New Zealand is well-known for its adventure activities and beautiful scenery showcased by the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Situated in the Pacific Ocean neighboring Australia does make it a bit of a trip, but New Zealand is a country you have to visit. Planning a trip to NZ (or any country) for the first time can be daunting, so we’re here to help. Here are 10 insider New Zealand travel tips from a born and bred New Zealander to help your trip run smoothly. Find out the essentials to pack, the food you have to try and what you should pass up to save you some cash.
New Zealand Has Four Seasons in a Day
They say New Zealand can have four seasons in a day which seems excessive, but they’re not wrong. You can go from a quick downpour to clear blue skies in less than an hour. Especially in Auckland, this is a common occurrence. The best thing to do is to come prepared.
Take a raincoat with you. Make sure this is waterproof, not water repellent. A water repellent jacket will only keep you dry in light rain which will not be suitable for all New Zealand conditions.
The sun in New Zealand is very harsh as a result of a thinning ozone layer. The UV rays are very powerful, especially in the late spring and summer months. Be sure to wear sunscreen during these warmer months, even if it is cloudy. If you’re planning on swimming, use waterproof sunscreen and reapply as specified which is usually every four hours.
As well as sunscreen, wear sunglasses and a sun hat in order to protect your face. It also pays to spend the hottest parts of the day (10 am – 3 pm) in the shade.
Even if temperatures during the day are warm, this may drop suddenly after the sun sets. Bring an extra layer such as a long-sleeved thermal so you are prepared for these changing conditions. It can also get particularly windy along the coastlines.
If there is one place in New Zealand you should visit, make it Queenstown. Check out this guide for the perfect five-day itinerary for Queenstown.
It’s a great destination for all budgets – you can make it as cheap or expensive as you like.
For budget travelers, opt for the many walks and hikes through the most beautiful scenery you’ve ever seen. For those who want an extravagant holiday, there are plenty of activities from hot pools to jet boating and fine dining.
It’s hard to narrow it down to a few things, but here are my top five for Queenstown:
- Wine tasting at Chard Farm and Amisfield wineries
- Watching the sunrise at Lake Moke and Queenstown Hill
- Relaxing at Onsen Pools and taking in the amazing views
- Taking a short drive to Arrowtown and treating yourself to brunch
- Eating – try Ferg Burger, Cookie Time and Patagonia Chocolates
Everything is Expensive
Major tourist activities are expensive! Prepare to pay $200 NZD to bungee jump, $80 NZD for a tour of Hobbiton and $90 for a jet boat ride. This will quickly add up.
Eating out and buying drinks at a bar will also cost more than you are used to. Meals at a mid-range restaurant will cost you around $30 NZD and cocktails may be $18 NZD or more. Make use of deal sites (as we’ll mention soon), happy hours and good, cheap eats.
The Best Things Are Free
Instead of spending copious amounts of money on overpriced tourist activities, choose the many free things to do.
New Zealand is home to the best scenery in the world (although I might be biased). No matter where you go there will be many options for walks, hikes, and climbs.
Become one with nature and experience New Zealand’s beautiful scenery that makes it such a popular holiday destination. Seek out the most insta-worthy places while you’re there.
The best part about going for a walk is it’s completely free. This is definitely the way to really see New Zealand.
Mind the Strict New Zealand Customs Laws
New Zealand’s biosecurity laws are very strict due to our heavily-protected flora and fauna. We take pride in our country’s clean, green image as it is the face of our tourism industry.
Be very careful about what you bring to New Zealand and always declare. Even if you are unsure, it’s better to declare and have it accessible at the top of your suitcase in case customs does want to examine it. Failing to declare may incur a hefty fine which wouldn’t be a great start to your holiday.
Sea and hiking equipment must be thoroughly cleaned, fresh fruit is not at all permitted and neither are many meat or animal products.
Rent a Car and Embark on a Road Trip
Don’t be fooled by New Zealand’s size. It may be a small country but you’ll have to do a fair bit of driving to see it all.
Chances are your international flight will land in our biggest city, Auckland. The best way to see it all would be to rent a car and drive to Wellington. Stop off at the major destinations on the way including Rotorua, Taupo, and Tongariro. Here’s a great New Zealand road trip itinerary for you to check out.
From Wellington, you could either do a full road trip by taking the car ferry over to the South Island and driving down from there.
However, the most popular option would be to return the car, then book a flight to Queenstown, our adventure capital. You’ll need a car to get around Queenstown and the neighboring cities. Make sure you check out Milford Sound, Wanaka, and Glenorchy.
Just a heads up – public transport in NZ is overpriced and never on time – don’t rely on it. You can book long bus rides from city to city which is reliable and good for budget travelers. But the easiest way to get around is by car.
