Healthcare in New Zealand

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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.

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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.

My First Christmas in New Zealand

Christmas in New Zealand on a Beach

When you’re an immigrant, that first Christmas hits you hard. The rest of the year, you’re distracted by work and house hunting and getting on with life. Then Christmas arrives and everything stops. You realise what’s missing: family.

My first Christmas in New Zealand, the house felt empty. There was tinsel everywhere, draped over everything except my mum, dad and little sister, but it couldn’t fill the hole. There were presents – I remember getting a Harry Potter wand, but opening them felt weird. There was a turkey, but I could barely eat any of it.

The absence of Grandma, Nana, Grandpa and Uncle Damon had drained all the Christmas spirit from the air. It didn’t help that the air itself was warm and humid. Our windows were thrown open to catch the non-existent summer breeze. They should have been closed, with the curtains drawn, keeping out the winter gloom. Maybe curtains were responsible for keeping the Christmas spirit in.

christmas-1904536_960_720Years later, my mum admitted that she cried, that first Christmas in New Zealand. I didn’t cry – I’d already cried enough that year. I simply felt numb.

Someone suggested that we go to the beach. That was what New Zealanders did at Christmas, right? But we couldn’t bring ourselves to. We sat around our dining table, forcing ourselves to eat a heavy mid-winter meal in the sweltering heat. Stubborn Brits if ever there were some.

Just as I’d resigned myself to a Christmas of misery – well, not even misery, just… nothing – the day was saved. By Super Soakers.

Santa had brought them. (My little sister still believed in Santa.) We filled them up and went out into the garden, into the scorching sunlight. We were wearing T-shirts and shorts and no shoes, and soon we were wet through. On Christmas Day.

I began to have fun. Perhaps Christmas in New Zealand wouldn’t be so bad after all. Perhaps we were lucky. I mean my friends back in England certainly wouldn’t be able to have a water fight on Christmas Day! They wouldn’t be able to sunbath on the trampoline, or drink a cool Buck’s Fizz on the deck.

christmas-village-1088143_960_720As the years went by, I got used to Christmas with just my mum, dad and sister. Our other relatives rang, of course. It still doesn’t feel right, though. Things improved when my nana emigrated from England to live with us. Now, every Christmas, she turns her lounge – and our garden – into a perfect winter wonderland. Even though it’s summer.

I wrote about my nana’s winter wonderland – and the mind-boggling paradox that is the New Zealand Christmas – in my Christmas in New Zealand article. I quite like the Christmas we have now; the traditions we’ve created over last fifteen years. One day, though, I’d love to spend Christmas in Europe again.

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The Great Kiwi Barbecue

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Here’s another difference between Britain and New Zealand: barbecues.

Before my family moved to New Zealand, I’d only ever been to one barbecue, and we didn’t spend much of it outside. (I remember we were actually forced outside by our friend’s elderly golden Labrador letting one off in the lounge.)

We’ve spent much more time outside since moving to New Zealand, and had barbecues beyond counting. Of course, the weather is to thank. (As I write this, in the middle of winter, I’m sunbathing on my parents’ deck, and the sunlight is glaring off the pages of my notebook, and the cats are sprawled out next to me, and I hear a tui in one of the trees… I suppose, to be fair, Tauranga is one of the sunniest places in New Zealand.)

If I ever go back to Britain, I’ll miss Kiwi barbecues. They’re awesome.

You’ve got the smell of the oil, the smoke, the caramelising meat, the citronella to keep the mozzies at bay, the waft of the cool potato salad as the cling film is lifted off; the cats darting towards us when they realise dad’s firing up the hotplate. And the steak. The STEAK. It’d better be done no more than a minute on each side or so help me!

IMG_1078The wine, the lager, the ginger beer for the kids, the kebabs, the sauce, the corn on the cob oozing juices down your chin… I know I’m just listing now, but there’s so much to a great barbecue, and not just the food and the aromas. There’s the sitting around talking as the sun goes down, lighting the candles and the brazier and letting the darkness place a comfortable blanket around us. We feel warmly full and slightly drowsy, drinking and talking and not wanting it to end. Perhaps there’s ice-cream; there’s always laughter.

The barbecue is a very typically New Zealand thing, although it is one of the ways in which New Zealand is similar to Australia. (Sorry, Kiwis.) When a Brit does an impression of an Australian, they’ll invariable call people Bruce and say, “Throw another shrimp on the barbie.” No matter how culturally accurate or inaccurate this is, it shows how the act of barbecuing is a very laid back form of cooking, perfect for both Australians and New Zealanders.

It’s great for bringing people together: everyone can contribute with minimal effort, just bring a pack of something to slap on the hotplate. The common expression here is, “Bring a plate,” an instruction that often confuses recent immigrants, us among them. We, and so many others before and since, thought it meant, “We don’t have enough plates for all our guests, so please bring your own.” So, much to our new friend’s amusement, we showed up to their barbecue with an empty plate each, only to be told that what they actually meant was, “Bring some food for everyone to share.”

