New Zealand Travel Tips
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New Zealand at a Glance
It’s no secret that Aotearoa New Zealand or ‘land of the long white cloud’ is a top travel destination. A land full of adventure, it’s home to some of the most awe-inspiring natural sights in the world.
Whether you’re seeking hair-raising activities, rich cultural heritage, incredible wildlife, a lively backpacking scene or you simply want to enjoy the beauty this country offers, New Zealand has it all and more. After travelling and living in New Zealand, I’ve put together this epic travel guide to help you plan the best things to see and do in New Zealand.
New Zealand Travel Tips: Quick Information
Currency: New Zealand Dollar (NZD). Click here for the latest conversion rates.
Electricity socket: 230V supply voltage. The plug has three flat pins in a triangular pattern. Make sure you pack a universal travel adapter so you can use your electronic gadgets with ease!
Visa requirements: If you’re just planning to go on holiday and you’re an Australian or New Zealand resident or citizen, a UK citizen/passport holder (stay up to 6 months) or a citizen of a country that has a visa waiver agreement (stay up to 3 months) then you don’t need a visa. If you don’t fit any of these categories then you will need to apply for a visitor visa. See if you have a visa waiver here.
If you are a citizen from a country with a visa waiver agreement then you need to request an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) which must be issued before your arrival. It costs about $12 NZD to complete it online or just $9 NZD via the free app. You might also need to pay for an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) which is about $35 NZD. Visit Immigration New Zealand for more information.
If you want to pick up a bit of casual work and you’re between the ages of 18-30 (18-35 from select countries) then you can apply for a working holiday visa. You can work and travel for up to 12 months (23 months if you’re from the UK). To qualify, you need to have a return ticket or enough money for one, and to primarily want to travel rather than work. You can apply online here.
Transportation: It’s pretty easy to get around New Zealand. If you want to cover a lot of ground, I recommend buying InterCity bus passes as there aren’t many trains. Use 12Go to help you find the best routes. Or check out this timetable here. You can also do a hop on hop off or small-group tour which will cover all your transport. Alternatively, if you want more flexibility, hire a car or campervan from Britz, Jucy or Travellers Autobarn. You can use your existing driver’s license.
Best SIM card: Travel SIM cards with a range of plans can be picked up from airports, supermarkets, hostels and mobile network companies like Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees. All you need is an unlocked phone and you’re set. I recommend buying one there as WIFI can be very patchy and you’ll need to pay for it in some accommodation.
Editor’s tip: Pick up your SIM card at duty-free. It’s so much cheaper and you’ll have a phone with data and coverage when you leave the airport.
Safety rating: New Zealand ranks 2 on the Global Peace Index with a score of 1.253, making it one of the safest countries in the world. Only Iceland has beaten it to the top spot! I still suggest buying travel insurance as it’s always better to be safe than sorry when travelling. World-First is my go-to as it covers a wide range of activities for an affordable price.
Culture: Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, or as they call it Aotearoa – land of the long white cloud. It’s believed that they descended from Eastern Polynesians in the South Pacific who settled in New Zealand around 1280. Learning about Maori culture is a must when visiting New Zealand. Make sure you witness a Haka and take part in a traditional hangi feast!
Language: Te Reo is the official language of New Zealand, alongside English and New Zealand Sign Language. Everyone speaks English but you may hear the phrase: “Kia Ora” which is an informal “hello” in Te Reo (Maori language).
Climate: New Zealand has a temperate climate. It has all four seasons with warm summers and cool winters. Situated in the Southern Hemisphere, its winter is from June to August and summer is from December to February. Summer is usually the busiest time and most expensive as there’s a much higher demand.
Winter is the quietest time of year and you can make the most of low season rates but not all activities are open. The best times to go are the shoulder seasons because you have decent weather and not as many crowds.
In terms of seasonal variance, the weather is generally pretty mild in the north. You’ll notice this in the winter months where the further north you go it feels like a mild spring day. As you go further south, temperatures can get a lot cooler in winter. Particularly as you head to the South Island.
New Zealand Travel Tips: Roy’s Peak is an incredible hike to do in the summer!
