If a New Zealand trip is on your bucket list, you are in the right place. Whether it’s the ever-changing and spectacular scenery, unique birdlife, extreme sports, Lord of the Rings, or the All Blacks that entice you to visit, you won’t be disappointed. However, to make your journey even better, below are a few New Zealand travel tips.
We have lived in New Zealand since 2003, and have extensively explored this beautiful land and the many things to do in New Zealand. While there are plenty of people writing about how to come here on the cheap, this page is for those who travel like us. That is typically four-star accommodations, self-driving, and enjoying unique opportunities.
Don’t rely on other people and outdated information. Check the official New Zealand government site for the most current information.
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Planning a visit to New Zealand
Long and narrow, New Zealand’s two main islands cover a diverse landscape ranging from endless coastlines to ski fields. New Zealand is glaciers, geysers, subtropical rainforests, volcanoes, and farmland.
Where is New Zealand?
Nearly 2,000 kilometres east of Australia, New Zealand is somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. While a disadvantage for travel, those of us that live in New Zealand enjoy a lower population density, fewer dangers, and an outdoor lifestyle.
New Zealand travel guide: quick reference
- Emergency number: 111
- Language: English is the primary language
- Other official languages: Maori, New Zealand Sign Language
- Currency: New Zealand dollar (NZD)
- Credit cards: Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted
- Electricity: 240V 50Hz through Type I connectors (same as used in Australia and Argentina)
- Telephone country code: +64
- Water: Tap water is safe to drink
Best time to visit New Zealand
While in many ways summer is the best time to go to New Zealand, it’s also the busiest and most expensive. Check Metservice see the current weather and the next 10-day forecast.
New Zealand Seasons
December to February
NZ Summer is high season.
Average temps: 20–25C
Long, sunny days, little rain. More crowded.
Requires booking ahead.
March to May
NZ Autumn is a swing season.
Average temps: 17–21C
Less rain than winter.
Less planning required.
June to August
NZ Winter attracts skiers
Average temps: 12–16C
Colder on the South Island.
Shorter days, rains often.
September to November
NZ Autumn is a swing season
Average temps: 16-19C
Tends to be windy.
Less planning required.
New Zealand holidays that affect travel
In addition to more travellers leading to longer queues, bigger crowds, and more expensive accommodations, many restaurants and bars add a surcharge on public holidays.
- Christmas and New Years: The two weeks surrounding these holidays offer great weather and are the country’s busiest travel time. Schools are out and many businesses close for the season.
- Easter: There are three public holidays on Easter weekend: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday. Plus, primary school students also get Easter Tuesday off of school.
- School Holidays: School in New Zealand is year-round, starting in February and ending before Christmas with four 10-week terms. Term breaks are typically two weeks long and during this time. Many Kiwi families travel. Click here to check if it is school holidays on the dates you want to travel.
New Zealand travel tips: Know before you go
Visas and entry
Entry requirements to New Zealand differ based on the citizenship and residency of visitors. The newest change to the system takes effect on October 1, 2019, and will require nearly all visitors (even cruise passengers) to obtain either a visa or an NZeTA. To be sure you know the current rules for your situation, we recommend reading the official information directly from New Zealand Immigration.
What to bring to New Zealand
Overall, New Zealanders are pretty casual, and just about anything goes. Sporty for the daytime, and smart casual for evenings should cover you for nearly everything you do. You will want a good pair of walking shoes, a sun hat, and clothing layers.
As the weather is often unpredictable, a light rain jacket and/or an umbrella is recommended. In general, packing for New Zealand is easy. We always travel light. Therefore, our basic kit for New Zealand is similar to our standard packing list, with a few minor adjustments.
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What NOT to bring to New Zealand
More important than what to bring is what not to bring. New Zealand has strict biosecurity guidelines. Remember to declare all food items, even what you take off the plane. In addition, clean dirt off of all camping gear and hiking shoes before arrival. Check New Zealand’s immigration page for details on what to declare or watch this video:
Best places to visit in New Zealand
Travelling within New Zealand
Driving in New Zealand
In New Zealand, we drive on the left side of the road. If you are used to driving on the other side, ask your partner to remind you to keep left at every turn for at least the first day.
⇒ Check out these driving guidelines for visiting drivers
New Zealand speed limits on the open road are up to 100 kph (62 mph). However, they are slower as you pass through towns, or on narrow, windy, or rural roads. As a result, it will usually take longer to get anywhere than you estimate.
⇒ Check out this NZ time and distance driving calculator from the NZAA
Renting a car
Renting a car in New Zealand is easy, but be sure to read the rules and guidelines for driving here (section just above). Most of the international and several local companies rent vehicles in New Zealand.
RentalCars.com shares options from most reputable dealers, allowing you to compare prices and see customer ratings all on one screen. We have been using Rental Cars worldwide since we discovered them, and always found everything to be as expected when we arrive.
⇒ Compare prices at RentalCars.com
Click here for more details on getting around New Zealand.
Other New Zealand transportation options
Fly between cities: If you are visiting for a limited time, focusing only on one region, or only exploring the South Island, flying from Auckland is a good choice. We typically fly on either Air New Zealand or Jet Star and find the best prices on the Skyscanner app.
