As the owners and admins of NZ’s largest travel Facebook group, we get tons of travel questions, both through the group and privately. As many of these fall into just a few categories, we pulled together this list of answers to New Zealand Travel FAQs.
The group reaches over 3 million people each month and has membership nearing 400,000, confirming that we are not the only ones who love to explore New Zealand. If you are not already a member, join Explore New Zealand now.
Note that this page is a work in progress. More coming soon. It is arranged with the most frequently asked questions first. If your question isn’t here, leave it in the comments below. However, if your question is regarding group rules or why posts or comments may have been declined, check out: Understanding Explore New Zealand Rules: Why Was My Post Declined?
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- Do I need a visa/How do I get a visa?
As American expats who have been living in and exploring NZ for over 20 years, we see things from both a local’s perspective and from that of a visitor. Therefore, we understand what it’s like to come here and have things be similar, but not always exactly what we are used to. We share the information on this page from this perspective.
Do I need a visa/How do I get a visa?
We cannot stress this enough, we believe you should only get factual information from official sources.
While there are lots of websites offering immigration and visa advice and tips. Note that these are either a copy or an interpretation of the rules and laws. As rules can change, you want the most current official information.
For the most current information about visas or NZeTa, check NZ immigration here.
We have also included several offical links throughout this document.
Driving in New Zealand
New Zealand’s incredibly impressive scenery is often best accessed via the roads. Many visitors have lots of questions about driving here that range from road conditions or driving on the left side of the road to questions about renting a car, motorcycle, campervan, or motorhome.
If you are coming from overseas, here are a few terms that might be different: hire‘ is often used instead of ‘rent’, but they mean the same. Similarly, petrol is gasoline, car park is a parking lot, and a judder bar is a speedbump. The Flush median is a centre lane in a road that has been marked to restrict continuous traffic and is often used as a right-turn lane. (In simple terms, don’t use the flush median as a driving lane)
What’s it like to drive on the left side of the road?
In New Zealand, vehicles drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the right. The transition was easy for us, and it took about 30 minutes before we were comfortable. It requires a higher level of concentration, especially at corners, roundabouts, and when checking the rearview mirror (as it’s now on the left). Importantly, check the NZTA for driving tips for overseas visitors.
What are the NZ roads like?
New Zealand motorways are typically well-maintained. Locals complain vehemently about pot-holes in local towns, and if you are going rural, be prepared for some unsealed roads (called metals). Also, note that speed limits are generally lower compared to other developed nations, but speeding tickets are just as expensive.
Are there toll roads, and how do I pay?
There are very few toll roads in New Zealand, and if you drive on one, you pay online here.
Do I need an international driver’s license?
Only drivers from some countries need international driver’s licenses. Here again, you will want to check the official source to see what you need.
Renting a vehicle in New Zealand
If you are planning to hit the road, you will need a way to get around. If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can rent a car, EV, SUV, campervan, motorhome, or even a motorcycle. More on each below.
How do I rent a car in New Zealand?
We always start our search at RentalCars (when we are not taking our own vehicle). As an aggregator, they offer a comprehensive list of multinational and local rental car agents, ratings on car types, and agency ratings, making it easy for us to compare. Simply add your dates, pick up and drop off city (can be the same or different). They have both petrol and EV options. Start your search or reserve your rental car here.
Pro tips, before booking check the following:
- Check for pick-up locations. Not all companies are actually at the airport, but most will have a shuttle service.
- Check for open hours, and be sure to allocate at least an hour after your flight for immigration and customes (It’s normally quicker, but you don’t want arrive and find your rental car agency closed)
- If you are thinking about an electric car read this, from an author sharing his personal experience.
- Be sure to read the fine print before you book.
If you want more discussion on renting cars, check out this thread on Explore New Zealand.
Can I rent a motorcycle in New Zealand?
Yes, you can, and those who do insist there is no better way to see our beautiful country. Plus, motorcycles provide a host of additional benefits, like ease of finding a car park and lower fuel costs.
Although we have never done it ourselves, we have been told that Bikes Booking is the best place for motorbike hire in New Zealand. Reserve your motorcycle with Bikes Booking here.
