A Working Holiday in New Zealand: Best places to work, live and travel

9 mins read
Job Seeker advice job seeker working holiday Working Holiday Visa

You might be a little surprised by the title of this blog. You’re right, I said I wasn’t going to pick a favourite place in New Zealand. But I do want to provide a little more intel on locations in my chosen country of residence. What I believe is that there are many ‘best’ places here in Aotearoa, New Zealand. It’s a beautiful, diverse country; each region has unique features and charms, whether you’re planning to work or simply to visit, travel and enjoy.

In this blog, I’m going to give you some more insight — from my perspective as a young-ish British traveller-turned-resident — into the different destinations around New Zealand that you may wish to consider if you are a) looking for work and/or b) wanting to travel, explore and play. Naturally there is some overlap, and you could very well find yourself working somewhere spectacular that many consider the pinnacle of holiday destinations (Queenstown enters the chat!). Why not enjoy the best of both worlds?!


New Zealand: a recap

Let’s begin with a quick primer on New Zealand: it’s a small, geographically-isolated country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Made up of two main landmasses, the North Island and the South Island, and over 700 smaller islands (fact checked, but still surprising!). History buffs might wish to know that New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses settled by humans; that was back in the 13th century, by eastern Polynesians, who would become our Māori people.

Though there are often comparisons made with neighbouring Australia, New Zealand operates on a different scale. The Australian cities of Melbourne or Sydney each have five million city dwellers respectively, while here in New Zealand that figure of five million is the TOTAL population, scattered the length and breadth of the nation.

The small population of New Zealand does have impact on the volume of people in any given location, and what is considered an ‘urban centre’. As the clever person you are, you will no doubt be putting two and two together by now. While there jobs just about everywhere, you really need to be looking in the biggest cities and towns to enjoy a decent range of options — and chance of employment. Here’s what you need to know:


Key centres for employment


Auckland | Tāmaki Makaurau

Also known as the City of Sails — or the right place to be if you like boats!

Population: just over 1.6 million, making it New Zealand’s most populous city.

The centre of Auckland is located on a narrow isthmus, with harbours on either side, and it’s very much a city built around water — you are never far from a view of the sea, or a lovely beach. Auckland’s geographical spread is large, and as mentioned, it’s the biggest city, people-wise, by a significant amount. Naturally that means there are more businesses, more shops, bars, restaurants, and of course, greater job-hunting opportunity.

Auckland’s often talked about as being expensive, and while it’s true that there is some pricey real estate and fancy locales, it’s possible to live a decent life here as a working holiday visa holder, especially if you embrace living in shared accommodation. Like any large city, it has its share of issues (ahem… traffic) but I have found it a lovely place to live and work, and it’s a great base for exploring.


Hamilton | Kirikiriroa

Population: 180k

Gateway to the central North Island, historical Hamilton rests on the long, winding Waikato river. This lively city is at the centre of a rich agricultural area, servicing the Waikato region, and home to much of New Zealand’s dairy industry, and several science research facilities. Local attractions include the incredible Hamilton Gardens, glow worms in nearby Waitomo, and of course, for movie buffs, the Hobbiton Village. Hamilton is seen as a growing force in the Kiwi economy, and could be an excellent place for rural and agricultural-minded job seekers to reside.



Population: 158k

Beautiful coastal Tauranga is home to the largest export port in New Zealand, and is surrounded by largely agricultural land (kiwifruit and avocados!). However, over the last few years there’s been growth and transformation in the local economy, with more businesses moving or starting up in the area. You’ll hear lots of chat from Aucklanders who consider a move to this sunny region (its only two and a half hours away) so why not consider it as a place to live, as well as to visit.


Wellington | Ponēke

Population: 419k

Wellington is the trés chic Capital city of New Zealand. Its geographical position at the south western tip of the North Island is probably why it has an (accurate) reputation for being very windy, also making it the gateway to the South Island via the Cook Strait ferry. Wellington is known as a creative, cultural hub, as well as being the centre of Government. The city itself is small and perfectly formed — highly walkable in the inner city, lots of lovely restaurants and cafes, world-class museums and fascinating attractions. Jobs wise there’s the full spectrum, but you’ll find more government related jobs here, and plenty of service-industry specialities.


