The international student handbook to Wellington, New Zealand

Sean Campbell
Sean Campbell
Published on: 19 February 2021 • 9 min read

Recently we gave you a list of fantastic reasons to consider studying in New Zealand. Assuming that we convinced you of your future, we’ll move right along to our new series of international student handbooks, starting with our student guide to New Zealand.  Here, we’re going to shine a light on the capital city of Wellington. 

Home to our partners at the celebrated Victoria University of Wellington, the capital city makes an amazing place to live as an international student. 

It’s small in size but huge in character, there’s a buzzing social scene, and a perfect mix of urban living and outdoor adventure. 

  1. Quality of education
  2. New Zealand study intake 2021
  3. Wellington at a glance
  4. Student guide to accommodation in Wellington
  5. Transport around Wellington
  6. Student friendly dining & nightlife in Wellington
  7. Culture and The Arts
  8. Adventure & outdoor living in Wellington

1. Then there’s the quality of education available in Wellington… 

The Victoria University is in the top 1% of universities in the whole world across 19 different subject areas, while 20% of the university’s attendees are international students in New Zealand.

So in a nutshell -- Wellington is cool, it’s friendly, it's beautiful, it’s got fantastic educational facilities, an international student culture and a vibrant cultural and social scene. 

But there’s so much more for international students to know about Wellington. Here, we’ll take you through all you really need to know about living and studying in Wellington, New Zealand.  

2. New Zealand study intake 2021

First things first -- Can I even enrol at a university as a new international student in New Zealand? Well, not right now. But soon you will be able to. At the time of writing, New Zealand’s borders are only open to citizens and permanent residents in a bid to beat the Covid-19 Pandemic (spoiler alert -- they’re crushing it). 

But with New Zealand’s success in handling the pandemic so far, and the imminent arrival of a vaccine, New Zealand’s study intake is expected to open up again for the academic year 2022. This means that you can feel free to begin applying to study abroad in New Zealand in 2022. We’d recommend beginning your application at least ten months in advance of the first semester, so get cracking and keep high hopes that the word returns to normal soon!

Now onto the fun stuff...

3. Wellington, New Zealand at a glance

New Zealand is made up of two main islands, cleverly named “North Island” and “South Island”. The capital city Wellington rests on the south coast of the North Island. With a population of just 200,000 people, Wellington is small and neat, set between a natural harbour, multiple beaches, and the green foothills beyond. 

In a nutshell, there’s a small central business district, beaches, a waterfront, colourful architecture, and a famous old cable car that leads uphill to Botanic Gardens. 

As for the Victoria University of Wellington, it couldn’t be based in a more epic spot. The main campus (Kelburn) rests on a beautiful hilltop just 1.5 kilometres away from downtown, and from there you’ll have some stunning views of the city and the harbour.  Meanwhile, the second and third campuses (Pipitea and Te Aro campus), are both based in the city center.  

All in all, everything is pretty close at hand in Wellington. 

4. Student guide to accommodation in Wellington

Most of Wellington’s universities provide their own student accommodation. At the Victoria University of Wellington, there are quite literally thousands of accommodation options available. There are nine different catered halls of residence, where your meals are cooked for you. Meanwhile there are six self-catered halls, where you can live a little more independently. 

The great thing about all these student accommodation options is that they’re all situated extremely close to the main university campus -- most are walking distance away in fact.

The prices vary for each of these accommodation options, depending on the additional facilities, catering level, included amenities. The average annual fee for self-catered student accommodation is around NZ$8,000 per year (approx £4,200). For catered halls of residence meanwhile, the price ranges from NZ$12,000 to NZ$18,000 per year (approx £6,200 to £9,400). 

For more information on student halls of residence in Wellington, we highly recommend checking out the Victoria University’s student accommodation guide, which you can find here.

Private accommodation tips for international students in Wellington

If you’re looking to go private, the whole city is at your disposal. You might want to try the helpful Accommodation Finder on Victoria University's website, where tenants and landlords alike advertise spare rooms, apartments and houses for rent. You could also check out commercial websites such as TradeMe, Flat Finder, and NZ Flatmates.  

You should expect to pay between NZ$200 and NZ$250 per week for a furnished room in a shared house. Rolled out across the year that’s between NZ$10,000 and NZ$13,000 (approx. £5,000 - £7,000) per year. 

