One year down, one to go!

Yesterday marked the one year point since I first landed in New Zealand. So much has changed since then, so I will attempt to summarise my first year in this post. To make it more interesting for you, the reader,  I will compare my expectations with reality in five different sections.

 

1. What it’s been like studying again

Expectations

One of the main reasons I chose to to come to New Zealand was to study. It had been some eight years since I had last been in academia (I graduated back in 2008!), so was feeling a mixture of trepidation (did I still have the self-discipline and motivation necessary to undertake a Masters course?) and excitement (this could open up so many doors for me if I managed to complete the Masters…). What’s more, I would be entering a new field of study in the form of social work, and was not sure how closely my previous knowledge gained from a degree in Psychology would match up. To top it off, I would be studying in another country at the highest overall ranked university in New Zealand (and top 100 in the world!) where the academic demands may be very different from what I was used to back in the UK.

Reality

Thankfully, I did not have too much to worry about. Although the first assignment was a bit of a struggle (getting the old mental cogs turning again!), it didn’t take long before I settled into academic life once more. Plus, being a “mature student” definitely gave me a different perspective on things from when I was a naive nineteen-year old starting my undergraduate degree. The reason I chose to study social work was because it seemed much clearer to me how it could be applied in the “real world” than Psychology, and so far it has not disappointed in this regard. The first practicum placement (similar to an apprenticeship but, sadly, unpaid!) gave me  glimpse into the sort of role I could find myself in at the end of my degree, and I was encouraged by how my degree might be so readily applied.

 

2. Living in Auckland

Expectations

Having spent most of my life growing up in rural Devon, and then being plunged into living just outside the metropolis of Seoul, South Korea, I was hoping that Auckland might provide me with a happy medium. I was looking for a city that would provide all the conveniences you could be expected to need within reasonable reach but not with the overwhelming population size of somewhere like Seoul, where a ride on the Underground is tantamount to a survival of the fittest! Also, being not too far from nature, parks and beaches were all important factors for consideration.

Reality

The closest comparison I can make to Auckland based on the cities I’ve lived in so far would be Bristol, located in the Southwest of England. Although the population of Auckland is around three times that of Bristol, the city covers an area roughly five times that of Bristol. The result is that the city doesn’t feel overly congested to say, somewhere like London, Seoul or Manila, although I have been warned that the daily commute by car is an entirely different story! In addition to this, I can’t think of many cities that I have visited that have so much greenery as there is in abundance in Auckland. Climb any nearby mount and you will be amazed by how many trees there around in all directions (unless you are near the coast, obviously!). The air also feels much cleaner for it, too. This is in stark contrast to where I was living near Seoul, South Korea, which was like a concrete jungle and everywhere appeared so brown, grey and dreary.

 

3. Working in New Zealand

Expectations

I thought that I would have no problem in being able to find work in a matter of weeks, after all I had chosen to live in the biggest city in New Zealand (and indeed, this was a big factor in choosing Auckland as a destination in which to study). I thought that my previous experience of working in shops and cafes would stand me in good stead for picking up casual work alongside my studies here.

Reality

Fast-forward a few  months and I was only working about 4 hours per week note-taking for the university and still waiting to hear back from a position that I had first applied for some two months prior! Needless to say, money became extremely tight and this was one of the most stressful parts of my first year here. Since then, I am on my third job here and really feel that I have found my niche as a telephone and online counsellor for children and young people in New Zealand. I couldn’t have wished to land a better job, and though at times it can be very demanding and require your complete concentration, it has been immensely rewarding and I am extremely grateful to have been given such a wonderful opportunity.

