An Online New Zealand Travel Guide With Everything
You Need To Know From Food, Getting Around, The Locals
And More To Create Your Trip Of A Lifetime.
Thanks to Mum and Dad ‘doing it’ at the right time I was born and bred in New Zealand. What an amazing country to grow up in!
Because of this, when travelling abroad, the inevitable question comes up.
“Jub, what advice do you have for travelling New Zealand?“
It’s not easy to tell you everything I know in a 5 minute conversation.
So I created this guide for you, people I meet in the future and anyone else who stumbles across this guide before they travel to New Zealand.
Enjoy New Zealand, it’s the best country in the world. Even the readers of Telegraph Travel agree (fourth year in a row)!
Would you like the PDF version? Click Here.
Click below or scroll to learn more
- Pick up a sim card. New Zealand phone plans aren’t cheap (if you require data), but it is wise to at least get some calling and text credit. Skinny is the best sim card for New Zealand (in my opinion) due to it’s data advantages.
- Speaking of data, wifi isn’t readily available. If you need a good connection for 1+ hours, your best bet is to head to the public library.
- Get to know the i-Site logo. i-Site offices can be found country wide. They’re outlets providing a tonne of info on their surrounding area. If you’re in a pickle or can’t seem to book something, pop into the nearest friendly i-Site.
- New Zealand actually has three large island. You might want to consider visiting Stewart Island, south of the South Island. It’s the Tasmania of New Zealand, always forgotten.
- Sunrise bitches.How cool to be able to claim you were the first to see the sun in the world that day. The specific place to see the sunrise first is on the east coast of the North Island at the summit of Mount Hikurangi.
- #SheepNation. All right, we are the butt of lots of sheep jokes. We do have a lot of sheep, if they were split up between the population equally, we’d have about 10 each. We’re aren’t sheep shaggers though!
- Shear a sheep. If you ask a farmer really nicely they might let you have a go at shearing a sheep. It chaos but a fun way to say you experienced the ‘real NZ’.
- High season is mid-November to mid-March. Tourism numbers increase during the summer months. Coupled with Christmas and school holidays in December and January, everything comes alive.
- The currency is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). Yup, our very own currency! It’s one of the most practical (award winning) in the world too. The big plastic notes are easy to distinguish and the coins don’t make your wallet potentially a lethal weapon.
- You may need a visa. British and Australian passport holders have it easy. Many countries have a visa-waiver but it’s worth checking the immigration website to be sure.
Take a look at the small print too, you might be told to produce an onward tickets and proof of enough funds to support yourself in New Zealand.
- We have strict customs laws. The threat of diseases and other unwelcome guests could devastate the biodiversity of New Zealand. The effects on the economy would be massive so we don’t let many things in that might be fine to take through customs normally. People get quite the shock when they receive fines if caught. Check out the customs website if you aren’t sure if your green tea infused mango oil with coconut toppings is allowed in or not.
Don’t be sneaky either, if you aren’t sure, declare it.
- The sun is powerful. While the temperatures don’t reach over 30 degrees Celsius often, there’s a hole in the ozone layer near New Zealand meaning burn times are short. In the summer months, put sunblock on regardless of the weather. As a kids I was taught to slip, slop, slap and wrap. By a pig.
- New Zealand uses the metric system. That means we use kilograms, kilometres, metres, litres, degrees Celsius.
- Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted. Most places won’t charge you extra if you choose to use them…on larger purchases it’s always safer to ask. AMEX is usually sweet as.
- Price negotiation is rare. Pretty much everywhere in New Zealand has a fixed price and retailers won’t budge. Alternatively, if you show them a cheaper price elsewhere, they may price match the competitor.
- Taxes are included in the price. No nasty surprises when you get to the payment counter. On public holidays, there may be a 10 – 20% surcharge at bars and restaurants.
- There’s no shortage of ATM’s. You can find them all over New Zealand. It’s still best to have some cash on you at all times.
- Gauge the distances you plan to travel. New Zealand may look small, and the distances aren’t ever massive but given the terrain you might be surprised how long it takes to get from A to B. Check out some of the routes you’ll be travelling in advance so you get no nasty surprises.
