Life as an F3 doctor in Otago, New Zealand
Moving abroad as a junior doctor can be scary, so researching what to expect before you take a new job is top of the to-do-list. Here, we’ll take a closer look at Otago in New Zealand - giving you the inside scoop to help you decide whether it would be a good fit for your F3 year in Australia or New Zealand.
Where is Otago?
Otago is a southeastern region on New Zealand's South Island. It includes Dunedin on the coast, and a quite distinct inland area, which is home to the ranges and basins of Central Otago, the southern peaks of the Southern Alps, and hill country.
The largest city is Dunedin (population 120,000), sited at the head of a long harbour. Many of the early European settlers came from Scotland, giving the city its ‘Edinburgh of the South’ nickname. You can read our guide to Dunedin here.
Other major centres include Oamaru, Balcutha, Alexandra, and the major tourist centres Queenstown and Wanaka.
Otago is among the most diverse of all New Zealand’s regions. The mountain scapes, forests and lakes intermittently give way to busy urban areas and secluded hamlets, and it’s this variety that remains its big drawcard for locals and migrants alike.
Size: Otago is enormous, at least in New Zealand terms – at some 32,000 square kilometres, it’s the second-largest region in the country. Much of that space is made up of crystal lakes, verdant forests, mighty glaciers and wild beaches.
Population: 232,300, which is approximately 4.8% of New Zealand's total population. About 52.5% of the population reside in Dunedin - the region's main city. Approximately 80% of the region's population is of European lineage with the majority being of Scottish stock.
Connectivity: Otago is close enough for ready access to major cities such as Christchurch or Invercargill, and Dunedin is about five hours drive from Christchurch and just under two hours by air from Auckland. Uncrowded roads make for pleasant drives - and it's a pleasure to take your time and enjoy the scenic views.
What is there to do in Otago?
Otago, famous for Pinot noir, the adventure capital of Queenstown, and an internationally recognised university that hosts New Zealand’s principal medical school, offers a distinct South Island lifestyle and an alternative to more heavily populated northern areas. Featuring stunning scenery, Otago offers mountains, vast plains, dramatic rivers, and remote beaches. Whether you fancy an evening on the ski slopes after a busy hospital shift, or perhaps a glass of the good stuff in an artisan bar, it’s likely that any F3 doctors will find what they're looking for somewhere in Otago.
The Central Otago wine region produces award-winning wines made from varieties such as the Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Merlot and Riesling grapes. an increasing reputation as New Zealand's leading Pinot noir region. It's the perfect place to develop your tasting skills and become an aficionado yourself.
Here are a few of our favourite vineyards and wineries to visit in Central Otago, to get you started:
Black Ridge Vineyard is a small, boutique offering, famous for being one of the world's southernmost vineyards and wineries set amongst the rugged thyme covered schist outcrops and hills of Conroys Gully overlooking the Alexandra basin. The growers specialise in Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, to name but a few.
Mt Difficulty Winery, located within easy reach of Queenstown and Wanaka,is a beautiful place to stop, take a breath, and just enjoy the scenery. The cellar door offers interactive wine tastings, and the relaxed restaurant serves lunch amid roaring fireplaces and a sunny terrace.
The Wooing Tree is the place to come if you love Pinot noir. This family-owned and run vineyard specialises in it, and most importantly makes it with passion. The name is taken from a beloved landmark - a tree where local couples traditionally headed to 'woo' their lovers (and remains a popular place for men to pop the question today). We recommend one of their tasting sessions enjoyed alongside a gourmet platter of cheese, with a side of panoramic views.
Dunedin is the region’s only major city - but it is a great one. Home to one of New Zealand’s most prestigious Universities, Dunedin is a hive of activity during the academic year, and helps to maintain a diverse range of restaurants and activities for all to enjoy. Famed for its musicians and artists, and designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Literature in 2014, Dunedin is culturally rich. It has a creative and vibrant atmosphere, with entertainment and cultural options well beyond the city’s size. It offers a host of remarkable performances, exhibitions and festivals throughout the year, as well as plenty of opportunity to feed your mind and your soul in its distinctive galleries, museums and theatres.
