New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most stunning scenery – incredible coastlines, dramatic mountain ranges, and rolling hills, just to name a few.
What’s more, it has an agreeable climate all year-round, the economy is thriving, and it has a relatively painless visa process (compared to other developed countries). It’s not surprising, then, that each year thousands of foreigners from far and wide pack up their bags and make that big decision to set up base in New Zealand.
But how do you pick where to live in a country that’s so incredibly diverse when it comes to its towns and cities? With some located in the South Island, which is arguably the more scenic of the two islands, and others in the North, which tends to get better weather, there really is a lot of choices.
The good news is that no matter whether you’re a culture vulture, an adrenaline junkie, or a nature enthusiast, you’ll be able to find somewhere that suits you perfectly.
Temperature: 17-21°C in summer; 6-10°C in winter
Location: Southwest tip of the North Island
We’re getting right to the heart of things and bringing you New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, as the first item on our list of the best places to live in New Zealand. This thriving city offers an excellent combination of city entertainment combined with excellent scenery and a surprisingly chilled vibe.
Foodies like us will be pleased to know that Wellington is not only the official capital of New Zealand, but it’s the food capital too.
The streets are littered with high-end restaurants serving up fancy dishes, such as the Boulcott Street Bistro led by famous chef Rex Morgan, as well as more casual eateries serving up super tasty street food with a gourmet twist.
And if you find yourself overgorging at lunchtime (we wouldn’t blame you if you did), you’ll be pleased to know that in Wellington you’re never far from a good cup of coffee – the city was actually ranked in the top 8 in the world by CNN a few years back, and it attracts skilled baristas from all over the world.
But coffee isn’t the only popular drink in Wellington – it’s also a hotspot for craft beer, and you’ll find a huge selection of beverages in its many bars and pubs.
Yet despite these culinary delights that can be found in most capital cities, what really sets Wellington apart from the rest is its chilled vibe and awesome outdoor spots. Moutain dweller or ocean goer? In Wellington, you don’t have to choose.
The nearby hills make for awesome hiking trips, with gorgeous views of the oceanfront city down below. There are tonnes of boat-based activities you can partake in, or, if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, there are snorkeling and scuba trips too.
Even though it has so much to offer, Wellington isn’t a particularly large capital city (it’s not even the largest in New Zealand), which makes it less stressful than life in other capitals you’ll find across Europe and elsewhere. The small size combined with great public transport means that it’s easy to get from A to B even without a car, but brace yourself for some hillwalking, as the city is notoriously hilly!
The weather is possibly its major downside – it’s a very windy city, with wind speeds reaching 63 km/hour roughly half the days of the year! General temperatures are 17-21°C in summer (which peaks in February) and 6-10°C in winter, so it’s not as warm as elsewhere in New Zealand either.
Like most capitals, it’s fairly expensive to live here, but it’s not as bad as many other capitals in Europe or Scandinavia. Overall, if you want city vibes without any stress, then it’s definitely worth putting up with some breeze to live here.
Temperature: Dec-March average daily high (16°C); May to August (10°C)
Location: Southeast of the South Island
You might think that the name Dunedin has a somewhat Scottish ring to it, and you wouldn’t be the only one. Often referred to as the ‘Scotland of the South, Dunedin takes its name from the Scottish Gaelic for ‘Endingborogh’.
The town is located on New Zealand’s South Island, on the central-eastern coast of Otago. It’s a very popular choice among doctors looking to move abroad, as there are plenty of jobs going and it’s home to the country’s main medical school.
It has some nice historical touches, such as the beautifully restored Larnach Castle (which is, in fact, the only castle in New Zealand) and its lavish train station that looks like something out of a fairytale. But don’t get the impression that this is a stuffy town for old people – the influx of students keeps this town on its toes, and there are plenty of places to hang out and grab a bite to eat.
It’s also an excellent place to live if you like to be close to nature. There are tonnes of gorgeous gardens in and around the city, you can hike to some stunning nearby beaches, and it’s great for wildlife too – the Orokonui Ecosanctuary and the Royal Albatross Centre aren’t far. Throw in some wild penguins, seals, and sea lions, and most animal lovers will be satisfied!
Temperature: average of 23°C in summer and 15°C in winter
Location: Mid-to-north of the North Island
Another city in New Zealand that you’ve probably heard of before is Auckland, the most popular choice for people emigrating to New Zealand. The city is more populous than Wellington and jobs are in abundance, which is certainly part of its appeal for expats. This thriving metropolitan city has all the usual perks of such a place – like excellent food, trendy bars, and a roaring nightlife.
It’s also a very warm, opening place for foreigners, so perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s become somewhat of a cultural hotspot for New Zealand. In fact, Auckland is home to the best LGBTQ+ scene in New Zealand.
It does have the usual drawbacks of major cities, such as bad traffic and expensive living costs – Auckland is, unfortunately, the country’s most expensive place to live – but people live there anyway so it must be worth it.
