It seems you can never really go back home – because when you do, either it’s changed or you have.
That’s certainly my experience, having returned to New Zealand after living in the United Kingdom for the better part of five years. At times I feel like a foreigner in my own country – if this is even my home country any more – or like a Londoner living in Auckland.
But that’s not a bad thing; it’s certainly given me a fresh perspective on things.
I’ve written before about the sheer shock of going home for the first time in four years and about moving to Auckland and the future of Man vs World but this time I’m going to compare living in London with my new-found life in Auckland.
The most obvious difference is New Zealand’s largest city is a heck of a lot less crowded than the UK’s.
Moving from a city of more than eight million people to another of just over one million is jarring. Where is everybody? Even on Friday and Saturday nights many of Auckland’s central city pubs, clubs and bars seem rather empty.
Still, it’s nice to have more room to move around. Shopping in Auckland is a dream, too, with the city’s main shopping street – Queen Street – standing in sharp contrast with London’s absolutely mental Oxford Street.
Sure, the shops aren’t as good – but I don’t care so long as I have room to move.
There is always something on in London – but the same is true in Auckland, where in one week recently the city’s Vector Arena hosted the Black Keys, Mumford & Sons and Coldplay.
Sport is a way of life in NZ, too, so there is plenty of that on at any time of year – even if I do miss English Premier League football (the Australian A-League competition is like amateur hour in comparison).
Public television is really bad in New Zealand, too. It’s probably bad everywhere in the world but it’s especially painful here unless you really love The Big Bang Theory and (mostly Australian) reality TV shows.
At least television in the United Kingdom has more channels, more variety and higher production values. And don’t even get me started on Shortland Street, the embarrassingly popular New Zealand soap opera that’s on five nights a week here…
Quality of life
People seem healthier and happier in Auckland, with seemingly every man and his dog going jogging in their lunch hours, training for marathons in their spare time and playing social sport in the weekends.
In that way I prefer the London way of life, where time spent at the pub is never time wasted – especially if you’re at one of London’s best riverside pubs on a nice day.
The weather is better here, too, and the River Thames isn’t nearly as lovely as Auckland’s harbour, with plenty of beaches within a relatively short drive making up for the fact that the city’s parks are not nearly as grand as London’s.
Now, New Zealand isn’t nearly behind the times as many of my English friends think – but we definitely are behind the pack in one crucial area: the internet. It’s so very slow and expensive here.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of vehicle ownership in the world – and you can see why. Public transport is, by and large, severely lacking in most parts of the country. In Auckland it’s just okay.
It’s great to be driving a car again – I never wanted one in London because the traffic would be a nightmare, not to mention having to pay for parking all the time – but I do miss being able to have a couple of drinks after work and then catch the Tube or train home.
The traffic in Auckland isn’t so bad, either – but maybe that’s because it would take me an hour to get to work in London whereas even when the Auckland motorway is backed-up it only takes me roughly half an hour or so.
The cost of living
Weirdly, food is cheaper in central London than it is in even rural New Zealand. That includes milk, meat, fruit and veg. But it really does seem to taste better here – especially the meat, which is just so much more flavoursome.
The money is probably a lot better in London, too, but I get paid a little bit more in New Zealand than I did in the UK. But that probably says more about the British publishing industry, which was not in a good state when I arrived in mid-2008 or when I left at the end of 2011.
Rent is much, much cheaper in New Zealand. Even living in an apartment in central Auckland with a view of the harbour costs less each month than it did to live with six others in a flat in Putney in Southwest London.
So which is a better place to live – awesome Auckland or loud London? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
But I what I can say is travel is fun and living in a foreign country is one of the best things this Kiwi has ever done. I highly recommend it.