14 Travel Tips For Your First Time in New Zealand
Looking for travel tips to New Zealand? I’ve put together this list of things to know about New Zealand.
Being a Kiwi myself, I may be a bit biased, but New Zealand is a beautiful place to visit. Known for its stunning landscapes, teeming sheep population and success in rugby, NZ should definitely be on the top of your bucket list.
Travelling to a new country for the first time comes with many questions. What are the must-see places? How do I travel around the country? What should I pack? This following article will cover the 14 best New Zealand travel tips for first-timers.
The Best Way to See the Country is to Road Trip
The best way to see the country is to road trip – I cannot stress this enough! The most impressive sights are spread out across the whole country, and the size of New Zealand means a road trip is possible.
Four weeks is the perfect amount of time to road trip the country. Of course, it can be done in a shorter or longer time too.
If you are planning to road trip the country, there are a few places you just cannot miss. Make sure you add these places to your itinerary:
- Milford Sound
- Aoraki Mt Cook
- Franz Joseph Glacier
- Abel Tasman National Park
- Waiheke Island
- Auckland West Coast
- Coromandel Peninsula
Things Are on the Pricier Side
Finding a downside to New Zealand is difficult – I can only think of two. One is that we are so far away from the rest of the world, so travelling to or from New Zealand is a long journey. The second, is that it is expensive.
House prices in Auckland are amongst the highest in the world. This means hotels and other places to stay aren’t cheap either. A hotel room will cost upwards of $200 NZD, whereas a hostel dorm bed will cost $25 NZD to $35 NZD per night. If you’re travelling in a group, Airbnb is the way to go. You could also consider freedom camping with a motorhome, which is definitely the best way to see the country.
In terms of food, this will also add up. A Cafe lunch will cost $15 NZD to $20 NZD and a coffee will be around $5 NZD. Dinner at a casual restaurant will cost $25 NZD and a beer will be $10 NZD to $15 NZD. There are cheaper alternatives, for example, fish and chips shops and bakeries.
Many of New Zealand’s tourist activities are adventure activities, and thus pricey. Bungy jumping will cost you almost $300 NZD, with similar prices for skydiving. There are definitely some reasonably priced activities such as the luge, horse riding, and the zorb.
Spend more Time in the South
The South Island of New Zealand is definitely the more picturesque island of the two. Although New Zealand’s biggest city (Auckland) and the capital city (Wellington) are located in the North Island, the South Island is the place to spend most of your time.
For a one-month holiday, I would recommend spending two-and-a-half weeks in the south, and the rest of the time in the north.
Queenstown is a great place to base yourself while exploring the Central Otago region of the South Island. From Queenstown, you can take trips out to see Wanaka, Glenorchy, Arrowtown, and Milford Sound. Wanaka is one of my favourite places in the country. There are so many things to do in Wanaka to keep you occupied.
Don’t Underestimate its Small Size
New Zealand’s population is just shy of five million, and you can drive from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island in just over a day. Despite its small size, there are so many things to see and do. Don’t underestimate the time you should spend in New Zealand.
To road trip the whole country, I’d recommend three to four weeks. If you’re just visiting the main tourist towns and taking flights in between, for example, Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington, and the Central Otago region, two weeks should suffice.
Try the Local Food
New Zealand is home to some great kai (food in Maori). Being a foodie, when I travel, I love to try the local cuisine. New Zealand is a very multicultural country, so there is such a variety to try. The restaurants in Queenstown are perfect to sample great Kiwi dishes.
Here are some local foods to feast on during your next trip to New Zealand:
- NZ Lamb
- Whitebait Fritters
- Steak and Cheese Pie
- Whittakers Chocolate
- L&P Soft Drink
There are Plenty of Free Activities
Honestly, the best things to do in New Zealand are free. New Zealand is known for its towering glaciers, lush greenery, and snow-capped peaks. Hiking through the country is the best way to see these amazing sights.
There are too many treks to list, but here are some great walks in New Zealand that you do not want to miss:
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Tongariro National Park
- The Pinnacles – Coromandel Peninsula
- Rangitoto Summit – Rangitoto Island
- Kepler Track – Fiordland National Park
- Abel Tasman Coast Track – Abel Tasman National Park
- Roy’s Peak – Mt Aspiring National Park
- Hooker Valley Track – Mt Cook National Park
You don’t have to be incredibly fit to take part in most of the walks available in New Zealand. There are many short walks dotted around the country that will take you less than an hour, and many moderate level walks that will take one to three hours to complete.
New Zealand has Strict Biosecurity Laws
New Zealand has so many protected species. Because of this, our biosecurity laws are super strict. This ensures that nothing that could harm our precious species is introduced into the country. This keeps up our clean, green image that New Zealand is known so well for.
Before entering the country, research what you can and cannot bring across the border. One big fine that seems to sting many international travellers to NZ is fresh fruit. This is not at all permitted. Be wary of any animal products, even non-meat products like honey.
Any hiking equipment or water equipment must be cleaned. A customs worker may even ask to check the equipment at the border.
If in doubt, declare. Keep the items handy at the top of the suitcase for the biosecurity staff to examine, if needed.
Cook Your Own Meals
Eating out is expensive, so one great tip regardless of your budget is to cook your own meals. This may not seem too enticing when you’re on holiday but New Zealand grows many fresh organic products that will make cooking less of a chore.
If you want to head to New Zealand’s cheapest line of supermarkets, head to Pak’n’Save. Don’t bother heading to a convenience store as prices will be inflated and limited stock available.
