Justine and her partner Keith, emigrated to New Zealand in 2008 and ran their own watersports company in the lively surf town of Raglan. Now back in the UK, Justine reflects on her time living away and shares her advice for those thinking about making the move and working in New Zealand.
Visa and the move
Our life changing move all started back in Hawaii.
After a succession of holidays, we knew we wanted to take time out from our 9 – 5 office jobs and tried to work out how we could live and work abroad. After living in Maui for 6 months, we had to leave US soil (due to visa restrictions), so we travelled to New Zealand for a two-week holiday – I remember saying at the time “I could live here.”
18 months later, after working through the online New Zealand visa system (which can be done yourself or via a professional firm), we were granted a ‘Work to Residence’ visa.
We looked for jobs whilst still in the UK via a site called trademe.co.nz/ and seek.co.nz and discovered that companies that were looking for staff, really wanted to meet you first. With this in mind, we planned another holiday to New Zealand and arranged to meet a couple of these potential employees. We couldn’t give them our exact move date yet, but we kept in contact via email and luckily, we were given one of these positions once we arrived.
We’d already worked out where we wanted to live and asked for help from friends that were already living out there to assist with our accommodation search.
The Business – working in New Zealand
After living in Raglan, New Zealand, for a few months, we noticed a hole in the market for adventure activities. By this time, we already owned and operated a shuttle and tour service. Raglan at the time, was very surf orientated but didn’t offer much in the way of other activities.
We decided to set up a kayak, paddle board and bike hire service. This was back in 2009/10 when paddle boarding was still very new. It was hard to find suppliers, so we flew back to Maui to see the guys at Naish. We were also in talks with Red Paddle Co and within a few months, we’d grown paddle boarding in the Raglan area and were the first ‘Surfing New Zealand’-recognised paddle boarding company in the Waikato area.
We kept growing and started offering paddle boarding and kayak tours, together with tuition. However, there were lots of windy days, making both of these sports difficult so we introduced kite boarding lessons into the mix as well.
We were operating during the time when the adventure industry was getting bad press for unsafe practices in some centres, which led to the prime minister, John Keys, bringing in a new rule that all adventure activity companies had to be audited. Activity companies had to prove all the necessary qualifications, skills and paperwork to be able to carry on operating. Luckily with an English background, we had a lot of what was required already so we found ourselves in the front of the league and one of the first companies to be audited and approved.
This did lead to backlash from local competitors who either had to stop or change their procedures. They felt that we were pushing for these procedures, rather than the government. But in the end this worked out well for most other companies who all gained from the standards we were putting in place.
Client numbers started to increase in our small town, so often we worked alongside a rock climbing company and surfing company as a team to help accommodate large groups.
Keith and I ended up on the board for New Zealand Paddle Boarding Association. The board’s aim was to increase the popularity of the sport across the whole of New Zealand. With a ‘go and get it’ attitude, it was fairly easy to start and grow an adventure activities company in New Zealand. There are so many opportunities and great places to go.
Advice to outdoor instructors wanting to work in NZ
If you want to work for any outdoor company, you’ll need that positive, proactive attitude and be open to helping out in all departments.
Get your work visa sorted in advance. This is required for any company to be able to pay you and provides employment law protection. It’s worth noting that by fruit picking for part of your stay in NZ, you can extend your visa for a second year really easily.
Get qualified. Your First Aid qualification is a must for any outdoor centre, plus any additional qualifications in kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, rock climbing, kite boarding etc. Qualifications gained in the UK are accepted in NZ.
We found the best way to approach companies in New Zealand was to start with emails and then arrange to meet people face to face. New Zealanders love the personal interaction.
Advice on moving to NZ
You’ll need to know which area you want to lay down roots. Many people buy a campervan to travel around and suss out the places they’re drawn to. You can park up and stay in most places without getting fined. Public transport around New Zealand is not the greatest, so get yourself some wheels as soon as possible.
You can buy and sell vehicles on trademe easily. The same site is useful to find accommodation too. You can also scan through the local papers, or try notice boards in the local food shops like Foursquare or Supervalue.
If you’re moving with pets, especially dogs, be aware that not all accommodation will allow you to keep your pet/dog inside the property. All dogs have to be registered with the local council and you must pay a dog licence fee.
Funding your lifestyle
A lot of places in New Zealand are small, so be aware that often you may need to take up two jobs to help finance your stay due to the limited hours on offer. There are normally lots of seasonal jobs in shops and bars as well as cleaning, reception jobs in hotels and guest houses. Most places are quite used to you moving around. In Raglan, you would normally work in the summer season with the watersports companies and then move to the mountains and help with the ski seasons in Winter.
The things I miss from NZ
I miss the warm weather, friends and colleagues, the slower pace of life and how easy it was to visit a tropical Island on days off. I loved the diversity of the Island while travelling such small distances. It was a beautiful place to call home, but I found it a little lonely.
The things I appreciate now I’m back in Dorset
Being back in the UK I love the fact of seeing family and friends whenever I wish, the strong bonds that English friends have, I love the heritage here, the old buildings and castles around every corner. The flowers and the friendliness of the English people. I had forgotten how much I missed the lovely cosy English pubs and the banter which is spoken without having to explain everything.
I’ve been waiting for my sports equipment to arrive and all I now need is to get myself a nice warm wetsuit and get back in the water soon – as there’s nothing quite like seeing places from another perspective as seeing views from the water.
Justine now lives in Swanage and works at Land & Wave as an Office Manager. Her wealth of watersports experience and knowledge of running her own outdoor companies, means she delivers the very best customer experience for Land & Wave clients.
20 April 2019 by Rosie Tanner