For more discussion on motorcycle itineraries, check out this thread on Explore New Zealand.
What do I need to know to rent a campervan or motorhome?
We answered this question in great detail here: Renting a Campervan in New Zealand: What You Need to Know.
For more discussion on campervan and motorhome hire, check out this thread on Explore New Zealand.
Where can I camp?
Note that freedom camping on public land for certified self-contained vehicles is legal, provided you follow the rules. There are significant fines for violating them.
If you are looking for a campsite, check out any of these three free campsite finder apps. Regardless of which app you use, we recommend booking ahead (if you know your plans) in high season (Late Nov- End Feb).
- Campermate provides maps for campsites in New Zealand and Australia.
- Camping NZ by Rankers: Provides camping locations.
- WikiCamps features campgrounds, caravan parks and backpackers throughout New Zealand.
Finding your perfect accommodation
We get tons of questions about where to stay in … the difficulty is that it really depends on what you like.
What’s the best way to book my hotel or BnB accommodations?
We usually use Booking.com for hotels, motels, BNBs and self-contained accommodations.
Their search and filters make it easy to find what we are looking, and since only those with confirmed stays can leave reviews, we feel confident that they are genuine. Plus, we have found their customer service to be outstanding, and on the rare occasions when we had trouble, Booking’s customer service fixed it.
Personally, in the cities, we usually prefer to stay in 4 to 5 star accommodations that provide us with amazing sleep and outstanding service. However, in smaller towns, we like to stay at BnBs where we can meet and talk with locals and often have our own self-contained unit.
Here are some of our current favourite accommodations; we have plenty more:
- Auckland: Either Cordis or Hotel Debritt
When we want impeccable service and luxurious accommodation, we go to Cordis, but when we want something a bit more fun but equally comfortable, we head to Debritt. We have done staycations at both and can’t pick a favourite. See our reviews and video of both here: Luxury and Boutique Hotels in Auckland, or reserve Cordis or Hotel Debritt here.
- Wellington: Sofitel
Close to everything, we choose Sofitel for their attention to every detail, from plush beds to their club rooms, we loved everything about our stay here. Reserve your stay at Sofitel here – more detailed review coming soon
- New Plymouth: Novotel
While our sleep was rejuvenating and the oversized rain shower a treat, it is the service that make Novotel New Plymouth special. Reserve New Plymouth Novotel stay or see our review of Novotel here
- Rotorua: Pullman
Our favourite place to stay in Rotorua, the Pullman is pure paradise. Reserve your stay at Pullman Rotorua – review coming soon
- Lake Taupo: Baycrest Thermal Lodge
We opted for a fabulous second-floor self-contained unit and were rewarded with impressive lake views, whereas the first-floor options have private thermal spas.
Reserve your stay at Baycrest Thermal Lodge – review coming soon
- Dunedin: Distinction Hotel
Here we took an impressive family room giving us all space to enjoy a bit of luxury. Reserve your stay or see our review of Dunedin Distinction here
- Christchurch: Heritage Hotel
Huge vaulted ceilings in our loft unit made this place a favourite. Reserve your Heritage hotel stay, or read our review here
- West Coast South Island
All our favourite Queenstown to Nelson accommodations options and reviews are here.
How do I book hostels or backpackers?
If you are looking to meet other travellers or simply to save money, then Hostelworld might be a better choice for you. Reserve your room through Hostelworld here.
Do I need to book accommodations in advance?
The real answer is that it depends on the season, where you are going, and what, if any, events are taking place at the time. We have made impromptu trips, rocked up to a smaller town, and found somewhere to stay, but it has rarely been somewhere we would recommend.
Note that when we take our chances, we sometimes have to just move on, but we are local and can return. Therefore, if this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip, we recommend booking in advance.
Itinerary planning – what to see, where to go, when to visit
What is the best time of year to visit?
The answer to this really depends on what you want to do while you are here. We are in the southern hemisphere, so seasons are opposite the northern hemisphere.
