South Korea is being described as like London in the swinging sixties by an immigration expert amid a rise in the number of Kiwis heading to the East Asian nation.

Last year, 33,088 New Zealanders travelled to South Korea, up from 31,623 the year before and 28,426 the previous year, according to figures provided by the Korean Consulate office in Auckland.

The number of those age under 40 made up nearly 17,000 last year, up from 15,600 in 2016 and 14,139 the year before.

Professor Paul Spoonley, a Massey University sociologist and immigration expert, said more New Zealanders were heading to Korea because it was "cool".

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"Korea has become attractive in a broader cultural sense," Spoonley said.

"A bit like a more modest version of London in the swinging sixties."

The Korean Wave, of hallyu, driven by the spread of Korean dramas and K-pop is a global phenomenon fuelling the popularity of Korean culture.

K-pop is a global phenomenon fuelling the popularity of Korean culture.
K-pop is a global phenomenon fuelling the popularity of Korean culture.

Spoonley believed the number of Kiwis heading to Seoul included Korean-New Zealanders heading home.

"There are several dynamics in play. One is the relatively soft arrivals from Korea so that for many Koreans, significant members of their family are still in Korea," he said.

"While the generation that decided to come to New Zealand in the 1990s are still often here, the next generation are keen to reconnect with their extended family and culture."

Spoonley said a similar pattern could be seen in all immigrant groups here.

"NZ-born Koreans are like all other New Zealanders, they are keen to travel and gain experiences as part of their OE," Spoonley said.

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Typical Korean dish. Photo / Guy Coombes
Typical Korean dish. Photo / Guy Coombes

Korean Consulate senior adviser Rebecca Kim said an analysis of the visas granted to New Zealanders travelling to Korea showed many were heading there "mainly to experience the culture".

"There was a time, like in 2012, when 178 New Zealanders were granted visas to teach English," Kim said.

"That number now has dropped to 63 last year."

Instead, many Kiwis are travelling to Seoul to learn to the Korean language.

Source: Korea Tourism Organisation
Source: Korea Tourism Organisation

Auckland-born Serena Low, picked up Korean while studying in Korea University as part of a business exchange programme in AUT University last year.

The 22-year-old public relations consultant said she was in love with everything Korean and intended to return there to formally learn the Korean language.

"During my time in Korea, I made a conscious effort to not stick with exchange students but interact with the locals," Low said.

"At the end of my four month stay, I realised I was able to hold a conversation in Korean. I've continued to converse with friends in Korean even after I left."

Low said she was introduced to the Korean culture when she travelled to her parents' home country of Malaysia.

There, she watched her first South Korean reality show called Running Man.

Serena Low is a New Zealand-born Asian who is crazy about the Korean culture. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Serena Low is a New Zealand-born Asian who is crazy about the Korean culture. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"When I went home to New Zealand, I continued watching this programme and found other Korean shows that I loved," she said.

Low described herself as a "food and night life person" and found Seoul to be "really great".

"I'm addicted to its dynamic, fast-paced lifestyle where no day is the same and there [are] tonnes of things to do, whether it's cafe hopping, going to art galleries or visiting historical sites," Low said.

She thought Seoul has a fantastic public transport system and that Auckland traffic was "horrible".

"If I get an opportunity, I'd really like to go back to Korea for a year to formally learn the language," she added.

"New Zealand is where I'd like to settle down, but for the time being Seoul looks like a great place to be for my curious personality."