- You’ll probably need a travel adapter. New Zealand power sockets are the same as Australia and Papua New Guinea. There are three pins (bottom one is for earthing). It’s easier to take a look at the image below.
- No vaccines required. Giardia is the only ‘baddy’ you might catch in New Zealand, avoid drinking water from stagnant lakes and rivers and you’ll be sweet as.
- We use the Swedish rounding system. We’re sensible and have the smallest denomination coin as the 10 cent coin. If the price is $4.44, it will become $4.40. $4.46 becomes $4.50. $4.45? That’s up to the seller.
- The nicest people in the world. That’s often said as people return home from their New Zealand adventure. It’s not over the top, awkwardly friendly. Genuine down to earth people. Make sure you get to know a few!
- We believe in wizards. Not really but kind of. In 1990 Ian Brackenbury Channell was appointed the official Wizard of New Zealand by the Prime Minister.
- We’re not all hobbits. I’m sure you’d be so stoked to see villages of hobbits scattered throughout the country. Unfortunately for you, not all movies depict real life.
- Sir Edmund Hillary, heard of him right? The first person to summit Mt. Everest is a kiwi. Pretty cool huh? You can find his face on the $5 note.
- Don’t freak out when people have no shoes on. Kiwi’s will go to the beach, to the fish ‘n’ chip shop, supermarket shopping…anywhere in bare feet. Sometimes shoes are just too hard. Don’t embarrass yourself and buy them shoes (you’d be buying lots of shoes)!
- The accent can be tricky to understand. The biggest tip I can give? Listen for the shortening of the ‘ee’ sound. Bed sounds like bid. This video is a funny take on awkward accent situations.
- We will take the piss out of you. It’s all in good fun, don’t take it to heart. Remember we’re nice people and give as good as we get.
- See if you can notice the dialects. Like other countries, there are different dialects around the country. If someone is from down south, you might notice them rolling the ‘r’, thought to generate from the Scottish influence down south.
- Pronunciation 101: ‘wh’ sounds like ‘f’. Lots of places around the country will have ‘Wh’ as the first two letters. This is a ‘f’ sound. Now try it out loud. Whakapapa. 🙂
- Not all kiwis look alike. New Zealanders (identify as):
- ‘New Zealand European’ = 69%
- indigenous Maori = 15%
- Asian = 9%
- Pacific Islander = 7%
I know Wiki isn’t the best source, but the list was a good representation of the number I saw from various sources.
- The largest Polynesian population in the world. The 14% who identify as Polynesians makes them the largest population in the world. Check out their calves!
- Kiwi’s don’t take themselves too seriously.Our humour mightn’t be obvious at first with it’s flow easy to miss and we don’t mind laughing at ourselves. If you want to watch some silly kiwi humour check out Flight of the Conchords, a beached whale, a drink driving ad, Police making recommendations on pie eating techniques and a Air New Zealand safety video.
- We’re a commonwealth country. This doesn’t exactly have any effect on the way you’ll experience New Zealand but you may notice a few British tendencies in kiwis.
- We fought in the 1st World War. It’s dubbed our ‘coming of age’ as a country. We arrived in Gallipoli on the Turkish coast in 1915 with Australia. We now celebrate ANZAC Day on April 25th.
- The USA helped us in Word War 2. Our forces were stuck in Egypt and the Middle East. Cheers to the USA who protected us during the war in the Pacific with Japan.
- We are leaders in gender equality. In 1893 we were the first country in the world to let women vote (Jenny Shipley was our first female Prime Minister in 1997).
- We were the world’s last habitable place to be discovered. Therefore we don’t have centuries and centuries of history.
- We invented pavlova. The meringue dessert can be seen on most dinner tables on Christmas Day. Did you know we invented it? Well at least we think we did, no one really knows. Australia claim it was their invention too. Ah well, it’s tasty either way.
- The Maoris called shotgun. The indigenous Maori are believed to be here centuries before the Europeans rocked up in the 19th century. The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 meaning most of the land went to the sovereign states…a misunderstanding that still causes trouble in the 21st century.
- Go to a marae. This is the easiest way to freely interact with Maori and see how they go about acting with their peers. You may have to head to go on a tour to visit a marae.
