What the Internet’s Like in New Zealand

It’s the year 2000, and you’re trying to connect to the Internet. You grit your teeth through the cacophony of chirps and screeches, like crickets being tortured through a transistor radio.

(Yes, kids, that was the mating call of the dial-up modem.)

You think you’re finally connected when suddenly your mum’s voice starts coming through the computer speakers. She’s on the phone; your very important MSN Messenger session with friends with whom you’ve just been at school will have to wait. Your initial annoyance is replaced with the thought that this would be a great way to spy on people…

Those were the days. The days of asking Jeeves, in grammatically correct sentences, the answers to your homework. Of logging into chat rooms just to see if there were any of those bad people you’d been warned about. Of wondering what on earth a Trojan was and why it had anything to do with horses… For me, those were the days just before my family immigrated to New Zealand.

Back then, I knew very little about New Zealand. I was a nine-year-old living on the other side of the planet. The image I had was of the sort of South Pacific island that cartoon characters tend to get stranded on, populated by primitive tribes. The chances of them having the Internet, I thought, weren’t high.

Obviously, I was wrong.

We moved to New Zealand in 2001. Over the next decade, we progressed from dial-up to wireless broadband, but it was slow, unreliable and expensive. If you ever asked why, you’d receive a vague reply involving New Zealand’s low population density.

Our usage was carefully monitored to make sure we didn’t go over our data limit each month. You know when your dad stalks around the house turning off heaters to save money? Well it was like that, but with YouTube. When I left home for university in 2009, I had decent Internet access for the first time in my life.

I was living at a university hall of residence. I was amazed: YouTube videos played without buffering! Like at all! It wasn’t wireless, but I wouldn’t get Internet access that good again for another few years. In 2012, I lived in a building that charged you $10 for 1GB, and it expired after a week. I used to ration it out so carefully, consuming it slither by slither. I had just enough data per week to do all my uni work and watch ONE episode of Game of Thrones.

Internet access in New Zealand has gotten better over the last few years. Speeds have greatly improved, and fibre is more widely available. Even now, though, you’re looking at $100 a month for unlimited Internet plans.

I will say, if you’re looking to move to New Zealand, don’t be put off by the relative crapness of its Internet access. I mean I work from home; my job depends on the Internet, and I’m fine. I only occasionally experience frustratingly slow speeds and am rarely unable to connect at all. I do, however, live in a city. If you’re planning on running an Internet-reliant business in New Zealand, it would probably be better not to live anywhere rural.

If you’re looking to travel around New Zealand, beware that mobile data coverage is patchy. You can buy mobile data for about $20 a month for 10GB a month. More and more city centres have free WiFi now, and many cafés do. Libraries, information centres and museums have it, but don’t expect much.

For more New Zealand holiday tips, check out my 10 Totally Awesome New Zealand Holiday Tips. (They’re totally awesome.)

Healthcare in New Zealand

New Zealand has always been an attractive destination, but now it seems more so than ever. My Best Place to Live in New Zealand article suddenly became popular at the end of last year – no prizes for guessing why – and continues to be one of Poms Away’s most-viewed. So, with no sign of global interest in moving to New Zealand slowing down, I thought I’d write an article of use to both potential immigrants and tourists. (Also, I registered at a new medical centre just this morning, so the topic happens to be on my mind. I moved house last week, you see.)

Socialised Healthcare

In New Zealand, the medical system is socialised. This means that hospital visits are free for citizens and permanent residents. Even tourists can get help with accidental injury treatment costs through ACC, the Accident Compensation Corporation. Yes, it means you pay for the nation’s healthcare through your taxes, but most people are fine with that and wish more was spent on it. And it means you’re not screwed if you can’t afford health insurance.

Health Insurance

Only about a third of New Zealanders have health insurance. It’s a good thing to have if you can afford it, as in the public system waiting times for surgery can be horrendous. (But, hey, it’s a lot better than nothing at all.) Obviously, you can get a better quality of care if you go private.

Doctors’ Visits

doctor-1825417_960_720Seeing a GP in New Zealand isn’t free, but it is subsidised as long as you’re enrolled at the medical centre you’re attending. Enrolling is free – just make sure you take your passport with you. Depending on which medical centre you choose, visits can cost anywhere from $10 to $70, with about $40 being normal. Under-13’s are generally free. You usually need to book appointments a few days in advance, but you can get emergency appointments, or go to an emergency clinic – but they’re quite expensive, maybe between $50 and $100 per visit. (This is New Zealand dollars, remember.)

