New Zealand: Full Travel Guide|Itinerary|Tips
The Magical Land
New Zealand is enchanted oceanic couple of islands where offbeat travel can surprise you with startling hidden gems of nature. The country’s gigantic landscapes, azure lakes, vibrant geothermal vistas, snow-capped mountains and mystic fiords, are few of many treasured fairyland vistas to fall in love with. It’s so easy to get distracted with striking scenery while driving on the road, makes you pause to admire the tranquil surrounds. Other than its stunning nature, the country also offers glimpses of its thriving indigenous Maori culture that is preserved and lures many tourists.
What is New Zealand Famous for?
Magnificent Azure Lake Pukaki
New Zealand has got something for every type of traveller as there is a lot to see and do. It is also your finest hiking destination cajoled with unique backdrops. It won’t be wrong to term this country as a ‘wonder land’ for thrill seekers. This place is world renowned for its intact scenery in both islands. We constantly found ourselves mesmerised by cerulean lakes, sacred dancing water springs, hot mud pools, deep cave networks, fragrant forests, river streams and wild inlets throughout our journey.
A filming paradise for Lord of the Rings & Hobbiton Trilogies
The geography diversifies in North and South Island embracing several unique geological features, aboriginal preserves and native wildlife like Kiwi bird and few other species. Manuka Honey known for its medicinal properties originated here. Other than being geologically significant, the country is also recognised for preserving nature as part of its aboriginal Maori cultural roots.
New Zealand is also well known for its contemporary kiwi food like Fish N Chips, mouth-watering pies and hokey pokey ice cream. The country’s beloved national sport Rugby team of Maori players is known as ‘All Blacks’ and is quite popular among locals here.
Language & Cultural Influences
There are two official languages of New Zealand, English and its native, Māori. The country has been influenced majorly by western cultures after being home to indigenous Maori people. Over decades there is a mix of multi-ethnic migration which followed post the British colonisation.
Weather & Best Time to Visit
Winter transitioning into Spring
Although, New Zealand can be travelled all year around, the best time to visit is usually considered during summers (December to February) when the weather is mild making most of the country’s landscape accessible. Summers are also the peak season for New Zealand tourism allowing visitors to enjoy adventurous activities, tours and hikes.
The country gets temperate climate throughout the year in most parts and has ample sunny and rainy days. Island wide temperatures remain moderate except for alpine regions where it gets colder (temps varying up to -10°c) during winters (June to August).
Why visit in August?
Coronet Peak-A Winter Paradise
August is the cheapest time to fly to New Zealand due to low season. It is also a special time to witness the winter landscape slowly transitioning for spring, you can see a mix of snow, rain and even bright sunny days. Since this month is a low season for tourism, you can enjoy lower accommodation prices and lesser crowds everywhere along with having the whole scenery just to yourselves, isn’t it romantic!
Due to winter and snow fall in alpine regions, ski fields get flooded with tourists. Hence, increasing the hotel prices in certain surrounding areas only.
Vibrant Gorges of South Island- Hokitika
How many days do you need in New Zealand?
Commonly, 2-3 weeks should be ample to see major attractions of both islands. Consider 1 week for north and two weeks for South Island. When we browsed internet to find out things to do in New Zealand, we wanted to spend more days in South Island. So, we kept 4 days for north island and 13 days for south, taking overnight direct flights from Singapore to save time.
North island’s major tourism regions are Auckland city, Rotorua, Pahia (Bay of islands), Napier and Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. Exploring Pahia & Cape Reinga together may require an additional week due to its long driving distance from Auckland and the number of days needed to explore island hopping around Pahia which is best explored in summers.
Mesmerising Sunset in North West, Wharariki
On the other hand, South Island is more popular amongst tourists due to its dramatic scenic drives, west coast fiords & glaciers, enormous ski fields, tranquil lakes, drawn-out forests, farms and cities like Christchurch, Wanaka, Queenstown, Invercargill and Dunedin.
Medieval Structures of Dunedin
Many New Zealand travel packages target 1 week to 10 days focussing only major attractions of South Island, like Queenstown, Wanaka, Tekapo and Milford Sound. Not all but a few take you to explore some hidden gems of New Zealand which shall rather be accessed on a self-drive. A major wine region of Marlborough Sounds and Golden Bay in the north of South Island is full of magical scenery. The areas around lake Pukaki, Glenorchy and Edoras are so untouched to admire unspoilt nature and wild life.
'See & Do' in New Zealand
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New Zealand Trip Planning: (Visa, Currency, Transport, Parking, Safety, Budget)
Trip planning is not as hard once you know the basic information. The most important aspects about a destination are visa requirements, transport, currency, distances, maps, time zone, food, stay and overall budget. This helps understand what to expect when you reach and how to do things. Here is some basic information that might help in advance.
How to get New Zealand Visitor Visa
Tourist visa is known as ‘Visitor Visa’ and it is an easy process to apply online. All you have to do is check criteria online by entering your nationality, location, register a log in account and fill the form. Once you submit the form and required documents online it will tell you whether you need to visit their local office to show and verify your passports. As soon as we verified our passports at their office, we received visa approval online, it was all fast and impressive.
You can check their official website for more information.
