The Ultimate List of New Zealand Travel Tips
Ah, New Zealand! Known to the local Maori as “Aotearoa”, New Zealand is a remote country in the south Pacific Ocean famous for its dramatic scenery. At about 1,600km (1,000 miles) long and 450km (280 miles) at its widest point, the country is easy to explore. And explore you will with a range of landscapes to entice you, adventure activities to excite you, and friendly locals to guide you. But as is the case with exploring any new country, there are common first-timer pitfalls that may get between you and an idyllic Kiwi getaway. As New Zealand’s largest travel guide, we at NZ Pocket Guide are delighted to make your travels much more seamless with this list of tips for travelling in New Zealand.
1. Plan a Realistic Itinerary
Let’s start with our most important travel tip for New Zealand; don’t try to do everything! New Zealand might be a small country but there’s a lot to see, a lot of ground to cover, and a lot of tours and activities. Plan a realistic itinerary that fits your timeframe. If you only have a week in New Zealand, just explore one of the two main islands. We say two weeks is the absolute minimum to enjoy a trip to both the North Island and South Island, but we highly recommend stretching it to three or even four weeks. With New Zealand being far from pretty much everywhere on the planet, it’s a once-in-the-lifetime destination for many. Try to save your New Zealand trip until you have enough time to make the most of it.
For advice on planning your itinerary, see How to Create the Perfect New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary and New Zealand Travel Advice: How to Plan a Trip to New Zealand.
2. Remember to Pay the NZeTA and IVL or Choose a Different Visa
If you’re visiting New Zealand on a visitor visa and you come from a visa-waiver country, you are required to have an NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority) as well as pay the IVL (International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy) before arriving in New Zealand. You may not have to pay these arrival fees if you are on another type of visa, such as a work visa or student visa. While we’re on the subject, you might want to look into different visa types if you want to be able to work and stay longer in the country, such as the popular working holiday visa.
For more tips on the arrival fees, check out the 10 Things You Need to Know About the NZETA.
3. Pack Lightly with Versatility in Mind
There is a bit of a misconception that New Zealand isn’t a developed country, but it’s not that bad! You can get a lot of goods and services very easily. With that in mind, you don’t have to pack a ton of food (or any, for that matter), months’ worth of toiletries, nor your whole wardrobe; you can get all that and more in New Zealand. Plus, with New Zealand being a destination where you’re encouraged to explore the country rather than staying in one place, you’ll find that a lighter bag is easier to move between accommodations. On a note about clothing, choose versatile outfits, preferably those to explore the outdoors comfortably. New Zealand tends to have a casual dress code, so there’s no need to pack a ton of different outfits.
For more packing advice, head over to New Zealand Packing List: What to Pack for New Zealand.
On the subject of packing, you need to be aware of what not to pack and what to “declare” when arriving in New Zealand. This is because New Zealand has strict biosecurity rules in order to protect its ecosystem. In short, you will be given a Passenger Arrival Card to fill out during your flight or cruise to New Zealand. Tick the boxes if you have, for instance, any food, sports gear, animal products or plant products packed in your luggage. If you are unsure, just tick the relevant box anyway. You’ll be asked more questions about the answers you give on arrival. Be honest, declare anything you’re unsure of. Otherwise, if you don’t declare something you should have, you could face a NZ$400 fine. Eek!
Get more details using our guide on What Do You Need to Declare When Arriving in New Zealand? and Everything You Need to Know About Arriving in a New Zealand Airport.
5. Be Aware of All of the Transport Options
Everyone seems to have an opinion on the “best way to travel New Zealand” but choosing the right transport is an extremely personal choice. Travelling by car, campervan, the bus network or a bus tour are the main ways to explore the country, but there are flights, trains and ferries that might be incorporated into your trip too. Start doing your research by checking out our New Zealand transport categories:
And if you don’t know where to start, check out our article, What is the Best Way to Get Around New Zealand?
6. Travel in the Shoulder and Low Season
Summer in New Zealand is from December to February, but expect things to get busy from November to March. During this time, flights are more expensive, car rentals are costlier, accommodation books up quickly, attractions are more crowded… With those in mind, we recommend travelling in the low season, from June to August, or better yet, the shoulder seasons from April to May and September to October. The weather is not that bad, just check it out in The New Zealand Seasons and Climate.
