What I Learnt From New Zealand Working Holiday

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In February 2016, I embarked on a 6-months journey to one of the most beautiful countries in the world, New Zealand. I did it by applying for New Zealand Working Holiday Visa, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

It was my first time traveling abroad all alone, and second time traveling out of Malaysia. This journey undoubtedly shaped me into who am I today.

In this article, I wish to express how this experience changed me, in terms of personality and perspective. Let’s dive in.

What is New Zealand Working Holiday?

New Zealand Working Holiday visa is issued by the government to allow young people from all over the world to experience the culture and work in New Zealand for a certain amount of time.

The visa is generally valid for 12 months with an optional extension of 3 months, but unfortunately for Malaysians, it’s only 6 months, with an optional extension of 3 months.

I didn’t apply for the extension because I had to come back to my home country to attend the university and start my degree studies.

What I Learned Throughout This Journey

English was never my first language. I almost never used English for communicating with people in Malaysia, just learning the theory and writing stuff. Being in New Zealand, an English-speaking country, I had no choice but to brush up my English oral skills.

I have seen many of my Working Holiday friends having difficulties communicating in English. Luckily the school taught me English since I was a child. Thanks, mom, too!

It’s not really Asian culture to go traveling alone. Not because we’re cowards and fear of facing the unknown circumstances. We’re raised and brainwashed to find a steady income and aiming for a big paycheck since our childhood, not chasing our dream and travel the world.

Our education system is made to accomplish this goal, it’s destroying people’s mindset.

Of course, we shouldn’t blame the education system on our behaviors now but I still think that the freedom of children to approach what they really like is extremely important.

More and more people are trying to change the current education system. International schools are being built, more parents are sending their kids overseas for “better” education, and many other ways.

While I wouldn’t confidently say that this education system is not effective or corrupted, I certainly agree that brainwashing is something worst to do toward a human being.

I hereby apologize if what I said offended you in any way.

Asians usually hold much sense of responsibility towards those who raised us. I know this will definitely offend someone but it’s our culture to be filial to those who raised us to adulthood, our parents.

It’s not our culture to leave our lovely home at 18 years old and live elsewhere or wander around different countries. Having said so, I often admire the Westerners for being mature and independent at very young ages.

However, I never meant to discriminate my own culture in any way, and I certainly would never compare them. Culture is not something to be discriminated against or compared, it’s an art of behaviors and mindset being passed down for centuries.

I think we do have the responsibility to preserve this beautiful art, as long as it’s not hurting anybody else.

Check out: 25 Must-Visits of New Zealand South Island

What Does It Mean to Travel?

Some people will never understand what it means to travel. My friends often ask about how I got the fund to travel. Of course, I’m more than happy to give you some insights about how I generate my income for my travels.

But if you said in a jealousy tone: “Wow you’re always traveling… why are you so rich?” I will probably feel like talking to you is a waste of time.

Independent solo traveling in New Zealand is way more relaxed and free than what I expected. The New Zealand government required us to bring NZ$2,250 into the country to accommodate the spending before our first income.

Even though after some time I learned that many people do not bring that amount of money, I’m still grateful I brought it.

Why? Because I was jobless for my first month in New Zealand.

I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or not, but when I was jobless and felt stuck, I wasn’t anxious. I’m more carefree than I should be, maybe because I know that NZ$2,250 is going to last me long enough until I got a new job.

I don’t think it’s a good attitude though.

akaroa new zealand

Struggling to Land My First Job

Starting from my third day in New Zealand, I started calling different orchards, trying to look for a horticulture job, but nobody was hiring at that time.

I checked the season for apple harvesting and I’m pretty sure arrived at the right time, but why is finding a job in apple orchard so dreadfully hard?

After a month or so, I was told that the apple season was somehow delayed that year, causing all orchards to delay their harvesting period.

I was lucky enough to meet a Chinese friend in Motueka, where I went straight after flying down from Auckland to Nelson. She gave me a number of a job agent, who helped me to secure a job, with a small charge of a commission on my weekly paycheck.

Hell, I was too naive to think that finding a job there was easy!

In my jobless month, I traveled like a tourist for a week before I arrived in the accommodation in Timaru for my first job. I spent more than NZ$500 for that week.

Boarding on the same boat with all those retired couples having their vacation, I felt like a spoiled brat. It took me some time before realizing that traveling can be as fun without spending that much money.

There are too many ways to enjoy traveling without breaking the bank.

Starting My Very First Job in New Zealand

My first job in Timaru was apple picking. It was a whole new experience for me to work in an orchard. My team of 3 include two Japanese girls, who impressed me at how hardworking Japanese are.

We were the fastest and most efficient in the whole orchard.

There were two types of wages in orchards, minimum hourly wage, and pay-per-bin wage. For example, one bin of apple for $50 for the whole team.

Not trying to brag about it, but when I first started, I worked very hard and tried to exceed the minimum hourly wage by hitting the higher pay-per-bin wage. If the pay-per-bin wage is lower than the hourly wage, we will still be paid the minimum hourly wage.

We failed. Close call, but still failed.

My job agent later told us that nobody in the history of the orchard ever made it. I started slowing down my pace and emphasizes more on quality than quantity.

After all, it’s working HOLIDAY, “holiday” is the main subject, not “working”.

There’s no point in draining all my energy and stress myself out when the return of investment is the same. Just enjoy what we’re doing and live in the moment!

apple picking new zealand

My second job was in Motueka, working in a kiwifruit packaging factory. It was the most memorable job, which lasted 2.5 months.

I lived with my friends in a guest house, the landlady never lived there so we basically occupied the whole house. Every weekend was a road trip and party at night.

I made a lot of life-long friends there, who I still contact frequently these days.

kiwifruit packing new zealand

Apple tree pruning was my third job and the toughest among the three jobs I had in New Zealand.

It was winter, waking up alone is tough enough.

Apple pruning at 7.30 am when the temperature was below 0°C? It’s extreme.

But I still enjoyed my 3 weeks pruning apple trees anyway. It’s kind of fun once you get used to it and began working more efficiently. The pay was very good as well, so there were no complaints.

apple pruning new zealand

I’m Grateful for How Lucky I Am

Being alone in a foreign land can be scary sometimes, but once you found those who are in the same condition as you, started to make friends with them, the community becomes lively and cheerful.

Solo traveling isn’t as scary as most assumed.

Humans do have a survival instinct, we automatically know what to do when we arrived in a foreign land alone. We will ask questions, talk to strangers, and play games with new friends like we never did.

All you have to do is give yourself a chance, you are stronger than you think. Much stronger. If you are going for solo traveling, you made a wise choice. I hope you will learn something before you come back.

All the best and happy traveling. Don’t forget to check out my Ultimate Guide to Your New Zealand Road Trip if you’re interested!

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Written by

Yen is a university student from Malaysia and a huge fan of Blues music and photography. His passion for travel can be traced back to 2016 when he spent 6 months traveling New Zealand. By blending into the locals and traveling long-term, he shares all the comprehensive and detailed travel ideas and guides for the countries with his footprints.

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5 thoughts on “What I Learnt From New Zealand Working Holiday”

  1. Hi, just want to ask if you happen to find a permanent job while on WHV? i mean, did employer sponsored you or help you convert into a working visa? Thanks

    1. Hey May, I didn’t find a permanent job while I was on my NZWH. But I do have a friend who found a full-time job as a chef there, but again, it’s rare and difficult unless you have the skills or job experiences the country demands, and the boss likes you enough to go through all the troubles of applying a visa for you. You can Google New Zealand job demands, and get an idea from there. Hope this helps. 🙂

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