Queenstown, the famous lakeside resort town framed by the dramatic Southern Alps, is best known for being a tourist mecca for adventure sports. Activities range from bungee jumping and paragliding, to a variety of water-based options on Lake Wakatipu. And that's not to mention the opportunities for snow sports, and the annual Winter Festival. And it's the world class snow that is will give you a taste of life very different to that in the UK. With four world-class ski areas in close proximity to Queenstown and Wanaka (Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Treble Cone and Cadrona) skiing isn't just a once-a-year holiday treat. Many locals enjoy the mountains, epic snow, and spectacular views daily or at least every weekend over the winter period.
The Central Otago area is known for its cycle trails. The 150 km Otago Central Rail Trail follows the route of the old railway; cycle from station to station staying in places little touched by modern hustle and bustle. The Roxburgh Gorge Trail and Clutha Gold Trail also offer unique experiences deep in the heart of Central Otago.
As the ‘wildlife capital of New Zealand’ you won’t have to go far to spot some of the country’s rarest creatures, including the yellow-eyed penguins, colonies of albatross, and sea lions that reside here and on the adjoining Otago Peninsula. The blue penguin colony at Oamaru showcases the smallest penguin species on the planet, with daily viewings in the late afternoon. A purpose-built viewing stand has been built in the area, allowing you to watch the penguins go about their day, in their natural environment.
What is the weather like?
Weather conditions vary enormously across Otago, but can be broken into two broad types: the climate of the coastal regions and the more continental climate of the interior.
In the coastal regions of Otago, winters are typically cool and wet, and in the south snow can often fall and settle. In the Central and Northern Coastal areas winters are sunnier and drier. Summers, by contrast, tend to be warm and dry, with temperatures often reaching high 20s and low 30s degrees celsius.
In Central Otago bitterly cold and frosty winters are succeeded by hot dry summers, with temperatures often exceeding 30 degrees celsius and topping NZ's summer temperature charts. This inland region is also one of the driest regions in the country.
The Otago region as a whole averages 2,025 hours of sunshine a year - which makes for an attractive year abroad filled with outdoor adventures.
How does the cost of living compare?
With New Zealand's biggest and most expensive cities (Auckland and Wellington) being considered among the cheapest in the developed world according to the Mercer Worldwide Cost of Living Survey 2015, it is fair to say that Otago is incredibly affordable. This is further supported by the fact that in New Zealand, the further south you go, the cheaper it becomes to live - which bodes well for the region, which sits in the bottom half of the South Island! Of course cities are always slightly more expensive than more rural regions, and so for the purposes of this article we have based the below costs on Dunedin, giving you a fair benchmark:
Housing: Dunedin has an eclectic array of housing styles from large wooden villas to brick bungalows and modern homes. Most commonly these are standalone houses with private gardens, but apartment-style options are also prevalent in the City centre. The average rent in Dunedin is around £180 per week for a 2-3 bedroom house or apartment.
Transport: Being a small city, transport is not a big expense either. Dunedin Hospital and the centre of town are within easy walking distance of each other, reducing if not eliminating transport costs.
Food: A basic lunchtime meal with a drink in the city costs around £9, with an evening meal for two in a neighbourhood pub costing around £25. A doctor's essential flat white or cappuccino comes in at a respectable £2.
What are the local hospitals?
Healthcare provision in Otago is excellent, particularly in Dunedin, home of one of New Zealand's most important schools of medicine. The main hospital in the region is in Dunedin with a smaller one in Queenstown. There are also some rural hospitals.
Dunedin Hospital: Located in the heart of the city centre, Dunedin Hospital is the main public hospital for the lower part of the South Island and is home to all specialties plus a broad array of sub specialties. The hospital includes Intensive Care, Neo-Natal Intensive Care and Coronary Care Units, has eight main operating and operate two day surgery theatres. It is a University teaching hospital with very strong links to the University of Otago and the Otago Polytechnic Schools of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Sciences.
Each year, Dunedin Hospital sees 36,000 emergency department presentations, performs approximately 10,200 theatre operations, 1800 births, and 23,000 discharges.
Lakes District Hospital Queenstown: Situated in Frankton, near Queenstown, Lakes District Hospital staff see a variety of work with up to 1,200 ED presentations per month leading to approximately 90 transfers to secondary or tertiary hospitals. The hospital consists of 25 beds, a mix of maternity, acute medical, radiology, emergency and outpatient departments.
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