For more tips on the best months to travel, see our article on The Best Time to Visit New Zealand.
7. Book Well in Advance if Travelling in Summer
Ok, so for those of you who can’t resist visiting New Zealand when the weather is at its warmest, be sure to do your bookings well in advance. The country goes crazy between the months of December and February so we recommend booking accommodation and vehicle rentals as soon as possible in order to get your first choice. Activities don’t tend to need booking too far in advance, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
For more advice on how to book your trip around New Zealand, head to What You Need to Know About Booking Transport in New Zealand and The Essential Guide to Booking Activities in New Zealand.
8. Travel from South to North
Due to most international flights landing in Auckland, the majority of tourists travel from the North Island to the South Island. The best tip to break away from the crowds and get better deals on transport is to simply travel from south to north! Take a quick flight from Auckland to Queenstown or Christchurch and travel your way back up to Auckland.
Another bonus is for those wanting to rent a vehicle. Car and campervan rental companies have an influx of vehicles being dropped off at their South Island depots, so tend to charge less or even provide more car relocation opportunities with pick-ups in the south and drop-offs in the north.
9. You Can’t Camp Just “Anywhere”
If you plan to stay in a tent or a campervan in New Zealand, be sure to know where you are allowed to camp. Most of the time, you will need to be driving a certified self-contained campervan if you want to park up and stay the night somewhere for free. Otherwise, you will need to stay in campsites and holiday parks. Oh, and you can’t really stay “anywhere” for free, as different regional councils have different laws – see the Freedom Camping Rules in New Zealand: Region by Region. In short, you’ll need to plan where to camp for the night.
For more information, see What it’s Really Like to Freedom Camp in New Zealand.
10. Always Carry an Extra Layer!
New Zealand has a famous phrase to describe the weather: “four seasons in one day.” In other words, the weather changes so rapidly and unexpectedly that you’ll be glad to have an extra layer with you in case it gets cold. We even suggest carrying a rain jacket in your day pack in the likely case that you experience one of New Zealand’s frequent showers. For hikes, you’ll need to take the preparation to the next level, so check out How to Prepare for a Great Walk in New Zealand for tips.
11. There are Only Three Types of ID You Can Use to Prove Your Age
With the legal drinking age being 18 years old, you may need to show your ID to prove your age when buying alcohol. The only forms of ID that are accepted are your passport, a New Zealand driver license and the Hospitality New Zealand 18+ Card. So if you are on a short trip to New Zealand, keep your passport with you for the bar or for buying a bottle of wine from the supermarket. Even if you are actually 30, your ID still might be checked. If you are in New Zealand for a while, keep your passport safe and get yourself an 18+ Card instead.
For more information, see our guide on What ID is Valid for Buying Alcohol in New Zealand?
12. Choose the Right Type of Accommodation for You
Accommodation comes in many forms in New Zealand, which might be different from what you’re used to when travelling. Motels typically consist of self-contained units, while holiday parks are similar but also have campsites and powered sites for campervans. Hostels have private and shared rooms with communal facilities, while hotels offer more premium rooms with facilities such as a restaurant. There are also homestays and holiday homes available. Browse our Accommodation category to see which type of accommodation appeals to you and your budget.
13. Pay in New Zealand Dollars (+ Know About Swedish Rounding)
The currency used in New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar. You’ll find cheaper currency exchange bureaus in New Zealand’s cities compared to its airports. While cash is accepted everywhere, most vendors also accept Visa and MasterCard. Bonus tip: New Zealanders know “paying with card” as “paying with EFTPOS”. Note that when paying with cash, New Zealand follows Swedish rounding, i.e. rounding prices up or down to the nearest multiple of 10 due to the currency not having any 1, 2 or 5 cent coins.
14. Know the New Zealand Road Rules
To keep yourself and others on the roads safe, check out the New Zealand road rules before heading out. The obvious thing to remember is that traffic flows on the left in New Zealand, but there are some rules about intersections and one-way bridges that are essential to know. If you are not used to roundabouts, you should also learn how they work. Wise up by checking out our guide on How to Drive in New Zealand.