 

4. Renting in Auckland

Expectations

I had been warned prior to coming here that renting in Auckland was not cheap, and actually among the most expensive cities in the world! With all the university accommodation already gone by the time I had gotten around to looking for it, this meant I would be going it alone and accommodation searches was to occupy most of my first week  in New Zealand. I spent this first week staying in a hostel on K’Road where there were at least five strip clubs (one right opposite!) and party-goers roaming the streets right outside until 3 or 4am in the morning, without a single consideration for the jet-lagged person trying to stave off sleep deprivation in the hostel opposite. See my first blog post on this experience here: Settling in….

Reality

More by luck than skill, I managed to land a studio apartment within 5 days in a very safe and quiet suburb just on the outskirts of Auckland CBD. Whilst the weekly rent for a single person was on the absolute upper end of my budget, when Janice moved in the rent for two people was a lot more affordable. See How a couple can live off $500 a week in Auckland. This place has so many pluses: a really nice-sized clean kitchen, a communal living space with a massive wide-screen TV with Sky (which is hardly ever in use!) and secure entrances with CCTV footage. The only down-side is that we now have to keep our food storage containers in our room (due to Health and Safety Guidelines). Janice and I live on the top floor and probably do the most cooking out of everyone that lives here! Lifting our full-to-bursting food box up and down those stairs three times a day is certainly good strengths training, if a little inconvenient.

 

5. Living with someone for the first time

Expectations

This was a major concern for my parents. How would I cope living in such close quarters with someone whom I had only ever been travelling with before? They were right, to a certain extent at least: travelling with someone is completely different from deciding on whose turn it is to take out the rubbish, whether the window should be left open or closed at night, whether the fan should be on or off, whose going to do the dishes, whose turn it is to cook, when to do the food shopping, planning and budgeting together, dividing the weekly expenses, deciding whether we can afford to eat out this week (or even this month, when money is tight…), who’s going to put on the laundry? (who’s going to hang it up?) etc. etc. etc.

Reality

Once the initial “honeymoon period” was over (probably not long after a month!), the conversations that become necessary in order to function effectively as a partnership living together  (Team Sputnik!) start to take centre stage. Whilst there will always be a few teething problems (made worse by assignment deadlines, late shifts at work and general exhaustion…), most of the time we have managed to find successful compromises which avoids a feeling of growing resentment when the other one is seen as “not pulling their weight”. Talking from my own experience of the first two months I spent here in New Zealand (before Janice joined me), I can honestly say that my general well-being and happiness is much greater now than it was back then. We always knew that the first couple of years would be a struggle for us both financially, but having made it this far I am excited by what lies in store for us when we can start spreading our wings a little and seeing what this beautiful country truly has to offer!

How a couple can live off $500 a week in Auckland

One of the biggest challenges a couple living together for the first time must surely face is how to manage their weekly budget. Add to this the fact that one of you is a student (so can only work a limited number of hours) and that you are both living in a new city where the rent prices just keep going up and up, then keeping within your weekly budget challenges you to come up with ever more creative ways where you can save a few dollars here or there – because it all adds up! Here are just some of the strategies we have come up with in the six months that we have spent living together.

  1. One of the biggest savings a couple can make compared with a single person is on rent. Since Janice moved in with me, I’m only paying $20 more than when I was living alone. Sounds crazy, right?! This small extra tariff is simply to cover the extra power charges that another person living here would entail – so, effectively, you have an extra person living here almost rent free.
  2. The next biggest expense is food. It definitely pays to shop around here. For example, we have found that meat is cheapest when bought from Pak’n Save; fruit and vegetables are cheapest at Asian supermarkets; and grains for cooking (e.g. quinoa, polenta and amaranth) are cheapest at a bulk food store. Although this shopping around requires more careful planning (and may not always be the most convenient), when it gets to the end of the week you will certainly notice those extra savings!
  3. Public transport need not eat into your weekly outgoings too much if you are savvy with playing the system a little. With an AT Hop card and student concession I save 40% off the full transport cost, and an AT Hop card alone saves you 20%. Secondly, it pays to know which travel zone you are in. You get charged by the number of zones that you cross, regardless of the number of stops or distance you have travelled. By getting off one or two stops before your usual stop, you could save yourself over a dollar per trip, and the extra walk will give you a bit of fresh air and exercise for free!
  4. Eating out in Auckland can be expensive. We have found that by packing our own lunches and just going out for a coffee and cake can save us around $40. There are some places that offer cheap weekday lunches as well. So, if you really must go out then going out together at lunch rather than dinner can help you make big savings too!
  5. Entertainment. Tuesdays at Event Cinemas they charge only $12.50 a ticket (rather than the usual $19), so if you can arrange your date nights around this so much the better.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, we now get down to the nitty gritty numbers to show how it is possible to live off $500 a week as a couple living together in Auckland. (In fact one week, we got it down to as low as $381.12, but this was a one off and involved living like two hermit crabs for the week!).

