London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Koreans in New Zealand

Eating SausageI had known for a while that New Zealand is a place where Koreans have been travelling – and settling down – for a number of years. At the BFI London Film Festival in 2004 there was a short film entitled Eating Sausage (Zia Mandviwalla, 2004), about Korean immigrants in Auckland; while Bungee Jumping of Their Own (Kim Dae-seung, 2001) features New Zealand as a known tourism destination – at least for adventure sports.

Artist Lee Hye Rim lives in Aukland, while the Lonely Planet advises that the work of Oh Seung Yul can be found at the new art gallery there.

Auckland from Devonport

Since I was in Auckland recently on vacation I thought I’d check out evidence of Koreans in New Zealand’s most populous city. A Korean friend of mine in London grew up there, so before I went on holiday I emailed her for some tips, but unfortunately I didn’t get an answer before I got there (understandably – she was on honeymoon). But evidence was not hard to find:

Noraebang in Queen Street

Korean students in the streets and on the buses, a noraebang in Queen Street, a couple of restaurants near the New Gallery on Wellesley Street, a Korean supermarket near the city hospital in Grafton. And that was just on the basis of a random walk round the downtown area.

I was expecting more obvious evidence of Korean businesses in Karangahape Road, the main ethnic street, but couldn’t find any. I suspect, though, that a number of the Japanese restaurants, as in London, are in fact Korean-owned.

New Zealand is a popular place for Koreans to study, but despite the numbers it’s not always easy to adjust – at least that’s the explanation reportedly given by a community spokesman for a recent nasty incident picked up in the Chosun Ilbo.

A youth court in Auckland found six Korean girls aged between 15 and 17 guilty of detaining a 16-year-old girl, also Korean, for more than an hour and burning her with cigarettes outside a supermarket in Auckland in February.

Getting into the more touristy parts, one third of the passengers on my flight1 down to the beautiful lakeside town of Queenstown were Korean. And back in the North Island, the volcanic Maori centre of Rotorua is also a popular destination for Koreans as for many others. It was there that I got chatting to a Kiwi in the travel business who had some interesting (and unprompted) observations about the behaviour of Korean tour groups compared with the Japanese or Chinese. Let’s call it a combination of risk-taking and entrepreneurism, but Koreans are

  • More likely to injure themselves – and others – on the jet skis
  • More likely to try to avoid paying for things
  • More likely to be ripped off by their own (Korean) tour guides (Korean tour guides are notorious for charging their customers a fee to enter a (free) public park).

At least, on the evidence of this sign, they are no more likely than the Chinese to damage the silver ferns in Rotorua’s Redwood plantation:

Silver Fern sign

Koreans have, apparently, been travelling to New Zealand since the early 90s, both as tourists and on business. Often business is mixed with pleasure, as when people in the fruit business are brought to New Zealand by the big kiwifruit marketing company, Zespri. Apart from fruit, I’m told that deer antlers (for traditional medicine) and honey are popular exports to Korea, but forestry is the biggest commodity export. In fact, Korea is New Zealand’s 6th biggest export market and FTA talks may soon start between the two countries. Prime Minister Helen Clark is currently in Seoul to promote the idea of such talks.

As I left Auckland, once again it was hard to avoid things Korean. In the Air New Zealand lounge, the only non-Kiwi newspapers and magazines on display were Korean: the Hanguk Ilbo, the weekly Economist magazine plus a Korean golf magazine, while the Taste of New Zealand duty free is blessed with four very pretty Korean shop assistants.

I’m looking for someone to provide some funding so that I can go back and do some more in-depth fieldwork. New Zealand’s a great country.


  1. Travel tip – always fly Air New Zealand rather than Qantas for internal flights. The former have all the navigation equipment for taking off and landing in the frequent low cloud, and hence flights get canceled much less frequently than Qantas []

11 thoughts on “Koreans in New Zealand

  1. The aforementioned kiwi travel businessman propagates unfair negative generalizations about Korean tourists. As the Dear Editor knows, Koreans are culturally extremely generous, loyal and hospitable. It’s nice to know that he keeps a Korean headcount wherever he goes, though.

  2. I was a little surprised at his comments, but when asking him about his perceptions of the differences between Japanese, Chinese and Korean tour groups I deliberately withheld my own particular interest to make sure that he was not playing to a particular audience. The comments he made were on the basis of his own specific experiences. So they may be unrepresentative, but I thought them worthwhile recording. And they tied in with what another guide told me.

  3. The downtown area can give a very distorted view of the numbers of Koreans and East Asians living in Auckland. There are certainly a lot of students living there in dormitories and a great many Korean restaurants on upper Queen Street (which connects to K Road), but walk a few kilometers in any direction and you’d be half-pressed to find many East Asians at all! The bulk of Taiwanese immigrants, for instance, live way out East in the Howick/Pakuranga area where I went to school, and most Korean immigrants live in a couple of suburbs north of the Harbour Bridge. I can’t remember exactly where sorry because I’ve been living in Korea for the last 8 years, although I did go back just last December, and it was fun talking to Koreans and noticing all the businesses.