For more tips on driving in New Zealand, take a look at the 12 Safe Driving Tips for New Zealand.
15. Cyclists: Stick to the Bike Trails
For safety reasons, it’s not recommended for cyclists to travel via the highways in New Zealand. New Zealand drivers are not used to cyclists on the road, so often don’t give enough room when overtaking. On the other hand, the country has a myriad of off-road bike trails of various grades to enjoy car-free cycling. Learn more in our article, Mountain Biking in New Zealand: A Complete Guide.
For cycling rules on the roads, however, check out the City Cycling Rules in New Zealand.
16. New Zealand Might Be More Expensive Than What You’re Used To
Everyday items, such as food and drink, are likely to be more expensive than what you might be used to at home. That’s the downside of being in an isolated country with very little competition. Take a look at the typical prices listed in How Expensive is New Zealand? and plan your budget accordingly.
Check out our tips on how to budget for New Zealand in the 11 Ways to Save Money in New Zealand.
17. Plan More Travel Time Than What Your GPS Suggests (+ a Warning About Google Maps)
New Zealand’s highways are not multi-lane straight roads (or, at least very few are). Most are single-lane winding roads and some are even gravel roads, so you’ll unlikely be travelling at 100km/h for the entire journey. For this reason, it usually takes a little longer to cover the same distance in New Zealand than in other countries. Plus, considering that you’re probably going to New Zealand to soak up the scenery and do amazing things, you’ll want to plan some extra time to allows for photo stops. On a similar note, Google Maps is notorious in New Zealand for taking drivers on the shortest route to a destination but not necessarily the easiest. If travelling to a more remote destination, double-check that Google isn’t taking you onto some obscure farm track or logging road.
For more driving tips like this, take a look at our Road Trip Tips category.
18. Come for Nature; Not for Cities
New Zealand does nature so damn well. It’s the home of two UNESCO World Heritage Areas, two International Dark Sky Reserves/Sanctuaries, 13 national parks which are free to visit, by the way, and countless other conservation areas. On the other hand, cities in New Zealand don’t offer quite as much and to the same majesty as in other countries, such as Australia. Cities are where people live and work in New Zealand; the wilderness is where people play. The latter is far more interesting.
Add some of New Zealand’s natural attractions to your bucket list using our guide to the Natural Wonders of New Zealand.
19. Protect Yourself from the Sun and the Sandflies
Between New Zealand and Australia is the nasty hole in the ozone layer. This means that the UV rays are pretty intense in New Zealand. Just seven minutes of sun exposure can leave you with sunburn, while dehydration can come on quickly too. Lather up with at least SPF factor 30 before spending time outside, even when it’s cloudy in summer and even when it’s sunny in winter. Also in summer, sandflies are prolific. Learn how to protect yourself from these insects that leave an itchy bite in the 7 Ways to Stop Sandfly Bites.
For more health tips, check out Health Tips For Travelling in New Zealand.
20. Don’t Underestimate the Amount to Do in New Zealand
Just scroll our 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List and you’ll get an understanding of the staggering number of things to do. And that list just scratches the surface! Many travellers make the mistake of coming to New Zealand after doing little research then finding themselves doing impulsive tours and activities in fear of missing out. Stick to your budget and timeframe by doing your research – our Activities category is a good place to start – and being choosy. Make a list of your must-dos!
21. Hiking Will Be Your Best Friend
Don’t be put off by the word “hiking” in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation (DOC) of New Zealand has made it easy with hundreds of easy-to-follow walking trails across the country, ranging from 10 minutes to 10 days! Some trails are stroller and wheelchair-friendly, while others are short and easy for beginners, while more still offer a challenge. Hiking trails are a fun and free way to see many of New Zealand’s top natural attractions and landscapes.
Check out some of the Top 50 Hikes in New Zealand to get an idea of the types of walks available.
