Who doesn’t want to visit New Zealand? There’s general worldwide agreement that for stunning scenery, outdoor adventure and general good times, NZ is one of the top spots on earth.
We totally agree, so to help you get there and experience it for yourself, here are our top travel tips to get you off to a good start. Sweet as bro!
Before you go
When’s the best time to visit?
New Zealand is a year-round destination, depending on what kind of holiday you want. The locals like to say you can experience ‘four seasons in one day’, meaning it’s a good idea to carry a raincoat with you at all times.
NZ is at its warmest in February, with the summer season running November to March, the best time to go if you want to hit the North Island beaches. This is peak season, with accommodation prices (and crowds) at their height from December to February. If you’re chasing the sun, you’ll find the sunniest areas around the east coast of the North Island, and the top of the South Island.
March to April is a good time to go to if you want to spend time outdoors in (relatively) fine weather without the peak crush – plus you get vivid autumn colours around the South Island, particularly Arrowtown.
Winter is low season, but it’s also when you’ll capture the most Instagrammable shots of snow-capped mountains. Temperatures stay pretty mild on the North Island (although it can get very cold in the south, especially inland). June to August is high season in the ski towns – Taupo and Ohakune in the north, Wanaka and Queenstown in the south.
You’ll get wettest on the west coast of the South Island, with Milford Sound recording an average of 182 days rainfall per year – don't forget your umbrella!
Do I need a visa?
Not if you’re from Australia, the UK, or one of the countries that NZ has a visa-waiver agreement with. (It’s always a good idea to check on the latest visa status before you go anywhere, though.)
What are the accommodation options?
There are loads of accommodation options to choose from, but be sure you book well in advance, especially if you’re travelling during peak season.
The Kiwis are luxury lodge specialists, with super-fancy digs set in idyllic beachfront, alpine or backcountry landscape, offering 5-star accommodation with prices around the NZ$1,000 to $3,000 mark.
B&Bs are everywhere, from cities to rural hamlets to the middle of nowhere, and they can be cosy and welcoming places to stay at a reasonable price. You can have a real Kiwi experience by staying in a rental ‘bach’ (holiday home) or on a rural farmstay.
If you’re on a tight budget, motels are plentiful and offer good basic accommodation. Or do what thousands of others do and stay in a low-cost holiday park in your campervan, tent or an onsite cabin. There are also plenty of backpacker hostels around the country, some of them offering private rooms.
What’s the best way to get local currency?
Generally, you’ll get a better exchange rate from an ATM than you will from currency exchange (either in your home country or in NZ), and you should have no trouble finding ATMs in cities and larger towns.
The four big banks are ANZ, Westpac, ASB and the Bank of New Zealand; Australian cardholders of these banks can can withdraw money fee-free or for a lower fee (the standard withdrawal fee is NZ$5). It’s always a good idea to check the currency conversion and ATM withdrawal fees charged by your bank before you travel.
Eftpos is available practically everywhere. If you pay by credit card you may be offered the choice of paying in your home currency or the local currency. Always choose local – your credit card company will give you a better rate.
How much will I spend?
There’s a huge range of experiences available in NZ so you can pretty much choose your budget, from a youth hostel dorm bed for NZ$30 to a NZ$3,000-a-night luxury lodge stay. In the middle ground, standard motel and B&B rooms cost around NZ$120-200.
If you’re planning on renting a car, you can get something basic for around NZ$50 per day, up to around $120 for a premium family car, depending on the length of the rental and the time of year.
For a meal in a café or mid-range restaurant expect to pay NZ$15-30. A bottle of local wine costs around NZ$9-15, while a pint is going to cost you around NZ$10, and up to NZ$15 in a trendy Auckland bar.
Do I need to tip?
Tipping is totally optional; you might decide to leave 5-10 per cent of the bill if the service has been good.
Apart from falling off a mountain or flying off a bungy cord, there really aren’t any risks to your health in NZ. They don’t even have any poisonous animals!
The only thing you really need to worry about is the fierce NZ sun: it takes around 10 minutes to get sunburnt here. Don't go out without sunscreen.
How do I get into Auckland from the airport?
