READER REPORT:

A reminder New Zealand - we've got it good

TIBOR INCZE
Last updated 08:30 17/07/2014
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MARTIN DE RUYTER/Fairfax NZ

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I was born in Europe, moved to the US when I was 10, then moved to New Zealand when I was 28.

We've been here ever since, and now have two lovely girls that we're very proud of.

Besides the countries we've lived in, we've visited many others, including Australia, Thailand, Canada, Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Romania, Mexico, Belize and likely a few others that I've forgotten. We're definitely not travel or expat neophytes.

So how does New Zealand stack up?

Aside from a short list of imperfections it comes out near the top. Let's get those shortcomings out of the way first.

Firstly, it's far away, which for us is mostly a cost concern. Shelling out upwards of $8000 for the four of us to visit family is hard to do.

Secondly, the weather can be atrocious, especially during the winter. Living in Wellington, I do miss the snow, which of course can easily be had by moving to the South Island.

Thirdly, the cost of food is outrageous. Considering the amount of farmland, dairy and meat, prices should be considerably lower. We shop at the cheapest supermarket, including going to farmers' markets as often as possible, and we still easily spend upwards of $400/week on groceries.

Lastly, heating and house prices would probably shock many newcomers. Heating in many houses/flats is nonexistent, or includes woodburners which are an outdated and dirty way of heating a house.

Those four items are the only real negatives I can pinpoint after having lived here for just over 10 years.

Now let's look at the positives.

Nature in New Zealand is amazingly scenic and varied. You have snowy mountains, gorgeous beaches, hot springs and even active volcanoes, charming rolling green hills, glaciers and rugged alpine deserts.

The great thing compared to any other country that may have some of these same natural features, is that here they're separated by hours rather than days' worth of driving.

Unlike the tourist attractions in other countries, New Zealand's are not ruined by crowds. We've been to many national parks in other countries where the number of tourists at a particular spot was overwhelming, and finding a parking space or an impromptu space for the night (even a campsite) was impossible.

It's also very easy to take a walk from many of the bigger cities, and feel like you're in a forest or countryside within minutes. I'm talking about wild bush, not a manicured park, although there are many beautiful botanic gardens as well.

People in New Zealand are by far the most friendly, helpful and positive people we've met. Complete strangers will often offer to help you if they see you struggling, without any expectation of money in return. Friends will do the same on a larger scale, and almost no-one complains about things, no matter how difficult their current status in life might be.

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There's a genuine community feel in many neighbourhoods, and neighbours and friends help each other out with babysitting or chores around the house.

In most cities in New Zealand, you can walk down the street after dark and not feel a sense of dread over someone attacking you, or worry about who might have a gun on them. Of course there's crime here too, but comparing two capitals, I'd much rather walk down the street late at night in Wellington than in Washington DC, or any other big city in the US.

Cities and even popular tourist areas are very clean considering how many tourists go through them. In many other countries you'll often find trash strewn about in the most scenic areas.

Getting four weeks of vacation per year is also a wonderful thing. Sure more, like in some European countries, would be nice, but having to make do with just 7-10 days as is the case in the US is difficult to imagine after having lived here.

New Zealand is culturally diverse, and works hard to preserve its indigenous Maori population. Instead of marginalising indigenous people as many other countries have done, New Zealand promotes Maori language and culture starting from grade school. It's also welcoming to immigrants from all over, and the immigration system is well set up.

New Zealand has a great public health system, especially ACC where you don't have to pay high priced insurance, or doctors' bills if you're injured. Kids checkups are low-cost (often free), and most visits to the doctor are under $100. Wish I could say the same for dental.

Best of all New Zealand has the lowest level of bureaucracy of any country we've been to. Getting a bank account, a job, a loan, even residency is much less paperwork, and much less time and hassle than other countries where we've lived.

As far as raising kids, there are many schools, often in green surroundings with small class sizes. Children are rewarded and encouraged instead of being pushed too hard to achieve. Playgrounds abound, and there are countless afterschool activities, many in beautiful green areas.

There's a reason why many statistical organisations measuring quality-of-life, rate New Zealand in the top 10, often near the top. That's a major accomplishment for a small island nation.


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