The Complete Travellers’ Guide to New Zealand
Welcome to Aotearoa – or you more likely know it as New Zealand! You probably also already know that New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most stunning mountains, glaciers, fiords and more scenery, scenery, scenery. But how do you go about planning a trip to New Zealand? While we don’t want to toot our own horn, here at NZ Pocket Guide, we believe we are the best travel guide to New Zealand and you’ll probably agree once you’ve read this complete travellers’ guide to New Zealand, which will springboard you to NZPocketGuide.com’s thousands of tips and advice.
An Intro About New Zealand
Location: New Zealand is a country in the Oceania continent. It’s located in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1,500km (930 miles) east of Australia and around 1,000km (620 miles) south of the South Pacific Islands. See Where is New Zealand? for more information.
Size: 268,021km2 (103483 mi2) in total. It is approximately 1,600km (990mi) long and around 400km (250mi) at its widest point.
Climate: New Zealand has a diverse climate determined by the ocean, mountains and prevailing winds. The mean average temperatures are 10°C (50°F) on the South Island to 16°C (61°F) on the North Island. See The Guide to The New Zealand Climate or check out the “When to Visit” section below.
Population: 5 million. Learn more about New Zealand’s population here.
Languages: English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language. Learn more about the New Zealand language in our guide.
Time zone: UTC/GMT+12.
How to Get to New Zealand
First things first, you’ll need to see if you are actually able to travel to New Zealand due to restrictions put in place at the borders after the COVID-19 outbreak. Visit covid19.govt.nz for the latest travel information.
Next, what is the best way to get to New Zealand? New Zealand can be accessed by flight or cruise ship. Considering you are probably here to plan a trip for more than just a day in New Zealand, let’s skip right to the most popular way to get to New Zealand; flights.
Direct flights to New Zealand can be found from the US, Canada, South America, Asia, Australia and the South Pacific Islands. Coming further afield from destinations such as in Europe and you’ll need to catch at least one connecting flight.
If you don’t have time to read through our Beginner’s Guide to Getting to New Zealand, here’s a quick rundown.
Flight Times to New Zealand
Argentina – 12h30min, Brazil – 15h30min, Canada – 16h30min, China – 13h30min, Denmark – 22h, Finland – 20h, France – 23h30min, Germany – 22h30min, Hong Kong – 11h, Israel – 32h, Italy – 22h30min, Japan – 11h, Korea – 12h, Malaysia – 11h, Netherlands – 22h30min, Philippines – 10h30min, Singapore – 10h30min, Sweden – 21h, Taiwan – 11h, United Kingdom – 22h30min, USA – 12h, Vietnam – 12h30min
Tips for Cheaper Airfares
Airfares for New Zealand depend on different factors: what time of year you choose to fly, how long in advance you book, where you’re flying from, what type of ticket you get, and the route you take.
The cheapest time to fly to New Zealand is during New Zealand’s spring, winter and autumn months (between July and November). Summer and particularly around Christmas is the most expensive time to fly to New Zealand.
It is also usually cheaper to fly at “inconvenient times” of the day such as late at night or during the early hours of the morning, as well as mid-week rather than on weekends. Having a flexible travel plan allows you to choose the cheapest flights. Check out How to Book a Cheap Flight to New Zealand and 5 Money-Saving Tips for Flying to New Zealand with Kids for more advice.
A Note on Customs Declarations
New Zealand has strict biosecurity measures at the border to stop unwanted pests and diseases from entering the country. Therefore, anyone arriving in New Zealand has to declare any “risk items” they have packed in their luggage – even common items like food and sports gear. Failing to declare a risk item may incur an instant NZ$400 fine! Be sure to read up on Arriving in New Zealand: Airport Customs, Biosecurity & the Arrival Process so you are prepared.
When to Visit New Zealand
New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning that seasons are at the opposite times of year compared to the Northern Hemisphere. The weather in New Zealand is temperate but changeable due to prevailing winds, the ocean and its mountains. In fact, the weather is so notoriously changeable that New Zealanders have a saying to describe their weather: “four seasons in a day”. In other words, you can experience sunshine, heat, rain, temperature drop and snow even in summer (well, snow is unlikely in summer – but you get the picture).
For all of the reasons above, we do not recommend planning your trip too much around the weather. Nevertheless, below is what you can typically expect in each season.