Prescriptions

Most medicine you get on prescription is subsidised, so you’ll only pay $5 for it, no matter what it is. There was a bit of excitement recently following the announcement that the contraceptive pill might soon become available in New Zealand over-the-counter, but my excitement dissipated when I read that it would cost $45 for a three-month supply. (That’s the same as the cost of a six-month supply of on-prescription contraceptive pills, including the doctor’s visit you need to obtain the prescription.)

Doctors’ Visits for Tourists

Long story short, if you’re going to be visiting New Zealand as a tourist, get health insurance. Casual appointments for non-residents can cost in excess of $100. And don’t even ask about the cost of an ambulance.

Ambulances

Okay, I’ll tell you anyway. If you have to take a ride in an ambulance and you’re not a New Zealand resident, it’ll cost you $800. (Yeah. Get travel insurance, tourists.) But it’s less than $100 for residents, and if you’re rushed to hospital following an accident, ACC pays.

Abortion

Abortion is legal in New Zealand up to 20 weeks, but only if two separate, properly certified abortion doctors declare you physically or mentally unfit to have a child. There are allowances for cases of incest, sexual abuse, foetal abnormality and extremes of age. After 20 weeks, an abortion may only be performed to save the life of the mother, or to prevent serious permanent injury.

Dentistry

Children can visit the dentist for free in New Zealand, but adults can’t. For the majority of the population, dentistry isn’t subsidised at all. Indeed, less than half the population sees a dentist on any kind of regular basis. People simply can’t afford it. You’re looking at an average of perhaps $100 for an examination with x-rays.

Optometry

Similar to dentistry, children can get free vision checks in certain places, and people with community services cards are entitled to a children’s spectacle subsidy, but not so for adults. The cheapest eye tests I’ve found are $60, and you can expect to pay up to $600 for mid-range glasses. The ones I’m wearing now cost, I think, $250, including lenses.

specs-42797_960_720

Overall

Overall, I’m happy with the quality of healthcare available in New Zealand. Because it’s socialised, I’ve never had to worry about going to the hospital. People looking at immigrating to New Zealand, however, may have their application declined if it’s judged that they would be an undue burden on the health system.

I would like to add that, last week, my mum had to have surgery. She doesn’t have health insurance, so, of course, it was done through the public health system. She says she is very pleased with how everything went: she felt the treatment she received was professional and efficient, and her standard of care was excellent. The surgery would have cost a lot of money, but she didn’t pay a thing. I’m especially thankful for socialised healthcare right now.

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Hello, everyone – I’m back! Firstly, thank you to all the readers who messaged me over the Christmas break. It means a lot – not only that some people enjoy my writing, but that they actually find it helpful! Yay!

I suppose I should have expected the sudden rush of views, what with people googling where to visit over Christmas. I certainly found myself googling new places to visit, which is how I found the beautiful Kaiate Falls.

My partner and I were staying with my parents in Tauranga, in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty. Tauranga is a fantastic place for a holiday. My 10 Free Things to Do around Tauranga happens to be one of the articles contributing to the sudden rush of views, and now I think I should make Kaiate Falls number eleven. Just look at the pictures I got!

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

Kaiate Falls

The walk around Kaiate Falls isn’t terribly long, but it does get quite steep. Despite the heat of the day, I was glad not to be visiting the falls in winter. I had the feeling that the paths would become uncomfortably muddy and slippery in wet weather. There were many people swimming in the falls, despite the sign at the top advising against it. I suppose as long as you don’t have any open wounds, and don’t swallow any of the water… It really is a pity about New Zealand’s waterways.

Kaiate Falls

But they’re lovely to look at. Check out The North Island’s 10 Best Waterfalls – although I’d probably replace Hunua Falls with Kaiate Falls now!

Kaiate Falls

After going to the falls, we went to the nearby Papamoa Beach. There’s nothing particularly special about Papamoa Beach, but the Bluebiyou Restaurant, which overlooks it, has wonderful food. Every mouthful of my mushroom risotto tasted divine, but I wanted to order everything on the menu! I’m looking forward to going back next time I’m in Tauranga.

Although I don’t think Papamoa Beach is particularly special, it’s still a very popular beach. And, I suppose, if it was the first New Zealand beach you’d ever seen, you’d be impressed. It’s not as crowded as Mount Maunganui’s main beach, being further along the coast from the Mount, and you can still bodyboard there.