- Rotorua is home to Maori culture tourism. The maori population is scattered all over New Zealand, but their are concentrated pockets of the population such as in Rotorua. You can ticket off your Maori culture bucket list here.
- Maori is the second official language of New Zealand. All Maori people can speak English, but not much of the rest of the population can speak Maori. Most schools teach the basics. Kia Ora is Maori for hello (if you hadn’t clicked from the intro). Yay, you can speak Maori!
- Cook your kai underground. Kai is Maori for food. The traditional Maori feast is a hangi which is cooked on hot stones underground. It’s delicious!
- You won’t stuff up the nose press. When you arrive on a Marae, you’ll like be introduced to Maori people traditionally. You might be nervous, but it’s a simple pressing of two peoples noses together. No weirdness required at all.
- Check with daily deal sites for activities. Plenty of the popular activities in New Zealand feature regularly. Groupon and GrabOne are two of the most popular.
- Make one meal of your own daily. I get it, you’re on holiday and would rather not think about cooking when travelling New Zealand. Keep in mind, it’s not easy to find a meal for less than $10 at a restaurant or cafe in New Zealand. Making one meal will keep your bank balance happy.
- Follow happy hour. New Zealand bars and clubs don’t use the same happy hours. For the savvy, you can hop around and take advantage of happy hours all night.
- The great outdoors can be free. New Zealand has some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Tramping (hiking) is free and freedom camping in New Zealand is possible in some areas.
- Sign up to airfare and bus company newsletters. New Zealand has some awesome transport companies that’ll get you all over the country. For some great deals, sign up to the following newsletters: Mana Bus, Inter City and keep an eye on Grab A Seat (Air New Zealand) each day for some steals.
- Buy NZD cheap. The New Zealand dollar affects our export markets a lot. But it can also play a role in the amount of New Zealand dollars you have to spend. The currency is relatively stable in most currencies, but check the history of your currency. Got some GBP? You might have wanted to change a few weeks ago. #brexit
- Head to pubs for cheap lunch. Cafes are trendy, but there’s plenty of pubs around New Zealand serving lunch. Lookout for the $10 specials.
- Buy essential items in bulk. Running to the dairy with no shoes is a kiwi-ism but it isn’t the cheapest place to buy things. This will vary on your travel style, but look to buy all your groceries in bulk.
- Keep your supermarket receipts for fuel. You can get some great discounts on your next petrol stop at supermarkets. The more you spend, the bigger the discount.
- You can do New Zealand cheap. It’s possible to travel New Zealand cheap if you have enough motivation. Sourcing cheap food, camping, hitchhiking (check the thoughts on hitchhiking from Danielle further down), hiking and searching for free activities in New Zealand isn’t easy day in day out.
- Tap water is drinkable! The plastic water pioneers are making a fortune in New Zealand too. New Zealand tap water is good as gold to drink!
- Tipping not required. The minimum wage in New Zealand is reasonable to live on. While most would not turn down a tip, it’s not expected.
- Search for Bluff oysters. Many say they’re the best oysters in the world. The Bluff oyster season runs from March to August with the Bluff Oyster and Food Festival in May. Keep your eyes open, you’ll find one somewhere. Beware: the demand is huge.
- Try chocolate better than Cadburys. “Good honest chocolate”, that’s the marketing phrase of Whittakers Chocolate, which also won Most Trusted Brand in New Zealand, 2015. The distinctive gold packaging is worth a try (Dark Ghana fan here). Is it better than Cadbury chocolate? You’ll have to decide yourself.
- Some say NZ Sauvignon Blanc is the best. Many leading wine critics believe New Zealand produces the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. There are wine regions throughout New Zealand, so be sure to visit at least a few wineries. Harvest takes place during March and April.
- Tasted chocolate and pineapple together before? Never say never. Pineapple Lumps are a chewy pineapple base covered in a layer of chocolate. Look out for them in dairies and supermarkets all over New Zealand.
- A fizzy drink “World Famous in New Zealand since AGES ago”. That’s the slogan for Lemon & Paeroa (a.k.a L&P). The sweet tasting drink is available all over New Zealand.
