Australia or New Zealand? – A South African Engineer’s Relocation Dilemma


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For South African civil engineers contemplating an international career move, Australia and New Zealand emerge as top contenders, but choosing between these countries is not easy.

In our latest blog post, we will guide you through the similarities and key differences between the two countries so you can decide which country will be a better fit for you and your family.

Similarities Between Australia and New Zealand:

Both countries offer high standards of living, robust economies, and a strong demand for civil engineering skills. They share similarities in language and culture, making the transition for South African engineers relatively smooth. Additionally, both nations boast stunning natural landscapes and a quality of life that’s hard to match.

Australia and New Zealand have a shared history of British colonization, which has significantly influenced their political systems, legal frameworks, and languages. English is the predominant language in both, albeit with unique slang and accents.

Both countries offer some of the world’s most breathtaking natural sceneries – from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.

Photo: Milford Sound in New Zealand

Political Parallels

Both Australia and New Zealand are parliamentary democracies with a Prime Minister as the head of the government. Their political systems are based on the Westminster system. They are both constitutional monarchies recognizing the British Monarch as the ceremonial head of state, represented by a Governor-General in each country.

Both countries have shown a commitment to social welfare policies, environmental conservation, and have progressive stances on issues like same-sex marriage and climate change.

Australia and New Zealand have similar foreign policy interests, particularly in maintaining strong ties with Pacific Island nations, and often collaborate on international issues through forums like the United Nations, Commonwealth, and ANZUS (although New Zealand’s involvement in ANZUS has been suspended since 1986 due to its anti-nuclear policy).

Both countries continue to grapple with issues related to their indigenous populations – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia and Māori in New Zealand – striving to address historical injustices and integrate indigenous perspectives into national policies.

Love of sports

Australia and New Zealand are both nations where sports play a significant role in national culture. However, each country has its own set of popular sports based on historical influences, climate, and cultural preferences.

Australia’s Popular Sports:

  1. Cricket: Cricket holds a special place in Australian culture and is one of the most popular sports. The Australian cricket team is among the best in the world, and events like The Ashes series against England are highly anticipated.
  2. Australian Rules Football (AFL): Predominantly played in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania, AFL is a unique sport to Australia and has a massive following.
  3. Rugby League: Particularly popular in New South Wales and Queensland, the National Rugby League (NRL) enjoys a large fan base.
  4. Rugby Union: Although not as popular as Rugby League, Rugby Union still has a significant following, especially at the international level.
  5. Soccer (Football): Soccer’s popularity in Australia has grown substantially, with the A-League and international success of the Socceroos.
  6. Swimming and Surfing: Due to Australia’s extensive coastlines and warm climate, water sports like swimming and surfing are widely popular.

New Zealand’s Popular Sports:

  1. Rugby Union: Rugby is the most popular sport in New Zealand. The national team, the All Blacks, is a source of national pride and has a formidable international presence.
  2. Cricket: Cricket is also popular in New Zealand, with the national team, the Black Caps, having a strong following.
  3. Netball: One of the most popular women’s sports in New Zealand, netball enjoys widespread participation and viewership.
  4. Soccer (Football): Soccer has been growing in popularity, especially among younger generations.
  5. Rugby League: While not as popular as Rugby Union, Rugby League still enjoys a significant following.
  6. Outdoor and Adventure Sports: Given New Zealand’s diverse and rugged landscape, outdoor and adventure sports like hiking, mountain biking, and skiing are popular.

Key Differences Between Australia and New Zealand

While Australia and New Zealand share a number of similarities, they also have distinct characteristics that set them apart.


Australia has a much larger population compared to New Zealand. As of 2023, the estimated population of Australia is approximately 25-26 million people. The population distribution is heavily skewed towards the eastern and southeastern coastal regions, with major urban centers like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane being the most populous.

New Zealand’s population is considerably smaller, with an estimated 5 million people. The population is more evenly distributed between the North and South Islands, with the largest city, Auckland, located in the North Island. Other major cities include Wellington and Christchurch.

Immigration and diversity

Australia has a long history of immigration, significantly shaped by the post-World War II migration policy which encouraged people from Europe, and later from Asia and other parts of the world, to settle in the country. New Zealand’s immigration history is more recent compared to Australia. Post-World War II, it primarily saw immigrants from the UK and Ireland, but in recent decades, there has been a significant increase in immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Photo: City of Gold Coast in Australia

New Zealand’s population is diverse but less so compared to Australia. The largest minority groups are from the Pacific Islands and Asia. Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, nearly half of all Australians were either born overseas or have one parent born overseas.