Ferry service: Travel between the North and South Islands is either done by air or ferry. While the ferry is more fun, it does require booking in advance, especially if you are travelling in high season or bringing a car across. We prefer the Interislander Cook Strait ferry.
Bus: The bus is a popular way to travel the country, especially for those visitors on a tight budget. There are several long-distance and scenic bus companies in New Zealand. Some even offer free wifi on board.
Train travel: There is a train from Auckland to Wellington on the North Island, but we have yet to give it a try. However, we have enjoyed scenic train rides on the South Island.
Go with a guide: New Zealand travel tours
We think New Zealand is easy to explore on our own. However, tours are a better option for people who don’t like to do their own planning, who enjoy historical commentary, and for those who don’t want to drive on the left. The better tours in New Zealand are not cheap.
Here are a couple of top-rated South Island options. For more tours, we recommend checking Viator, a trip advisor company.
5-Day South Island Tour from Christchurch: Travelling from Christchurch via bus and train, you will visit Mt. Cook, Milford Sound, Franz Josef Glacier, and Queenstown. If you have limited time, this tour will get you some spectacular scenery and fabulous adventures, but be aware that you will spend a lot of time in transit.
⇒Check the full itinerary and reviews
7-Day North Island Highlights Tour – private: This week-long private tour travels from Auckland to Wellington, enjoying Coromandal, Rotorua, and Taupo along the way. You will tour the Hobbiton Movie set, visit the Agrodome, enjoy a Hangi dinner and Maori cultural show, plus much more. Accommodations are 4-star and the tour includes breakfasts and two dinners.
⇒Check the full itinerary and reviews
12 Day Ultimate South Island Tour – Private: This 12-day private tour starts at the airport when you arrive in Christchurch. It includes 11 nights at 4-star accommodations. Your guide will take you to exciting places including a whale-watching boat cruise, kayaking in a national park, a glacier hike, a jet boat ride, and much more.
⇒Check the full itinerary and reviews
New Zealand travel tips: phones and safety
Mobile phones and wifi in New Zealand
Okay, nowhere is perfect. Many visitors complain about New Zealand’s lack of readily available unlimited wifi in hotels or cafes. Even worse (especially if you have teenagers in your travelling party), sometimes there is no wifi at all.
Visitors also complain that the internet is expensive. Locals will confirm that New Zealand internet access is overpriced compared to much of the rest of the world.
Prepaid SIM cards are available through several different companies. We use Vodafone. Although they are not the cheapest, we have found them to be reliable. Best of all, they offer special plans for visitors (that are in some ways better than we can get domestically), and you can pre-pay and pick up your SIM at the airport.
Safety in New Zealand
New Zealand appears on just about every list of the world’s safest countries. However, this is not an invitation to be stupid. Just like anywhere else, if you leave your wallet, computer, or phone laying around and walk away, chances are good that someone will help themselves to it.
We don’t travel without insurance. It’s a personal choice that has paid off well for us.
New Zealand covers visitors injured here; however, visitors still need their own insurance for illness, property loss or disrupted air travel. We always start with World Nomads for our own travel insurance.
⇒ Click here to get a quote from World Nomads.
New Zealand travel tips: bars and restaurants
- The legal age to purchase alcohol in New Zealand is 18. International visitors need a passport as proof of age to enter bars. Kiwis need an official New Zealand ID.
- Tipping in New Zealand restaurants, hotels, spas, or taxicabs is not customary. Some restaurants (especially those in tourist areas) add a “tip” line on the bill. Locals ignore it.
- Trendy restaurants reserve tables for those who have booked in advance and will often turn away customers rather than start a waiting list. It’s not uncommon for friends to spend hours in a restaurant, turning a meal into an evening of drinks and laughter. Customers are welcomed, not rushed. As a result, customers need to request their bill (or often go up and pay) to signify they have finished.
- Prostitution is legal in New Zealand, and you can find brothels in most cities, often affiliated with strip clubs.
- Marijuana and other drugs are still illegal in New Zealand.
More New Zealand travel tips that might surprise you
- On a world scale, New Zealand is an expensive place to visit. Accommodation, meals, entrance to tourist activities, and even a daily coffee may cost more than you expect.
- The sun’s dangerous rays are stronger in New Zealand than other parts of the world. Sun protection is advisable. This includes sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and cover-up on the beach.
- Children can and will be barefoot just about anywhere in New Zealand and you might see barefoot adults too.
- Taxes are included in the listed price of goods and services. Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t offer a tax back scheme.
- A few local terms that might come in handy: a “Kiwi” is a person from New Zealand (different from kiwi fruit or kiwi bird), an entrée is an appetizer, a café generally serves lunch and closes by 4 pm, and a “cot” is where a baby sleeps. Click here for my humourous look at New Zealand slang.
- While New Zealand has only one rarely seen poisonous spider (found in the North), there are plenty of mosquitos and tiny insects that leave annoying and itchy bites. Use insect repellent.
Curious about some of the lesser-known, yet interesting facts about New Zealand? Check out this list of fun New Zealand facts.
Where to ask questions or just see more of New Zealand
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Disclaimer: We worked with local tourism boards throughout New Zealand. We are frequently provided with complimentary entrances, tours, or sample items to aid in the writing of Albom Adventures. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.