Places to live and work in New Zealand

If you are not familiar with the country let’s get down to basics first. New Zealand has around 4,000,000 people. A quarter of them reside in Auckland, making it our busiest and most expensive city to live in. Other large cities include the capital, Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga, Hamilton and Dunedin. Each town or city in New Zealand will offer you a unique experience. We recommend that you do not get too hung up about ‘choosing the perfect place’ as your experience of a place is likely to do with the people you meet and things you do and there are plenty of great people and fantastic things to do all over the country.
As it is a 3 (main) island nation, there are a lot of towns located on the coast, perfect if you are keen for a beach town experience.
Here is a very simple summary of key towns and cities in New Zealand. Note that these are simply the opinions of the authors and may be different to the impressions or experience that you have.

North Island (with approx. populations)

  • Kaitaia (pop. 5,000) sub tropical, close to beaches (Ahipara is a great surf spot), high Maori population.
  • Kerikeri (pop. 6,000) The fruit bowl of the north, cute shops, the Stone Store, laid back, options of backpackers where you can find arranged work.
  • Bay of Islands – Paihia & Russell (2,500):
  • Whangarei (pop. 50,000) Northland regions largest city. Recommended for a supermarket shop as opposed to a long term stay.
  • Warkworth (pop.3,300) A cool little settlement about an hour north of Auckland. Warkworth can offer some seasonal fruitpicking and vineyard work at various times of the year.
  • Auckland (pop. 1,400,000)
  • Hamilton (pop. 140,000) Some people call Hamilton the most boring city in New Zealand. If you bypass the city there should be no regrets.
  • Matamata (pop. 12,000) Hobbiton abounds! Matamata has a lot of dairy farms surrounding it and this is a bustling little town that caters to farmers and hobbit fans.
  • Raglan (pop. 2,600) Many New Zealanders dream of living in Raglan. Laid back, a little alternative, some of New Zealand’s best surf breaks…definitely worth a visit and if you can find work there you will be envied by many other working holiday makers.
  • Thames (pop. 6,800) A supermarket stop then keep on moving along.
  • Coromandel Township (pop. 1,500) A bit of an alternative vibe in this town.
  • Whitianga (pop. 4,000) Popular holiday destination and big enough to have the many conveniences (like a selection of eateries, bars and a big supermarket).
  • Tairua (pop. 1,200) A great little beach settlement. Walk along the estuary or the beach and up to Paku for stunning seaviews.
  • Whangamata (pop. 3,500) Another great little Coromandel beach community.
  • Waihi Beach (pop. 3,000) The population can swell to around 15,000 over the summer peak. This is a great little beach settlement with Tauranga close by if you need a city fix.
  • Katikati (pop. 3,600) Has a lot of kiwifruit orchards close by. Seasonal work is available here and backpackers can accommodate you.
  • Tauranga (pop. 120,000) You might prefer Mt Maunganui to Tauranga, this is a sunny coastal city surrounded by kiwifruit vines and nice beaches.
  • Mt Maunganui (pop. (pop. 30,000) If you want a taste of beach life and city life then The Mount as we call it is a great spot to be. Over summer it is an extremely popular holiday destination and lots of casual staff are needed.
  • Te Puke (pop. 6,700) You would go to Te Puke to work in the Kiwifruit industry. This is the kiwifruit capital of New Zealand complete with kiwikart tours (think gold cart that looks like a mini kiwifruit).
  • Rotorua (pop. 56,000) This is the geothermal capital of New Zealand. The smell of sulphur is in the air and bubbling mud pools and geysers can be visited. Have your wallet full when you visit Rotorua, there are over 100 activity operators. Go lugeing and zorbing and rafting and relax in a spa or dine out eating a traditional Maori hangi meal. We recommend it more for a visit than for working.
  • Gisborne (pop. 34,000) The first city in the world to see the sun come up. This is laid back city with some good surf breaks, vineyards and lots of sunshine.
  • Taupo (pop. 22,000) The adventure capital of the North Island. Located on the shore of Lake Taupo, this thriving town is a popular stopping point for travellers. If you need to freshen up, a dip in the lake will do the trick followed by a bungy jump or ride on the Huka Jet to the powerful Huka Falls.
  • Taumaranui (pop. 5,100)
  • National Park (pop. 240) With a tiny population, National Park can accommodate up to 1,500 visitors in the busy winter ski season and summer hiking season. With Whakapapa skifield and the popular Tongariro Crossing nearby there are almost always opportunities to work for accommodation in this small settlement.
  • Ohakune (pop. 1,100) The carrot capital of New Zealand is a sleepy little town that bursts into life in the winter ski season. With Turua skifield nearby, Ohakune offers accommodation and nightlife to the thousands of visitors who pass through to hit the slopes.
  • New Plymouth (pop. 70,000) Ski, waterski and surf all in one day. Mt Taranaki looms behind the city and is a short drive away. Surf Highway 45 is full of little surf breaks and coastal settlements. A laid back and easy vibe exists and an excellent boardwalk that you could walk, skate or bike along looking out to the Tasman Sea.
  • Wanganui (pop. 43,000) With the Whanganui River running through the heart of the city, Wanganui is a pretty town. Take yourself to Kowhai park and have a return to childhood as you take yourself down the dinosaur slide. Head up the steps or lift to Durie Hill tower for some awesome views of the city and surroundings.
  • Palmerston North pop. 85,000) A non exciting city with lots of students and lots of clouds. Not worth going out of your way to visit.
  • Napier (pop. 58,000) Art Deco capital with lots of 1930’s buildings after a large earthquake in that same decade.
  • Hastings (pop. 66,000) The fruit bowl of New Zealand, near to beaches, one of the biggest and best farmers markets
  • Havelock North (pop. 12,000) A village atmosphere overlooked by the beautiful te Mata Peak. Check out Blackbarn Winery and its weekend Farmers Market for delicious local produce.
  • Masterton (pop. 20,300) Quiet farming town which hosts the annual Golden Shears competition -The Worlds Premier Shearing & Wool Handling Championships. Say no more. Check out funky little Greytown nearby.
  • Wellington (pop. 400,000) The capital and culture capital of New Zealand. Cool bars, cafes, boutique cinemas, hip clothes shops, boutique book and music shops, arts, museums, stunning harbour, seal colonies on the coastline and can be bone chillingly cold and windy.