    K-road is more of an “alternative” area rather than an “ethnic” area (used to live there too!), and was the centre of Auckland’s gay and lesbian community back when I was still there…not the normal kind of area most Korean immigrants want to set up shop!

    Finally, not adjusting well has been overwhelmingly cited as the reason for the attack by those girls, but as Popular Gusts points out in the link below, bullying like this is unfortunately all too common in Korean schools also. Ultimately, not adjusting to NZ life may have had nothing whatsover to do with it.

  4. Mr. Turnbull, from what I hear, the bullying in the top British public schools is much, much worse. Western perceptions of Koreans tend to be inaccurate and unfair. Why always focus on the sordid or seedy when it comes to foreign culture? It’s like having a Korean language website for English people that focuses on the recent teen internet suicide rings in Wales. Generally, Koreans students are not known for burning each other with cigarettes, just as Brits are not known for sodomy and “fagging.”

  5. Grace Kim,

    That bullying occurs in British schools and may be far worse than in Korean schools doesn’t negate the facts that bullying occurs in the latter too, and that knowing that aids in our understanding of the attacks in New Zealand.

    You seem to imply that one must mention things like the fact that bullying occurs in British schools too when discussing the attacks. Why? Constantly prefacing any discussion of a negative aspect of Korean society with such qualifiers is tiresome and patronising to readers’ intelligence.

    I also resent the implication that I have inaccurate and/or unfair perceptions of Korea simply because I’m a Westerner, or even that I focus on the negative. If you’d bothered to read my blog for instance, rather than making blanket assumptions about me because of my background, you’d see that nothing is farther from the truth.

  6. Good morning. As there are very few English language resources about Korea, I think there is a responsibility by websites and publications such as LKL to present a fair and balanced view. If I want to read a tabloid, there are plenty of other options. I went to the Popular Gusts website and checked the cigarette burns story which seemed to consist of a sordid litany of alleged assaults. I know nothing of your background except through what I can glean from what you’ve written.

  7. Hi I’m Korean living in Auckland. Found this site by accident and thought I may need to write few words here..

    Yes, there are A LOT of Korean living in Auckland. and yes, they are thrill seekers and not likely to worry too much for safety matter compare to other tourists. But there’s no tour guide charging for public attractions anymore. It’s like 5 years ago.

    There aren’t that many Korean tourists, anyway.

    I don’t know why Air NZ lounge had only Korean newspapers and magazines when you’re there when they don’t even fly to Korea. They do provide lots of information and service for Japanese and Chinese travellers, but Not for Korean as far as I know.

    What I’m trying to say is this posting sounds a bit exaggerative.

  8. Interesting post. As a New Zealander and someone who has live in Korea and Japan let me offer a few comments.
    – The number of Koreans in NZ has been increasing in recent years. Most seem to settle in Auckland or Christchurch. There are lots of Korean businesses such as Restaurants and convenience stores in Auckland city as well as on the North Shore where lots of Koreans live. In many other shopping areas you will also find a number of korean businesses.
    – Lots of young students come to Auckland to study (late teens, early 20s). Unfortunately this can lead to problems when there are large numbers of young students are suddenly left to their own devices without supervision. Probably Chinese are worse than Koreans in this respect, as there have been a number of kidnappings and murders. The most notorious recent incident involving a korean was one who pulled out a knife and tried to kill his teacher in the classroom due to some perceived insult. Fortunately the teacher survived.
    – There are lots of Korean Tourists here. That is why the Air NZ lounge has korean newspapers.
    – K-rd is not an ethnic street !! K-rd is well known for prostitution, night clubs, and ‘alternative’ life styles.
    – Yes many Japanese restaurants are in fact owned by Koreans. Probably 80%. Japanese cuisine is quite popular here, and that makes opening a Japanese restaurant a tempting idea. Sadly many who operate the restaurants seem to have no particular expertise in Japanese cooking. Also they are notorious for trying to pay their staff less than the minimum wage and avoid taxes. (Confirmed to me by the Department of Labour when helping a friend make a complaint). Unfortunately Korean ownership of a Japanese restaurant is often a negative indicator about quality.
    – Sadly some Korean immigrants are quite isolated here, and there was a recent sad case where a mother and her three daughters committed suicide. Followed later by her ex-husband after he arrived from Korea.
    – My observation is that Koreans are rather nationalistic and sensitive to criticism, as can be seen from some of the comments here. Koreans do seem to be less aware of risks and do stupid things. Some time ago while out hiking I come across a group of elderly korean men, who rather than stick to the path, had decided to scale a cliff near a waterfall, and had gotten stuck. Now I have never witnessed anyone trying to scale the cliff there before, but for some reason they decided it was a good idea. They were lucky they didn’t fall and break their necks.
    – I think many of the companies offering tours to Chinese and Korean tourists are often low quality. There was a bad incident where a korean tour bus crashed due to inattention of the driver and many tourists were injured and lost limbs etc.

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