Kaiate Falls

So… Kaiate Falls: if your visit to the Bay of Plenty is fleeting, don’t bother with the falls, as there are lots of other things you should see first, BUT if you’re going to be there a while, the falls are a great place to go. And here’s a bonus: if you have a self-contained campervan rental, you can stay at Kaiate Falls for up to three nights for FREE, and you don’t even have to book. For more New Zealand campervan hire holiday advice, check out my tips for travelling New Zealand in a motorhome.

Hope you’re all still having a wonderful summer. (Or winter!) See you next week.

Auckland to Christchurch by Campervan

POMS AWAY!

A friend of mine is on an epic journey. He’s just arrived in New Zealand from Europe. He’s picked up a campervan hire in Auckland and he’s taking it all the way down to Christchurch. Naturally he asked me for advice: where should he stop along the way? I was only too happy to help.

1) The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

AratakiVisitorCentre07

I often tell people the first place you should go in New Zealand (if you’ve landed in Auckland) is the Arataki Visitor Centre. It’s a great place to learn about New Zealand, especially if you’re interested in bush walks – an integral part of the New Zealand experience. The Arataki Visitor Centre is located in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, just half an hour’s drive west of the centre of Auckland City. It provides easy access to a multitude of bush walks, short and long; relaxing and…

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Stratford-upon-Patea: Town of Pioneers, Players and Peaks

Taranaki Pioneer Village

StratfordA Tudor-style clock tower isn’t what one expects to see when driving through a small New Zealand town. When one realises the town’s name is Stratford, however, it makes perfect sense.

The Stratford Clock Tower is unique in New Zealand. It houses a glockenspiel. On the hour, human figures made by Nigel Ogle pop out of various windows to recite lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Most of Stratford’s streets are named after Shakespeare characters. We stopped at the entrance of Prospero Place to watch the glockenspiel perform. Due to the traffic passing in front of the clock tower, it was sometimes difficult to hear, but it was something different, at least.

The performance lasts for about five minutes. You can catch it at 10am, 1pm, 3pm and 7pm.

StratfordToilets

The public toilets behind the clock tower are a bit different too.

Stratford-upon-Patea is in Taranaki, right next to Egmont National Park. As such, it boasts fabulous views of Mount Taranaki. It’s also the last place to get petrol before embarking upon the Forgotten World Highway.

Mount Taranaki Egmont New Zealand

One place in Stratford I really wanted to visit was the Taranaki Pioneer Village. It’s a living museum made up of authentic Victorian buildings. There’s a church, a courthouse, a hospital, a jail, a school, a forge, a bookbinder’s… even a vintage railway.

There was hardly anyone else there when we went, which made the village seem really eerie. It was good for getting an idea of how the European pioneers of New Zealand lived. Seeing the walls of a two-roomed homestead covered with old newspaper, presumably because it was their only means of insulation, was mildly harrowing, as was discovering how school mistresses were expected to live!

Taranaki Pioneer Village

We couldn’t go in the church because it was being used for a wedding, but we could catch a ride on the little train. I spent some time hanging out with the village’s free range chickens and a pair of very demanding sheep.

I imagine the village would have been a lot more interesting if we’d gone on a ‘live’ day, but their website doesn’t seem to have any listed. Seeing people walking around in period costume would have been wonderful.

Taranaki Pioneer Village

If you have plenty of time to spare in Taranaki, the Pioneer Village is a nice place to spend an hour or two. If your time is limited, however, you’re better off spending it at Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum. That place is freakin’ awesome.

An English Paradise in Taranaki

This is a rare sight in New Zealand: a beautiful English-style mansion surrounded by perfect gardens – complete with gardeners’ cottage – on a hill overlooking a river. It really is wonderfully twee. It’s called Tupare and it’s located just outside the city of New Plymouth. Built in the 1930s by a rich business man and his wife following an architecturally inspiring honeymoon in England, it’s now owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and is free to enter for everyone.

Tupare Garden StepsI came across a leaflet for Tupare at the Tawhiti Museum, whilst holidaying in Taranaki this summer with my parents and grandfather. My whole family loves nice gardens, so it wasn’t too difficult to convince them to go. My dad, at least, wasn’t expecting much, though. After all, how could somewhere in New Zealand live up all those National Trust houses and gardens we used to visit in England when I was a child?

Well, I don’t know whether we’ve been too long deprived of English historical sites, but Tupare more than surpassed our expectations. We were quite enchanted.