New Zealand Trip Planning
Once you’ve worked out the time of year you want to visit, the next step is to get budgeting and planning your packing list. These next few tips can help:
It’s no secret that New Zealand is an expensive country to visit and it doesn’t help that it has a wealth of exciting activities to choose from. My best advice is to get a rough idea of what you want to do before you go so you can budget accordingly.
You could be spending up to $600 NZD on activities with some of the most expensive ones being bungy jumps, skydives and heli hikes. Of course, there are plenty of free activities too.
You’ve also got transport, food and accommodation to take into account. To help give you an idea, here’s a rough guide to how much to budget for per day:
Backpacker: $70-$85 NZD a day based on staying in hostels, happy hour drinks, a few expensive activities and mostly cooking your own meals.
Mid-range to splurge: $110- $140 a day based on private rooms in Airbnbs, lots of expensive activities and dining at restaurants most of the time.
Of course, it’s possible to go even cheaper on a shoestring budget but you’ll most likely need to couch surf or book very cheap accommodation and choose mainly free and cheap activities. Between you and me, the cheapest hostel is not always worth it… Plus, you’ll want to make the most of your time there!
You can also knock the budget down a little if you hire a campervan as you’ll be taking your accommodation with you.
What to Pack for New Zealand
New Zealand has distinct seasons and sometimes you can experience four of them in one day. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to be well-equipped for changeable conditions regardless of the season. A waterproof jacket is a must!
Whether you’re visiting New Zealand in summer or winter, I recommend packing clothes that you can layer up, like t-shirts, leggings and lightweight fleeces. The key is to have interchangeable capsule outfits so you can travel light. Packing cubes are also a lifesaver for this.
If you’re planning to visit more of that corner of the world like Australia, the South Pacific or Asia, you’ll need some clothes for warmer weather.
For more tips on what to bring, check out my complete packing list.
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Sustainable Travel in New Zealand
New Zealand is also one of the world leaders in sustainable tourism. There are over 10,000 protected areas, including reserves and 13 national parks.
The country has set out a goal to see every New Zealand tourism business committed to sustainability by 2025. In a nutshell, this initiative aims to have an economically sustainable tourism industry that supports host communities that protects and restores the natural environment.
You can help them reach this goal by:
- Staying at eco-friendly campsites and accommodation.
- Joining responsible tours that give back to the local community.
- Visiting and supporting reserves and eco sanctuaries.
- Reducing your single-use plastic waste with these packing tips.
- Recycling your waste wherever you can.
- Taking care of the environment when you’re out in nature. Take only photos and leave only footprints!
- Supporting local businesses.
Best Things to Do in New Zealand
As I mentioned before in this travel guide, New Zealand is the land of adventure with so much to offer for everyone. Here are the best places to visit and top things to do in New Zealand:
Go Island-Hopping in the Bay of Islands
A lot of travellers land in Auckland and head down, missing the Bay of Islands entirely. Don’t! The Bay of Islands is an enclave with a total of 144 subtropical islands known for its stunning beaches and Maori history. You can explore the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, snorkel, dive and cruise through the islands. If you want to go further still, head to Cape Reinga for sandboarding, a walk along 90 Mile Beach and to see where the Tasman Sea collides with the Pacific Ocean. You can read my three-day itinerary here!
Sip Wine on Waiheke Island
Waiheke Island is known for its picturesque vineyards that almost make you think you’re in Southern Europe rather than New Zealand. Reachable by ferry from Auckland, you can spend the day there exploring the town, hiking, admiring the view or doing wine tours. It’s no secret that New Zealand is one of the best wine producers in the world and Waiheke’s vineyards are no exception.
Stay at Tamaki Maori Village
Tamaki Maori Village is located near Rotorua on the North Island. It’s a must-visit for anyone wanting to learn about Maori culture and history. Visitors are treated to cultural performances, stories and games. Afterwards, you can join your hosts in a sit-down dinner consisting of a traditional ‘hangi’ (meat and vegetables oven cooked in a hole in the ground – it’s delicious!). Dietary options are also available. Visits cost about $120 NZD per person or you can take it a step further and stay the night for £215 NZD.