Rent: $275

Food: $80 (meat, fish and eggs – $30; fruit and veg. – $20; other groceries – $30)

Transport: $40

Eating out: $60 (one meal out together and one “coffee and cake”)

Other expenses: $45 ($15 – wifi; $5 – mobile phone; others – $25)

Although over half our weekly budget goes on rent, this hopefully gives you some idea of how you can still live a reasonable existence until both of you are able to work full-time. It hasn’t all been easy these past six months, but knowing some of these little tricks to save will certainly help us in the long-run.

If you have any handy tips you would like to add, please feel free to post in the comments below…

 

Park Life

Since coming to Auckland, I have appreciated the greenery that is so abundant in the city. You only have to venture 10 minutes from our apartment, and already there are at least 3 parks at your disposal (admittedly, one of these is a school park, but still…), and many more just a short bus ride away. So even if you are here on a limited budget or don’t have your own car, there is still lots to see and do if you want to escape the concrete jungle for an afternoon.

Below is a list that we have compiled of the top 5 parks to visit around central Auckland. Admittedly, we have not visited all the parks in Auckland and the list is heavily biased based according to our own personal preferences and convenience to our location – but hopefully this list will give you a flavour for some of the scenic places that Auckland has to offer at no cost to you.

 

1. Western Springs Park

This was a unanimous decision by both of us, in terms of its familial atmosphere, the plants and birdlife (if you have not guessed this by now, Janice is a bird fanatic! Fellow bird-lovers should visit Bird Watching for the Under-40s) and just for its sheer size and open space as opposed to the hustle and bustle of city life. This was also the location for the Pasifika Festival I went to with a friend, which can be found here: The First Month.

 

2. Mount Eden Domain

Known by many as simply “Mount Eden”, in around 20-30 minutes (depending on how quickly you walk, and how many pictures you want to take) you can climb from street level to the highest point in Auckland. We climbed here just as the sun was setting, and from here we could see just about every main landmark in Central Auckland and the main islands that surround it (though it will still take us some time before we can accurately name them all!). It is easily accessible bu buses, and there are many interesting eat outs to explore and replenish yourself from just a short walk up along Mount Eden Road.

 

3. Fowlds Park

Although personally I would have rated Cornwall park before this, due to the average scoring system used to determine the rank order I must concede to a democratic vote. First and foremost, this park (and another one to follow) is one of the closest to our apartment so is very convenient for us. It has a very ornate stone archway for its entrance and it was the first park I took Janice to in Auckland (first love, and all that…).

 

 

4. Cornwall Park

Although more difficult to get to via public transport (from our location at least), this park is still very much worth the effort to see if you get the chance! It is the largest park in our compiled list and is home to One Tree Hill (the second highest point in Auckland – though only by a very small margin). There are lots of sheep here (and lots of sheep droppings!), many old trees and is a popular outdoor wedding location.