Give Yourself Time
New Zealand is small comparatively, but there’s so much to see and do. One week really isn’t enough to see it all, so consider giving yourself at least two.
Many of the activities on offer are half or full day activities. This includes the extremely long list of walks, hikes, and mountains to climb. There are also many day tours including kayaking, Waiheke Island and glow worm caves. You can easily fill up your day with a single activity or destination.
If you’re pushed for time, consider skipping the north island, or at least most of it. Don’t get me wrong, there are many stunning places on the north island. But, if you’ve only got a few days, you’ll want to see the south island.
Utilize Deal Sites
Make use of deal sites to get the most bang out of your buck. These sites are used by the locals (often on a daily basis) to get a great deal on tonnes of activities and restaurants.
Grab One and Groupon are extremely popular sites and cater for all your needs on your holiday. You’ll find plenty of deals on New Zealand food, beauty, getaways, and activities. Many tourist activities are included in these deals such as jet boating, tours through the Milford Sound and to Hobbiton.
First Table is a great site for restaurant deals. Pay $10 to book the first table of the night (usually at 5:30 pm) and you’ll get 50% off the food bill. These deals are designed for 2-4 people and do not include drinks.
There is a catch. For the most popular restaurants on the site, you’ll have to be quick. Each deal is only available for the first booking of the night, so once someone has purchased the deal, it will no longer be available. Deals are released the week beforehand at midnight.
To get the most out of this deal, purchase the more expensive restaurants on the list.
BookMe.co.nz is the best deal site for tourists. You’ll find anything from skydiving to a day trip, scenic flight and more. The discount can be up to 70% off some activities.
These deals are designed to be booked last minute. The reason they are so cheap is they are the tickets that haven’t yet sold out. The deal will usually be available the day of purchase, up to two weeks thereafter.
Cook Your Own Meals
You will quickly burn through your budget if you plan to eat out everywhere you go and sometimes, you’ll find yourselves craving a home-cooked meal.
Pak’nSave is the cheapest supermarket in NZ (by a small margin). Head there and grab some local ingredients and cook up a storm.
If cooking really isn’t your thing, we’ve got you covered. Grab some rolls, ham or cooked chicken from the deli, cheese, salad, and some sauces. Make up your own filled rolls. This is also great for larger groups and fussy eaters as everyone can make up their meals just how they like them.
Also, consider making yourself your own cheese platter. Grab some cheese from the supermarket (or Farro Fresh if you want a treat), crackers, grapes, salami, and chutney.
Try the ‘Local’ Cuisine
New Zealand has quite a few local dishes. Here are my favorite picks. Why not try them all?
L&P stands for Lemon & Paeroa, a small town in the north island of New Zealand. This soft drink has been a crowd favorite in New Zealand for over 100 years
Kiwis love Whittakers chocolate. There’s something about the creamy textures and strong flavors that make it irresistible.
They’ve more recently released an artisan range with locally-sourced ingredients of the highest quality. You can’t beat Marlborough Sea Salt and Caramel Brittle and Nelson Pear and Manuka Honey.
You may have seen the beautifully-colored Paua Shells lining souvenir shops in New Zealand, but did you know you could eat the seafood inside it? Paua, more commonly known as abalone in other parts of the world, is a seafood delicacy. You can eat it raw if you’re adventurous, or eat it in a curry or fritter.
Whitebait is the name given to immature flyfish. They go extremely well as a fritter. Fry them up with eggs, salt, and pepper for a tasty meal.
Funnily enough, there are so many sheep in New Zealand that it would work out to over 20 sheep per person. There is a big market for New Zealand lamb so if you’re a keen meat eater it’s definitely one to put on the list.
The Aussies across the ditch have tried to claim this one as their own, but the Pavlova is truly a kiwi dessert. This meringue-based cake has a light, fluffy inside, and crispy crust. Top it with whipped cream and fruit, with kiwifruit being the best choice.
Queenstown is home to the most famous burger shop in the country. These burgers are huge and incredibly tasty. You know it’ll be good and worth the wait when you see the order line extending down the street!
Fish & Chips
This is the classic kiwi meal to enjoy at the beach, or anywhere really. You’ll find
Fish and Chips shops are in abundance near the most famous New Zealand beaches and are a super cheap meal.
Do it like the locals and grab some fish and chips and head to the beach or your nearest park.
Hangi is a traditional way of cooking by the New Zealand indigenous Maori. Food is cooked by super hot rocks in an underground oven. All sorts of foods are cooked in a hangi, mostly potatoes, kumara and meats.
The best way to try Hangi-cooked food is to book a cultural experience tour.