Holiday Working New Zealand
What to see ... the plunging fiords of Milford Sound are New Zealand's most photographed attraction. Photograph: José Fuste Raga/zefa/Corbis
Damian Hall tells you everything you need to know to plan a working holiday
Spending a gap year in Australia is a traditional rite of passage for many. But backpackers are increasingly been lured across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, which offers a significantly better working holiday visa. Increasingly, those in the know simply get both visas and switch countries when one expires. Finding work in a foreign country can seem daunting but with a little prior knowledge and preparation it needn't be difficult.
The working holiday visa
The Working Holiday Scheme Visa (WHSV) allows holders to stay in New Zealand for up to 23 months, working for 12 months (Australian working holiday visas are initially just for 12 months). Holders are able to leave and re-enter New Zealand as often as they wish and are allowed to work for one employer for the full 12 months (six in Australia). There is also a 12-month WHSV option.
Applicants must be aged between 18 and 30 (although you can apply right up until your 31st birthday) and, unlike Australia, you can apply from anywhere in the world, including from within New Zealand. You can even enter the country on a tourist visa – which lasts for six months, costs nada, and is obtained on arrival – and then apply for a WHSV.
On arrival you may be asked for evidence of sufficient funds to support yourself – a certified bank statement showing NZ$350 (£132) for each month you intend to stay in New Zealand – and a plane ticket onwards, or sufficient funds for one. Applications can be made online at the Immigration New Zealand website. For UK citizens the visa costs NZ$133 (£50).
Note: Visa eligibility requirements, costs and entitlements are subject to change – check before applying.
Numerous airlines go to the underside of the world, so shop around. The best deals are usually found on the internet and going directly to airline websites to buy them can prove fruitful. Return tickets can be found for as little as £680 (during the Kiwi midwinter, June-August). But expect to pay something in the region of £1800 around Christmas (New Zealand's midsummer) when fares rocket.
Round-the-world tickets can be good value, and let you see some of the rest of the globe en route. Expect to pay between £900 and £1, 300 with specialists such as STA Travel and Roundtheworldflights.com. But bear in mind these tickets are usually only valid for a year.
Think about making some of the journey overland to reduce the ticket cost. Popular options are Delhi to Kathmandu, Brisbane or Sydney to Cairns, or Buenos Aires to São Paulo. The majority of international flights land in Auckland, on the North Island, or Christchurch, on the South Island. For a return flight, the best option is an "open jaw" ticket, by flying into one city and out of the other to save back-tracking.
New Zealand is a similar size to Britain so getting about is easy. Domestic flights can be good value (if booked well in advance), but you'll miss out on some spectacular scenery and rack up even more carbon emissions.
New Zealand has limited and not-especially-cheap train services so buses are a better option. These offer competitive prices, comprehensive routes and often a bit of driver commentary thrown in. Shuttles buses, more common in the South Island, offer door-to-door services. Prices on all buses plummet during the low season.
Better still, team up with a couple of others and hire or, if you're there for more than a few months, buy a car or camper van. This can prove great value - the longer you hire for, the cheaper it works out (from NZ$19 a day) – and offers that giddy sense of truly independent travel freedom.
This writer can vouch for hitching - while not without inherent risk, it is a surprisingly quick way to get around. Plus you'll really get to meet the locals.
New Zealand is such an easy place to explore that most package-holiday buses will be packed full of older travellers. Alternatively, Kiwi Experience, Stray, and lesser so, Magic and Flying Kiwi offer flexible, jump-on-and-off at your own pace, activity-packed itineraries. Some have, largely deserved, reputations as party buses, but are a good way of meeting people if going solo.
New Zealand has some excellent hostels, hotels and B&Bs, and well-equipped campgrounds are numerous (though you might want think twice in winter). Booking ahead is essential in December and January however, when the locals are on holiday. Many hostels will give you a reduced rate if you stay for a week, and/or show them your skills with a broom. But once employed it is generally cheaper to look for flat-shares.
Unless you rob a bank, you'll not leave New Zealand with your first million. Despite the climbing New Zealand dollar, wages aren't particularly impressive and it's best to view the working part of your holiday as a time to breathe life back into the empty lungs of your travel fund, and nothing more.
That said, the Kiwi job scene has grown steadily stronger in the last few years, and it's a good time to visit. The best bets for gainful employment are in tourism and related industries (such as hospitality, where you would expect to earn upwards of NZ$18/hour), and agriculture – usually a euphemism for fruit-picking, unless you have sheep shearing skills.
Fruit picking is available year-round and pays upwards of NZ$12/hour and tourism is booming so nosing about in holiday hotspots could turn up trumps. Bear in mind that New Zealand has six ski fields, all in need of temporary hospitality workers (and ski instructors). Though vacancies are snapped up quickly, so plan ahead. For white-collar work, the larger the city, the better the chance of employment; Auckland is the best bet, followed by Wellington and Christchurch.