Current location
Nantes, France
Can you please introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is Maëlys. I’m 30 years old and I’m from Loire-Atlantique in France.

During my law studies, I sprinkled au pairing experiences (in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Greece) throughout my program. After graduation, I decided to volunteer abroad in Slovakia, and that was where I met my boyfriend.

I quickly realized that I was interested in foreign languages and early age education. So I went to Germany to do an internship for a film festival as well as to work at a school there. And then I came back to France, before going on my working holiday in New Zealand in August 2022. PVT nomade Nouvelle-Zélande
Did you go by yourself? How was the experience?
I went on the working holiday with my boyfriend, Thibault. We have been together since October 2017. We had already experienced living together and separately abroad.

The working holiday in New Zealand was initially my idea. I had already been planning to go when we met. Over time, it became a shared goal and it took some time to finally take form, since we both had other stuff we were working on.

It’s definitely more reassuring to go with someone than alone, and it’s great to have a partner to share the experience with. It brought us even closer.

On the other hand, as a couple, we often have the tendency to isolate ourselves from others. And being around the same person constantly can also start to weigh. Whenever possible, we tried to make time for just ourselves.

Before our flight back to France, Thibault decided to return to Auckland to work a few more weeks at his previous job. He went one week before me, so that gave me the chance to explore Pamerston North, New Plymouth, and Tauranga by myself. When we travelled as a pair, we could afford getting our own room for not too expensive. But during my solo trip, I slept in dormitories and was therefore able to meet new people a lot more easily. Solo travel pushes us to create more connections with others.

Travelling as a couple or group doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do everything together. It’s important to experience moments for yourself. That way, time spent together is even more meaningful.
Why did you choose New Zealand as your destination?
New Zealand is a country that has fascinated me for a long time, for several reasons. First of all is its geography. I liked the idea of living on a remote island on the other side of the world. Its landscapes captivated me too. You can find everything here: volcanos, beaches, mountains, lakes, waterfalls… And I also wanted to improve my English. Before this working holiday, I was rather oriented towards German speaking countries and so even though I had a good knowledge of English, I didn’t use it much. Lastly, unlike Canada and Australia, New Zealand is not unmanageably big. I wanted to discover the country at my own pace and not have to traverse enormous distances. One year passes by quickly, there is so much to see. PVT nomade Nouvelle-Zélande
You originally planned to travel around, but you ended up deciding to start with a rather sedentary lifestyle. Why the change?
We were supposed to arrive in New Zealand in May 2020, but the borders were closed so our plans changed. While waiting for more news from the New Zealand authorities, I applied for and got a language assistant position in Alsace, France, where I worked for one year. I didn’t renew my contract because I thought I would be able to start my WHV at the end of 2021. But by early 2022, we still didn’t have any updates regarding our visas, and so I decided to work for 3 months on cruise ships. This job also helped me to save some money for my eventual trip to New Zealand.

Like many others before us, we had dreamed of buying a van and working here and there as fruit pickers or servers. But when New Zealand finally opened up, I realized two things. The first was that I didn’t want to be constantly on the road. Working on the cruise ships made me realize that living in one’s mode of transportation while moving non-stop was not right for me for extended periods. The second thing was that I really enjoyed working with my students at the school in Alsace, and I wanted to pursue a career in this field.

That’s why I contacted schools and looked for opportunities to work in French-English bilingual classes in New Zealand. Over our 12 months in New Zealand, we spent 6 months in Auckland.
What have you done since arriving?
We arrived in August 2022 in Auckland and I was an intern in a school situated on the North Shore, until the end of the school year in mid-December. I prepared various activities for the classes of juniors (5-8 years old) and seniors (8-12 years old), and helped in class. Unfortunately the internship was not paid, but the school did give me opportunities to organize extra-curricular activities, which were paid. And I also had a few babysitting gigs. I appreciated the autonomy that the teachers gave me. More than colleagues, they became my friends. It was very interesting to witness how a school in New Zealand works, especially two bilingual classes. I had the chance to come back to the school for another month at the end of our stay. The association that manages bilingual classes in New Zealand is called FRENZ.

On the weekends, we explored Auckland. We spent a day on the island of Rangitoto to celebrate Christmas as well. During the October school holidays we went to visit the North Island too, around Kerikeri and Paihia. We also spent a long weekend on the island of Waiheke.

Between January and March, we travelled between Auckland and Wellington by bus and sometimes by hitchhiking. We either camped out or did HelpX. After spending several months mostly surrounded by French speakers, it was important for us to meet locals and English speakers.