Summer (December to February)
Summer is the warmest time of year reaching highs of 25°C (77°F). Expect finer days than during the rest of the year.
Autumn (March to May)
Autumn has milder temperatures between 6°C (43°F) and 20°C (68°F). Weather patterns start to become more interchangeable with a few more rainy days than summer.
Winter (June to August)
Temperatures can be anywhere between -3°C (27°F) and 15°C (59°F) depending on which parts of the country you are in. Snow falls in alpine regions and rainfall is more frequent.
Spring (September to November)
Temperatures rise again during this shoulder season, where lows are 2°C (36°F) and highs are 17°C (63°F). Expect a balance of fine and rainy days.
For more information on the climate, check out What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
The Best Time to Visit New Zealand
Summer (December to February) is the most popular time to travel New Zealand for both international travellers and locals. While you can do most activities in summer under milder weather, things are more expensive, such as flights, tours and vehicle rentals. Attractions are busy while accommodations and transport book up quickly for the summer months.
The low season, i.e. winter (June to August) is the cheapest but coldest time to travel. Attractions are far less busy, but some tours like canyoning and white water rafting may be closed during winter. The exception to the low season rule is the ski resort towns, such as Queenstown, Wanaka and Ohakune.
Visiting in any of the shoulder seasons, i.e. from March to May and from September to November, brings warmer weather than winter along with more affordable travel deals than summer. These months tend to be the best time to visit New Zealand.
What to Pack for New Zealand
Don’t overpack! Just a large backpack or suitcase with a day pack per person (or per adult for families) is all you need for New Zealand. Bring versatile outfits that are good for exploring the outdoors and bring no more than a weeks’ worth of clothes, as laundry facilities are everywhere. New Zealand is a developed country so has plenty of shops and services should you need to buy anything while you’re travelling.
A Quick Packing List
The below packing list is an overview of our full New Zealand Packing List. Note that it’s just for one person.
- 1 Leggings/sweatpants/hiking pants
- 1 Shorts (summer)
- 1 Sweater/hoody/mid-layer
- 1 Hiking shoes
- 1 Flip-flops
- 1 Swimwear (suitable for watersports)
- 1 Thermal underlayer (top and/or bottoms)
- 1 Waterproof and windproof jacket
- 6 Socks (a mix of woollen and cotton)
- 1 Warm jacket (winter/spring/autumn)
- 6 Tops/T-shirts
- 6 Underwear
- Toiletries including a mini first aid kit, sunscreen and insect repellent
- New Zealand travel adapter
- Electronic device chargers (extra batteries are a good idea)
- Reusable water bottle (tap water is safe)
- If you plan on camping, pack a lightweight tent and sleeping mat, and/or for staying in huts, a 4-season sleeping bag and a torch/flashlight – see our Camping Essentials Checklist for New Zealand.
New Zealand Visas, NZeTA and IVL
A tourist/visitor visa for New Zealand activates automatically upon entry to New Zealand for most countries, usually allowing visitors to stay for up to three months. Visitors also need to pay for an NZeTA and IVL before arrival in New Zealand. Other popular visa options to stay in New Zealand longer are the Working Holiday Visa and Student Visas.
Although the ACC in New Zealand partly covers accidental injury medical bills, many travellers opt for travel insurance for extra peace of mind. Our recommended insurance is Orbit Protect, which is based in New Zealand.
ID and Driving License
Your passport is obviously coming to New Zealand with you, which is ideal because it’s one of the only accepted forms of ID for proof of age, for example, to buy alcohol. For driving, bring your driving license – if your driving license is not written in English then it will need to be accompanied by an International Driving Permit.
New Zealand Currency
The currency of New Zealand is New Zealand Dollars (NZD). There are ATMs in towns and cities where you’ll be able to withdraw cash. Credit cards are also widely accepted, however, there is a percentage payable with each non-New Zealand credit card transaction. Oh yeah, and New Zealanders call paying with a card paying with “EFTPOS“. Get advice on how to pay for things in a way to save money using our guide, The Best Way to Pay in New Zealand.
How Many Weeks Do You Need to Travel New Zealand?