Whether you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or not, Hobbiton is one of the top things to do in New Zealand. Located on the North Island, Hobbiton is an exact replica of the movie set but you don’t need to know the franchise to enjoy it. Step inside the Shire and take a tour around the charming village before finishing off with a free pint at the Green Dragon pub. Tours cost between $75 to $195 NZD depending on which one you choose. Click here to view tours.
See the Glowworm Caves
It’s not for nothing that the Waitomo Glowworm Caves are a bucket list attraction in New Zealand. Located on the North Island, the caves are home to a glowworm species found only in New Zealand. In the pitch black of the caves, they shine like stars in a galaxy. There are several different tours to choose from ranging from a gentle boat ride to black water rafting. Prices start from $55 to $254 NZD.
There are some seriously beautiful hikes with breathtaking scenery all over New Zealand. Hikers are seriously spoiled for choice. Famous ones include the Tongariro Crossing, Roy’s Peak, Milford Track and Mount Cook. Whether you choose one-day hikes or multi-day excursions, make sure you have the right equipment and you adhere to safety measures. Some hikes require you to do a tour in winter as they can be perilous due to unpredictable weather.
Camp in the National Parks
One of the best things to do in New Zealand if you love the outdoors is camping and hiking in its many and diverse National Parks. Enjoy the beaches of Abel Tasman National Park, camp on the rugged coast of the Catlins and pretend you’re castaway in Urupukapuka Bay. Coromandel is another top spot for campers. Make sure you book in advance during peak season to avoid disappointment.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand. Situated on the coast of the Cook Strait, it’s a vibrant city full of colour and culture. Explore the Te Papa Museum for free; wander up Mount Victoria for panoramic views; walk or take the red cable car up to the Botanic Gardens; visit the Weta Cave special effects studio and walk along the harbour. You can take the ferry across to the South Island from here too.
Explore the South Island
Queenstown tends to be the top destination of the South Island, but I recommend exploring further. Venture into the Central Otago region where the dry, arid landscape is perfect for wine. Make the most of the mountains of Wanaka (it has an amazing cinema here too which has an interval halfway through the screening with freshly baked cookies!). Here are some easy day trips from Queenstown you can do.
Go right to the bottom to Invercargill, one of the southernmost cities in the world. Dunedin has the world’s steepest street. Lake Tekapo is a fantastic spot for stargazing and Kaikoura is a must for whale watching. You also have one of the best scenic railways in the world, the TranzAlpine Railway which starts from Christchurch.
Marvel at Milford Sound
Milford Sound is located in the area known as Fiordland National Park on the west coast of the South Island. It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s also one of the wettest places on Earth, raining about 182 days in the year. Milford Sound is home to the world’s only alpine parrot – the kea. This cheeky little bird can often be found nibbling the rubber off parked cars. Click here to read more about Milford Sound.
Get Active in Queenstown
Queenstown is a resort town on the South Island. Popular with adventure-seekers, it has a range of outdoor activities, including bungy jumping, white water rafting, skydiving, Shotover jetting and skiing in the winter. Queenstown has a big backpacker scene with top nightlife and an amazing selection of restaurants and hostels. From here, you can also take a tour bus to Milford Sound. Also, the mountain views here are breathtaking!
Editor’s tip: One of my favourite hikes around Queenstown is up Queenstown Hill. It only takes a few hours and you’re greeted with a panorama of stunning mountains as far as you can see.
Do Some Extreme Sports
New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world. Here, you’re spoiled for choice with hair-raising activities. You can go bungy jumping all over the country, with the best spots including Taupo, Auckland, Rotorua and Queenstown. Skydiving is popular too. Top sites include Abel Tasman, Bay of Islands, Fox Glacier and Queenstown again. There’s also white water rafting, canyon swings and caving. You name it!
Go Whale and Dolphin Watching
Kaikoura is the place to be if you want to go whale and dolphin watching. This coastal town on the South Island is known for its abundant marine life including its fur seal colonies, sperm whale population and dusky dolphins. Seabirds including albatross and penguins also frequent the area. You can take a boat trip out to see sperm whales for about $150 NZD. You can also watch or swim with dolphins. Prices range from $95 to $180 NZD. All experiences are run by ethical wildlife tours.