We did several hikes, but sadly weren’t able to do the Tongariro Northern Circuit because a cyclone hit when we had been planning to go. Instead, we were able to do the Whanganui River Journey (descent by the Whanganui River over three days).

On 1 March 2023, we took the ferry for the South Island. We did the tour by hitchhiking, and for accommodation we did camping and HelpX (7 on the South Island). In total, we covered 2500 km, with the help of 40 drivers.

Regarding HelpX, we had no trouble finding host families throughout the country. And once we had received some positive reviews, we got even more demand from hosts. We mainly did work in gardening, exterior cleaning, painting, and a bit of construction. HelpX is not only a good way to save money on accommodation, but also to meet locals of all walks of life. It allowed us also to visit places that we wouldn’t have otherwise gone ourselves. Thanks to the hosts, we also got great tips for travel and hiking, and learned more about local culture and history as well. This type of volunteering is based largely on trust and reciprocity, but there is no obligation to stay if one does not feel comfortable or respected. PVT nomade Nouvelle-Zélande
Did you have fixed housing?
During my internship, we were housed by two host families. In exchange for room and board, we sometimes prepared dinner for the whole family. I took care of the children before and after school, until the parents got home.

During our second stay in Auckland, we found a housesitting. A family from the school was leaving for a month on vacation and they were looking for someone to keep their home and care for their dog and chickens.

I found these housing options thanks to my teaching internship.
Were you able to easily travel around?
We decided to not buy or rent a car. When we were living in Auckland, our host families let us use theirs. Also, the costs associated with a vehicle, gas, and insurance (strongly recommended though not mandatory) would have stretched our budget thin. Another reason we didn’t buy a van is just the small space, which we didn’t want to be stuck in each time the weather proved to be capricious.

Instead, we decided that we would travel slowly with just a backpack. So we invested in camping gear, including a great quality tent that helped us brave all the bad weather. We mainly slept at campsites. Of course our tent wasn’t very spacious, but in the end we didn’t spend much time in it, except when sleeping. On campsites there were always common spaces to relax in. Personally I loved the camp life and having everyone in one backpack. We realize what is truly essential. The downside is we had to shop for groceries very frequently!

We took the bus and also hitchhiked to get around on the North Island, while for the South Island we did everything by hitchhiking. We were almost always able to get to our destination, except twice when we couldn’t during the day. It’s totally possible, but you have to be patient. People are nice and we had some nice conversations on the road with locals, other travellers, tourists, or working holiday makers. I recommend bringing a snack, some water, and sunscreen… The wait can be long!

Between HelpX gigs, we often took short pauses of a few days to visit places along the way. Otherwise, the only time we spent multiple weeks with just a backpack and tent was when we descended the western coast of the South Island over three weeks in April. PVT nomade Nouvelle-Zélande
What are the biggest differences between New Zealand and France?
While working at the school, I noticed many differences in the school system:
  • School starts for kids the day they turn 5, so there are new students that join part way through the school year.
  • Classes start at 9am and end at 3pm. At my school, we had morning tea from 11-11:30am, and a lunch break at 1-2pm. There are no school cafeterias and so parents or guardians must prepare a lunch box for their children. Kids eat on the ground in the courtyard.
  • At school, kids are educated about the risk of sunburn and so when it is sunny, they must wear a hat and put on sunscreen (available in classrooms). They also have drills for earthquake preparedness (much like we in France have drills for fires, terrorism, toxic clouds).
  • There is significant time dedicated to learning the Maori language.
  • Primary school students never have homework and rarely have tests.
In general, I find locals to be friendly and helpful. Everyone thanks the bus driver and people easily approach others to offer help. I was surprised the first time the cashier bagged all my groceries for me. Kiwis are quite relaxed. They don’t worry about appearances, everyone dresses in what makes them most comfortable. People are also more trusting. For example, we were often able to borrow the car of our HelpX hosts.

The government has pretty strict policies regarding alcohol. There are lots of zones in cities where it is forbidden to drink alcohol. Similarly, if you want to buy alcohol in a supermarket, the cashier will call his manager to check your ID, if there is any doubt that you might be underage. I was always checked and it annoyed me (but also flattered me), but it is a good prevention measure.

At many trailheads, there is equipment to clean your shoes. This is to protect the flora, especially the kauri trees. There is also a large campaign to eradicate vermin such as opossums, so there are traps installed everywhere by the Department of Conservation. PVT nomade Nouvelle-Zélande
How did your friends and family react to your decision to go to New Zealand?
My family knew that I’ve had this dream for a long time and they were used to seeing me travel to places. I think they were reassured to know that I wasn’t going alone.