One-pot meals are perfect if you’re in a campervan. Just set up your gas, stove and a pot or pan. We love to cook enchiladas when we’re on the road. Just grab a can of tomatoes, dried herbs and spices, canned corn, spinach, grated carrot, and black beans. Spoon into a wrap, add cheese, and roll. If you’re a meat-eater, just add some beef mince or shredded chicken. Easy as that!
One super-easy way to prepare a meal is to buy rolls and fillings at the supermarket. We would usually grab a cooked chicken and coleslaw. This makes for a great picnic when you’ve reached the summit of the mountain, or a great dinner when you’re watching the sunset.
Utilise Deal Sites to Save Money
Deal sites are a great way to save some extra cash. Both tourists and locals love to use the deal sites we have on offer.
bookme.co.nz is the place to check out deals on activities. The deals are best for last-minute activities, which makes it a great place to check out a few days before you plan on taking part in these activities. Discounts can be upwards of 50%! Save money on activities like jet boating, day cruises, skydiving, scenic flights, spa days, and much more.
Grab One and Groupon have good deals on food, beauty, activities, and even places to stay. The best deals seem to be on spa days and selected tourist attractions.
First Table will give you 50% off the food bill for the first table of the day (or night, if you book for dinner). If you’re the first person to snatch up the deal, bring up to three people with you to enjoy the food. Bear in mind, this does not include drinks.
Get a Taste of Maori Culture in Rotorua
Maori is the name given to the indigenous people of New Zealand. 15% of New Zealand’s population identify as being of Maori ethnicity. Rotorua is the best place in the country to experience Maori culture.
Tamaki Maori Village is my recommendation for a cultural experience. The activity starts with a guided tour where you learn about Maori culture and customs, followed by a song and dance performance. The tour is concluded with a hangi meal. A hangi is a traditional way of cooking food in a pit oven in the ground using heated rocks.
Bring Sunscreen and a Hat
There is a ‘hole’ in the ozone layer in NZ, meaning the run’s rays are a lot harsher with more harmful UV light rays entering our atmosphere.
Be sun smart, even if you aren’t travelling to the country in the middle of summer. Wear a hat, cover your shoulders, and wear sunglasses when you’re in direct sunlight. Put on sunscreen (and remember to reapply after going in the water). When possible, stay in the shade, or take shelter from the sun during the hottest parts of the day.
Sunburn is common with travellers to New Zealand, and it isn’t pleasant. You don’t have to completely avoid the sun – it’s lovely to be out in the sunshine. But, everything is best in moderation.
Pack for Four Seasons, No Matter the Time of Year
New Zealand can have four seasons in one day, no matter the time of year. One minute, there could be blue skies, and then later on in the afternoon, it could be windy with thunderstorms.
You can plan a trip meticulously, but you can’t control the weather. So, come prepared in case the weather starts to mess with your plans.
If you’re travelling during warmer weather from November to March, pack loose, airy clothing. Bring a hat, as well as some long pants and a thermal, just in case it does get cold. Pack a light, waterproof rain jacket in case it rains. A puffer jacket isn’t necessary unless you’re planning to trek the glaciers.
If you’re travelling during the colder months from April to October, bring warm clothing. A puffer jacket or thick jacket will be needed, especially during the cold mornings and nights. Bring thermal clothing and long pants. Gloves will definitely come in handy in the middle of winter.
You will be doing a lot of walking, so comfortable shoes with good grip are a must. Hiking boots aren’t necessary – if you have some and are planning on doing longer hikes, then definitely bring them. Otherwise, sports shoes should suffice.
Budget Travellers can Enjoy a Holiday in NZ
Sure, New Zealand is an expensive country. But, that doesn’t mean a holiday can’t be enjoyed on a low budget.
Here are some tips for budget-conscious travellers:
Campervans are a great way to see the country. They give you a means of transport and accommodation. Renting a campervan will still be cheaper than staying at hotel rooms and flying across the country, but a way to make your stay even cheaper would be to buy a self-contained camper and sell it at the end of your trip.
A converted Toyota Hiace is an incredibly popular way to see the country. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to sell it without making a loss!
Take advantage of the free campsites too.
You could also consider working short jobs in between your trips. Fruit picking is a huge industry in New Zealand, and tourists commonly pick fruit to make up some extra cash for their trip.
If you do eat out, consider forgoing the cocktail or wine – drinks are quite overpriced. Instead, pick up a bottle of wine during a wine tasting and enjoy it in your hotel room later on.
Plan out your splurges. Budget travelling doesn’t have to mean you only take part in free or cheap things to do. Just remember to plan out and put money aside for the adventure activities or tours you have on your bucket list.
For me, this meant saving for a tour through Milford Sound, hiking Fox Glacier, and taking a dip in Onsen Hot Pools in Queenstown. The rest of my South Island road trip included walks and hikes. I still got to take part in some of the more pricey activities, but I got to see all the beautiful sights NZ has to offer on the walking trails – I don’t feel like I have missed out on anything I wanted to do.
Don’t Worry about Tipping
Tipping isn’t part of the Kiwi culture. In fact, if you tried to tip, you’d probably get some strange looks.
This is due to the fact that employees in New Zealand earn a minimum wage. At present, this is $18.90 NZD ($11.52 USD), which is a lot higher than in other countries.
If you do still wish to tip, this can be done so in the service industry, if you have received exceptional service. But once again, this is not at all expected.
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Guest Post by: Delilah Hart is a Kiwi with a passion for travel and photography. Her travel blog aims to help others travel the world better.