In New Zealand, the Māori culture is more integrated into national identity, whereas in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are distinct within a more multicultural context.

Wages in Australia are higher…

According to the latest data from ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics), in Australia

  • Median employee earnings was $1,300 per week, up $52 (4.2%) since August 2022.
  • Median hourly earnings was $39.50 per hour, up $2.50 since August 2022. 

In August 2023, the industries with the highest median weekly earnings were:

  • Mining ($2,403 per week, down from $2,493 in August 2022).
  • Electricity, gas, water and waste services ($1,900, up from $1,876).
  • Financial and insurance services ($1,750, up from $1,686).
  • Professional, scientific and technical services ($1,726, up from $1,675).

In New Zealand, in the year to the June 2023 quarter, median weekly income:

  • from all sources increased by $73 (8.6 percent) to $921
  • from wages and salaries increased by $84 (7.1 percent) to $1,273

Median hourly earnings from wages and salaries increased $1.95 (6.6 percent) to $31.61.

…and there are more job opportunities in Oz

The difference in job opportunities between Australia and New Zealand can be attributed to several factors:

  • Australia has a significantly larger economy than New Zealand. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is substantially higher, offering a wider range of economic activities and consequently more job opportunities across various sectors.
  • Because Australia has a much larger population than New Zealand, with more urban centers and a greater overall population, there’s a higher demand for labor across various industries. Large-scale infrastructure and development projects create numerous jobs in construction and engineering.
  • Australia’s larger economy and population make it a more significant player in international business and trade. This includes higher levels of foreign investment and multinational companies operating in the country, leading to more job opportunities.

But New Zealand ranks higher on safety

In 2023, New Zealand was named the fourth safest country in the world by the Global Peace Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace. The Index covers 99.7 per cent of the population and analyses “societal safety and security, domestic and international conflict and the degree of militarisation.” Australia ranked 22nd.


Australia, the world’s sixth-largest country, is a vast landmass featuring deserts, tropical rainforests, and extensive coastlines. The climate ranges from the tropical north to the temperate south, with arid regions in the interior.

Australia experiences several unique weather events:

  1. Cyclones: Tropical cyclones are common in northern Australia, particularly in Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia. These intense storms bring strong winds, heavy rain, and can cause significant flooding and damage.
  2. Bushfires: Australia is prone to bushfires, especially in the hotter, drier months. Regions like Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales often experience severe bushfires, fueled by Australia’s native eucalyptus trees which are highly flammable.
  3. Droughts: Prolonged periods of drought are common, particularly in the interior regions and the southeast. These droughts can last for several years, significantly impacting water supply, agriculture, and the environment.
  4. Heatwaves: Australia frequently experiences heatwaves, with temperatures soaring above 40°C (104°F). Southern regions like South Australia and Victoria are particularly affected during the summer.
  5. Dust Storms: In arid and semi-arid regions, especially in the Outback, dust storms can occur, where strong winds lift large quantities of dust and sand into the air.
  6. Hailstorms: Severe hailstorms are relatively common, particularly in eastern and southern Australia. These can cause substantial damage to property, crops, and vehicles.
  7. Flash Flooding: Intense rainfall can lead to flash flooding, especially in urban areas where drainage may be inadequate. Queensland and New South Wales are frequently affected by these sudden floods.

New Zealand, considerably smaller, is known for its picturesque mountains, rolling green hills, and fjords. The country enjoys a more temperate maritime climate, with milder winters and cooler summers.

New Zealand also experiences several unique weather events:

  1. Nor’westers: These are strong, warm, and dry northwest winds experienced particularly in the Canterbury region of the South Island. They can cause rapid temperature increases and are known for their intensity.
  2. Foehn Winds: Similar to the Nor’westers, these are hot, dry winds that descend on the leeward side of the Southern Alps, causing significant temperature differences.
  3. Cyclones and Tropical Storms: While less frequent than in Australia, New Zealand can experience the tail end of tropical cyclones, especially in the North Island. These cyclones bring heavy rain and strong winds.
  4. Heavy Rainfall and Flooding: Due to its maritime climate, New Zealand often experiences heavy and persistent rainfall, leading to flooding, especially in the West Coast and North Island regions.
  5. Snowfall: New Zealand sees snowfall, particularly in the higher altitudes of the South Island and in the central North Island. Ski resorts in areas like Queenstown and Wanaka benefit from this.
  6. Southerlies: Cold southerly winds, particularly in the South Island and lower North Island, can bring sudden temperature drops and are often associated with the passage of a cold front.
  7. Frost: Particularly in the central and southern parts of the South Island, frosts are common during winter and can be quite severe, impacting agriculture and daily life.
  8. Mists and Fogs: In areas with high humidity and varying topography, such as the Waikato basin and other river valleys, mist and fog can be a common occurrence, particularly in the mornings.
  9. Sunburn Weather: Due to New Zealand’s location under a thin patch of the ozone layer, the UV radiation is quite strong. Even on cloudy days, the risk of sunburn is higher compared to other parts of the world.