When I’m abroad, usually my family and friends would come visit me. But this time it was much farther. I think they are happy for me as long as I am happy. My friends are spread out all over Europe, so we were used to seeing each other infrequently. With modern technology, it is easy to stay in contact, even if the time difference is sometimes annoying.

But it’s not always easy to manage the distance, and I’m not talking just about physical distance. Even though we sent photos and messages, it’s not the same as explaining everything in person. In the middle of our trip, my little sister had her baby and it was difficult to not see my godson grow up.

I have no regret pursuing my dreams, even if it required sacrifice. Because of it, I also cherish my time with them that much more.
What is your best memory in New Zealand?
For Christmas, our second host family in Auckland left us their home for the holidays. We had already celebrated several Christmases abroad, but this time it was in the middle of summer, so the ambiance was totally different. So we decided to make it memorable by going hiking on Rangitoto Island, not far from Auckland. There were very few people on the island that day and we made the most of it. When we got back, we cooked a meal and spent a relaxing evening at home, just us. It was a wonderful day.

With my school, I had the chance to attend a kapa haka festival (maori songs and dances) and it was impressive to see the students perform, especially their haka. I got goosebumps watching them!

We also went to watch a couple of opening matches during the women’s rugby World Cup, and the finale at Eden Park!

We walked from Picton to Havelock (Queen Charlotte Drive), and it was one of our best days ever. The weather was perfect. When we weren’t admiring the beautiful view of the Marlborough Sound, we were dipping our feet into the ocean.

We did a HelpX at Mapua, close to Nelson. Our generous hosts lent us their ebikes for a ride. I especially loved our tour of Rabbit Island after a morning of gardening work. During a day off, we also biked to Kaiteriteri beach by taking the Great Taste Trail. What a joy it was to swim in the water.

We didn’t miss France too much, but we couldn’t say the same about French bakeries. So it was a real pleasure to find some real baguettes in Richmond and butter pastries in Taupo.

During another HelpX in Manapouri, we did a cruise in the Doubtful Sound. We didn’t see any dolphins, but we did see a colony of seals. It was magical.
PVT nomade Nouvelle-Zélande
And the less good memories?
When we arrived in New Zealand in August 2022, we still had to test for Covid. Our tests were negative on day 1, but then my boyfriend tested positive on day 3. So we had to quarantine for a week, including on my birthday. And then one by one the father of our host family and then children each tested positive as well. It was a disastrous start, but we were happy to be living with them and not in a hostel.

We experienced many rainy days. New Zealand is a very lush country and it’s no wonder why. But when you only have a tent and are hitchhiking, it can be problematic. So we quickly learned that there is no bad weather, only inadequate clothing.

Out of our 12 HelpX experiences, one wasn’t great. Our host expected us to work 6 hours per day (usually it’s 4; We talked to them on the second day about it). They ate in front of their TV and didn’t talk to us, so we felt like employees for them, while the objective should be to have some exchanges.

In general, homes are not well insulated so bring proper clothing!
Do you have any advice for prospective expats hesitating to embark on the journey?
I think it’s important to come with savings (and not just the bare minimum required for the visa). If you’re going with a partner or friends, it’s important to discuss money before embarking. It’s a theme that will recur daily, so it’s better to be aligned on budget and spending habits.

I find that starting the journey in the homes of locals (for example via HelpX, au pairing, couchsurfing etc) is a good way to directly immerse oneself in the host country. We learned a bunch of things about local life, and it served us well later.

I recommend packing as light as possible. We could find everything we needed locally (at Kmart, The Warehouse, Kathmandu, and MacPac). Plus, there are a lot of second hand shops. You can buy what you need once you arrive. PVT nomade Nouvelle-Zélande
And to wrap up, what are your future plans?
We don’t have our own home in France, so we’re going to stay with our parents first. I’m excited to see my friends and family, but also to have my own independence with Thibault. We want a place of our own.

I found a job at a school in Moselle (in part thanks to the letters of recommendation from my school in Auckland). We will probably stay in France for a year or two before leaving again. Thibault would like to do a working holiday in Japan. As for me, Australia is calling out to me.

Don’t hesitate if you have questions about internship, HelpX, or hitchhiking in New Zealand.

En PVT au Canada de novembre 2021 à 2023, je répondrai à vos questions avec plaisir. Pour le premier trimestre 2024, direction l'Amérique latine !

I moved from France to Canada on a WHV from November 2021 to 2023, followed then by spending the first quarter of 2024 in Latin America! Happy to answer all your questions.

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