Skybus is a great affordable option with frequent services to downtown Auckland. There are a few different taxi companies doing the trip for a flat fare, but the fares range from NZ$40 to NZ$75. Best to check before you hop in. Taxi fares in NZ generally are pretty high. The average Auckland taxi ride costs $2.90 a kilometre, more than twice that of Sydney. Uber is present in the major centres.
Outside the capital, Supershuttle offers shared shuttle services from all the major regional airports.
What kind of vehicle should I hire?
Here are your basic options:
- Car – a normal 2-wheel drive will get you pretty much anywhere you want to go.
- Campercar – a family sedan refitted with a bed and storage space in the back. Smaller than a campervan, perfect if there are just two of you and you want a vehicle you can sleep in.
- Campervan – compact, self-contained mobile accommodation from two to six people; more comfortable than a campercar and more fuel efficient and cheaper to rent than a motorhome. Some models have amenities like cooking and washing facilities.
- Motorhome or RV – The king of road tourers; a small house on wheels with kitchen, shower, toilet and multiple beds. You may not be able to access every corner of the country with this kind of vehicle.
I’m not hiring a vehicle – how do I get around?
The national bus service is cheap, extensive and reliable. It’ll take you pretty much everywhere you need to go, even the start of some of the walking tracks. But you probably don’t want to be in too much of a hurry.
There are also private hop-on, hop-off buses (sometimes called ‘backpacker buses’) that travel prescribed routes and you can get on and off as you wish. Some of them offer activities and accommodation as well, so it’s like a cross between independent travel and a tour. As the name hints, the crowd skews young.
The best way to travel between the North and South Islands (especially if you’re driving) is to take a ferry. Interislander and Bluebridge run services between Wellington in the north and Picton in the south, with the 3ish-hour journey taking in spectacular views of Cook Strait and the Marlborough Sounds. Tickets can sell out, especially in summer, so be sure to book ahead.
Trains aren’t really a thing in NZ. There are a few scenic routes (like the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth), which are slow and expensive but travel through stunning landscapes and provide viewing platforms and commentary so you can make the most of the scenery.
There are plenty of small regional airports so flying is an option if you need to get between cities quickly. Book well ahead for the best chance of getting a cheap fare.
What kind of electrical plug do they use?
The current is 230 volts AC 50Hz with a three-pin power point (the same as in Australia).
Should I get a local SIM?
Short answer: if you plan to use your phone a bit, yes. Roaming is expensive and it will work out much cheaper. Pick up a SIM from Vodafone, Spark or 2Degrees and load up data for around NZ$30 for a month.
Remember: your phone will need to be unlocked to accept a SIM from another network.
What’s the etiquette when visiting a marae?
If you go to a marae (a Maori meeting ground), make sure you observe the local customs:
...You shouldn’t just walk in – you need to be welcomed by a powhiri (welcome ceremony).
...If you’re invited to eat in the wharekai (dining room), wait until a karakia (grace) has been said before you start eating. Don’t pass food over anyone’s head, and don’t sit on tables.
...Remove your shoes before entering the wharenui (meeting house), and don’t eat or drink in there.
...Always ask permission before taking photos.
How do I hongi?
Grasp the other person’s hand as in a handshake, close or lower your eyes, and press your forehead to the other person’s forehead and your nose to their nose. It’s usual to offer a greeting such as ‘kia ora’ as well. Note: there is no rubbing of noses involved!
The hongi (or ‘sharing of breath’) is a sacred act – treat it with respect. If you’re not sure whether the situation demands a hongi, wait for the other person to initiate it.
I want to chat with the locals! What should I say?
You’ll find plenty of Maori words sprinkled through New Zealand English (all kids learn Te Reo – the Maori language – at school), and NZ English has an idiom all its own. Remember: jandals are thongs, a chilly bin is an Esky, and the dairy is the milk bar.
- kia ora – hello
- kei te pehea koe? – how’s it going?
- kei te pai – good
- tino pai – really good
- ka kite ano – see you again
- chur – good, awesome, cheers
- sweet as – thanks, OK, no worries, nice one, congratulations
- it’s choice bro – that is very good indeed, my friend