New Zealand is a destination worth saving until you have as much time to explore the country as possible. Not only is this due to the fact that it takes much time and money (not to mention CO2 emissions) to get there, but moving between destinations within New Zealand is also very time-consuming. Roads are long and winding with so many photo-stops and activities along the way that a two-hour drive can easily turn into a full-day mission!
One or Two Weeks in New Zealand
Within this time, you should explore just one of the main islands. Take a look at the 7-day itineraries: North Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary and South Island in One Week: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary. And the 14-day itineraries: North Island in Two Weeks: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary and South Island in Two Weeks: New Zealand Road Trip Itinerary.
If you’re willing to miss out on some highlights, it’s just possible to explore both islands in 14 days, as outlined in our New Zealand in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary.
Three or Four Weeks in New Zealand
Want to explore both the North Island and South Island at a comfortable pace? Visit for three or, better yet, four weeks. Get an idea of what you will have time to see in our New Zealand in Three Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary and New Zealand in a Month: Road Trip Itinerary.
Three Months to One Year
Now you can see a great deal of the country! Most visitor visas allow people to travel for up to three months. A popular way to stay longer among backpackers is the working holiday visa, which typically allows stays of up to a year. Check out our 30 Tips for Backpacking in New Zealand for advice on an extended trip to New Zealand.
Where to Go in New Zealand
For many travellers, you’ll need to make the heartbreaking decision between the North Island and the South Island. If we had to sum up their differences, the North Island is best for culture and volcanoes while the South Island is best for wilderness, wildlife and, well, more scenery. Take a look at our North Islands Vs. South Island comparison for details.
Once you’ve picked an island, or you’re lucky enough to travel both, you need to start adding dots onto the map. New Zealand has a vast number of destinations all with their own landscapes, experiences and charm. You’ll find each of the below destinations linked to our complete travel guides so you can plan further.
- Bay of Islands Travel Guide – islands and beaches
- Auckland Travel Guide – volcanoes and city life
- Rotorua Travel Guide – geothermal and culture
- Taupo Travel Guide – volcanic landscapes
- Napier Travel Guide – wine and architecture
- Wellington Travel Guide – capital city vibes
- Picton Travel Guide – coast and wine
- Kaikoura Travel Guide – marine wildlife
- Franz Josef Glacier Travel Guide – glaciers
- Queenstown Travel Guide – adrenaline
- Aoraki Mt Cook Travel Guide – mountains
- Stewart Island Travel Guide – subantarctic adventure
How to Get Around New Zealand
Perhaps the most important decision you’ll make when planning your trip to New Zealand is the transport you’ll use. After all, a holiday in New Zealand is mostly about the journey. While everyone has a strong opinion on the “best” way to get around, we feel that it’s a very personal choice. It depends on your taste, budget and what experience you want to get out of travelling.
Travel, sleep, repeat by renting a campervan or motorhome. This is an extremely popular way to explore New Zealand. However, with camping restrictions and necessary maintenance, there are extra costs and hassles to take into consideration. See our Travel by Campervan in New Zealand Guide for more advice. Plus, choose from recommended rental companies in The Best Campervan Rental Companies in New Zealand.
While not as “sexy” as a campervan, renting a car is a smart way to travel if you want something easier to drive and cheaper with a bit more freedom. See The Best Car Rental Companies in New Zealand for recommended companies. Plus, our Travel By Car in New Zealand Guide offers plenty of tips.
Buy Your Own Vehicle
Secondhand cars and campervans are easy to buy and sell in New Zealand, working out to be very cost-effective if you plan to stay in New Zealand for more than a month. Check out Should You Rent or Buy a Vehicle to Travel New Zealand to see if it’s right for you.
The cheapest way of getting from A to B, InterCity forms the most extensive public transport network in the country. Find out more about planning a trip by bus in our guide to the InterCity bus passes and How to Travel by Bus in New Zealand.
Hop-On Hop-Off Buses
These are flexible bus tours on a set route with the option to get off and on the bus at any point for as long as you wish. Activities and accommodation are optional and pay-as-you-go. Learn more in our New Zealand Hop-on Hop-off Bus Guide.
Escorted Bus Tours
Take a more structured guided tour around New Zealand with some food, some activities and all accommodation included. It’s a stress-free way to travel the country with other people. Get started with your research using The Best National Bus Tours in New Zealand.
While not as popular as other countries, domestic flights in New Zealand are only a good idea for travelling long distances or between the North and South Islands.