New Zealand has earthquakes and tsunamis…

While not weather-related, it’s noteworthy that New Zealand, located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, frequently experiences earthquakes. These can sometimes trigger tsunamis, although large destructive tsunamis are rare.

Christchurch Earthquakes, 2010-2011: A series of earthquakes hit the Canterbury region, with the most destructive occurring in February 2011. This 6.3 magnitude quake caused widespread damage to Christchurch, including the collapse of buildings and significant loss of life, with 185 people killed. These earthquakes led to a major urban reconstruction effort and changes in national building codes and earthquake standards.

Kaikoura Earthquake, 2016: With a magnitude of 7.8, this complex earthquake affected the northeastern South Island and parts of the North Island. It caused two deaths and significant infrastructure damage, including major road and rail disruptions. The earthquake also resulted in a notable uplift of the seabed in the Kaikoura region.

These major earthquakes, among others, have shaped New Zealand’s approach to building practices, emergency preparedness, and seismic research. They also serve as reminders of the ongoing need for vigilance and preparedness in a seismically active region.

…while Australia has an impressive list of dangerous animals!

While these animals are dangerous, encounters with them are relatively rare, and fatalities are even rarer, particularly with modern medical treatment. Awareness and caution in their habitats are key to safety.

Some of the notable dangerous animals in Australia include:

  1. Box Jellyfish: Found in the waters of northern Australia, the box jellyfish is considered one of the most venomous marine creatures in the world. Its sting can be extremely painful and potentially fatal.
  2. Saltwater Crocodile: The largest living reptile, found in northern Australia. Saltwater crocodiles are powerful and aggressive and have been responsible for fatal attacks on humans.
  3. Sydney Funnel-Web Spider: One of the world’s most venomous spiders, found in New South Wales. Its bite can be life-threatening, but since the introduction of antivenom, fatalities have significantly decreased.
  4. Eastern Brown Snake: This snake is found across eastern Australia and is highly venomous. It’s responsible for more deaths every year in Australia than any other group of snakes.
  5. Great White Shark: Although shark attacks are rare, the great white shark is capable of inflicting fatal injuries. They are found in Australian waters, particularly off the southern and western coasts.
  6. Blue-Ringed Octopus: Small but highly venomous, this octopus is found in tide pools and coral reefs in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, from Japan to Australia. Its venom can cause paralysis and respiratory failure.
  7. Bull Shark: Known to swim in both salt and fresh water, bull sharks have been found in rivers and are known for their aggressive nature.
  8. Stonefish: The stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world and can be found in the coastal regions of northern Australia. Its sting can cause severe pain and can be fatal if not treated.
  9. Redback Spider: Related to the black widow spider, the redback is found throughout Australia and can deliver a painful bite, though it is rarely life-threatening.

Although it might seem there are dangerous animals lurking everywhere in Australia, according to National Coronial Information System, the most dangerous animal in Australia is…a horse.

Photo: A jellyfish

Education: similar, yet different

The educational systems of Australia and New Zealand are both well-regarded globally and share many similarities, largely due to their shared historical ties to the British education model. However, there are some distinct features in each system.

The Australian education system is divided into three main sectors: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. Primary and secondary schooling typically lasts for 13 years (including kindergarten/preparatory years). Each state and territory in Australia has its own education system and curriculum, but there is a move towards a national curriculum.

The final year of high school (Year 12) culminates in an examination that varies by state, such as the HSC in New South Wales or the VCE in Victoria, which influences university entrance.

The ATAR is a common metric used across Australia for university entry. The ATAR is a percentile ranking used across most Australian states and territories to assess and compare the overall academic achievement of high school students. It is calculated from the scores achieved in the final year of high school (including HSC results in NSW) and is used for university admissions.

New Zealand’s education system is also divided into three levels: Early Childhood Education, Primary and Secondary Education (Years 1 to 13), and Tertiary Education, but there is more uniformity across the country, with the Ministry of Education overseeing the National Curriculum.

Early Childhood Education (ECE) in New Zealand is for children up to the age of 5 and is not compulsory. It includes a range of services like kindergartens, early childhood centers, and home-based care. The government subsidizes ECE for up to 20 hours per week for children aged 3 to 5.

