We went down to Dunedin over Easter weekend (4 day weekend here, and I thought it was only 3!) as I had seen some jobs there in the past that I could have done and were interesting. More than Christchurch anyhow. Our expectations of places aren’t the reality in New Zealand so it’s interesting to see how other places measure up. When we first got here we were in the Auckland area for a few days. We stayed in the SE area until we flew down to Christchurch for a few days for Glenn’s interview. After the interview we went up to Wellington via train and ferry for a week, and then went back down to Christchurch. So, pretty much we’ve checked out a few areas. Before we arrived we didn’t think we would like Auckland, but it was ok. We thought we would like Wellington but we hated it, and didn’t think we would like Christchurch but love it. We had some impressions of Dunedin and it really didn’t live up to them. This was just another case of needing to see it and be there.
There are various things that we look for in an area we would live in
The roads are oddly a big factor. Narrow, difficult roads are a turn off, while wide but not sprawling (more than 2 lanes per direction) are something we find pleasant. Dunedin, Wellington and parts of Auckland: twisty narrow roads and spaghetti streets, Christchurch has a bit of spaghetti, but overall the roads are wide and while the town isn’t exactly planned it’s much better than the other places we’ve been.
Shopping is another big thing. Not really talking about luxury items, but basic grocery stores per population center. New Zealand cities are organized into sub-cities, aka suburbs. Ideally, as in Christchurch, each cluster of areas has close–and decent– shopping. One of the things we found disappointing about Dunedin was the lack of shopping per population center. People in some areas would have to drive quite a bit (up and down twisty roads) to get groceries. There were dairies, generally, but I think we just prefer to have choice in shopping. For instance, right now I can walk to a dairy. I can also walk to two Asian markets, a butcher, a baker, a grocer and if I don’t mind hauling stuff, two large grocery stores, one of which is in a mall. Even when we lived on the other side of town I could walk to a dairy, a grocer/butcher, a baker and a mall with all kinds of things including a large grocery store. Basically in Dunedin the choice in groceries seemed poor. The town of Mosgiel (pop 9.3k) had what seemed like more choice than the main areas of Dunedin. We went everywhere and really for a town that size to have less than 10 grocery stores doesn’t seem right. Technically the city has a population of 120k or so but we thought that places like Timaru and Oamaru (pop ~49k) were more vibrant and had groceries in line of what we’d expect for a city that size. Christchurch apparently has more shops than other areas of NZ for the size but they all get used! So can’t be a bad thing. Dunedin had a lot of empty store fronts as well. I think the population is shrinking.
As a rider to the grocery stores there just seemed to be a lack of basic services in Dunedin. In Christchurch and other areas we’ve been in there is generally a doctors office, a dentist, pharmacy, some flower shops, a veterinarian etc etc for each say 5 or so suburbs. Enough vets in Dunedin, not so much of anything else.
Public transport and pedestrian friendliness. Not driving, I like to be able to get around, and nice walking and bussing is pleasant. (Working on that driving thing, really) Dunedin busses were once hourly and walking looked gruelling with the hilliness of the town. We did see a lot of people looking happy and out walking around so some people must like it. Wellington apparently has nice public transport but walking outside of downtown wasn’t a workable thing. Auckland is also terrible for public transport, but has a good ferry system and walking isn’t that bad. Christchurch is nice for both of these. While in Dunedin we walked from our hotel (South Dunedin) to the downtown area. Took about 30 minutes one way and wasn’t that bad, but if you lived elsewhere you’d be in for some hikes! We considered taking a taxi back to the hotel as the neighborhood didn’t look so hot and we didn’t want to walk back after or near dark. We don’t go out much after dark in Christchurch but if we did the downtown wouldn’t be an area we were worried about.
I think those are the main things we look for in assessing whether somewhere is livable for us. Some time in the future we will be taking a trip to Palmerston North and the Hamilton area, but for right now, despite my lack of a job Christchurch is still the place I like best. I have plans on that front though, but until then..!