Christchurch | Ōtautahi

Population: 392k

Ōtautahi is a pretty, thriving city located on the east coast of the South Island, surrounded by stunning natural landscapes. Settled by English immigrants in the 1850s, the city has a distinctively English feel to it, shown through the architecture and beautiful gardens. Christchurch has been rebuilt since the terrible earthquakes of 2011, and the revitalised city has become a tech centre in NZ; good news for like-minded job seekers. Christchurch makes an excellent base for work and travel—how good is to be only an hour from the snow at Mt Hutt, the hot pools at Hamner Springs, and the vast beauty of the Southern Alps?


Queenstown | Tāhuna

Population: 47k (yes, it’s little!)

She’s famous for a reason. Sitting pretty on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by dramatic and immensely beautiful alpine ranges, Queenstown was established in the 1860s following the discovery of gold. Since that time, the town has traded gold for a different kind of attraction — it’s known as the adventure capital of NZ.  Whether you are into snowboarding, river rafting or heli-biking (yes, it’s a thing) there’s an adventurous activity for everyone in Queenstown. Add lovely wineries, beautiful vistas and great food, and you can see why this little town, pre-COVID, was host to nearly three million visitors in a year. With all of this action, there’s a high demand for keen, enthusiastic workers, so Queenstown is also a great place to find a job, particularly if you are interested in hospitality work.


Dunedin | Ōtepoti 

Population: 130k

Dunedin — in the far south of the South Island and located on the central-eastern coast of the Otago region — is one of the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the southern hemisphere, surrounded by dramatic hills and a picturesque harbour. This compact city has got big University-town vibes; vibrant and fun, but never far from beautiful wildlife. As a commercial centre, it has global focus, and strong emphasis on design and innovation.  While not a large town, it could be an excellent place to base yourself if you are into the rugged beauty of the surrounding Otago countryside and outdoor pursuits, while still enjoying the buzz of the tertiary town.

You’ve now read my overview of the key places to work in New Zealand, and it’s time to move on for some fun: where should you travel, explore and play?


When it’s time to play

There are plenty of touristy travel guides to Aotearoa elsewhere on the internet, and many of them are worth a read. However, I know my readers tune into this blog series for my lived experiences, so I do understand it would be particularly unhelpful for me to begin this section with the statement ‘just go anywhere!’.  I was tempted though! There are so many options for you to have a great time travelling this lovely land, it’s difficult to go wrong. I reckon you could blindfold yourself, put a pin in the map and happily go to wherever it sticks — I’m sure there would be something beautiful for you to enjoy.

That said, you came for the list, and here it is, my Kiwi essentials: the best places to visit – according to Gemma.  Each is linked with some suitable touristic info from my fave NZ tourism sites, so you can research that destination more thoroughly:


Gemma’s List of Best Places in NZ

North Island

Cape Reinga


Bay of Islands

The Coromandel

Tongariro National Park

Hawkes Bay



South Island


Milford Sound

Nelson/Abel Tasman

Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki

Aoraki / Mount Cook

Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier


Honourable mention!

Stewart Island


Feedback and farewell

While I do love to hear from people who’ve read and enjoyed my blogs, no need to @ me if you think I’ve missed out on a great Kiwi gem! I’m well aware that I’ve probably missed many a favourite destination, but a list can only be so long. Truly, New Zealand has something for everyone. It’s a great place to explore, and a great place to live.  When I arrived here back in 2016, hefty bag on my back, and dreams of adventure on my mind, I had no inkling that I would still be here, nearly seven years later. Aroha nui, Aotearoa.

This is my last blog on this topic. If you’ve enjoyed my series on a Working Holiday in New Zealand, I’d love to hear from you. Also, as something of an ambassador and advocate for the rewarding WHV programme, I’m also available for questions. You can reach me at gemma.hill@madison.co.nz.


If you are looking for the other blogs in this series, here is the full list in the order they were published:

  1. A Working Holiday in New Zealand: a Series about Living and Working in NZ
  2. The Pros and Cons of a Working Holiday in New Zealand
  3. Getting Work Ready – Everything I Wish I’d Known
  4. 10 Ways to Find a Job
  5. How to Find Somewhere to Live
  6. How to Meet People
  7. Best places to work, live and travel
Gemma Hill
Principal Consultant

A bit about me In 2016, I arrived in New Zealand from the UK and my recruitment journey began. With experience in people focussed industries like healthcare and hospitality across the UK and…

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