Larnach Castle, A place of unusual vistas
The country’s currency is known as New Zealand Dollar. However, exchanging currency in New Zealand might turn out expensive. It is better to carry up to 200-300 NZD cash and some internationally accepted credit cards with you. Many shops and restaurants accept credit cards and you can use cards like YouTrip to avoid paying exchange rates on each transaction.
Unique Moraki Boulders look like Dino Eggs !
Transport Options, Amenities & Parking
New Zealand is a land of vast open spaces with low population. All of its cities and most towns have public buses & trams, few local airports, none to get around in remote areas. The sub urban rail systems are only in major cities like Auckland, Wellington & Christchurch.
Which Transport Options to Choose: You should choose your transport option as per your needs and considering the distances you are going to travel. It is easier and ideal to rent a car in order to access most parts of New Zealand. The roads are sealed and well connected everywhere to enjoy scenery while driving.
There are only a few places with gravel roads for a short patch to need a 4WD. We managed our 17-day road trip without a 4WD and didn’t feel like we needed one at all.
Basic Public Amenities: There are also ample i-Site/visitor centres, public toilets, gas stations and supermarkets across both islands, just type in your google maps to find them on the go.
Finding a safe parking is a trick
Parking in NZ, Wilsons parking lot
In cities like Auckland, Queenstown and Christchurch, it is easier to find a cab rather than finding a parking space. Many parking spaces opposite to retail shops were free after 6 pm. We also checked if there is any sign board or we simply just asked the shopkeepers if it is allowed and most of them happily helped. Always lock your car and park at secured open places where street lights are on, go for paid parking at Wilsons.
Quick Tip: Find the nearest supermarket like Countdown or New World, they usually have plenty of free parking space and also these are centrally located in most towns, so you can park safe and return carefree. We saw many camper vans parked there too.
Is it safe to travel in New Zealand?
Home to cutest Alpacas!
New Zealand is very safe for travel and yet a little bit of precaution can ensure a safe trip. We read about how car thefts are a common occurrence around isolated places. Don’t forget locking your car, thankfully at some places there are signboards to remind you.
Something that we did in advance was, we asked all our Airbnb hosts while booking about safe car parking at their premises and we only chose homes with such arrangements.
It is importance to pay attention to safety of your belongings all the times. Ensure that you need not open your packed bags once kept inside the car trunk, to avoid giving someone a chance to notice. To do that we keep a light storage bag with extra pair of clothes, jackets, moisturisers or anything we might need during the day at the backseat of our car so we don’t have to open our luggage again.
Keep cash divided amongst yourselves, never keep all the cash on one person. If you are carrying valuables, keep them on you. Also, keep copies of your passports and flight tickets handy for any emergencies.
We also check this website to read general safety concerns about any country.
The colourful streets of Picton
Your budget requirements entirely depend on how many days you plan for travelling in New Zealand. Some aspects and tips you might consider to help minimising your budget for the whole trip;
- Planning a trip in low peak season/month like august can get you cheap flights and accommodation along with less crowds on most attractions.
- Food for two costs around 40 NZD in a good diner/restaurant.
- Check for a possibility of returning a car at a different location and plan your route accordingly, this can save you some money on car rental.
- If you are travelling in a group then campervan can be a cheaper option, you save on hotel booking and can also cook in it.
- Save your parking cost by parking at supermarkets, most spaces are free after 6 pm.
- Instead of getting a new sim card, just get an international recharge, check for offers from your local operator.
Nature's Prettiest Canvas, Akaora
Tips for choosing the right accommodation in New Zealand
- Choose Centrally located homes/motels close to restaurants and markets
- Avoid choosing remote areas
- Choose towns that help cover the distance for your next day’s drive
- Check for amenities like heating, cooling as per weather
Mindful Shopping in New Zealand: What to bring back from NZ?
Since New Zealand is located far in Oceania, maximum stuff is imported from neighbouring countries and very few items are homegrown. This makes everything a bit expensive in the country. It is important to read well before you end up buying something expensive to regret later. There are some things worth buying from New Zealand.
- Wine: Sauvignon Blanc Wines from Marlborough region are the perfect souvenirs to take from NZ. Go for single vineyard wine as it is elegant and tastes better than others.
- Chocolate: Get a mix of flavoured Whittakers chocolate along with famous hokey pokey.
- Handcrafted Jewellery: Jade necklaces and handcrafted jewellery by Maori craftsmen found in various stores island wide.
The softest fur ever!
- Possum-Merino/Merino-mink/Alpaca knit wears: As frequent travellers, we highly recommend investing in some quality base layers and unique combination of merino-mink or alpaca wool sweaters from New Zealand’s local stores. The winterwear made from alpaca and possum wool are not cheap, the price range starts from 250 NZD but these are really warm, stink free and good quality. In Auckland CBD, we only found ‘The Great Kiwi Yarns’ who kept this stuff, some local retailers in Christchurch sell it too. But in central Queenstown, such shops are in abundance with more varieties.
- Winter Base Layers: We found excellent reviews of Icebreaker’s base layers and mixed reviews for Kathmandu. Honestly, Kathmandu is a bit pricey too, but heavy weight base layers from Ice breaker turned out to be worth spending the money. We practically lived in those touring the South Island. These base layers are made from 100% merino wool which do not stink and provide wonderful insulation throughout the day. The price range starts from 150 NZD per layer.