Settling into Palmerston North New Zealand


We finally found a place to live! It was a bit more difficult than we anticipated, but in the end it took us seven days from the time we arrived to the signing of a “tenancy” agreement and 10 days to move-in day, which just happened to be Valentine’s Day. A roof over our heads for the next few months was a perfect gift in celebration of the holiday! By the way, it appears Valentine’s is a very American holiday; I couldn’t even find a valentine’s card for my daughter (so I made one).

Our new two-bedroom townhouse is at 160 Ruahine Street #6 in the northeast quadrant of Palmerston North, which has been designed with a nice grid street system. We live on Papaeioa Park, an enormous city-center square park bounded by a one-meter brick wall on a busy corner. It’s a great place for us because we were able to secure a short-term contract, and the place is clean, fully furnished, and also offers all the kitchen dishes, cookware, appliances, curtains, linens, towels, living-room electronics and more.

This 1,000 SQ FT townhouse in Palmerston North, New Zealand costs more per month in rent than our mortgage for a 2,400 SQ FT home in the Farviews Neighborhood of Missoula.

Here in New Zealand, you pay rent each week, so our weekly rent is $360.00. Needless to say, this cute little townhouse that’s maybe 1,000 square feet in size costs more per month than our mortgage for a 2,400-square-foot home in the Farviews Neighborhood of Missoula! (See more photos below). Interestingly, the only utilities we have to pay for are power, communications (phone, broadband internet) and television access (dish). The city covers water, sewer and garbage. That said, everyone pays 15% GST (goods and services taxes) on all transactions.

From our temporary home, Maddy walks four blocks to her new school. She’s enrolled in Year 7 at Ross Intermediate School, where her school uniform is comprised of black cargo shorts, a dark green logo polo-style shirt, black leather shoes, black or white socks, and a black or green fleece jacket. The uniform is much more modern and practical than the uniforms (plaid skirts for girls) at Intermediate Normal School. We visited both schools after learning Maddy would be in Year 7; imagine our surprise when we learned she should be in middle school here instead of elementary school! In New Zealand, children commence school on their fifth birthday, no matter what time of year it is. They go right into Year 1 and attend school through Year 13. That means all 11-year-olds and 12-year-olds are at the Intermediate Schools, while the Primary Schools cater to 5-10 year olds, and the Secondary Schools provide education for anyone age 13 and older.

Another interesting things about the New Zealand public education system is that all teacher salaries are paid directly from the Ministry of Education (instead of by the schools themselves), and all teachers are paid the same salary no matter where they are located at. Additionally, local schools are ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 based upon the socioeconomics of the neighborhoods they serve, and the funding that comes from the Ministry of Education is based upon that ranking. For example, Ross Intermediate is ranked #6 on the scale, so the funding they receive each year from the government amounts to about $500,000 per year. However, schools do not provide meals (breakfast or lunch) or transportation, and the federal government pays for salaries. Families are expected to cover the balance. We’ve spent nearly $400 for Maddy to attend Ross for just one of four terms and that does not include fees for what we call extracurricular activities. We’ll pay an additional $150 for her to enroll in orchestra, and we’ll have to rent the instrument as well.

Some of the exciting things about Ross Intermediate School is that the classrooms are small in size (20 students), they offer art class each day, physical education class (which requires a separate uniform) is a full hour and is offered twice a week, and more than 50% of the classes are functioning fully on Apple laptop computers. This means all of Maddy’s books, homework, and communications are on her laptop that she brings home every day. They’re even using Facebook and classroom blogs to share information on school happenings. She is taking music technology for the first half of the term, so she is making electronic music on her computer with software called Garage Band. Other students are in food technology, wood technology, and electronics technology.

Speaking of technology, Tom started his position at Massey University and will be teaching in the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology (SEAT). He’s co-teaching a C++ programming class with a faculty member from Pakistan, and he’s chartering new territory in his department already by collaborating with the faculty in the School of Business Management on both research and curriculum development. School doesn’t officially begin until February 25 and goes until June 22 with a two-week mid-semester break the first half of April. Massey is located on the south side of the Manawatu River, while Palmerston North is on north side of the river. Interestingly, there is only one river crossing – a four-lane highway with two little pedestrian pathways on each side. Once he acquires a bicycle, Tom will most likely bike to and from work each day, or maybe he’ll take the bus. Palmerston North has a public transit system that appears comparable to Mountain Line, but Tom will have to transfer buses at the main terminal on the city center square in order to get home from Massey.

I have enjoyed sending Tom and Maddy off with a hot breakfast and a packed lunch each day, driving Tom to work, taking care of the household tasks and errands, and actually having the opportunity – and taking advantage of it – of exercising for an hour or more each day. It’s been great so far, but I found out yesterday and Tom and Maddy have made a little wager on how long I will go before I start looking for a job. Isn’t that interesting? Time will tell.




Linda McCarthy has served as Executive Director of the Missoula Downtown Association since 1999. Prior to that, she served as a Sports Information Director for Grizzly Athletics for 10 years. She is a two-time graduate of The University of Montana, where her husband, Tom Gallagher, is a professor in the Applied Computing and Electronics Program at Missoula College. Her daughter, Maddy Gallagher, is an outgoing and kind 11-year-old who has spent all of her school years at Lewis & Clark Elementary. They can be reached via email at: