or whatever, you can just nip down to Albany. Many people also commute to Auckland for work (more-so once the motorway goes in). Warkworth is cute, the crime rate is low and the people are very friendly. There are great beaches in the surrounding areas, and overall it’s a great place to live and raise a family.

    That said, when our daughter graduates at the end of this year (2015) we will be moving to the Nelson/Golden Bay region. Warkworth is great and all, but its a little too mainstream for us, and a little too close to the hustle and bustle. Plus we rarely see family unless we go to Auckland, despite being on their bi-monthly route to the family cabin in Te Arai! Might as well live somewhere we feel like we fit in better, plus is absolutely gorgeous in the Nelson/Golden Bay region! Lots more to do than just go to beaches. (I’m more of a mountain/river girl anyway.) We are dreading the move, but know it will be worth it. Will be nice living near our daughter who will be attending university in Wellington as well.

    Just thought I’d share my experiences of living in the small town of Warkworth, NZ for anyone who stumbles across your blog entry. Cheers!

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