The Best Places to Live in New Zealand – Plan Your Move to Aotearoa

For many, Aotearoa is the epitome of bucket list destinations – so much so, that many make plans to move here.

Whether you’ve got your heart set on moving to New Zealand or are already based here (and are looking for a change), this article is for you.

We’ve invited our travel-writing friends to share their insider knowledge about the best places to live in New Zealand. The result is a fantastic round-up of the different towns and cities that we recommend you consider before making a move.

Some offer the buzz, culture and vibrancy of our largest cities, whilst others provide access to world-renowned nature, leisure activities and hiking within more remote regions.

Whatever you’re looking for, all of these spots offer something uniquely memorable, making them the very best places to live in New Zealand.

Happy planning!

The Best Places to Live in New Zealand – as Written by Local Experts!

The following locations have been placed in order of north to south, to make planning your potential move easy.

The Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands has something for all – including those that choose to make this region their permanent home.  

Locals will refer to this part of Northland as the ‘winterless north’ – and it’s almost true! This region has a sub-tropical climate and, located only a three-hour drive north of Auckland, the BOI is renowned as one of New Zealand’s most spectacular year-round destinations. 

Living in the Bay of Islands is sure to suit many types of people.  The summer is long, hot and beautiful; this is the peak season for international and domestic tourists when seasonal work is always available.  The winter months are quieter and are a great time to adventure and explore even further north.  

In summer you can expect balmy temperatures in the mid-twenties, and over the short and so-called winter, the temperature rarely drops below 10 degrees Celsius. 

The main town of Paihia is the hub of the Bay of Islands and has a resort-town feel to it during the summer.  The resident population of around 1,800 swells by several thousand in summer and tens of thousands in the peak of the season. 

Of course, this isn’t called the ‘Bay of Islands’ for nothing… The beautiful bay is made up of 144 islands – and there are many that are perfect for exploring, camping and snorkelling. Plus, the adjacent town of Russell is perfect for short day trips by ferry from Paihia. 

The closest airport is in Kerikeri, just 23km away – this is another great place to live in the region.  Kerikeri is the closest large town, and unlike Paihia, it isn’t so seasonal and so could be the perfect solution for year-round job opportunities.  

Neighbouring towns of Waitangi, Haruru, Kawakawa, Opua and nearby Kaikohe (along with spots even further north) offer beautiful harbours and beaches, nature and historical sights, walking tracks and waterfalls – all worth exploring on your days off.

The Bay of Islands really does have something for everyone.   

Sarah – Away with the Steiners

Auckland

Auckland is undoubtedly the best city to live in New Zealand if you appreciate art, food, multiculturalism and above all (and perhaps a little surprisingly,) nature.

Not only is it frequently listed as one of the best cities to live in globally, thanks to its enviable work-life balance, but where else can you wake up in the morning and decide to spend the day at the wineries (there are at least four different wine regions within the city limits alone), go on a hike to see rare and endangered native birds (Tiritiri Matangi Island or Tāwharanui), climb a volcano (we have 53 of them) or spend the day on any of the numerous city beaches?

Afterwards, there are buzzing cocktail bars and world-class restaurants to explore in the city centre. You can also explore the many multi-cultural foodie hubs dotted around, like Dominion Road for East Asian cuisine or Sandringham for Indian and Sri Lankan food.

Add to this the many cultural festivals that are held in Auckland throughout the year, and even a few museums to spend rainy days in, and you are never short of entertainment and a great selection of amazing things to do in Auckland.

Sure, it’s not a particularly affordable city to live in, but this isn’t an issue limited just to Auckland.

With so many free natural attractions in the city and a fantastic work-life balance, it still remains a superbly liveable city.

The City of Sails really is like no other on Earth.  

Jordan – Inspired by Maps

Pāpāmoa

With a beautiful stretch of coastline, Pāpāmoa spans 16 kilometres of white sand in the Western Bay of Plenty.  Pāpāmoa has expanded considerably in recent years, making it now the largest (and most livable) suburb of Tauranga City

Its popularity is well-deserved, with there being a multitude of reasons why many people now call Pāpāmoa home!

