Backpacking New Zealand Solo – A Recap (The Third Step – Part 3)

Key in Wellington with the Cook Strait as the backdrop

By Kieran Ford

Settling down – Living in ‘Windy Welly’

Welcome to the final step of my 3 part New Zealand adventure. You can see Step 1 by clicking here and Step 2 here.

After exploring the country from top to bottom, I decided it was Wellington that I’d take a shot at living in.

It’s the capital of New Zealand, despite it being overshadowed by Auckland a lot of the time. Positioned at the bottom of the North Island, on the coast of the Cook Strait which separates the two islands, it’s a scenic but treacherous location. Commonly named as the windiest city in the world, it also routinely suffers minor to moderate earthquakes. And I mean like, weekly.

It’s not all bad though, those high winds lead to low levels of air pollution, so you’d be hard pressed to find a city with cleaner air quality. When the sun comes out the city’s residents affectionately remark that ‘you can’t beat Welly on a good day’. And it’s true, it is beautiful.

Kia Ora! My New Hometown

After two days of travelling on the Stray bus for one last time, from Queenstown all the way up the South Island and over that watery divide, I arrived in Wellington. It was a very subdued atmosphere the whole way. For most on the bus it was just a case of getting to the airport now.

I jumped straight onto TradeMe (basically NZ’s Gumtree or Craigslist) and got looking for a room to rent. After viewing a fair few I hit the jackpot with one in Aro Valley. It’s a central neighbourhood, has lots of cool little bars and my place was bang opposite the famous Garage Project brewery. The rent was $170 NZD per week, which is good for Wellington, and I shared the place with two girls and another guy, all Kiwis. ‘Sweet as’, all set to test out the true NZ lifestyle.

“It just seems so effortless for New Zealand to blow you away with its stunning scenery, wildlife and genuine people.”

The 'Solace of the Wind' statue that leans into the harbour braving that harsh Wellington winds.
The 'Solace of the Wind' statue that leans into the harbour braving those harsh Welly winds.
A full-arch rainbow over the Cook Strait.
A full-arch rainbow over the Cook Strait.
The 'bucket fountain' kinetic sculpture that splashes around continuously on Cuba Street.
The 'bucket fountain' kinetic sculpture that splashes around continuously on Cuba Street.

Beer and Coffee!

It didn’t take long to find a bar job. A cool one too, at a place called ‘The Fork & Brewer’. It’s a big open beerhouse style setting, with a continuously functioning brewery right there in the actual bar. From here, led by one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed brewers, Kelly Ryan, we produced between 25 to 30 different beers and sold them fresh on tap from behind the bar.

I had no idea it was possible for so much variety to be involved in beer styles. Some particularly peculiar examples poured during my time there were – The Demogorgon, a stout packed full of chipotle, cocoa powder, smoked manuka and… silkworm pupae! Sourbet, a raspberry and lemon cloudy sour beer. Divine Brown, a coffee, chocolate and hazelnut flavoured brown ale. As crazy as these ones sound, we had classic lagers, IPAs and Pilsners too. All seriously impressive beers and a great place to work seeing as we got to sample a free pint or two after finishing each shift!

I’ve ‘gone on a bit’ about beer there because it plays a big part in Wellington’s culture. There’s so many speciality craft beer bars to choose from. The city even hosts multiple unique tours and festivals to showcase the tastiest and most interesting brews of each year. Even the cheap crates you buy in the supermarket seem of much better quality than the bog standard lagers I was used to back in England.

Oh, coffee is another thing they’re obsessed with. Of course they are! It’s an unbelievably trendy city, hipsters galore. So the coffee game is top notch too – Local organic coffee beans are precisely ground and compressed, perfect temperature water then slowly filters through, before being carefully topped with milk that’s silky smooth and combines with the coffee to complete the cup with a silver fern, a tulip, or some other beautifully artistic latte art on the surface.

It’s ‘fancy as’, but it is tasty, and I soon found myself as the go to barista at work, as I became drawn in and obsessed with mastering the art of the patterns!

Tulip latte art on top of a coffee.
A fine example of how you can expect your coffee to be served.
Me sitting on the bar after my last shift at the Fork and Brewer Wellington.
Perched on the bar after my last shift. The 30 tap handles in the background and you can just about see the brewery to the right.
Enjoying one of the many summer time craft beer festivals!

A Few Months in…

It feels like a small city. Most people end up at the same late night strip of bars on the weekends – Courtenay Place. It has that ‘close-knit community’ vibe, you bump into people you know in the supermarkets, you can walk or take the bus to most places in a pretty short time. It’s friendly and convenient.

There’s plenty going on. I liked the live music scene. There’s Wellington’s own annual festival Homegrown at the end of March, and there’s the odd ‘big name’ act that come to blast out Westpac Stadium. Guns N’ Roses came to town when I was there and it echoes out around the whole city. There’s also multiple open mic nights to be found. I got involved in one and performed live with my guitar and singing for the first time!

I played a decent standard of football too, training twice a week and matches on Saturdays. For a country that’s obsessed with rugby I couldn’t fault their football facilities. Most pitches are state of the art artificial turf and an absolute joy to play on.

In line with the whole hipster vibe, it’s a very environmentally friendly and health conscious city. There’s ‘heaps’ of organic supermarkets, vegan restaurants and anti-pollution initiatives in place. I liked this aspect and became vegan for a month or so before withering out into a veggie and back to normal in about four months… Pathetic, I know. One day!

I did do my bit for the locals (and my pocket) by doing my shopping at the Harbourside Market every Sunday morning. Here you can find an excellent variety of fresh fruit and veg on offer for good prices.

Which brings me onto my next point, New Zealand’s an expensive country to live in. ‘Quick’ supermarket stops to pick up a few things can easily turn into $50 – $100+ shops. 

I guess it’s because it’s such a remote country with a relatively small population, which is part of its charm. You’re paid a wage to match as well, though Australia’s minimum wage is significantly higher. This leads to many backpackers choosing to explore the incredible beauty of NZ over a month or two, then going to Oz to settle and work.

Obviously it’s all relative, and it didn’t help that I headed out there bang after Brexit, so the GBP to NZD exchange rate had plummeted to an all time low…

Playing football for Brooklyn Northern United.
Playing for Brooklyn Northern United. This went straight into the top corner 😉
A silver fern tree.
A fern tree, an NZ icon. In the background you can see how the houses are built all over the many green hills.
The local Sunday morning fruit and veg market.
The local Sunday morning fruit and veg market.

(♫) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner (♫)

The novelty of living in a less hectic city soon began to wear off, and before I knew it I started getting itchy feet again. Nothing against Wellington, it was more for personal reasons. At the end of the day, I was still just working behind a bar and could only afford to pay the bills. I didn’t feel like I was progressing.

Despite my stereotypical British moans, I do love Wellington and I’ll always have a soft spot for it. It just wasn’t somewhere I could see myself settling.

I met some amazing local friends who’d take me off on incredible hikes up to breathtaking views, then off to sample some delicious fresh craft brews. It just seems so effortless for New Zealand to blow you away with its stunning scenery, wildlife and genuine people – exactly what I’d hoped for when I originally left London.

So, that’s the end of my New Zealand tales. If you’ve managed to read all three parts, or any of them really, then I hugely appreciate it and I hope you enjoyed them.

As always, please get in touch with any questions or thoughts via the comments below.

Thanks for reading / Kia ora!


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This Post Has 3 Comments

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