English Country House Tupare

The gardens were gorgeous. Seeing the Tudor-style gatehouse made me feel quite emotional, like I was a kid again, visiting an old country manor. Many paths snaked down to the house and on to the river. I had visions of Mary Lennox in a white dress and straw boater running between the manicured flowerbeds and quaint archways. I think if I lived in Taranaki I’d go there all the time, just to sit and read.

English Garden Tupare

Tours of the house are free too. They don’t run every day, but, quite by accident, our visit coincided with one. Seeing the antique furniture was delightful, but the best part of the house was the playroom: tucked away at the end of the upstairs corridor, all but concealed behind a narrow gap between two walls, only a slim adult would be able to squeeze into it. The children of the house must have found it magical, a hidden world all to themselves.

New Zealand Wood Pigeon Tupare

The only downside of Tupare is part of what makes it special: it’s on a steep hill. The walk back up to the car park was torture! But without the steep hill, there would be no views down to the river. There were a couple of teenage boys swimming in the river when we got there. Just imagine what it must have been like growing up there. It’s like a little bubble of old England. Only the tree ferns at the edge of the garden give away that it’s in New Zealand.

Upon leaving Tupare, we drove to the nearby Pukeiti, an enormous garden that’s been in development since the 1950s. It’s apparently renowned for its rhododendrons, but it was the wrong time of year for us to see them in all their glory. If you want to explore the whole garden, it will take you a few hours, but there are walks of different lengths to choose from. We had lunch at the café, which turned out to be quite nice, and set off on the one-hour Valley of the Giants Walk.

Pukeiti Flowers Taranaki

For us, Pukeiti suffered in comparison to Tupare, but it’s a different kind of garden, surrounded by native rainforest. During our walk, we came across a magnificent, dizzyingly tall hollow tree and some strikingly beautiful flowers. Like Tupare, Pukeiti is owned by the Taranaki Regional Council and is free to enter, as is Hollard Gardens, which we didn’t have time to visit, but which looks rather nice too.

Pink LillySo if any British immigrants to New Zealand find themselves feeling homesick, a road trip to Taranaki may be in order. The old English house and gardens of Tupare filled me with warm feelings, but it’s a great place to visit for anyone. (Unless you have walking difficulties, of course. The hill really is steep.)

I’d suggest taking a picnic with you, along with a blanket to put it in. Oh, and swimming gear might be a good idea too.

Auckland to Christchurch by Campervan

A friend of mine is on an epic journey. He’s just arrived in New Zealand from Europe. He’s picked up a campervan hire in Auckland and he’s taking it all the way down to Christchurch. Naturally he asked me for advice: where should he stop along the way? I was only too happy to help.

1) The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park

AratakiVisitorCentre07

I often tell people the first place you should go in New Zealand (if you’ve landed in Auckland) is the Arataki Visitor Centre. It’s a great place to learn about New Zealand, especially if you’re interested in bush walks – an integral part of the New Zealand experience. The Arataki Visitor Centre is located in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, just half an hour’s drive west of the centre of Auckland City. It provides easy access to a multitude of bush walks, short and long; relaxing and challenging. The park also encompasses some fantastic black sand beaches – Muriwai and Bethells are my favourites.

2) The Hamilton Gardens

ItalianGardenHamilton5

Hamilton’s an hour or so’s drive south of Auckland. It’s not exactly an impressive city, but it’s one of those places from which you can easily get to other places. And, as you’re passing through, you may as well visit the Hamilton Gardens. They’re actually wonderful – officially amongst the best gardens in the world. If you’re a garden person you should put them on your must-see list.

3) The Waitomo Caves

Waitomo is an hour’s drive south of Hamilton. It’s very touristy, but I had the most magical experience of my life there. The Waitomo Caves are breathtaking. As well as simple tours there are lots of different adventures to go on, including abseiling and tubing – floating down an underground river on a rubber ring. The truly magical thing about Waitomo, though, is its glowworms. Drifting beneath them in that little boat was like being surrounded by tiny, blue stars glittering upon velvet darkness… (That’s the Spellbound Tour – $75 per adult, but so worth it!)

4) The Hobbiton Movie Set

First Hobbit Hole

I know I keep going on about the Hobbiton Movie Set, but I really did love it. To call it a movie set is almost misleading – it’s like a real village, living and breathing. The hobbit holes actually meet council standards, so could be used as proper houses! Hobbiton is about three quarters of an hour’s drive east of Hamilton. It’s probably best to visit in summer, when the flowers are at their most glorious and the vivid colours of the round doors at their brightest, but going in winter would make the Green Dragon seem even cosier with its inviting fireplaces.