The beach is a well-used playground for locals and visitors who get to enjoy beach walks, swimming, fishing, surfing and paddleboarding.  It is patrolled by surf lifesavers throughout the summer months and includes brand new club facilities located in the heart of Pāpāmoa. 

The beach isn’t the only outdoor venue to enjoy with the Pāpāmoa Hills Regional Park and Summerhill Farm just a short drive from the beach.  In the hills, you can enjoy walking trails, mountain biking and stunning views in all directions.  And then there is the gorgeous Kaiate Falls, offering further hiking and swimming opportunities.

It’s not all about nature though – Pāpāmoa is a foodies heaven with a multitude of fantastic cafes and restaurants to enjoy.  Bluebiyou is a bistro restaurant locals love – you’ll find it located on the beachfront near the main town centre. And then there is the iconic family-friendly Pāpāmoa Tavern with the Island Brewery and Bar right next door.

Your shopping requirements are sorted in town too, thanks to Pāpāmoa Plaza and Fashion Island. There really is no need to leave town.

Locally in Pāpāmoa East you will find Papa Mos Restaurant and Bar which is a great social and dining venue and Henry & Ted which is a favourite local cafe for coffee catch-ups.  Pāpāmoa East is growing fast with big plans for a $1 billion town centre to be built – that’s four times larger than Bayfair in neighbouring Mount Maunganui.

If great weather, beaches and a fantastic social life in a thriving community sounds good to you then Pāpāmoa is a great place to live!

Karllie – YOLO SOLO

Rotorua

Rotorua is such a liveable town – for many, it’s the ultimate place to live in New Zealand.

It’s home to some beautiful neighbourhoods, has an easily accessible town centre and has the most beautiful forest I’ve ever seen. Most impressive though, is thesheer amount of activities and attractions in Rotorua – what’s on offer really is mind-blowing!

Rotorua is the world’s best year-round mountain biking destination; the trails and mountain biking community here are amazing! Town is fairly flat and particularly bike-friendly, plus most weekends you can find me in Whakarewarewa Forest on adventures with my trail dog and my girlfriends.  

Living in Rotorua, I’ve tried so many new things – kayaking under the stars, ziplining and white water rafting (which was epic!). I’ve swum in hot mineral pools, and I am continuously in awe of the incredible geothermal activity here.

If I had to pick one activity highlight I’d say landing by helicopter on Mt Tarawera with Volcanic Air –  it is bucket list stuff. Should you decide to make the move to Rotorua, you’ll have no end of incredible activities to work your way through.

As you’ll no doubt have noticed, the work-life balance in Rotorua is second to none. Being part of a lake district it’s easy to rustle up a quick dinner and be on your boat on the lake before 6 pm… Amazing!

Beautiful beaches are just under an hour away, you’ve got Lake Taupō on your doorstep (and Mt Ruapehu for skiing and snowboarding) and if you need to hit the big smoke, Hamilton and Auckland aren’t too far away.

There are plenty of job opportunities in Rotorua also, particularly in tourism, forestry and agriculture, making it an excellent option for many.

House prices in Rotorua are still more affordable than many other cities and we’ve got all the amenities you need. Our council is progressive and improvements seem to pop up all the time; I appreciate the improvements in the forest every day and I can’t wait until the new Lakefront is finished.

Living in a bilingual city is something incredibly special. If this is important to you, Rotorua is one of the best places to head for amazing (and authentic) exposure to Māori culture. Since living in the region my kōrero is peppered with Reo – I don’t even think about it.

Having moved to Rotorua I really feel a new appreciation of what it means to be a New Zealander. 

I’m so proud to call Rotorua home. There’s no place like it.

Lou – The Beauty Foodie

Taupō

The shores of New Zealand’s largest lake – the crater of a supervolcano – is a breathtaking place to call home.

Between Lake Taupō itself, vast steaming geothermal fields, New Zealand’s longest river and the Central North Island volcanoes, you’ll find what locals affectionately call the “large small town” of Taupō.