Janice adds: This year is momentous for One Tree Hill as the Auckland Authority finally decided to replant a tree up on the hill after twenty years with no tree there at all. I  witnessed the tree-planting event on a beautiful, crisp winter morning in June. The ceremony was attended by lots of people, including the curious joggers and onlookers. It was a historical event, as there was an incident in the past where an activist chopped down the pine tree, which was planted there before. In a few years, they hope to have one single pohukutawa tree (also known as the “New Zealand Christmas Tree”) to be standing on the hill.

 

5. Gribblehirst Park

Although last on our list, this park undoubtedly has the best-ever road name leading into it (and anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to offer their own in the comments section below…): Cabbage Tree Swamp Drive. It is equal distance from our apartment as Fowlds Park, and provides a scenic way of getting from Sandringham Road to Morningside Drive. It is the home of Eden Rugy Club, and even has a small play area for kids.

 

So that’s our “Top 5 parks in Auckland”. Feel free to add your own personal favourites in the comments below.

 

Bird-watching for the Under-40s

Well, it appears that I severely underestimated the demands of a Master’s course in New Zealand. My last post The First Month was written over 3 months ago now, so apologies to those of you who were hoping for something a bit more regular! Between starting two part-time jobs, my girlfriend arriving here (the other member of Team Sputnik, for those of you who were wondering…), and assignment deadlines there hasn’t been a lot of time left over for publishing blogs. I don’t know how my sister manages to juggle motherhood, writing articles on snowboarding, work and still finds time to write a regular blog as well! (which you can view here: megamum.com).

So, besides writing assignments and working (the “boring stuff”), what else have I been doing? Last weekend was my first free weekend, so Janice booked us onto a day trip to Tiritiri Matangi Island (which you can find more out about here: Tiritiri Matangi), which can only be described as a bird watcher’s paradise! Whilst this wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice for a weekend getaway, I could see the appeal of escaping city life for a day and being surrounded by nature again (one of the perks of living in Devon, I suppose). Although the whole idea of going on a bird watch as our first romantic getaway in New Zealand amused me no end!

So at 7:30am on a Sunday morning, Team Sputnik (Janice and I) were up, dressed and fed and ready to set sail to this birder’s paradise when we left the apartment, turned the corner and found that they were doing railworks at the station so there would be no trains running to the city centre on that day. Needless to say, that was just the news we didn’t want to hear when we had much such an effort to book ourselves onto this trip. So we then had a 10-minute run to see if trains were still running from the next station along (which they weren’t of course!), followed by a mad sprint to catch the bus that goes into the city which – thanks to some fumbling by one of the passengers in front of us – we managed to catch just in the nick of time. It was ironic that in the end, we were one of the first people to arrive at the ferry terminal when we were there over half an hour early (and we nearly got aboard the wrong ferry!).

In terms of the ferry ride over there, I don’t have much to say. This is because most of it was spent being rocked to sleep by the sideways movement of the boat over the water, after our eventful start to the day. Around 75 minutes later (and after a stop-off at another island first to pick up more passengers), we alighted the ferry and stepped foot onto this island and we were both struck by how lush green everything was. It was as if living in the city for the past weeks had anaesthetised us both to experiencing the full colour spectrum, and instead enhanced our ability to discriminate different shades of grey, brown and black (I realise I’m painting a rather drab experience of Auckland here, but that’s really how it felt!).

Here are some of the birds we saw that Janice caught on her camera:

Starting in the top left corner and working clockwise, we have the New Zealand Robin (which looks similar to the UK robin minus the red breast, though is unrelated); the bell bird; the female Hihi (presumably for the noise it makes); the saddle back (for its red markings in the shape of a saddle on its back); the flightless Takahe bird; the tui bird (which has a beautiful and distinct bird song, but is a bit of a bully with the smaller birds!); and lastly the more colourful male Hihi bird.

Here are some scenic shots and pictures of trees:

Starting in the top left hand corner and moving clockwise: the manuka tree (famous for honey, and not be confused with kanuka tree – which has a much softer appearance); a tunnel of trees; Rotorua Island in the distance; sea cliffs; a pond; “fire tree” (this isn’t the real name, but seems appropriate given the flame-like appearance of its flowers); and the oldest lighthouse in New Zealand (which had to be transported in separate pieces from the UK before it could be assembled on this island).

