TOP 14 important things you should know before visiting New Zealand
We had that chance to live in New Zealand for a year. And this land became our home, and we know that if we ever return we will be welcomed. People there are incredibly nice and landscape is too special to even describe it! New Zealand will always be in our hearts and we will always recommend everyone to reach it at least once in a lifetime. It won`t leave anyone indifferent! New Zealand is magical, and there are not enough words to express how great this country really is. But here are some tips for you that will be useful if you are planning to reach this far land!
Let`s start with your first step in New Zealand, and that is landing in this faraway country! The border control is super-strict, therefore it is best to think over what to bring, and leave the food home! Generally, it is forbidden to bring over any fruits, nuts and plants to prevent bringing pests and diseases from the other parts of the world to this island! Also, if you have camping and hiking gear with you, it`ll be taken and cleaned just so that no other bacteria would come into this country. By the way, you will also see boot-sanitizing places before the entrances and exits in some National parks. And they are also there just to protect the environment and prevent spread of plant diseases. Basically, it is your responsibility to obey the law and follow the rules. You`re guest of this country, and therefore leave just the footprints!
2. The land
First of all, New Zealand is very far from everything. You should know this just to understand that it won`t be that cheap to come here, and therefore you should plan some longer time in NZ. It is a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. One of the closest countries to Antarctica… If you have taken this step and reached New Zealand, immerse yourself in that diversity this country can offer!
New Zealand consists of two main landmasses – South Island and North Island. It has also several hundreds of smaller islands. Because of its remoteness, New Zealand was one of the last places settled by humans. And now there are only 4.5 million people from which 3.5 million live in the North Island, mostly in the biggest city of Auckland. Yes, so the country is truly remote. Therefore, if you plan to travel around New Zealand, especially on South Island, always be prepared! You might not find gas stations and even grocery stores that often!
We are sure that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries on Earth! The landscape will surprise you every minute, it is just so incredible! From the snow-capped peaks to white-sand beaches and lush green jungle. Every 20 minutes of the drive you will find yourself in a different environment! One-third of the country consists of National parks. You can find volcanoes and hot springs, mud pools and forests, lakes, and cliffs. Seems that there is no landscape that New Zealand doesn`t have! No wonder they say you can`t make a bad picture in New Zealand!
Well, which island to choose? Usually, people say – South Island for nature and North Island for culture. Yes, South Island is much more mountainous and some of the most spectacular NP are there. It is very remote and you will find natural beauty on every step. North is inhabited by Maori, so there you will find more of Maori culture, and also – most spectacular beaches are in the North! But generally, whichever Island you might choose for your adventure, you won`t have any regrets as both of them have lots to offer!
3. The weather
Remember that New Zealand has “opposite” seasons – when it`s summer in Europe, it is winter there, and other way around. Yes, this land is located in the Southern Hemisphere! So North is generally warmer than South. That`s why the high season for New Zealand is from December to February. If you prefer to avoid crowds and all the summer activities when everything gets a bit more expensive, visit the country in shoulder season in months of November, March, and April. But winter season has also it`s pros as that is the time when ski fields are open!
Always keep in mind that the weather in NZ is rapidly changing and you should be ready for everything, especially in the mountains. Prepare for strong wind and rain! And remember that there`s a hole in the Ozone layer above the NZ so the sun is super-strong and will burn you even if it wouldn`t be that hot.
4. Flora and fauna
New Zealand has one of the most special landscapes, as well as flora and fauna. We won`t be able to cover that all, but – know for sure – it is something spectacular!
Let`s start with some plants. You`ll see huge kauri trees, rainforests, alpine and subalpine herbs, and so much more! Also, ferns are everywhere, and actually they are the national symbol of New Zealand! There are almost 200 different types of ferns here, and the symbol that has been chosen from these is Silver fern. Silver fern was used by Maori as a navigation tool at night (because if you turn the fern over, it is silver in colour and reflects the moonlight!) In NZ, you`ll also find the Manuka plant from which the famous Manuka honey comes from!