Since the school year starts in January, the best time to look for private accommodation is around October and November, as that’s when current leases will be coming to a close. If you leave it much later, you’ll find fewer options available.  

For international students coming to New Zealand, we’d always recommend waiting until you’re in the country before signing a lease and paying over a deposit. Thus, it can be a bit trickier to find a private rental in Wellington if it’s your first year. If you can afford to take the time, it would be a good idea to arrive two or three months in advance and stay in temporary accommodation until you can find a place. 

With all that in mind, it may be best for international students in Wellington to sign up for halls of residence for your first year. 

5. Transport around Wellington

Getting around Wellington couldn’t be easier. Of course you could get most places on foot (within reason) if you wanted. But the inner city and suburban bus and train services are exemplary, covering every corner of the city. The fares are pretty low, with short journeys costing as little as NZ$2 (£1). 

Otherwise, taxis and ride-hailing services like Uber and Ola are popular. If you’re lucky enough to be able to own a car in Wellington, we’d avoid using it downtown as the parking charges can be extremely high.

There’s also the ferry, which runs across the bay from Queen’s Wharf in the city center to Days Bay, stopping at the peaceful, isolated Somes Island on the way. 

Finally, there’s the famous Wellington Cable Car. It runs every ten minutes from Lambton Quay in Wellington Central to the beautiful Botanic Gardens, which are located just a 10 minute walk from Victoria University's main Kelburn campus

6. Student friendly dining & nightlife in Wellington

Most universities in Wellington have their own student union pubs and restaurants, and Victoria University is no different. There, The Hunter Lounge is something of an institution as a cafe, bar and live events venue. 

Off campus, the Te Aro neighbourhood is the place to be. Here. Courtenay Place is famous for its nightlife scene (which often continues until dawn), while just a few hundred metres away is the iconic, uber-cool Cuba Street. Cuba Street is chock full of street art, shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs -- enough to keep you entertained year round.  

7. Culture & The Arts

Cuba Street, mentioned above, is a cultural hotspot all on its own. As well as pubs & cafes, it’s home to a number of well-known art galleries including the Kiwi Art House Gallery, {Suite} Art Gallery, the McLeavy Gallery and the wonderfully-named Manky Chops Gallery. 

Then there’s the must-see Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, otherwise known as the Museum of New Zealand. It details the culture and history of the nation of New Zealand, from ancient times, through Western settlement, to World War II, all the way to the modern day. It’s a perfect place to start off your stay in Wellington as an international student as it’ll bring you up to speed on where you live!

If you’re a movie buff, you may know about the link between the blockbuster Lord of The Rings movies and New Zealand. Director Peter Jackson hails from just 40 km outside of Wellington, and the films were shot right here. Naturally, there are a number of Lord of The Rings Tours you can do in and around Wellington. 

Speaking of movies, there’s no better way to catch a flick in Wellington than at the century old Embassy Theater, one of the city’s best loved architectural landmarks. 

And finally there’s live music. Wellington has a lively music scene and gig-going culture is still booming. Pull into the likes of MOON or Meow on weekends, or indeed mid-week, and you may well be witnessing the next big band!

8. Adventure & outdoor living in Wellington

One of the greatest things about Wellington is that while it’s lively and urban, nature is right on your doorstep. Mount Kaukau and Mount Victoria both lay on the outskirts of town, and offer up stunning panoramic views over the city. The hikes themselves aren’t too taxing either, so you don’t have to be a seasoned mountaineer to make it to the top.  

We mentioned the Botanic Gardens already, but let’s mention them once more! They make a fantastic place to relax amidst your studies during the day. Grab a book and a snack, and find a little shade under a tree. Pure bliss. 

There’s also the Zealandia Wildlife Sanctuary, which is well worth a visit if you want to see scores of fascinating native species

Last, but most definitely not least, Wellington is home to a load of fantastic beaches! It really has got everything (though the water can be a bit fresh for some!). Lyall Bay, Oriental Bay, and Days Bay are the most well known beaches, with each serving up a perfect getaway from city living and exam preparation!

Thanks for reading our International Student Handbook for Wellington, New Zealand! The only thing left to do now is find a course to study! Check out the fantastic courses offered by our partner universities in Wellington here

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Sean Campbell
Written By
Sean Campbell

Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.


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