South Island (with approx. populations)

  • Picton (pop. 3,000) A bustling little township where the ferries come and go from Wellington in the North Island. Set in the stunning Marlborough Sounds which is a haven for hiking, fishing and sea kayaking.
  • Nelson (pop. 42,000) Close to the paradise that is the Abel Tasman National Park in one direction and the Nelson Lakes National Park in the other direction, Nelson is laid back, sunny and relaxed.
  • Motueka (pop. 10,000) Lots of apple orchards, hop crops and tobacco grown here. Super close to the stunning coastal villages of Marehau and Kaiteriteri.
  • Kaikoura (pop. 2,100) A beautiful coastal town with mountains in one direction and the ocean in the other. Whale watching is a very popular tourist activity. There are lots of stinky seal colonies around and good fish and chips.
  • Hanmer Springs (pop. 730) Great in summer for walks, mountain biking and village atmosphere. In winter there are small skifields nearby and a large hot pool complex. Lots of cafes and restaurants require staff especially in the busier summer season.
  • Christchurch (pop. 370,000) This city is in rebuild mode after recent earthquakes. Lots of job opportunities expected over the next decade in the construction industry. Would be interesting to visit now and then visit again once the rebuild is complete.
  • Akaroa (pop. 500) A harbour settlement on Banks Peninsula 84 km from Christchurch. It is overlooked by volcanic hills, and dolphin boat tours are a popular tourist attraction. Work might be found in local cafes, restaurants and accommodation providers.
  • Methven (pop. 1,300) A quiet farming town in summer that transforms into a thriving ski town over winter with New Zealand’s largest ski resort, Mt Hutt, close by.
  • Ashburton (pop. 18,000) Central hub of the busy South Canterbury District which has a large farming community surrounding it.
  • Geraldine (pop. 8,000) Cool organic/artsy village feel to it. Delicious Barkers syrup is produced there.
  • Timaru (pop. 27,000) A not too exciting town on the East Coast…good for a supermarket stop
  • Oamaru (pop. 13,000) Small East Coast town famous for its limestone. Ecotourists may like to visit the blue and yellow penguin colonies near to the town. Well known Riverstone Kitchen is an award winning restaurant and the famous Moeraki boulders are not too far away.
  • Greymouth (pop. 10,000) Rugged West Coast mining town. Potentially best for a quick visit on route to the Pancake Rocks or Franz Josef
  • Arthur’s Pass (pop. 54) Tiny settlement that you pass through when travelling between the West and East Coasts of the South Island. The Tranz Alpine train stops there, and the small number of shops are sometimes looking for extra staff for the summer and winter seasons.
  • Franz Josef (pop. 330) A tiny town in the middle of nowhere that caters to the masses of tourists that pass through each year to visit Franz Josef & Fox glaciers. Hot pools and glacier hiking.
  • Wanaka (pop. 5,000) A more laid back version of Queenstown. Located on the banks of Lake Wanaka, it is a bustling little town in summer and winter. Near to Cardrona ski resort.
  • Queenstown (pop. 23,000) The adventure capital of the world. Busy over summer and winter. Skydive, bungy jump, mountain bike, ski, great night life, stunning scenery.
  • Te Anau (pop. 2,000) 3,000 beds available in summer, near to the stunning Milford and Kepler Tracks. Lots of work available over the busy summer period.
  • Dunedin (pop. 120,000) Student capital with Otago university, Scottish history, pubs, beaches, peninsula with penguins, seals, sea lions and albatrosses, cold but beautiful.
  • Invercargill (pop. 50,000) More of a passing through city if you are down that way.

In Summary:

Don’t obsess over whether or not you have chosen the right place to live…travelling is all about what you make of it.