The rarely-sighted “twitcher bird”!

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Someone’s clearly getting into this bird-watching malarky!

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The most glamorous bird-watcher on the island!

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Taking a rest on a bench whilst watching a bird have a bath!

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The ferry ride home (otherwise we would face a $400NZ water taxi!) and a good opportunity to catch some shuteye after the early start.

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And as a reward for those of you who have read this far, my personal favourite picture of the fan tail bird looking directly into the camera (piwaka waka in Maori, which incidentally also means “This time for Africa” in Spanish in case you’re interested).

The First Month

Tomorrow marks the one month anniversary since I first landed in New Zealand (happy anniversary to me!) and today’s entry will include just a few of those highlights.

A couple of weekends’ ago I met up with my uncle who kindly took me for a drive around Cornwall Park (one of the biggest parks in Auckland), and then we walked to the top of One Tree Hill (though apparently there is no tree at the top now, so “No-tree Hill” would be a more apt name for it – even it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it). He took me down the sheep run on the way back for a bit of a challenge!

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Last weekend a classmate joined me in going to a festival celebrating the Pacific islands and their culture, called Pasifika. It was just a 20-minute walk from my apartment and the location was in a large picturesque park called Western Springs, with a lake in the centre of it. After settling down for some lunch at the Hawaiian tent, enjoying the singing and ukulele playing on offer, we wandered around the rest of the tents – from the most lively (Cook Islands and Samoa) to the most serene (Fiji and Tuvalu) until things started to wind down and we ambled back (stopping off at a bar en route for some light refreshment!).

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Last Friday, my classmate and I decided to check out the student bar – expecting to be able to find some cheap drinks. William ended up paying $10 (£5) for a pint of beer (but which looked much less than a pint), and I ended up paying $12 (£6) for a pint of fruit cider. If these are considered cheap drinks, then I dread what to think the cost of a pint would be in the centre of town! It’s a good job that the number of times in a year I drink can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

After the student bar, we headed into town to see what the Auckland nightlife had to offer. We ended up settling upon a lively Japanese restaurant/bar. This was one of among many such Japanese food places in Auckland, so we were spoiled for choice really! Having eaten and drank (William had another pint; I refrained still feeling the pinch from the last one), we thought we would postpone the nightclubs for another night. It was barely nine o’clock in the evening, but we couldn’t pretend that we were still freshers’ students any longer.

Last Tuesday was World Social Work Day, so after class we were all invited for some cake and refreshments in the student lounge. Little did we know that the cake would be so big! We were each given balloons to mark the occasion and told to not let them out of our sights. As to where mine is now, your guess is as good as mine…

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Other highlights of the first month include (in no particular order): this opportunistic bird willing to risk its life to grab a few food scraps from our kitchen; these beautiful pink flowers I saw walking back from my student campus one day (I don’t know the name of them); and this picture my girlfriend posted to my Facebook timeline (I hope that society has moved on from those days where all social workers were seen as were taking children from their families…).

So that just about wraps up my first month here. The weather is still largely sunny and warm, the people are still as friendly and helpful as ever, and the apartment is still my little spot of Paradise (even if sometimes it can be a little TOO quiet!…). I’ve just about completed my first assignment, and I’m about halfway through my second (due at the end of the month), and I have my first job interview on Monday. So things are definitely heading in the right direction!

Settling in…

So, it is just coming to the end of my second week here in Auckland, New Zealand and already so much has changed for me it’s time to put pen to paper just to make sense of the whirlwind so far.

auckland

So, I arrived in Auckland on a late Friday afternoon (after a three-day stopover in Manila, Philippines to spend time with my gorgeous girlfriend Janice) and it was hard to decide which country had less hot and humid conditions.Was it jumping from the saucepan into the fire, or jumping from the fire into the saucepan? I couldn’t be sure. One thing I could be sure of, however, was that I was a very long way from home in my first trip Down Under.