Whilst visitors are drawn in on the hunt for adventure or to enjoy New Zealand’s most-visited natural attraction, the Huka Falls, we locals like to spend our time exploring less-visited surroundings.

The dense jungle-like bush of the Kaimanawa Ranges and the desert-like volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park make for compelling weekend jaunts.

Oh yeah, and there’s a lot of trout fishing that goes on here – a lot. If you’re not out on the lake yourself, your neighbour will have some trout ready to hand over the fence for dinner. 

When you’re not exploring your own steamy adventure-filled lakeside backyard, other passions can be pursued within a surprisingly diverse community. There’s a small club for just about any interest where members come from completely different backgrounds: the fisherman (or woman), volcanologist or the barista from that cool little coffee shop (of which Taupō has many) – there’s something for everyone.

So, if you like adventure, unique natural attraction and for your passions to be enriched by different perspectives, then you might just like to live in Taupō.

We certainly recommend it!

Robin – NZ Pocket Guide

Wellington – New Zealand’s Capital City

Views from the Mt Victoria lookout, the incredible exhibits on offer at Te Papa (our national museum), the stunning Red Rocks and the great diverse range of cafes are just a few of the many reasons why Wellington is one of the best places to live in Aotearoa!

With beaches easily accessible from the city, a beautiful waterfront and multiple hills and walking tracks – more than most cities in New Zealand – Wellington really does offer practically everything a city-living nature-lover could need.

Wellington is a hive of activity – quite literally! This is the home to our government, including the main parliamentary building known as ‘the Beehive’. Because of this, you’ll find the security of government jobs along with plenty of hospitality positions and office jobs, making the suburban dream a reality just waiting for you.

Whether you choose to enjoy the beaches and rocky coast in Titahi Bay, the bars in the Brewtown, Upper Hutt or freshly scooped Gelato in the city centre there are plenty of opportunities to get amongst it – as well as space to relax and enjoy downtime.

The waterfront and Oriental Bay boasts a beautiful backdrop for walking, skating, biking or running whilst being in close proximity to fantastic shops, cafes and restaurants.

Wellington is also home to the Wellington Phoenix and Hurricanes sports teams so there are plenty of opportunities to take in a soccer or rugby game.

Or, if the arts are more your scene, the capital is well-known for its varied theatrical productions and live concerts.

As an added bonus, this city also functions as a gateway into the South Island. Travelling there is easy via an incredibly scenic ferry ride or a short flight. This makes Wellington an ideal base for those travelling from overseas – you’ll be able to enjoy much of the North Island whilst still being right by the South Island action.

If you can put up with the wind and rain (which really isn’t as bad as those out of Wellington will claim), the coolest capital in the world offers so much!

Peter – Aotearoa Wanderer

Owhiro Bay looking out towards Red Rocks.

Nelson

Nelson is found on Tasman Bay in the very North of the South Island of New Zealand. This is a great city to live in and a fantastic base for further travel around the country.

The town itself is fairly small but it contains everything you’ll need. There you’ll find lovely cafes on the Maitai River, high street shopping, amazing hiking, funky pubs and tasty restaurants.

Nelson is quite unique as it manages to combine the small-town lifestyle with the convenience of a city, whilst being flanked by oceans and mountains. Known for its consistent, sunny weather, it also provides a fantastic outdoor lifestyle to its residents.

One of the best things to do in Nelson is to hike to the ‘Centre of New Zealand’, a hill right in the middle of Nelson, that is said to be the middle of the country!

Being a beautiful coastal town, residents can enjoy afternoons at Tahunanui Beach (where dolphins are often spotted) or the many serene beaches and forests in Abel Tasman National Park.

The area is a great place to live as it provides access to many other parts of New Zealand such as Takaka (a memorable hipster town) and Kaikoura (for whale-watching and swimming with the dolphins). Plus, it’s an easy journey to Picton to get the ferry over to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, and explore the North Island. 

Conveniently, Nelson has its own domestic airport just 10 minutes from the centre. From there, it takes only an hour to reach Christchurch and an hour and a half to Auckland. 