- Summer is December, January, and February
Average temperatures: 20 – 25˚C (68 – 77˚F)
With our warmest weather, most days of sunshine, longest daylight hours, and plenty of fun to be had, it is not surprising that summer is the peak season for travel. And not just for international visitors, summer is also peak for Kiwi travellers as many service industries are closed for 2-3 weeks over Christmas and New Year’s, and schools are out from mid-December to the end of January.
- Autumn is March, April, and May
Average temperatures: 17 – 21˚C (62 – 70˚F)
March to mid-April are probably my personal favourite times to travel in our beautiful country. The temperatures are still warm, but the weather often feels more stable. The big bonus is smaller crowds and lower prices. If you are visiting during this time, take note of Easter, as it brings three public holidays – Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday.
- Winter is June, July, and August
Average temperatures: 12 – 16˚C (53 – 61˚F)
If you are coming for skiing, this is the season. While some of the the fields open in June, the weather doesn’t always cooperate. If skiing is your number one goal, the best time to visit is July – September, noting that September will be spring ski conditions. See more here: Skiing and Snowboarding in New Zealand: Find Your Best Ski Field
- Spring is September, October and November
Average temperatures: 16 – 19˚C (61 – 66˚F)
It’s the spring lambs bouncing through the fields that always bring a smile to my face this time of year. While it has the benefits of all the other seasons rolled into one, it does tend to rain a bit more than autumn.
For more on the best time of year to visit, check out: New Zealand Travel Tips for First-Time Visitors.
Best itinerary for …?
The answer to this question depends on what you want types of things you want to see, what cities or islands you will be visiting, and how much time you have. However our starting point is this list of favourite road trip itineraries on both islands
What are the must-sees on the North Island?
So much to see and do, but no one can see it all. We have been here 20 years and still discovering new places. We have asked the group, and the best of the best is here: 20 Unmissable Things to Do in North Island New Zealand. If you want more, check out this ENZ thread.
What about Auckland, what are the top things to do here?
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, and as such, it has it all. If you have limited time here, you will need to choose between outdoor adventures like walking up one of the volcanoes (either One Tree Hill or Mt Eden are the popular picks), visiting an Auckland museum, or checking out one of the neighbourhoods. We have put the main highlights of Auckland here.
Or, if it’s your only stop in New Zealand, you might want to take a tour to Hobbiton or Waitomo Caves, or why not do them both in one long day? It’s a great way to get to see some of the uniqueness of our beautiful country, and perfect for LOTRs fans. Reserve your tour to Hobbiton and Waitomo Caves from Auckland here.
What are the must-sees on the South Island?
Similarly, the South Island is nature’s masterpiece. Again, we asked the group and summarized here: 18 Extraordinary Things to Do in the South Island NZ
If you want more, check out this thread on South Island must-sees.
Where can I find some of the really unique things in the country?
Known for its clean, green, stunning scenery, adventure sports, and unusual animals, we are often asked for the list of the most unique. Once again, we asked the group and summarized here: Unique Things to Do in New Zealand: 23 Fascinating Options
Here’s the thread on unique things in NZ.
How common is public Wifi?
Many visitors express frustration with the limited available unlimited wifi in hotels or cafes. Even worse (especially if you are travelling with teenagers), sometimes there is no wifi. Be sure to read the fine print before you book if this is a priority.
Also, there are pockets of major cities with public wifi, but the best place to find it is in public libraries.
What is the best SIM card option?
Compared to many other countries, internet access in NZ is expensive. And roaming charges are high as well. When we travel to other countries, we generally get a local SIM card. In New Zealand, there are two options.
- Prepaid SIM cards
While several companies offer these, we personally use and recommend One (formerly Vodafone). We chose reliability over the cheapest option, and we have always been happy. Importantly, they offer special plans for visitors (that seem to be better than we can get domestically), and you can purchase in advance and pick up at your choice of airports. Reserve your One SIM card here.
Check here to see if your phone supports eSIM. If it does, you simply need to download a data plan, install it, and activate it when you are ready. We have had good luck with Airalo, and their reputation is excellent. Check the options or reserve your eSIM here.
More New Zealand New Zealand travel FAQs? Ask them in the comments, or on the group.
For more on New Zealand, start here: New Zealand Road Trips: Itineraries for North or South Island Adventures, or you might like …