- Marmite, it’s an acquired taste. The British will be familiar to Marmite, but the kiwi version is slightly modified. Again, it’s not for everyone, but worth a try. Best served as a thin layer spread on toast. Oh yea, it’s definitely better than Aussie’s Vegemite!
- The Paua (shellfish), an acquired taste. Something you should definitely try. The best description is like truffles. Rich and strong. If you don’t like the food, you’ll enjoy the jewellery often made from the shells.
- Yeah right. That’s the familiar slogan with the beer, Tui. While there’s a bunch of mainstream beers in New Zealand, I’ve always been partial to a cold Tui.
- White baiting is a religion. For thousands of kiwis they’ll be up at all hours of the night to get the best spot for white baiting. High tide is the prime time. At the end of the day they’re whipped into a fritter for dinner. You can order them from them from shops, but get one home cooked.
- Tip Top ice cream is best. The classic New Zealand flavour is hokey pokey, vanilla ice cream with balls of honeycomb toffee. Served best in a cone from your nearest dairy.
- Have fish ‘n’ chips on the beach. The beach isn’t always the best spot to eat them (weather), but you’ll find fish ‘n’ chip shops everywhere. The traditional fish ‘n’ chip night is Friday.
- Be selfish with your chips. While you may think you’re being nice by feeding the seagulls your chips. Refrain, as you’ll soon have dozens circling you demanding more. The people won’t be fond of you either, the sounds they make isn’t gracious.
Feed the ducks bread in the nearest river or pond, it’s way better.
- Vegans and vegetarians. Finding a garden salad is never hard. Not at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant? The choices you’ll have are pretty limited. You can always chat to the waiter/waitress, you never know your luck.
- Most drivers license are accepted. There’s no need to get a international drivers license unless you’re here for a long time. It’s always best to check with the embassy if your license is alright though.
- Three train lines connect the country. While the bus is normally cheaper and quicker consider the train if you like train travel. The TranzApline is one of the most famous railway journeys in the world.
- Embrace the toot tunnel. If you find yourself driving through the Mt. Victoria tunnel (Wellington), take part in a local tradition. Nicknamed the ‘toot tunnel’, toot your heart out when driving through, plenty of locals will be doing so!
- Learn how to use snow chains. Winter driving conditions can be treacherous. If you’re going to be driving near the snowy regions you might need to use snow chains at some point.
- Stop at all rail crossings. In rural areas, not all are alarmed. In a battle of car versus train, we all know who wins.
- Stay in a bach. Which is slang for beach house. It’s a classic kiwi tradition to stay in a bach near the beach (we all live close to the beach?) during the holidays. The easiest way to do so is to head to Book a Bach and/or use airbnb (yeap people use airbnb).
- Motels vs. Hotels. A motel is a small scale hotel, where most of the time you can drive up to the doorway of your room. They’re usually cheaper with no fancy amenities.
- Freedom camping is legal in some places. If accommodation is where you are looking to save costs this is the way to go. The Campermate app will help you find the nearest freedom camping spot. People backpacking in New Zealand have been making the headlines this year for not being well behaved at the freedom spots. Be respectful!
- Homely B&B. If you’re looking into meeting locals and experiencing their hospitality, a bed and breakfast is the way to go. Ideal for couples. Check out the bnb site for bookings.
- Accommodation options are like anywhere else. Hostels, campsites, resorts, retreats, couchsurfing and DOC huts.
- Four seasons in one day. Yup, it’s one of those countries where you should always leave the house thanks to New Zealand’s surrounded by water and mountain ranges scattered throughout.
- Further north means more warmth. That’s the general rule of thumb to stick too.
- Windy Wellington is windy. Wellington is affectionately known as the windy city. Thanks to the Cook Strait which squeezes air into a wind like tunnel. Girls, think about what you wear in Wellington. Using an umbrella? It better be good.
- You’ll always be close to the ocean. If you suddenly come across a sunny beach day, you won’t have to travel far to get there. No point in New Zealand is more than 128km from the ocean.
