My friend Steven Falken recently asked me about the pros and cons of living in New Zealand versus America. Having never lived in America, England is my main point of comparison. I lived in New Zealand until I was 12 and although I have been back infrequently since then, I still consider it my home.
New Zealand is the most beautiful country I’ve ever been to. I know I’m biased as a New Zealander but having lived away from here for many years, I’m lucky enough to see it with fresh eyes every time I come back. I feel more relaxed and more content here than anywhere else and I think it’s because I’m surrounded by beauty most places I go. I think being immersed in breath-taking nature is conducive to a better quality of life.
There is evidence that people who are closer to the sea are happier, and because New Zealand is such a long island, it’s never far to go to get to the sea. One of the things I really missed when I left New Zealand was being near the coast and it took me a very long time to lose the feeling of claustrophobia that came with being inland. The big open spaces, the empty roads, and the green, mountainous landscape all contribute. It is easy to get to places with very little light pollution and see the stars sparkle by the thousands in the night sky.
New Zealand has a sub-tropical climate. It’s a long island and the weather is variable depending on where you go, but Wellington - the capital city, and my hometown - is famous for being windy and can typically have four seasons in one day. Just like in England, people here complain about not having a proper summer because the weather is so changeable. It rains enough to keep the majority of the country very green.
The sun is very strong here. We’re right underneath a hole in the ozone layer and sunscreen is mandatory, even if you’re out for a very short amount of time. The rays here are very damaging and people are at high risk of getting skin cancer if they’re not careful. Whenever I’m back here, I barely have to look at the sun for my skin to get colour and explode with freckles!
In New Zealand, we are constantly reminded how much we are at the mercy of the elements. Many towns are situated near dormant volcanoes and as a country that happens to exist over a multitude of faultlines, there is a constant threat of earthquakes and tsunamis, which people grow accustomed to throughout their lives. At school, one of our fundamental health and safety lessons was how to react to an earthquake. Houses are more difficult to insure for this reason and, like in Christchurch, your whole life could be torn apart without warning.
New Zealand is famous for its native bush, which is very much part of the culture and history of the country. Europeans settled in New Zealand in the early 1800s but before then, New Zealand’s indigenous race, the Maoris, lived off the bush and had a unique relationship with it. At school, we were familiarised with New Zealand’s plants and wildlife. Many people come to New Zealand to explore the bush and mountainous terrain and it doesn’t take long to become aware of how fragile a human life is within the vastness of nature. Even in summer, hikers go prepared with jackets and sleeping bags, as at night it can turn very cold. If you get lost, it’s a real struggle of survival. I think for this reason, New Zealanders have an intrinsic respect for their surroundings and this is evident in everything from the upkeep of the country’s natural beauty to simple things like the lack of litter when you walk down the street.
New Zealand is far from being a utopia. We have a real problem with domestic violence and the suicide risk of young males in particular is very high. Drugs like cocaine or mdma are expensive to come by but “P” – the street name for crystal meth – is a real issue here. As a middle-class Wellingtonian, I’m far more familiar with the affluent side of the country. I spend most of my time here on the Kapiti coast, which is full of retired middle-class people or holiday homes where professionals from the city get away to at weekends. However, from what I’ve experienced of America, the problems created through socioeconomic inequality are quite similar. There are many towns that are quite isolated, have lack of employment and where good healthcare and education are a luxury that people can’t afford. Crime is high in these places because people feel without purpose.
During my lifetime, New Zealand has had a predominantly right-wing government. About a month ago, our last Prime Minister abruptly stepped down due to family issues and has been replaced by Bill English, who recently voted against gay marriage and is anti-abortion. Politically, there are many things in England that I have an issue with, but in general, it’s a country that has a firm structure in place to look after people from all walks of society, whereas in New Zealand, such institutions aren’t so secure. Government-created issues include privatisation and the widening gap between the richest and the poorest.
Growing up in New Zealand, my parents raised me on a single teacher’s salary and even with both my parents teaching, we found England very expensive when we moved. The conversion rate was about 4 NZD to 1 GBP. Coming back this time after Brexit ridiculousness, my pound doesn’t get me very far at all. Because New Zealand is so far away from the rest of the world, it’s not cheap to import items and it costs a lot to buy technology. Many food products are twice or sometimes even four times the price of England. (However luckily for me, wine is cheap!) New Zealand has a fairly good minimum wage but the housing market is shooting up just like in England. Cars are cheap to buy but expensive to run. However, you still get a better quality of life for your money here. People have more space, and houses are still half the price of England, in comparison to a standard wage working out at about the same.
In New Zealand, people are open and friendly - you’ll notice the vibe from the moment you step out at the airport. I think this is due to it being a relatively small population and people not seeing other people as simply an intrusion on their space like in London. I think it’s also due to the increase of general happiness due to the beautiful surroundings. I’m a real introvert but I converse with strangers a lot more here because it’s just so easy.
Coming to New Zealand as a vegan this time, especially over Christmas, was difficult as it’s a farming country and even being a vegetarian here is considered odd. As I said, food is expensive and because everything is imported, it’s difficult to get hold of items that aren’t so highly in demand. I suppose because a lot of people deal with animals first-hand, they see the concept of milking and eating animals very differently than us Europeans who view farming on a far more industrial and impersonal level. Because of this attitude, while New Zealand is progressive in certain ways – for example, being the first country to legally recognise animals as sentient beings and ban animal testing for cosmetics and household products – they are still backwards in many respects on making ecologically-friendly changes, such as farming less cows. Agriculture makes up 2/3 of New Zealand's exported goods, with about 4.5 million cows being bred for beef every year, which is not doing global warming any favours. Farm animals have a better quality of life here because there’s more land, but a lot of native bush is cut down to make more farmland and it has a destructive impact on the landscape, as you can see here:
It is great to be back in New Zealand again and I would like to spend more time here in the future. Being immersed in the beauty of nature reminds me of the insignificance of my own life and problems in the greater scheme of things, and I think this is a really healthy attitude and helps with my mental wellbeing. As a country, New Zealand is pretty isolated and for that reason I don’t think I could live here permanently – I would miss the vibrancy of a city like London and the opportunity to travel cheaply and easily - but I think in general, people here have a good quality of life and a more fulfilling existence, due to the overwhelming presence of nature and the very fact that people acknowledge each other in a more humane way. My friend Karly just came to visit and was blown away by the country, which reinforces my view that everyone should come and experience New Zealand.
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