Of course, we don’t just have barbecues in each other’s gardens. It’s common in New Zealand to have a barbecue on the beach – indeed; a barbecue on the beach is the traditional image of the Kiwi Christmas Dinner.  The barbecue is such a Kiwi icon that many beaches, parks and New Zealand campgrounds have permanent barbecues that are free for the public to use. Sometimes there is a small fee, and sometimes you have to book ahead, but it’s a fantastic idea and one that tourists should take advantage of more often.

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If you ever have a holiday in New Zealand, you absolutely have to have a barbecue. I’ve found it’s a brilliant way to eat when you hire a campervan – it gets you out of the tiny campervan kitchen while retaining that important quality of self-cooked meals: cheapness. You can find a recipe for a Great Kiwi Barbecue here.

And it really is the best way to eat steak.

Kiwis, Kiwis and Kiwis: The People of New Zealand

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

Maori Proverb

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A koru I found while walking in the bush

One of the most important, fundamental differences between England and New Zealand is one that is often overlooked when juxtaposed with the landscape, wildlife and weather: it is the people.

The people of New Zealand are called kiwis. This can cause a certain amount of confusion among tourists, as there are two other distinct entities in New Zealand that also bear the name kiwi:

1)      The endangered, native bird that is a symbol of New Zealand, the equivalent of Australia’s kangaroo.

2)      The fuzzy, green fruit also known as the Chinese gooseberry, the growing of which is an important industry in New Zealand.

Despite this, kiwis (the people) are in no way confused about their identity. They are a proud nation of do-it-yourselfers, tough and laidback at the same time. They embody the spirit of adventure – a relic, I suspect, from the colonial days of old, when you had to both help and accept help from your neighbours to survive. Above all, it is their attitude – their niceness – that sets them apart from their distant cousins in Mother England.

To illustrate just how different New Zealanders are from the English, I’d like to tell you a story, something of my personal journey since immigrating to New Zealand at the age of ten. You see, I was first awakened to how different kiwis are on my first day of school here. As usually happens when a new kid shows up in class, the teacher introduced me by getting me to stand up in front of everyone.

“This is Abigail. She’s from England. Abigail, why don’t you tell us a bit about what England’s like?”

So, shaking under the scrutiny of thirty pairs of eyes, I tried desperately to think – what was England like? For me, it was just normal, a more overcast version of New Zealand. It was August at the time this was happening; I’d just taken a plane ride from the middle of summer to the middle of winter, but the weather hadn’t changed. It was hot in New Zealand. Well, not hot for New Zealand, but hot to me. I was sweating, yet somehow frozen. My throat was stuck.

“I know,” the teacher said, gently. “How about the class asks you questions – would that be easier? Does anyone have a question about England?”

Of course, I don’t remember everything they asked me, but how could I forget these four questions:

 “Is there grass in England?”

 “Do you speak English in England?”

 “Do you have a butler?”

 “Have you met the Queen?”

I had come to a country of morons.

I suppose they were only ten, and New Zealand is rather cut off from the rest of the world. Some of them must have only seen England on the news, or in American cartoons. They must have thought my home country consisted of the brown and grey streets of London stretching from coast to coast, populated purely by toffs… Not that they were familiar with the word toff. I’d grown up physically and culturally so far away from the world they thought I’d come from! They all thought I was posh, not realising how ridiculous the idea was, or quite how much it offended my Northern, working-class roots.

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A younger me looking not quite at home in the New Zealand bush

I soon found that what kiwis lack in general knowledge, they make up for in moxy.

The first break time of the day, or, as kiwis call it, morning tea, arrived. When I’d entered the classroom, I’d seen that most of the other kids had bare feet, which I’d thought was strange, but maybe it was the custom to remove shoes inside wherever you were, so I’d taken my sandals off, leaving my socks on. Now I hurriedly put my shoes back on, realising as I did that no one else was. They were actually going outside in bare feet!

You see, kiwi feet are like hobbit feet – though in most cases less hairy – with thick, rubbery soles. My classmates were not just walking across grass and smooth concrete, but across gravel and bark chippings! One of them had a bit of broken glass stuck in the ball of their foot and, when I asked if they were all right, they responded, “Yeah, it’s been in there a while.”

After a few days, some of my classmates coaxed me into taking my shoes and socks off outside. They ended up having to carry me, as my soles were as delicate as a baby’s bottom. They haven’t improved much in the last eleven years.

Another thing I discovered during those first few days of school is how confusing the kiwi accent is. My classmates decided to play a game of hide-and-seek, but, as I wasn’t yet familiar with the layout of the school, one girl offered to team up and hide with me.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go and get on the dick.”

I blinked. “On the what?”

“The dick.”

I looked around, bewildered.

“That dick over there.”

She was pointing, but I still couldn’t see what she meant.

“The big dick! The big, brown dick!”

My mind reeled.

“All that wood! It’s right in front of us, by the school hall.”