- Antarctica isn’t far away. Well it is, but what it does mean is when the wind is from the south, it is cold! Like real cold! It can
- No dangerous animals here. Our mates over the ditch (Australia) have them all. None of that too worry about in New Zealand.
- The adult female katipo spider can bite. It’s very, very rare to see one (threatened species).
- A few stray redback spiders from Aussie have been recorded in New Zealand.
The kea is sneaky. If you’ve rented a car and found your wind wipers and other bits missing, it may not have been humans. This video says it all.
- A kiwi bird, more than the fruit. In addition to a kiwi(fruit) being the brown fury fruit, it is also a bird. A flightless bird native to New Zealand you should make a point of visiting at some point. New Zealanders also refer to themselves as kiwis (it’s not offensive to call a New Zealander a kiwi).
- You’ll have a whale of the time. Kaikoura is world famous for it’s whale watching. If you are driving along the coast and think you see a whale, it probably is. How cool that you can see them from land. Have some binoculars handy. Dolphins?
- The penguins aren’t sick. You might be more accustomed to penguins pictured on ice and in the water. New Zealand has a few species of penguins, including the world’s smallest blue penguin. Of you see one, they aren’t sick, let them be themselves.
- Other fun animal ‘friends’ you might come across. From llamas and alpacas, dolphins, seals and tuatara to the weta, there’s always someone new to meet.
- Hiking is tramping. Tramping is what you probably call trekking or hiking. You can use these words interchangeable and we’ll know what you mean.
- The silver is on the bottom of the fern. The silver fern is a New Zealand icon visible on many of our National uniforms in all sports. While you won’t see a silver fern often, you need to look on the underside of the fern to see the silver. Once you learn to spot them, you’ll find them throughout New Zealand bush.
- Look up at night time: You might not see stars at night where you from thanks to pollution. Take a look in New Zealand though, on a clear night away from the major cities you’ll get quite the show to look at.
- The Kauri trees are impressive. New Zealand’s largest native tree grows up to 50 metres tall. Thanks to logging, you’ll have to travel to Northland’s Waipoua Forest for your best chance to see one.
- Mosquito repellent is your friend. The mosquitos are seemingly attached to you depending on where you are, and time of year. Always have it on hand!
- Tell people your hiking plan. The New Zealand bush can quickly become unforgivable if the weather changes quickly and you venture slightly off trail.
- Bring wet weather equipment. Same reasons as above, the weather changes quickly and if a southerly shift comes through, the temperature will plummet. There’s no shortage of incidents of tourists being caught out in the weather.
- That pine tree you’ll keep seeing. It’s called a Norfolk Pine and you’ll spot the pine all over New Zealand.
- Catch fish all around the country. It’s a favourite pastime for kiwi’s. Up and down the country, kiwi’s are waiting for the weather conditions to be just right for a day on the water.
- The friendliest glaciers in the world. They are some of the easiest glaciers to navigate in the world. The most popular one is down south, Franz Josef Glacier.
- Clearest lake in the world. Blue Lake, located in Nelson Lakes National Park is the clearest lake known to man with visibility down to 80 metres! While you can’t enter the lake, hiking there (two days) is a unique thing to do in New Zealand.
- Bungee jumping was founded in New Zealand. You likely know New Zealand is a bungy jump destination thanks to AJ Hackett who created the first commercial bungee (1988). If it’s on your bucket list, New Zealand is the place for it.
- Book your Great Walk in advance. If you have one, a few or even all of the 7 Great Walks of New Zealand on your to-do list, it’s a good idea to book in advance in the summer months. Especially the Milford track which is sometimes booked out a year in advance.
- The snow season lasts 4-5 months. Generally starting in late-May/early-June to mid-October. Lots of variables on both islands dictate when the official seasons begin.
- Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world. With jet boating, white water rafting, skydiving, bungee jumping, helicopter rides and more, in addition to all the snow related activities, no wonder people travel to Queenstown from all corners of the world.
- We are a rugby national. And we are pretty darn good at it. The All Blacks you have probably heard of, well known for performing the haka before every game. Which is a maori war dance where we issue a challenge.
- We support New Zealand and anyone playing Australia. In another chapter of the love to hate Australia, we love beating them at any sport. If we lose to them in rugby, the whole nation feels it.