Interestingly enough, there is no native mammal besides the bat and marine mammals here, most of the mammals were introduced. Unfortunately, those have caused a lot of problems because they breed too fast as they do not have any native predators. E.g. possums are a huge issue. There are around 50 million of them already! These fluffy creatures eat kiwi bird eggs and destroy the natural environment of the country. So possums, as well as rabbits and deer, are hunted and shot. Possum fur is something everyone would recommend you to buy.
But other than that, New Zealand puts huge effort into the conservation. They are doing their best to protect their environment. There are many animals unique only to New Zealand, especially birds! Of course, you might have already heard of kiwi bird – a flightless bird with highly developed sense of smell. The bird has a long beak at the end of which it has nostrils. Then there are kea – New Zealand alpine parrot, one of the most intelligent bird species on the Planet! There are Tui birds, known for their incredible song, and kereru – New Zealand pigeon. Also, weka – very curious flightless bird roaming around the roadsides. And so many more! Support New Zealand`s conservation efforts, be a responsible traveler, and visit conservation parks, too!
And the cool thing is that there are no dangerous animals! You can go bushwalking and won`t be bitten by a snake or killed by a spider. Yeah, there are no lions, tigers, and beers. There are some boars, but mostly you will come across cows and sheep (there are around 70 million sheep in NZ!) And sand flies, of course. Those can be really annoying, especially in Fiordland. They are biting and flying into hair, eyes, and mouth! So cover up!
Well, there are two main people groups in New Zealand – around 70% are European descent and around 15% are native Maori people. And New Zealanders call themselves “Kiwis”. There are around 4.5 million inhabitants which also include Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Westerners who have stayed in this country just because it is so amazing. The majority of people live on the North Island. And yeah, more than one-third of people live in the biggest city of Auckland.
First European who arrived in New Zealand was Dutch Abel Tasman in 1642. Later on, the British came for whaling and sealing. But the first real settlers – the missionaries and traders – started to inhabit this island only from 1809. Of course, at that time the land had to be cleared from a bush, and the weather was harsh. Though there already were people inhabiting this island, and those were Maori that are considered to be the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. Maori arrived to New Zealand from Eastern Polynesian islands, between year 1280 and 1350. And, as settlers came to this island quite recently, Maori traditions are those central to NZ identity. But you will see more Maori people in the North Island. And there you can really get to know the culture of Maori.
Well, after spending almost a year in New Zealand, we noticed that there still is some friction between those from European descent and Maori. Yes, they are not always living happily together and they have some opinions about each other. But generally, these two different cultures are learning to live together and it seems that tourism has its contribution to that – if so many different nationalities meet in one place and live together, acceptance and integration is just something inevitable.
And there are plenty of tourists. It was so surprising to see so many travelers on this far island! But they truly are there. Yes, maybe for some it might be disturbing to be among backpackers, traveling families and tourists as – you probably know – the more tourists, the more difficult to find untouched places and that “real vibe”. But it`s not the case in New Zealand. Even if it is super-touristy, you`ll always be able to find a spot just for yourself!
Generally, people in this country are really welcoming and nice. We felt incredibly great in this society. Of course, most touristy places like Queenstown in South Island are not the best to meet the “real people” of New Zealand, as there are mainly tourists and working foreigners. But further in remote areas, people you`ll meet will be just amazing. We truly love them!
6. Language and culture
There are three national languages in New Zealand – English, Maori, and Sign Language. Yes, as English is spoken there, it will be easy to move around this country. You will also see lots of signs in Maori language which is widely integrated. After the settlers came, Maori were suppressed and their language and culture not taken into account. But now they are concentrating on reviving this precious Maori heritage.
