So What’s New Zealand’s Best University?

People keep asking me what the best university in New Zealand is. Of course, I have to be loyal to my alma mater and say Auckland. The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s only university in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings – 85th as of time of writing. This was a factor in my deciding to attend Auckland in first place. Does this mean, however, that it’s actually the best place at which to study?

The Auckland Uni Clock Tower

There are two other universities in Auckland: Massey and AUT, which stands for Auckland University of Technology. (It often calls itself AUT University, which would make it the Auckland University of Technology University, which is silly and should disqualify it from the best university race under the rule of snobbery, if nothing else.) Both AUT University and Massey University are good for practical, as opposed to purely academic, degrees. AUT’s supposed to be good for hospitality and sports; Massey for agriculture. The problem with studying in Auckland is the eye-watering cost of rent.

An hour-and-a-half south of Auckland, we come to the University of Waikato in Hamilton. Accommodation costs are far friendlier here. I never even considered Waikato when I was choosing which university to attend, because it’s a lot less “prestigious” than Auckland. (And Hamilton is seen as a hole by the rest of New Zealand. I’ve lived in Hamilton for four years now and it’s definitely not a hole.) Looking back, I regret not considering Waikato, because its campus is actually a lot nicer than Auckland’s. It’s currently ranked 274th in the world.

Eight hours south of Auckland, we come to the Victoria University of Wellington. The is one of the universities I considered, but was put off by how far away from home it was. (And by how windy Wellington had been the only other time I’d visited – so windy my jaw had been in constant pain!) Maybe if I’d wanted to study Law, I would have gone. Being right next to Parliament, Victoria is great for that. It’s currently ranked 221st in the world.

The Otago Uni Clock Tower

Next, we’re leaving the North Island of New Zealand entirely and heading into the wild south. The most prestigious university in the South Island is the University of Otago. My little sister’s there at the moment. It’s in Dunedin, an inexpensive student Mecca surrounded by stunning scenery. If you want to study Science, or anything to with wildlife and the great outdoors, Otago would be an amazing experience. It’s ranked 175th in the world.

Our final two universities are also in the South Island, in its main city, Christchurch. The first, Lincoln University, is the second-lowest ranked on this list, after AUT University, (356th and 442nd in the world respectively.) It’s a small university that specialises in agriculture. The second, the University of Canterbury, is 227th in the world, making it the fourth-highest ranked university in New Zealand. It’s supposed to be especially good for engineering, but one of its most notable alumni was Ernest Rutherford – yes, as in the father of nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford!

Ernest Rutherford

Obviously, the best university for you depends on what you want out of studying. I can’t really answer, because I’ve only been to one. My personal preference for top three would probably be:

1) Auckland, because Auckland’s a great city to live in and explore, despite the cost of rent, and it’s a good all-round university with a vibrant student culture.

2) Otago, because it’s cheap to live in Dunedin, the student experience there is legendary, the university clocktower is picturesque and the South Island is gorgeous.

3) Victoria, because the quality of education there is good and Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city AND/OR Waikato, because the campus is awesome and it’s becoming a well-respected university.

A drawing of Otago Uni’s Clock Tower Building from 1879

The Ethics of Owning a Cat in New Zealand

A few years ago, a certain would-be politician became New Zealand Cat Enemy Number One. He denounced cats as sadistic serial killers and called for their eradication. Not only did he want every stray cat to be killed, he wanted people to stop owning cats altogether. Of course, the national outrage was great and ensured many ailurophiles would never vote for him, regardless of what his party’s cat policies actually were. The thing is, though, he wasn’t wrong.

I love cats. I’m known as a crazy cat lady. I’ve just spent the better part of five months fostering seven kittens and their mother. I’ve watched them grow from this…

weekoldkittens

… to this…

kittens

… to this…

kittens

… and now my fiancé and our flatmate have adopted three of them between us, Lennon, Loki and Circe. In fact, this whole article is nothing more than an excuse to show you our most adorable cat pictures!

Why, then, do I agree with New Zealand Cat Enemy Number One?

Well… I do and I don’t.

kittenThe thing you have to remember about New Zealand is, before humans colonised it, there were no cats. In fact, there were no land mammals at all. (Well, there were bats, but they only ate insects.) In a world without mammalian predators, New Zealand’s native birds, such as the flightless kiwi and kakapo, thrived. Then humans came, bringing with them rats and dogs and possums and cats, and bird numbers plummeted – the flightless birds didn’t stand a chance! Now, many of New Zealand’s native birds are endangered and cats certainly don’t help.

It’s not just that cats – yes, even pet cats – hunt the native birds. They also contribute to the spread of toxoplasmosis, a parasite that can harm other animals. My little sister studies wildlife conservation, and she goes on whole rants about why we shouldn’t have cats, or should at least limit ourselves to one cat per household. When I told her about our fostering plans, she got annoyed that we were rescuing unwanted cats rather than putting them down. It’s not that she doesn’t like cats either – we grew up with them in our home.

kittenswithswordsThat’s where I draw the line, though. I see nothing wrong with getting cats off the streets, desexing them and giving them a good home. I agree that you should have to desex your cats by law, unless you have a breeder’s licence, and that you should take steps to protect the native wildlife around your home. Obviously, the easiest way to do this is to have an indoor-only cat, but I also feel like it’s kind of cruel to keep cats inside their whole lives. For me, the best solution seems to be building a cat run in the garden, especially if you live in the country.

If you live in an apartment, I suggest taking your cats for walks on leads. Yeah, it’s a little weird, but it’s becoming more and more common. Maybe it’ll be the norm soon. We’re going to try it with ours… Wish us luck.

I guess I feel a bit guilty. Owning a cat in New Zealand is a bit dodgy, ethically speaking. But I’m not going to not have cats because cats are gorgeous and funny and cuddly and enrich our lives infinitely. If New Zealand ever decided to ban cats, (which it won’t,) I would seriously consider emigrating. I have a purring kitten on my lap as I write this and it just feels right.

gingerkittens