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I would be staying in a hostel for the first week until I found some more permanent accommodation. When I was shown to my room, I didn’t realise that it would be overlooking the main road and that Friday night would mean that most of the clubs and bars would stay open playing loud music until 3 or 4 in the morning. Nor did I realise that this would continue every night for the next week (even Sunday), being Freshers’ Week ‘n all. The road is known to the locals as K’road; based on my first week here, one can only assume that the “K” must surely stand for Karaeoke. The fact that the music they played was to my taste – a mix pop classics form the nineties, noughties, and today – was besides the point, especially when developing a new sleep routine to counteract the thirteen-hour time difference was the imperative.

Needless to say that when I moved into my new apartment in the quiet and peaceful suburb of Mount Eden it was like the heavens opened and I was being given a glimpse of the Garden of Eden (I’m not religious by the way, I’m just borrowing a metaphor…). And I must say, so far at least, it has lived up to every inch of this first impression. It really feels that I struck gold here, and with the current housing shortage in Auckland, I feel I’m extremely lucky to have landed upon such a place, conveniently located equilaterally between Epsom Campus (where I’m studying) and the City centre.

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Having found my slice of Paradise in Mount Eden, the next challenge to be thrown down the gauntlet was getting used to the public transport system. I had been warned by kiwis before coming that this wasn’t great – and maybe I’m biased coming from a quiet little village in Devon – but so far at least, I have not come to share their views. Okay, the city lacks an underground system and the roads around the City Business District are quite congested around rush-hour; but for someone who doesn’t have a car and who lives in quite a central location, I have found the public transport here more than adequate. I live just 300 metres from Morningside train station, which takes me to Britomart train station in just over 20 minutes, and from here it’s just a short walk to all the shops, cafes and restaurants that line Queen Street.

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Today, I decided to take the bus instead of the train, and it took a mere 15 minutes to get to the University of Auckland City Campus (plus a 4-minute walk from my apartment to the bus stop). The only limitation I have found is in getting to my university based on Epsom Campus: I would have to take a 10-minute walk to the nearest bus stop by St. Luke’s Mall and then a 20-minute bus ride to Eden Shops, followed by another 5-minute walk to get to the campus from there. But I have found that I can reach my campus on foot in the same amount of time it would take me to do this, and the health benefits are far greater. So I will endeavour to walk to my classes as much as I can in the future. I had considered getting a bicycle, but the route into Epsom campus is mostly uphill, so I think for the time-being I can just as easily get by without the aid of two wheels.

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So now that I have a roof over my head, can find my way around like a local (almost), and can get my basic provisions from the local supermarket and homeware store I have satisfied the survival level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. My next challenge is to find a way of maintaining my new status quo. In order to do that I need to find some kind of work that will support me during my studies. I am limited to just 20 hours a week on my student visa, but I wouldn’t want to go any higher than that anyway – for fear it could jeopardise the time I have available for my course readings and assignments. All day I have been searching job databases, and besides child-minding, barista work and telesales there doesn’t seem to be a lot on offer. Maybe I’m looking in all the wrong places, but I still remain optimistic that before long I will have something to show for these searches.

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I will end this post by saying that I think the kiwi people are amongst the friendliest I have ever come across (equalling the Filipinos in terms of their hospitality and kindness to strangers) and the weather has been beautiful since I arrived (only one washout day out of 14, and clear blue skies for the rest…). I have a lot to be grateful for as Britain faces yet another storm (I think we’re up to letter J now, which equates to the tenth of the year already, and we’re still in the first quarter!). So although there have been challenges (back injury, vomiting and diarrhoea, and jetlag being the most notable!), I couldn’t really have wished for a better start here in the land of hobbits.