Do a tour of New Zealand
Travelling with a small-group tour is one of the easiest ways to get around. There are two group coach tours in New Zealand I highly recommend. Both are responsible travel companies that offer authentic tours that have a positive impact. Check them out:
G Adventures is one of my all-time favourite group tour operators. It’s a super reputable company that’s been operating in New Zealand and around the world for years. There is a range of recommended tours on offer to suit time schedules, interests and age groups. You can even see the best of New Zealand and Australia on a combined tour if you want to see it all.
Probably one of the most popular tours in New Zealand among backpackers, Kiwi Experience is a hop on hop off bus tour with a variety of passes available. The best thing about Kiwi Experience is that it offers flexibility. You can hop off when you want and your pass is valid for 12 months after you activate it. The age group tends to be young at an average of 18-25. Stray is a similar tour bus that caters to a slightly older crowd.
Food in New Zealand
Here’s a quick overview of what to eat in New Zealand, including some top staples and specialities:
Pavlova: Where exactly pavlova comes from is disputed. Both Australians and New Zealanders will tell you something different. Whichever one you’re inclined to believe, it’s a popular dessert that’s well worth a try! A typical pavlova is made with meringue, cream and berries.
Kumara: Internationally known as the sweet potato, Kumara is the New Zealand variety and a popular ingredient in Maori cuisine.
Seafood: Being an island country, it’s no surprise that seafood is popular here. It’s fresh, locally caught and delicious!
Manuka honey: The Manuka bush grows all over New Zealand and is most well known for producing one of the most expensive types of honey in the world. Manuka honey has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
Hangi: As I’ve previously mentioned, ‘hangi’ is a traditional Maori way of cooking food with heated rocks buried in a pit oven. Fish and kumara were wrapped in flax leaves and cooked this way. Today, vegetables, pork and lamb are also included although cloth sacks, aluminium foil and wire baskets are used instead of leaves. The hangi is left to slow cook in the ground for about three or four hours depending on the amount being served. The result is a deliciously tender meal with smoky and earthy flavours.
Cook your own food
One of the easiest ways to save money while travelling around New Zealand is to buy food from the supermarket and cook at your accommodation. Most hostels, campgrounds and private rentals have kitchens. Top supermarkets to look out for are New World, Countdown and Pak ‘n’ Save.
Editor’s tip: pack a cold food bag to help perishable food last longer when you’re travelling around. This one is so useful!
Restaurants, Cafes and Bars
Dining out in New Zealand is generally quite expensive and you can expect to pay anywhere between $30 to $40 NZD per person for a meal with a drink and table service. Local beer costs about $9 NZD.
The country is home to a pretty lively international gastronomic scene. You can easily find restaurants serving Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese and Italian cuisine in most of the bigger towns and cities. Leaving a tip is not expected.
Editor’s tip: Don’t miss Fergburger in Queenstown. Open almost 24/7, It serves some of the best burgers in the country and often has queues around the block!
Where to Stay in New Zealand
New Zealand accommodation varies greatly. From hostels to camping, holiday rentals, Airbnbs, eco resorts and hotels, there are plenty of places to stay in New Zealand that suit a range of budgets and preferences. You can usually find cheap and reasonably priced hostels and hotels but if you want a bit of comfort and security don’t go for the cheapest options. When it comes to booking accommodation, reviews are your best friends. Seriously.
Recommended Booking Resources
Books about New Zealand
A great way to get excited about your trip to New Zealand is to read a book set in or about the place. Here’s some reading material to check out before you go:
The Luminaries: Written by Eleanor Catton, this novel is a gripping story set against the backdrop of New Zealand’s gold rush in the 19th century. Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2013, it’s also been turned into a TV series.
Pounamu Pounamu: Witi Ihimaera explores what it’s like to be a New Zealander with this collection of stories that explore Maori identity.
Penguin History of New Zealand: Learn about how it all began with Michael King. This bestselling book explores the country’s history and the relationship between Maori and Pakeha (Westerners).
Posts About New Zealand
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