- We win gold medals. We have just under 1,000 athletes competing at the Rio Olympics and will be in the top 5 for gold medals per capita. Rowing is a strong suit of ours and sees us collect a few medals every four years.
- Brace yourself for flies. New Zealand has most annoying flies I’ve experienced anywhere. That includes house flies, fruit flies, sand flies. Every single fly! Of course, you’ll find some places are fly free.
- We use daylight savings. We like to make the most of summer so put our clocks forward an hour on the last Sunday of September and put them back on the first Sunday of April. If you have any appointments on the Sunday, don’t forget this!
- The ultimate day of sport. If you want an epic adventure, consider the possibility of skiing in the morning, then heading to the golf course for 18 holes and finishing up with a surf. Not many places around the world you can do that.
- There’s golf courses everywhere! New Zealand has the second most golf courses per capita in the world (behind Scotland). Any golfer should play one round, with very affordable choices to exclusive private golf courses.
- The ocean isn’t warm. Keep that in mind. Prepare for the worst and hope for some warmth. Even on a summer’s day if you’re not way north, the ocean temperatures rarely exceed 16 degrees Celsius.
- Calm looking water doesn’t mean no danger. New Zealand heavily promotes water safety as every year so many die in water accidents. An ocean rip can take you out into deep water in seconds. If you aren’t a strong swimmer…stick to the shallows.
- Swim between the flags. While it may seem silly sometimes, lifeguards can spot dangerous surf conditions that you can’t. Make their job easy and stick to the flags yea.
- Jandals and togs. When you head to the beach, if you’re in the company of locals they’ll as if you’ve got your jandals and togs. Jandals are flip flops/thongs and togs are your swim shorts/swimwear. Two words that definitely are unique to New Zealand.
- They’re like other cities around the world. So don’t be surprised if you aren’t wowed by the major cities. Though I rate Wellington as one of the most beautiful in the world!
- Wellington is the capital. Despite Auckland being the largest city and it was once the capital of New Zealand. Wellington became the capital in 1865 (world’s most Southern capital). All the politics happens inside the Government building known as The Beehive.
- Public transport isn’t spectacular. Public transit isn’t the best in New Zealand, most places rely on buses for internal transit and trains will take you further afield.
- Wellington, the hipster city. In addition to being the windy city, Wellington is widely considered the most hipster of the five main capitals in New Zealand. Plenty of beards, secluded bars, trendy cafes and they make a pretty darn good coffee.
- Christchurch, the Garden City. Christchurch is still recovering from the devastating earthquakes in 2011 but still claims it’s title as ‘The Garden City’. Once all is back in order, the gardens will be better than ever no doubt.
- Dunedin, the student city. Otago University in Dunedin is where most go to study medicine. The city itself becomes overrun with students during the University semester. A popular student tradition is to set couches on fire. Dunedin is also home to the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street.
- Auckland, the city of sails. Many assume Auckland is the capital which it isn’t. It certainly is the city of sails however with bays throughout filled with boats and yachts of all shapes and sizes.
- Hamilton, the forgotten city: I’ve never been to Hamilton, it’s often referred to ‘the most boring city in New Zealand’. I’m in no place to judge that, but it gets brownie points for being close to the Waitomo Caves and Hobbiton.
Margaret in the comments mentioned Hamilton won International Garden of the year in 2014, it’s free to enter.
Note: they’re a business so will promote their tour offering.
We also speak quickly and shorten lots of words. It’s still English though, promise.
p.s. We prefer it when you don’t say the Kiwi accent is the same as Australia’s but won’t judge you. Much.
Kia Ora kai. You can now say a phrase in Maori.
Related: I wrote a list of 116 budget travel tips here.
NZ road trip you reckon? Check out this collection of 23 road trip itineraries.
*Two small exceptions.
Pro Tip. Any rumours you hear that scare you are likely false.
The New Zealand Packing List is in a separate blog post. It was hard to come up with the best way to present the information to help you, but I believe we got there in the end. The top five items to pack for New Zealand are:
Did I miss anything? If you have any extra tips or questions about travel in New Zealand, let me know in the comments below.