5) Rotorua

RotoruaWhakarewarewaGeyser

Rotorua is an hour’s drive south-east of Hobbiton. You want geysers, hot pools, mud pools, spa pools, fascinating history, thrilling adventure and Maori culture? Of course you do! And you don’t have to pay through the nose for it, though many places in Rotorua will try to make you do so. It’s about knowing where to go. Start with Kuirau Park – it’s free – and definitely check out How to Do Rotorua on the Cheap.

6) Taupo

01_New_Zealand_Lake_Taupo_Maori

An hour’s drive south of Rotorua you’ll come to Taupo, a resort town on the edge of an enormous crater lake. Hot springs abound and exciting water sports are at your fingertips. I recommend jet boating – it was invented in New Zealand after all. I also recommend a walk around the Craters of the Moon

7) Tongariro National Park

Ngauruhoe

Volcanoes. Epic volcanoes. The Tongariro National Park is about an hour’s drive south of Taupo. It doubled for Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, but it’s not ugly and oppressive in real life. It’s beautiful. Camping there is quite something, especially with all the bats, and the walks are amazing. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the most famous, but it takes at least seven hours. For a good two-hour walk you could try the Taranaki Falls Track – you get to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country as well good views of the volcanoes, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro.

8) Wellington

heartwellington

Four to five hour’s drive south of Tongariro we come to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. It’s from here that you’ll take your campervan on a ferry across Cook Strait to get to the South Island, but you should hang around a bit first. Wellington’s an unusual city, surrounded by forested hills. Walk around the harbour, visit Te Papa and Weta Workshop, and climb Mount Victoria for some fabulous views.

9) The Marlborough Sounds

At the top of the South Island are the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. They always make me think of New Zealand wine and dolphins. What I really want to do is go kayaking on the Pelorus River. That’s where they filmed the barrel ride from the second Hobbit film. (Even if you think the Hobbit films were a major disappointment compared to the Lord of the Rings films, you can’t fault the stunning nature of the New Zealand scenery.) Plus, if you’re in a campervan, there’s a fantastic campground at Pelorus Bridge – make sure you book ahead.

10) Kaikoura

NZ Fur Seals

Two hours or so south of Marlborough we come to Kaikoura, the whale-watching capital of New Zealand. (On the way there’s a great place to spend the night for free if you’re in a self-contained campervan, right on the edge of the sea and practically on top of a colony of seals – Paparoa Point.) Kaikoura’s famous for its mouth-watering crayfish – the name Kaikoura actually means ‘meal of crayfish’ in Maori – and for its amazing marine encounters. You can swim with dolphins and kayak with whales, and if you look back towards the shore you’ll see a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

11) Arthur’s Pass

kea

Arthur’s Pass is the name of a national park, a mountain pass and a village nestled within the Southern Alps. When my family was on a South Island campervan tour years ago, my dad wanted to get a photograph of someone standing in front of one of the signs, covering the P. I can’t remember whether we actually did this as the scenery was more than a little distracting. Four hours south-west of Kaikoura, Arthur’s Pass is a gateway to many wonderful walks. It’s also the perfect place to encounter kea, the most intelligent birds in the world and New Zealand’s cheekiest natives.

12) Christchurch and Beyond

Christchurch

Christchurch is about two hour’s drive south-east of Arthur’s Pass. There’s so much to do around the city. Visit the Botanic Gardens and the see the awesome splendour of the Waimakariri River. Or the Rakaia River. Or both! Go up Banks Peninsula and spend a night or two in Akaroa – it’s the only place in the world where you can swim with the Hector’s dolphins, which are so cute! If you drive three hours south you’ll come to Oamaru, which used to be famous for just penguins, but now it’s got penguins AND a cool steampunk thing going on.

Fur Seal 1croppedWell anyway I don’t know how many of these suggestions my friend will follow. The best places are always the ones you discover for yourself. That’s the beauty of campervan travel: you can go where you want when you want, following whims. I wonder what new places my friend will discover. He’s been to New Zealand before – we met at a larping convention in Auckland two years ago and, last year, my boyfriend and I stayed with him for one night on our European tour. Actually, I interviewed him about his time in New Zealand on this blog. (See Interview with the Larper.) He said he’d be back and this time he’s brought his girlfriend.

Seriously, though, you have to stop coming in winter!