While there are ferries to get from the main islands to some of the off-shore islands, the most common ferry that travellers find themselves is the ferry between the North Island and South Island; the Cook Strait ferry. Find out more in our guide to The Cook Strait Ferry.
Still don’t know where to start with travelling around? Take a look at the 10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand.
Things to Do in New Zealand
Spoiled, you are! Spoiled! New Zealand has so much to do that we could hardly fit it all in our 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List.
With the landscapes being the reason many travellers flock to New Zealand, active outdoor adventures are extremely popular. These include:
- Mountain biking
- Jet boating
- Bungy jumping
- White water rafting
- Whale and dolphin watching/swimming
And more! It’s not all go-go-go though, as New Zealand also offers culture, food and scenic experiences. Such activities include:
- Hot pools
- Maori cultural tours and shows
- Wine tastings
- Brewery tours
- Scenic flights
- The Lord of the Rings filming locations
- Scenic cruises
And more, again. While many of the above activities are pretty costly, rest assured there are tons of free activities and attractions in New Zealand. In fact, all it often takes is a short walk to reach New Zealand’s most iconic natural attractions. Check out our 50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand to save money.
And don’t forget to browse our New Zealand Activities category listing everything Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) has to offer.
Accommodation in New Zealand
New Zealand offers many forms of accommodation. Because New Zealand has a few big-ticket items, such as activities – not to mention the flight to get there – you can save a lot of money by choosing one of the affordable accommodation options. Nevertheless, if you want to treat yourself, then you’re spoiled for choice with lavish hotels and lodges available.
One of the most comprehensive styles of accommodation in New Zealand, holiday parks consists of self-contained units, private cabins, backpacker dorm cabins, tent sites or powered sites for campervans. Get tips in our Accommodation Guide to Holiday Parks in New Zealand and check out listings in our New Zealand Holiday Parks category.
In this budget accommodation, stay in shared dorms or private rooms where you’ll share facilities, such as a kitchen, laundry and bathrooms. See our Beginner’s Guide to Backpacker Hostels. Plus, Check out listings for every town in New Zealand in our New Zealand Hostel category.
Hotels are found in New Zealand’s larger cities and top tourist destinations, following the usual international standard with star ratings. Some small towns have historic hotels, which are typically budget-friendly but have less modern facilities. See hotel listings in our New Zealand Hotels category.
More common than hotels, motels offer a more compact home-away-from-home usually with a kitchen, a bathroom and at least one separate bedroom, all within one unit. Compare motels across the country using our New Zealand Motels category.
New Zealand has a number of boutique and luxury lodges scattered across the country in both towns and pristine wilderness. Discover our recommendations in our New Zealand boutique lodges category.
Enjoy entire holiday homes, locally known as “baches”, all to yourself with plenty listed on booking websites like Booking.com, Expedia and Airbnb. See our guide on Everything You Need to Know About Airbnb in New Zealand, as well as listings in our New Zealand Holiday Homes category.
Do you seriously need more information than that?! Head over to our New Zealand Accommodation category and browse until your heart is content.
Food and Eating Out in New Zealand
Everyone’s gotta eat! Travellers have a choice of dining out or self-catering in New Zealand.
Cafes and Restaurants
New Zealand is a melting pot so most menus have a diverse range of international dishes, from Westernised food, such as fish and chips, burgers and pizzas to Asian cuisines like curries and sushi. Gluten-free and vegetarian meals are readily available. For other dietary requirements, it’s best to discuss with restaurant staff first.
Note that tipping is not mandatory but is appreciated for good service. For many restaurants and cafes, expect to order and pay at the counter.
Because eating out is much more expensive than in other parts of the world, self-catering while on holiday in New Zealand is extremely popular. Most accommodations have some sort of cooking facilities.
Groceries can be picked up from supermarkets in towns and cities. Smaller towns and villages usually only have a convenience store, locally called a “dairy” but tend to have higher prices. Farmers’ markets are a fun option on weekend mornings to buy local produce. Note that New Zealand shops don’t give plastic shopping bags so bring your own bags or purchase bags in-store.
For more advice, head over to our guide on Food Shopping in New Zealand.