22. Know the Difference Between the North Island and the South Island
If it hasn’t been obvious by the time you’ve hit point #22 on this list of tips for travelling in New Zealand, the country is split into two main islands; the North Island and the South Island. Some travellers have to make the tough decision to travel either the North Island or South Island when they are on limited time. In short, the North Island is where you’ll find the most volcanic activity, Maori culture and cities, while the South Island is where you’ll find snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and, well, scenery, scenery, scenery. Contrary to popular belief, there are some things that you can find on both islands though, like ski fields, glowworms and wineries. Therefore, it’s always worth checking if an activity is available on your chosen island, even if it’s not famous for it.
See our full comparison of New Zealand’s two main islands in Should You Travel the North Island or South Island?
23. Try the Local Cuisine But Also Cook Your Own Meals to Save Money
Of course, you’re travelling in a new country with a new culture and flavours, so you’ll want to eat out in New Zealand to try staples like fish and chips, a Maori hangi, savoury pies and more. But as discussed earlier in this list of tips for travelling in New Zealand, everyday items like food are expensive, especially in restaurants, cafes and even takeaways. If you’re on a budget, we highly recommend that you make at least one meal for yourself per day. Many accommodations have self-catering facilities, as do campervans, so there’s no excuse! Get the lowdown on grocery shopping in New Zealand by following the tips in our article, Food Shopping in New Zealand.
24. Luxury, Budget, Family, Working Holiday… New Zealand Suits a Range of Travel Styles
There’s room for everyone to enjoy a holiday in New Zealand. Make a luxury getaway by enjoying once-in-a-lifetime bespoke experiences or explore the country extensively by simply doing all of the free things to do! New Zealand is also extremely family-friendly, while couples on a honeymoon can find many places to get secluded together. Backpacking and doing a gap year on a working holiday is also a top reason to come to New Zealand.
25. Don’t Expect a Good WiFi Connection
New Zealand is a little behind on the times when it comes to accessible WiFi. On the odd occasion when a cafe offers “free WiFi”, it’s usually slow or only for a small amount of data. Accommodations are getting better with offering WiFi, but don’t be surprised if an accommodation advertises free WiFi then gives you a coupon for 20Mb, i.e. barely enough to email your granny! There are solutions to the WiFi problem, which we offer in How to Get Internet and WiFi in New Zealand, but disconnecting with the world to reconnect with yourself and those around you is not a bad way to experience New Zealand.
26. Tipping is Not Mandatory
Tipping is not common practice in New Zealand, bearing in mind that the minimum wage is quite high so workers’ livelihoods don’t depend on it. If you feel like the service has been exceptional, however, then a tip will always be welcomed.
Need more of an explanation on tipping? See out guide to Tipping in New Zealand.
27. Make Sure You Have the Right Travel Adapter
Ok, so this is a pretty basic travel tip for New Zealand but essential nonetheless. New Zealand’s power outlets use the type 1 three-pin connectors, so get yourself an adapter so you can plug in your electronics from overseas. See our recommendations in the 5 Best Travel Adapters for New Zealand.
28. The Tap Water is Drinkable
Yes, tap water in New Zealand is safe to drink. Many towns even get their tap water fresh from the spring! With that in mind, there’s no need to contribute to the world’s plastic problem by buying bottled water; just refill your reusable water bottle as you go.
29. Don’t Be a D*ck to the Environment
On the same note as the point above, be aware of the extra environmental customs in New Zealand. Otherwise, it just gives tourists a bad name! For instance, clean your shoes properly at cleaning stations to prevent Kauri dieback, keep your distance from seals and penguins, don’t feed kea, etc. Obviously littering is pretty insulting to the environment and locals so try to avoid that! For more tips, see the ways to Be Green When Travelling in New Zealand.
30. Use NZ Pocket Guide
Finally, as New Zealand’s largest travel guide on the web, we’re here for you every step of the way for free! Have a look at our Destinations category for every single city, region and national park to discover.
Our Travel Tips section gives you answers to all those questions you may have about visiting New Zealand, from arrival to departure.
When it comes to filling up your days with exciting experiences, our Activities section is sure to inspire you.
When looking for places to stay, head to our Accommodation section covering all types of stays in New Zealand.
See full sample itineraries completed for you in our Trip Ideas section.
For a more personal touch, join us for our live Q&A session on YouTube where you can ask us your New Zealand travel questions.