The final years of secondary school (Years 11 to 13) involve the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), a qualification recognized for tertiary education entrance.

There’s a significant focus on improving educational outcomes for Māori and Pasifika students, including the promotion of Māori language and culture in schools.

Both Aussies and Kiwis speak English…but with different accent and slang!

While the accents and dialects may sound similar to the untrained ear, there are delightful nuances that distinguish Australian English from its New Zealand counterpart.

The most noticeable difference lies in the accent and pronunciation. Australian English has a distinctive twang, known for its nasal quality and the rising intonation at the end of sentences, making statements often sound like questions.

In contrast, New Zealand English is characterized by its vowel shifts – the flattened ‘i’ sound being the most famous, giving rise to the well-known humorous mispronunciation of ‘fish and chips’ as ‘fush and chups’.

Both countries revel in their use of slang. Australians might greet you with a “G’day” and refer to their friends as “mates”. A barbecue is a “barbie”, and if they say they’re wearing “thongs”, they mean flip-flops. New Zealanders, or “Kiwis”, have their unique expressions too – a remote area is “the wop-wops”, and if something’s really good, it’s “sweet as”. And, contrary to what you might think, “jandals” in New Zealand are not sandals, but rather another word for flip-flops.

Here’s a list of some popular Australian slang terms:

  1. G’day: A greeting, short for “Good Day.”
  2. Arvo: Afternoon.
  3. Aussie: An Australian.
  4. Bogan: An Australian term for someone who is perceived as uncultured or unsophisticated.
  5. Brekky: Breakfast.
  6. Chook: Chicken.
  7. Crikey: An expression of surprise
  8. Hard Yakka: Hard work.
  9. Maccas: McDonald’s.
  10. Mate: Friend.
  11. No Worries: No problem, don’t worry about it.
  12. Ripper: Great, fantastic.
  13. Sanga: Sandwich.
  14. Sheila: A woman.
  15. Stoked: Very pleased, excited.
  16. Thongs: Flip flops or sandals.
  17. Tucker: Food.
  18. Ute: A utility vehicle or pickup truck.
  19. Whinge: To complain.
  20. Yakka: Work (derived from the Aboriginal word “yaga” meaning work).
  21. Yobbo: An uncouth or rowdy person.

Here’s a list of some commonly used New Zealand slang terms:

  1. Aye: Often used at the end of a sentence for emphasis, similar to “right?” or “isn’t it?”
  2. Bach: A holiday home; pronounced “batch.”
  3. Bro: Short for “brother,” but used to address friends or strangers in a friendly manner.
  4. Chilly bin: A cooler or insulated box to keep food and drinks cold.
  5. Choice: Used to express approval or that something is really good.
  6. Dairy: A convenience store or corner shop.
  7. Gumboots: Rubber boots or rain boots, often used in rural areas.
  8. Hard Case: Someone who’s amusing or a bit of a character.
  9. Jandals: Flip-flops or thong sandals.
  10. Kai: Food (from the Maori language).
  11. Kiwi: Can refer to a New Zealander, the native bird, or the fruit.
  12. Munted: Broken or ruined.
  13. Pakeha: A Maori term for New Zealanders of European descent.
  14. Pav: Short for Pavlova, a meringue-based dessert.
  15. Scroggin: Trail mix, a snack mix of dried fruits, nuts, and other items.
  16. Skux: Someone who is stylish or good-looking.
  17. Smoko: A coffee or tea break, often used in the context of a work break.
  18. Sweet As: Cool, good, all right. Not related to taste.
  19. Tiki Tour: A scenic or longer route to a destination; a sightseeing trip.
  20. Tramping: Hiking or backpacking.
  21. Wop-wops: Remote or rural area, far from civilization.
  22. Yeah Nah: A versatile phrase that can mean “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.”
  23. Zed: The way New Zealanders pronounce the letter ‘Z’.

Job Opportunities for South African Civil Engineers in Australia and New Zealand

While Australia and New Zealand have some key differences, both countries offer an amazing lifestyle and fantastic job opportunities for South African civil engineers and construction professionals. The decision to choose one over the other often depends on personal preferences, professional opportunities, lifestyle choices, and sometimes, the immigration policies at the time of deciding to move.

Read more: South African Engineers in high demand in Australia and New Zealand

ConsultANZ has years of experience placing South African engineers in both Australia and New Zealand so if you would like to schedule a confidential chat about relocating Down Under, connect with our Managing Director Peter Laver on LinkedIn.

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