But then we also have to mention that special English slang that people use. Firstly, Kiwis pronounce words differently. It was hard for us to get used to that, but after a while, we found that normal. E.g. instead of “head” you will hear “hid”, instead of “Ben”, they`ll say “Bin”, and instead of “deck”… you already know. We sometimes burst into tears from laughter when we talked with construction guys (as one of us was working in that field). And the funny thing is that they actually didn`t understand what we were laughing about.
And then there are those slang words. At the end of the sentence people in New Zealand tend to use “sweet as” to say “great”. “Flip-flops” are called “jandals” there, and that is not it. There is an endless list of the words you should read through before coming here, otherwise, it might become confusing too many times.
New Zealand is a very touristy country. You won`t be the first and not the last one here, and you will find many foreigners everywhere. But surprisingly, Kiwis are not sick of that yet even if there are some who`re blaming irresponsible campers for garbage left behind. Yes, sometimes they`re actually locals themselves polluting the nature as we saw, but tourists can be to blame, too. So always when traveling be respectful towards people you meet, towards culture you get to know and towards nature around!!!
There are millions of visitors annually, many of whom come with working holiday visa and look for the job as it is not that cheap to travel around this beautiful country without constant income. And the cool thing is that the money from tourism is invested in conservation and infrastructure.
Even if New Zealand doesn`t seem that big on the map, especially when compared with its neighbor Australia, it takes much time to move from one place to another because the country is really mountainous. You always have to add extra time for traveling. Moreover, there`s plenty to see along the way! So the wisest is to decide on your destination and check for the surroundings! The country is dotted with beautiful places so you don`t need to travel far to see something spectacular! Check out some of the places we have visited HERE
There are plenty of activities in nature like hiking, caving, rock-climbing, diving, etc. Generally, you should try at least some of New Zealand`s hiking trails as the scenery is just something incredible! There are trails all around the country with varying lengths and difficulty levels. And they are usually very well maintained, you`ll have clean public toilets, picnic spots, and garbage bins on the way. If you wish to do hiking for several days, prepare well for that as the weather changes rapidly in NZ. The coolest thing is that National parks are free – you basically just need to reach them! New Zealand is a paradise on the Earth, and you`ll see this just when you arrive!
By the way, NZ is the adventure capital of the world! Yes, there are plenty of cruises, bungee jumping offers, skydiving options, and so many more things to try! But to get them cheaper, look into www.bookme.co.nz – this homepage offers many discounted activities!
In addition, you can try to get to All Blacks game and see Maori performances!
Generally, New Zealand is a safe country to travel to. But as in any part of the world, they have their own specific things that one should consider.
Let`s start with the nature. New Zealand is located in a seismic zone and yes, there are earthquakes. Earthquakes often occur in Milford Sound – in Fiordland National Park – and can cause landslides, the roads are often blocked. There also have been very destructive earthquakes like those in Christchurch, 2011, or Kaikoura, 2016. There are lots of volcanoes and they can erupt. The last erupted in 2019 and killed many people. But as locals say, the movement of tectonic plates is the cause of that beautiful landscapes they have there!
In smaller towns, you will often hear air siren. We were quite scared by that but it is just how they alert volunteers of an emergency. So this doesn`t refer to you. If there will be a real thing, you`ll definitely know it!
Then again, be careful on the road! Accidents are quite common among foreigners that are not used to narrow, windy and hilly roads. Driving can be a challenge here!
And when visiting remote areas, prepare enough fuel if driving a car, as you might not find gas stations that often. If you`re hiking, let some trustable person know your planned route to know where you`re at in the case of the emergency as the weather conditions change rapidly and can become dangerous for you to continue the road or even return.
In New Zealand, it is a bit difficult to move around by public transport as that doesn`t reach many places. But if you still choose the bus – the National couch service in NZ is called InterCity. This is the way to get from town to town. There are also bus tours. It is generally a package in which the meals and accommodation are included, as well as some activities. Young travelers that have arrived alone to NZ often opt for this. If you`re there to meet new people, this may be good for you. There are also hop-on-hop-off buses.