And before the unintended puns could get any worse, I clicked. “Oh, you mean the deck.”

Skimming Stones

Two friends, one a kiwi and one a British immigrant like me, skimming stones on the shore

I got used to the accent fairly quickly, and could soon tell it apart from the Australian accent, something you need to learn fast if you want to survive in New Zealand. Kiwis are very touchy when it comes to Australians, like us Brits with the French, I suppose. Except Brits are nothing like the French, whereas Australians and New Zealanders are practically the same people. ***Ducks a volley of ANZAC biscuits*** (ANZAC biscuits are what the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps were given as rations in the First World War, and it was said they were so hard it was better to lob them at the enemy than eat them.)

My nana, who now lives in New Zealand with us, once met a kiwi on the London Underground. By this point, she’d visited us enough times to recognise the person’s accent, and the person was so grateful that Nana hadn’t assumed they were Australian!

Speaking of the London Underground, let me fast forward my story a few years. I was now seventeen years old, in my final year of high school, (or college, as kiwis call it,) and my drama class was going on a very expensive field trip to England, to perform a show at a performing arts school in Devon, to watch a few musicals at the West End, and to take in the sights. I hadn’t been back to England since leaving it seven years previously, and I’d got used to how safe New Zealand is – you don’t have to be paranoid about locking things or walking through parks on your own at night. Well, in most places, anyway.

After travelling around the southwest of England and encountering mysterious, new wonders like squirrels and stinging nettles, my kiwi classmates and I made it to London. We were on a tube train, packed in like sardines in the middle of this sweltering, July rush-hour, when the train stopped and a dry announcement came on:

“We apologise for the delay, as a body is being removed from the line.”

Immediately, the kiwis began to freak out. The Londoners, on the other hand, didn’t bat an eyelid; they remained engrossed in their newspapers, or the Underground map opposite them. There were so many pairs of eyes around, but none of them would move in case – horror of horrors – they ended up crossing paths with another pair. I had been living in New Zealand long enough to find this unsettling.

Then, when the train got going again, the motion sent me stumbling into a middle-aged woman.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.

“WATCH IT!” she growled, turning her back on me.

That moment shocked me. A kiwi would never do that. They’d smile at you and say, “That’s all right.”

I needed reassurance. I needed some kindness. I tried to catch someone’s eye and smile. They weren’t having it. I realised I’d changed. In this aspect, at least, I’d become a New Zealander.

A sneaky photo of my grandpa relaxing like a kiwi on our driveway

A sneaky photo of my grandpa relaxing like a kiwi on our driveway

I used to be like those Brits on the tube. Cold, isolated, mistrusting of every stranger I met. I remember when I was a child – quite a young child, like four or five – my family and I were walking over a hill in the Lake District. Whenever we walked past fellow hikers coming in the opposite direction, my dad would greet them, and they’d politely say something back. I didn’t understand.

“Why did you talk to them, Dad? You don’t know them!”

Dad explained that there was an unspoken truce amongst mountaineers. Everyone on the mountain was your friend. I found it very strange and quite uncomfortable. Then we moved to New Zealand and it turned out that kiwis are like that with everyone they pass on the street. It’s just nice. If you drop your shopping, you know that someone will stop to help you pick it up, and they won’t nick it. If you’re waiting for a bus, people will ask you how your day’s been. I’ve noticed it is changing in the busy centre of Auckland city, which is unfortunate, but in general it’s far nicer to step out of your front door in New Zealand than it is in England.

Maybe kiwis are so nice because there are so few of them. They aren’t elbowing each other out of the way to get to where they need to be. The population only exceeded the four million mark a few years ago, and the landmass of the country is larger than the whole of Great Britain, which has a population of sixty-something million. When my family was travelling around the South Island in a campervan, we kept bumping into people we knew from the North Island, on holiday just like us.

Kiwis are generally outdoorsy-types: they like hiring campervans and sleeping in tents. They like doing silly, adventurous things. They are responsible, for example, for the invention of commercial bungee jumping, jet-boating and zorbing. Of these, I’ve only done jet-boating, but I’ve done it a few times in various locations because it’s so incredibly fun. My favourite jet-boating experience was when we were on our Great New Zealand Campervan Holiday, on the Shotover River, which was one of the locations Peter Jackson used for the River Anduin in The Fellowship of the Ring. Not only was this the fastest jet-boat ride I’ve ever been on, I kept expecting to see the Argonath looming up on either side of us!

So anyway, that’s kiwis for you. Not fruit or birds, but a genuinely nice ilk of people. Completely mad, of course, but wonderfully mad. Caring and relaxed, yet hardy and adventurous; fiercely independent, yet always happy to help. Perhaps the difference in attitude between Brits and kiwis can be summed up like this:

Something bad happens. The Brit thinks, ‘At least it’s something I can complain about later.’ The kiwi thinks, ‘It doesn’t matter.’

A New Zealand sunset

A New Zealand sunset