Should you choose to settle in Nelson, we’re sure you’ll agree that there’s no shortage of amazing things to do in and around the region. In addition, it offers a lifestyle in the sun that’s second to none.

Shireen – The Happy Days Travels

Photo credit: www.nelsontasman.nz

Christchurch

The largest city in the South Island, Christchurch is also one of the most liveable cities in New Zealand.

While some of its most historic buildings were damaged or lost in the earthquakes of 2010-2011, the city took the opportunity to rebuild with families in mind. Where there were once office blocks, large playgrounds and parks have taken precedence. What’s more, the city has used the opportunity to revamp the central district in a more sociable way, with trendy new bars and cafes proving very popular with the locals.

The city itself is largely flat, which makes getting around by cycle a breeze, and there are several beautiful beaches to enjoy along the town’s coast. Museums and galleries are in abundance, and the newly built Tūranga (Christchurch’s central city library) is a destination in itself.

It goes without saying that there are plenty of things to do with kids in Christchurch too, with gondolas, tram rides, memorable playgrounds, wildlife parks and the world-famous Antarctic Centre providing hours of fun for the city’s youngest residents.

Those seeking an active outdoor lifestyle will feel right at home, as the Port Hills provide walking trails, mountain biking tracks and even a zipline to get your thrills.

Just outside of the city you’ll find more fun at the seaside settlement of Akaroa, or head inland to find adventure in Hanmer Springs. In addition, you’ll find yourself relatively close to much of the best South Island action, including Tekapo, Mt Cook and the wild West Coast.

Best of all though, having lived through such adversity, the residents of this amazing city have bonded and supported each other. This has resulted in a close-knit community that is a pleasure to be a part of.

Could it be your new home in Aotearoa?

Nadine – Le Long Weekend

Wānaka

Dreaming of living in a paradisiacal town in New Zealand?

Look no further!

Nestled amongst snow-capped mountains you’ll find the little picturesque town of Wānaka.

A gorgeous lake, friendly community, laid-back lifestyle and ample opportunities for outdoor fun in the region are the main highlights for the residents of this little town.

Located in West Otago, Wānaka’s current population sits just shy of 12,000. Word is catching on though and this town is growing in size. Perhaps you could be next?

Attractions like Mount Aspiring National Park, Cardrona Ski Fields, Puzzling World, world-class scenic vineyards and Lake Wānaka itself are just some of the gems the town offers to its residents. 

Wānaka is also a buzzing tourist hub (particulalry in the winter season when skiiers and snowboarders come to town) and as such, has facilities that most small towns can only dream of. Not only is it filled with lots of great restaurants and cafes (that serve a varieties of cuisines) but it has what is probably one of the coolest movie theatres in the whole country – Cinema Paradiso.

Rental accommodations in Wānaka start from roughly from $550 a week (depending on the type of property you are looking for to stay in). Being such a popular spot, rent and housing costs are relatively expensive but there are also good job prospects on the skifields during the season along with a range of office and tourism-based jobs.

If you have a suitable work opportunity and are able to cover the costs associated with living there, Wānaka really should be top of your list!

What’s more, you don’t need to go far for a fun day trip or weekend away, as the tourist hot-spot of Queenstown is just an hour’s drive over the most scenic mountain pass.

What’s not to love about that?

Anjali – Cheerful Trails

Photo by Miles Holden

Queenstown

As the adventure capital of New Zealand, there are countless amazing things for tourists to do in Queenstown but it’s also a great place to settle.

It’s often noted you can choose one of two lifestyles in Queenstown.

If the party lifestyle is what you’re looking for, there’s live music and bars open seven nights a week. Even in our largest city, Auckland, that’s practically unheard of.

Or if you’d prefer, there’s the outdoors, adventure lifestyle. Mountain biking, trail running, hiking (Ben Lomond on your doorstep – yes please), climbing and snow sports are a few of the popular activities in Queenstown.

Whatever lifestyle is best suited to you, you’ll soon find yourself with a great community of like-minded people.

To further help you settle into your new life in Queenstown, we recommend checking Facebook for local groups and events related to your interests – doing so is a great way to make new friends.