Train probably won`t be an option as the railroad network is really limited. In South Island, there`s a route between Christchurch and Greymouth, and it is considered to be a very scenic ride. But it is also super-pricey. On North Island, there`s Wellington-Auckland route, but you have to check the schedule as the train doesn`t leave every hour or so.
A super-popular option is to buy a car (which is actually much cheaper than to rent one). But then be careful – you should know at least a bit about cars not to fall for a bad one. When driving yourself, you have to be cautious. Even if the roads are in good quality they are often narrow and winding through the mountains. Do not speed and do let others go pass you – be a responsible driver! Remember of the black ice – a thin layer of ice on the road that is difficult to spot. Remember of single-line bridges, too. If you need to wait for the other car to cross it first, do it!
Another option is to rent a campervan. It is comfier to travel in this, and also it`s possible to stop in designated places, prepare your meals and even sleep in your vehicle. Accommodation in NZ is quite expensive, so this option can save you some money as there are many free self-contained van parking spots around the country. What does self-contained mean? It means there`s a toilet in the van. It is possible to build the toilet in the car as well, and then you`ll be able to receive the green sticker that says – yes, you`re self-contained and allowed to stay in those self-contained parking spots.
And, if you wish to travel quickly, there are 25 domestic airports for that. Plane will get you from one place to another fast (usually between South and North Island). If you`re out of time, you might opt for this!
Yeah, and hitchhiking is allowed and works super-great here! We managed to go around South and North Island just by hitchhiking! Of course, you might need to wait for longer in more remote areas but it still works perfectly!
It is a bit pricey to stay in a hotel, the cheapest option with the roof on your head would be a hostel. Well, in our opinion, the quality of the hostels is not always matching the price. But then again, if one works in NZ, it is affordable. For an hour of work for a minimal salary, you can afford a bed in the dormitory!
But as a traveler, you might look for other options. Many tourists sleep in their cars or campervans. We didn`t have one. So we basically went around the country hitchhiking and then looked for the campgrounds. In less touristy areas they`re affordable, but in tourist spots like Queenstown, it was more expensive to camp than to stay in a hostel! Campgrounds are generally nice, there are toilets, hot showers (sometimes you need to use to coin to get hot water and it is a time-limited option), and kitchen.
There is also something like freedom camping. This is basically a campground you don`t need to pay for staying. But there are very few available for people with a tent only as there might not be toilet facilities. Usually, free campgrounds are for those with self-contained cars and campervans. Generally, it is super-hard to find a place where to randomly pitch up the tent. Firstly, it is forbidden just because the previous travelers left too much of a mess after them, and secondly, much of the land is privately owned. Well, we weren`t able to afford camping ground every time, so we stayed in random places as well, but it was so hard to find them!
If you stay in New Zealand for a longer time, you can rent a room which will be cheaper than staying in a hotel or hostel. Yes, many just pay monthly for their bed in a hostel, but it is loud, uncomfortable, and with little or no privacy. But even in Facebook Marketplace, you can find great rooms. Though the tricky part is when the winter starts. It is so cold just because houses in New Zealand are poorly maintained, there`s no good insulation. We were freezing outside and then returned to our cold room. No central heating, no fireplace, maybe just a heater that does take too much electricity and doesn`t help much.
11. SIM and internet
As you already know now, in New Zealand you`ll find really remote places and there won`t be Wi-fi and not even phone coverage! But in the cities, you will find Wi-fi and without trouble, you`ll be able to connect to public Wi-fi on the street. Some hotels and campgrounds give out a code for Wi-fi and it`ll be with limited data. So if you need to use internet a lot, you`ll need a SIM.
It is easy to buy a SIM card. The most popular phone operators are Vodafone and Spark. We actually swapped Spark to Vodafone as the last one had better deals at that time. But you can just go around the phone stores and ask, compare the prices and chose the most appropriate option for yourself.