Typical Costs and Budget for a Trip to New Zealand
We all travel very differently. Therefore, making a precise budget for everyone is an impossible task. Nevertheless, you can work out your own needs, thus budget, by simply looking at the typical prices listed below or in our articles, How Expensive is New Zealand? and How Much Does it Cost to Travel New Zealand?
NZ Transport Budget
- Car hire/ day: NZ$30-$150
- 2-person campervan hire/ day: NZ$60-$260
- Petrol/ litre (0.3 gallons): NZ$1.90-$2.50 (Check out weekly fuel price data on the MBIE website)
- Hop-on hop-off bus national pass/ year: NZ$1,000-NZ$2,000
- National coach bus/ 4-hour trip: NZ$30-$80
- Used car (15+ years old): NZ$2,000-$5,000
- Used 2-person campervan (15+ years old): NZ$3,500-$15,000
- Domestic flights/ one way: NZ$50-$240
- Train/ one way: NZ$100-$260
NZ Accommodation Budget
- Hostel dorm bed/ night: NZ$27-$35
- Double room in a hostel, motel or holiday park/ night: NZ$80-$120
- Campervan powered site/ two people per night: NZ$22-$40
- Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite/ person per night: NZ$15 (see DOC campsite passes here)
- Motel self-contained unit/ two people per night: NZ$140
- Hotel double room/ night: NZ$160
- Freedom camping with a self-contained vehicle: Free
NZ Activities Budget per Person
- Skydive from 15,000ft: NZ$339-$439
- Bungy Jump: NZ$150-$290
- White Water Rafting: NZ$100-$140
- Jetboat: NZ$80-$130
- Dolphin swimming: NZ$110-$160
- Whale watching: NZ$120-$150
- Glacier Hiking: NZ$390-$470
- Cruise in Milford Sound: NZ$60-$100
- Rotorua geothermal park: NZ$30-$70
- Horse Trekking: NZ$50-$150
- Canyoning: NZ$150-$300
- Hobbiton: NZ$80-$100
- Glowworm caving: NZ$125-$280
- Great Walk hut/night: NZ$32-$110
NZ Food Budget
- Main meal: NZ$30
- Pint of beer: NZ$8
- Small coffee: NZ$4.50
- Fastfood pizza: NZ$5
- Big Mac: NZ$5.20
- 1 litre (35fl oz) of milk: NZ$2.40
- A dozen eggs: NZ$5.40
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of rice: NZ$2
- 500g (1.1lbs) pasta: NZ$1.20
- A loaf of sliced bread: NZ$1.20
- 1kg (2.2lbs) cheese: NZ$11
- 100g (3.5oz) dry freeze coffee: NZ$7
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of apples: NZ$5
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of bananas: NZ$3
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of tomatoes: NZ$10
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of onions: NZ$2
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of chicken: NZ$13
- 1kg (2.2lbs) of beef mince: NZ$13.
Example Budget for New Zealand for One Weeks, Two Weeks, Three Weeks and One Month
We can’t stress enough how everyone’s budget will be different for travelling in New Zealand. Nevertheless, because we know that many of you like the average cost for a trip to New Zealand, here is an example of a New Zealand travel budget.
Car rental (inc fuel): NZ$90 per day + Private room: NZ$90 per day + Food (self-catering and restaurants): NZ$50 + Activities (paid and free): NZ$100 = NZ$330 per day
How much does it cost to go to New Zealand for one week? NZ$2,310
How much does it cost to go to New Zealand for two weeks? NZ$4,620
How much does it cost to go to New Zealand for three weeks? NZ$6,930
How much does it cost to go to New Zealand for one month? NZ$9,900
Plan a New Zealand Trip According to Your Travel Style
Finally, this wouldn’t be the best travel guide to New Zealand without taking into account that everyone likes to holiday differently. Here at NZ Pocket Guide, we have travel guides for all styles of travel, including budget travellers, luxury travellers, honeymooners, families and foodies. If one of these fits your style, then jump ahead to the appropriate travel guide:
- The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget
- The Travel Guide to New Zealand for Families
- The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to New Zealand
- The Luxury Travel Guide to New Zealand
- The Foodie Guide to New Zealand
That’s all from the best travel guide to New Zealand. Well done for making it all the way to the end! If you found this FREE New Zealand travel guide useful, how about supporting what we do on Patreon? We’ll leave you with some final travel wisdom, our 31 Tips for Travelling in New Zealand.