And for those with families, there are suburbs like Lake Hayes Estate that cater to a quieter lifestyle without being miles from the hustle.

Another great thing about living in Queenstown is the diversity of the residents. As a kiwi, more often than not I’ll be the only local when out and about with friends. It’s like I’m travelling without leaving the homeland.

Sure, sometimes the traffic can be annoying in Queenstown…but that’s the case for most of the best places to live around the world.

And trust me, this is one of the best places in the world!

Jub – Chur New Zealand

Te Anau – The Gateway to Fiordland and Milford Sound

Te Anau is a beautiful little township of approximately 2500 people, situated on the very edge of the Fiordland National Park.

Locals are lucky to have a very high number of quality restaurants and cafes considering the town’s population due to being largely a tourism base, geographically surrounded by farming families.

Te Anau still has a beautiful old charm that’s getting harder and harder to find. It’s a weekend retreat for Kiwi’s living in surrounding regions, has a delightful community, and a relatively undeveloped landscape. We do not have rush hour traffic, you can walk to everything you might need in 10 minutes, and anyone you meet on the way will have a smile and a wave for you. This is New Zealand as it’s meant to be.

As a family-oriented spot, it’s incredibly safe and secure.The quiet and the calm of the township makes for a delightful place to live and whilst it’s large enough to provide what you need, it’s still small enough to be comforting and have a true sense of community.

There is so much to do in Te Anau, both as a visitor and a local.

At no cost, you can arrive in town, put your boat in the water, and within minutes be deep in the National Park.

The beauty of our location is that Milford Sound is just up the road, as is Queenstown and Invercargill.

If you’re planning an adventure you can be in any of our 14 fiords within 30 minutes by air, and fish, dive, hunt and explore to your heart’s content. What’s more, we enjoy some of the freshest air on the planet. The water in our lakes is so pure, you can drink it right from the source. Plus the changing weather patterns are constant entertainment.

No doubt, you’ll have plenty of friends and whānau visiting you in Te Anau too – choose from taking them to the glow worm caves, on the South Island’s only floatplane or on scenic helicopter scenic flights. Alternatively, hop on a jet boat ride down the river, check out an escape room, enjoy a lake cruise (with canapes and drinks), a day or multi-day hikes and so, so much more. For a small town, there is so much to do in Te Anau!

Why wouldn’t you want to live in our little slice of paradise?

Adam – NZTT Member and Owner of Fiordland Historic Cruises

Dunedin

Dunedin is easily one of the best places to live in New Zealand. Located on the east coast of the South Island, this fabulous spot pairs a beautiful landscape with a lively community. The result is one incredible city!

Home to the University of Otago, which is New Zealand’s oldest university, it is unsurprising that students make up a sizeable portion of the population. This gives the town a youthful vibe, but the city is big enough that it doesn’t feel overrun by uni-goers. It’s the perfect mix.

Downtown, you’ll find an excellent variety of restaurants, cafes and bars. Whilst the nearby Botanical Gardens are an amazing place to grab a coffee and stroll for a morning (plus they’re free to enter!)

Dunedin lies at the base of the Otago Peninsula, which is a large, minimally-developed rocky peninsula surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. Along the peninsula, you’ll find hiking trails, sandy beaches (with lots of sea lions and marine life), New Zealand’s only castle and quaint cafes too.

Dunedin is also centrally located for weekend adventures – The Catlins, Te Anau, Wānaka, Christchurch and Mount Cook are all within an easy 3.5-hour drive (with many being much closer than that).

What specifically makes Dunedin a great place to live? You’ll enjoy all the amenities of a larger city (but without the traffic and high cost of living) whilst still having quick, easy access to the beautiful environment and the community-feel of a much smaller town.

What’s not to love about living in the Deep South?

Mikaela – Voyageur Tripper

Sunrise at Tunnel Beach, Dunedin

Aotearoa is such a fantastic place to live that it really is hard to narrow down just a few of the best places to live in New Zealand.

Hopefully though, with the help of this article, you’ll be on your way to finding the perfect kiwi spot to settle.

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