If you get in trouble, good to know the emergency number in NZ is 111. It`ll connect you to emergency services like ambulance, firemen, and police.
But, when you`re hiking in the mountains, do not forget personal locator beacon! When you`re out in a wild, you probably will be out of the phone coverage as well. So then PLBs and satellite messengers can become handy – just if something happens so you can send the distress signals. Of course, this is a device to use in emergencies only. If you have an accident and your phone is out of coverage, by using the beacon you`ll be able to send the signal of emergency.
Well, as we already mentioned, New Zealand has not that much colorful history and culture except the native Maori. And therefore the most traditional food is generally that from Maori people, like e.g., hangi – meat and veggies cooked in a pit dug in the ground. Yes, locals will tell you that fish and chips, and pie is something traditional, but that is not really different from those in the UK. If you`re not vegetarian, then fish might be something you might try as in coasts of New Zealand you`ll be able to find much fish you won`t easily find anywhere else. And also, oysters.
Yes, NZ has lots of foreigners, therefore you`ll be able to find Asian, Arabic, Indian and other cuisines here as well. But keep in mind that eating out is super-expensive. And if you do it often, you might get broke. At least tipping is not expected.
Of course, if you have that possibility (if you have a kitchen available in your hostel) cook your own food. Prices in the store might seem quite high. We were especially surprised when we saw locally grown fruits and vegetables being more expensive than imported ones. But, hey, you always need to compare the prices with wages! And the funny thing is – in Latvia, it is more expensive for locals to buy food than for locals in New Zealand! Our minimal wage is 2.50 euros per hour and we have to work for an hour to get a pack of milk, but in NZ, where the minimal wage is 17.70 NZ dollars per hour, they have to work couple of minutes to afford a pack of milk for 4 NZ dollars.
Generally, there`s lots of processed food, many people are overweight, and no wonder. Fast food is popular. So cooking yourself would be the best option. But if you cook at home or in your campervan, be responsible and sort out the rubbish!
The coolest thing is that water is super-safe here! Yes, generally tap water is also safe to drink! If you`re up in the mountains, you might also drink from a fresh stream!
And then it comes to alcohol. Well, it is quite expensive to drink in the bar, so usually, people just grab some booze in the store and enjoy it in the picnic spots. Yes, it is allowed to drink on the street, but not in every random area. The best is to google the map of the alcohol ban areas in that specific location you`re at. Also, when shopping, take along your passport even if you`re thirty years of age. Yes, they were asking us for papers even if we definitely do not look under 18 anymore.
But what to drink? NZ offers a wide range of very, very good wine. And it is also super-affordable. Pinot Noir is their specialty. And in many parts of the country, you can go for a winery tour or just stop by a vineyard and ask for the wine. Well, we`re beer-lovers. And luckily NZ has quite a lot of different craft beers. But for a cheaper option, there`s Monteith`s beer brewery which has nice affordable beer and also Mac`s.
Well, New Zealand is a bit expensive for shopping, but you can find real gems in this country you won`t find anywhere else in the world, like e.g. possum fur and Manuka honey. More about these read HERE.
Of course, there are more exclusive and cheaper souvenir stores. What can you bring back from New Zealand? Apart from the gems we mentioned above, you can always take a bottle of wine, everything about the kiwi bird or Lord of the Rings memorabilia. Also Maori art or paua shell gifts as well as New Zealand`s jade (pounamu). You can buy some things straight from the farms and sellers on the roadside when traveling around!
If you go for grocery shopping, remember to take your own bag as bags don`t come for free – there`s a plastic-bag ban. And that is amazing! If you look for cheap options for clothing, hiking gear, sports equipment, etc. you might go to OP shop (which is a second-hand shop) or Warehouse and K-Mart, while the cheapest groceries are always in Pack`N`Save (the next option can be Countdown).
Hopefully, these couple of tips will help you to get around this land of the Long White Cloud easily and enjoy it fully!