Wellington: A blustering bureaucracy and culture haven

Our move to New Zealand was a conscious one. We wanted to continue to live in the Southern Hemisphere, we were eligible for Working Holiday Visas (for the last time in our lives) and we had heard wonderful things about the country from everyone we met travelling.

There’s no question that this region of just four million people is just breathtaking. As we approached the two land masses of the North and South islands all you could see was a sea of green in a sea of blue, a prehistoric land that people missed for so long. Lovely.

Our move to Wellington itself was also based on careful calculation and recommendation – it sits at the bottom of the North Island with easy access to the South Island, it’s a small city with a population of 200,000 and it was reportedly also very beautiful.

Of course we’d heard the downsides, too, having lived in Australia for so long. It’s more expensive, it’s very windy and it’s colder than Aus. We experienced all of these things within the first day. We were blown from side-to-side and despite being warned we uttered our English weather complaints as we swept our now very curly, long and messy hair off of our faces.

Our first accommodation in Wellington was more of a halfway-house and less of a hostel, the cheapest in the city. What “Lodge in the City” lacked in comfort and style it made up for in personality. With many of the bathrooms and even bedrooms still out of use after the November earthquake and a mass kitchen with avalanche-style fridges.

We searched in earnest for a place to live first as the bunk bed’s steel poles ground down poor Stephen’s back. We found out that we might be able to afford a very small studio place if we were good budgeters and of course if we managed to get jobs.

The house was sorted in just over a week, we took a gamble, put down a deposit and moved into a bedroom-sized modern studio apartment just a few doors down from Parliament, with our own mini kitchen and bathroom. It’s adorable.

The process, however, wasn’t so easy. Every agency wanted character references, education status, and a criminal and credit background check and there were endless forms to fill in, it was, frankly, a bureaucratic slog.

Still, that was the easy part in comparison with the job hunt.

We arrived in Welly on the 2nd Jan, it was the end of Christmas and we were unaware of the prolonged public holiday period over the summer. Everything was shut until the beginning of the following week, so for a while we had to sit tight on the house, the bank and the phones, and spent our time trying not to spend too much money by cooking in the eventful Lodge kitchen.

Looking for a job required another level of patience – as it often can. It was mostly a timing issue. Most companies were closed or on skeleton staff until the end of January, and agencies didn’t open for a couple of weeks, so there were very few jobs online. We did what we could and registered with around eight job agencies as soon as they opened.

Wellington is teeny in comparison to other cities we have lived in, and is only double the size of our own home town (a small town outside of London called Harlow), and so soon we started to realise there were fewer jobs and less choice here for us.

As fate would have it, we both came in lucky and secured good jobs, having met great and helpful agencies. It had taken us one month to get settled here in Wellington and we are still awaiting our first pay check we can finally begin to embrace NZ life.

In the meantime we managed to discover Wellington’s quaint football team, incredible Te Papa museum and free live music that seems to take place most weekends. I think we are going to like the culture here, even if it’s too windy to sit outside most days.

It’s true that the supermarkets here are frighteningly expensive (import issues?!), but we use the fruit and veggie market on a Sunday instead, and the cost of energy is disproportionally high for the room size, but who needs lights when you have candles…

However, as we look around at the rest of the world and the difficulties people face across the globe we feel extremely fortunate. We managed to find good jobs, it may have taken longer here in Wellington than a bigger city like NY or London but we did it, and we managed to find somewhere to live. There are so many people aren’t able to obtain those basic survival rights and are constantly fighting.

Some of the interrogative processes and tests would have directly rejected a candidate in a slightly worse-off situation than us. For example, Stephen had to undergo a drugs and alcohol test for his desk job and if you failed you lose the job.

There is so much prejudice in the process in general that I struggle to see how people who might have suffered in their lives or who are still suffering can easily make a place home. Everything seems to be stacked against them. I can only assume that people must come up against these bureaucratic prejudices everywhere? And we are legal immigrants, I can’t imagine the trials that refugees and other fleeing migrants must face on a daily basis.

It has opened up our eyes and after our experiences we contacted Amnesty here in Wellington and are hoping to volunteer with the charity to help people here to secure those rights, to work and to live securely (as well as fight the US dictator of course). However, we are still waiting on a response… Oh Wellington you are just a little too laidback aren’t you?