Plus, despite it being New Zealand’s largest city, you still have access to some awesome outdoor activities while based in New Zealand, which you don’t get in similar cities throughout most of Europe.
It’s a haven for hikers, who’ll love summiting the tallest volcanic peak in the city, Maungawhau, and there are some awesome beaches just a short drive away, including tonnes of beaches that are great for surfing, including Piha, which is great for beginners and veterans alike.
The weather is warmer than in Wellington, with an average temperature of 23°C in summer and 15°C in winter. As much as we love a subtropical climate, be warned that things will get pretty hot and sticky during the summer months and there’ll be plenty of rain in winter.
Temperature: Average daily high temperature 19°C in summer and 15°C in winter
Location: West coast of the North Island
And now for something a little different… New Plymouth, located on the west coast of the North Island might be small, but it certainly has a lot to offer.
New Plymouth is situated in the Taranaki region, and it has tonnes to offer outdoor enthusiasts. A trip up Mount Taranaki and is a must-do for any avid hikers, and they’ll also love the chance to explore the surrounding Egmont National Park.
There are various other reserves and parks in the area where you can spot some awesome flowers and wildlife. For those who prefer the sea to the land, this area features miles and miles of spectacular coastal scenery as well as several beaches that are known for having awesome waves, making it a popular destination for surfers.
The outdoor way of life here has proved a magnet for active youngsters, and New Plymouth has experienced a recent surge in popularity that has turned it into a somewhat hipster town. It’s full of creatives, and the Govett Brewster Art Gallery is home to some excellent contemporary artwork.
There are loads of coffee houses and quirky bars and eateries dotted around the place, and the small size means that cycling has become a popular mode of transport in the area. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re after an active lifestyle and an agreeable climate year-round, then this could be the place for you to settle down.
Temperature: Average daily high temperature 19°C in summer and 15°C in winter
Location: South of South Island (inland)
Unlike many places on our list, Queenstown isn’t located on the coast. It is, however, situated on the banks of a glacial lake, and you’ll be blown away by the reflections of the mountains in the water.
Its position inland and in the south of the South Island means that temperatures here are slightly lower, and it’s a popular choice for world-class skiers in the winter months – but don’t worry beginners, there’s plenty to keep you busy too. It’s also full of plenty of other high-paced activities, such as skydiving, paragliding, and bungee jumping, making it a popular choice of residence for adrenaline junkies.
The town itself is fairly small but it has plenty to offer in terms of culture – there are various festivals held there throughout the year (focusing on jazz, pride, and even bikes). Plus, for anyone keen on a tipple, Central Otago is famed for its wine (especially its whites), so you can find some excellent beverages around and even take a visit to one of the many vineyards.
The fact it attracts so many tourists has certainly ramped up accommodation prices here, and it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the whole of New Zealand, but in return, you’ll find yourself in the heart of one of nature’s greatest playgrounds – just make sure you’re prepared for the cooler climates and the snow that you’ll encounter!
Temperature: Summer averages of 20-25°C and winter ones of 11°C
Location: East Coast of the North Island
Okay, so we know we said that Queenstown was a good choice for wine lovers, but if wine is really your thing, then you’ll probably find yourself more at home in Napier.
Located on the east coast of the North Bay region, Napier can be found in the Hawkes Bay region, which is famed for its excellent full-bodied red wine. The climate is similar to that found in Bordeaux, France, and most Cabernets, Syrah, and Merlot produced in New Zeland are made here. It makes sense, then, that there are swathes of restaurants in Napier serving up tasty treats to pair with your wine.
Napier is also a haven for fans of Art Deco architecture – after most of the buildings were destroyed in a 1931 earthquake, this was the style chosen for the restoration.
Consequently, these vibrant structures give the town a truly unique feel. But that’s not the only history around, if you want to get a taste of years gone by, then why not hike up the hill and marvel at Otata Pa, a reserve that’s home to some outstanding Maori structures (and is also great for hiking).
The stretches of coastline contain many hidden gems, including Cape Kidnappers (home to the biggest colony of gannets in the world), while the hills and mountains surrounding the area are enough to excite anyone that likes a good hike. The price of accommodation here is refreshingly low compared to other larger cities, and it’s also known for being sunnier than many destinations in New Zealand.
Good weather, great wine, plenty of cultural entertainment, and excellent scenery… we’re honestly surprised the population isn’t higher!
As we’ve seen, New Zealand is home to a range of destinations that have something to offer everyone. While it’s not the cheapest place in the world, if you’re on a budget and happy to avoid the big cities, there are some awesome options out there. Plus, the wages are great, the education system is excellent, and the healthcare is world-class.
Sun lovers will probably end up somewhere on the warmer North Island, while anyone into wintersports will probably prefer the South. Wherever you end up, however, don’t forget how many other magical places there are to visit in your new home – it probably won’t be long until you find yourself planning an RV trip so that you can see it all!
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!