We have been to New Zealand twice so far and we explored both the islands. In this blog post we are sharing what we have learnt to make your holiday planning easier:
Unless the country you come from is one of the visa-waiver countries, you will need to apply for a visa before you travel. Even if you don’t need a visa, verify the other requirements before your trip (for example, the maximum permitted length of stay, sufficient funds, an onward ticket, etc.) Check the most updated information with a New Zealand embassy or consulate or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in your country.
What You Can Bring With You
The rules on what you can bring to New Zealand are very strict in order to avoid any risks of introducing pests or diseases to the country. Check the updated information on the website of New Zealand Customs Service. Upon arrival you will need to fill in the Passenger Arrival Card to declare the items you are bringing with you. You will be requested to present the card to the customs official at the airport and you might be questioned and your bags searched. We had to declare and show even the wooden boomerangs we bought in Australia. Your luggage will go through an X-ray machine, so be honest about what you are carrying. Hiking gear will be checked and you might need to clean it before being able to go ahead and leave the airport.
New Zealand is located far from almost anywhere in the world and that is why most visitors arrive by air. The main international hubs are Auckland (AKL) in the North Island and Christchurch (CHC) in the South Island. Many onward connections to local airports are also available. To avoid backtracking, many people arrive to one island and leave from the other one. For example, we flew to Christchurch and departed from Auckland.
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You can easily explore the cities on foot or by public transportation. However if you want to see the ‘real’ New Zealand, which you will find in the countryside, renting a car is the best option. If you are on a budget you can rent older models of cars which are cheaper. Be aware that some vehicles might be really old – sometimes over 10 years.
Another popular choice is campervan or motorhome rental. Be prepared to meet a lot of them on the road. Allow more time for driving because, in comparison with a car, it will take you much longer to get from one place to another. New Zealand is well-prepared for visitors and facilities (not only) for campers are very good. Some campsites might be called ‘holiday parks’. Be aware that you cannot park and stay overnight anywhere, only in dedicated areas.
Most vehicles have automatic transmission. If you prefer manual transmission, you will need to request it in advance.
If you are planning to visit both islands, check with your rental company if you are allowed to take the vehicle to another island and if the ferry cost is included in the price. It is a good idea to book the ferry ticket in advance, especially during holiday season or summer. Our ferry tickets were already included in the price of our motorhome rental, so we only had to choose the sailing date and time.
If you don’t want to drive, you can join various tours which are interesting, but expensive. Alternatively you can travel by bus or train, however getting to remote places might prove difficult.
There are also many flights between major cities or larger towns, mainly operated by Air New Zealand.
Some people choose to experience New Zealand on a bike which is a slow, but rewarding alternative.
Kiwis drive on the left-hand side of the road. Speed limits are in kilometres per hour, distances are in kilometres. If your driving licence is not in English, you will need to obtain an International Driving Permit before your trip.
Roads are usually in very good condition and except for cities, they are not very busy. There are many beautiful scenic routes in New Zealand so allow more time to get anywhere because you will be often stopping to take photos. Many roads are narrow and winding and there are also a lot of one-lane bridges. Be aware that the weather might change quickly. In winter, especially in the South Island, there can be snow or ice on the road, so you will need to use snow chains.
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During the first part of our most recent trip we booked our accommodation mainly on Airbnb. These are houses, apartments or rooms rented by local hosts. Airbnb properties usually represented the cheapest option or the best value. We also met some interesting local hosts like an Irish historian and writer, a Brazilian telling us not to do bungy jumping (a day before we planned to do it), Kiwi skiers who convinced us to try skiing in Japan and others.
Get free 35 EUR (39 USD) credit for your first booking on Airbnb here.
We hired a four-berth motorhome for the second part of our trip. Motorhomes can be a good value for the price, especially if you are staying in free campsites (called ‘freedom camping’). You should have a self-contained motorhome or campervan to be able to do so.
Hotel and hostel prices in New Zealand are similar to those in Australia and the Western Europe. Breakfast is usually not included in the room rate. It is a good idea to pre-book your accommodation if you are travelling in peak season (especially during summer) or if there is an event going on in the area, because the accommodation might be limited.
Food & Drink
New Zealand cuisine is a fusion of food from all over the world. In the country, where there is more sheep than people, you have to try their delicious lamb. There is also some great seafood. Every area has its own local speciality which is worth trying. Don’t forget to taste some of the amazing local wines.
You will find the cheapest groceries in a supermarket. We shopped mainly at New World and Countdown which have shops across the country. They have many special offers and discounts all the time. When you are in the South Island, ask for the tourist Club Deals card at New World and enjoy even more discounts at check out.
Tipping in New Zealand is not obligatory but it is appreciated. It is fully at your discretion.
For our last three-week trip in New Zealand we got the Skinny SIM card locally, this was the cheapest option at that time (January 2016). We chose a Big Value Combo plan which included 100 minutes for calls in New Zealand and Australia, unlimited texts and 500MB of data enabling us to make arrangements on the go. We used one of our phones as a hotspot to access internet on other electronic devices so we weren’t dependent on public wi-fi.
Before you travel, verify that your mobile phone will work in New Zealand. If you decide to keep your home SIM card in the phone, make sure you disable data roaming to prevent from being charged by your operator, unless international data (including New Zealand) is covered in your plan.
New Zealand is not a cheap place to travel to and around. The prices are similar to those in the Western Europe and North America. Activities and tours in particular are expensive.
It is easy enough to withdraw cash from ATMs or banks in cities and bigger towns but it might be difficult in smaller places which are not that busy. For cash withdrawals we used a debit card as it was cheaper than using a credit card (verify the fees with your bank). Credit cards (especially Visa and Mastercard) are widely accepted.
New Zealand is a safe country with relatively low crime rate. However it is always good to take the usual precautions. Make sure that you don’t leave any valuables in the car, especially when parking in remote areas.
In contrast to Australia there are no deadly animals in New Zealand (except for one poisonous spider which is rare).
Don’t underestimate the weather which can change significantly anytime and be prepared for rain, especially when hiking.
If you plan to do any potentially dangerous activities like skiing, bungy jumping, skydiving, etc., make sure that you are covered by your travel insurance. This type of activities is not usually included in the basic plan.
There are four seasons in New Zealand and these are opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. It means that if there is summer in Europe or North America, there is winter in New Zealand. However, the weather in New Zealand changes fast so you might encounter all four seasons in one day (similar to Ireland).
Temperatures are mild and the climate in New Zealand is colder than in Australia. Pack accordingly and be always ready for a weather change, especially when going to the South Island. The west coast of the South Island is the wettest part of New Zealand (unfortunately we can confirm that – when we were there, it was raining so heavily that we weren’t able to see any of the glaciers).
Useful Sources Of Information
Department Of Conservation (National Parks)
Visit the local i-SITE or DOC visitor information centres for great selection of free maps and brochures. Their staff is knowledgeable and helpful.
New Zealand is a beautiful photogenic country which is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts. It is a good idea to plan your trip ahead (at least the rough itinerary) because even though it is not a big country, you will spend some time on the road. Be prepared for any weather and if you are not lucky, take it easy. We got three weeks of rain in the middle of summer which was supposed to be the warmest time of the year… Well, hopefully we will be lucky next time!
Are you thinking about going to New Zealand? Let us know if you have any questions!