New Zealand Travel Guide

Welcome to New Zealand

Aotearoa, a land sculpted by voracious volcanoes and gentle glaciers, is an epic destination waiting to be explored.

Few places in the world can claim to match New Zealand’s beauty, but none can offer untouched landscapes alongside a rich culture and countless adventure activities.

Learn about New Zealand’s Maori history one day, go rafting or bungy jumping the next day, then hike to the top of an active volcano the next.  

New Zealand Travel Bubble

Thanks to COVID-19, New Zealand’s borders are currently closed entirely to all non-essential travel.  Essential travel typically includes approved workers and NZ citizens returning home.  All travelers into New Zealand are legally required to isolate in an approved quarantine facility.

At certain times, New Zealand opens its borders to other countries that are entirely free from COVID-19.  Travellers to and from the Cook Islands, Niue and Australia are the only countries so far to have been allowed to freely travel to New Zealand without isolation.

We recommending reading the official NZ COVID-19 website for accurate information regarding travel to and from New Zealand and the New Zealand travel bubble.

Things to Do in New Zealand

For a country of just under 5 million people, there’s a tonne of amazing places to visit in New Zealand.  Whether you’re an adventure seeker or nature lover, New Zealand has something for everyone.

For many tourists, New Zealand is a long way from just about anything, so you’ll want to make the most of your trip and make sure to tick off both islands.  

1. Maori Culture in Rotorua

 

Māori are the tangata whenua, or indigenous people, of New Zealand.  They were the founders of New Zealand prior to British settlement in the 19th Century.

Unlike with many other colonisations around the world, Māori culture has been nurtured and largely respected in New Zealand.  It is a rich culture built upon a range of cultural concepts, including respect and honour, family, harmony, and an obligation to nature.

As travellers, Rotorua is the best place to respectfully experience Maori culture.  You can visit Maraes, pa sites, and watch traditional performances, including the renowned haka.  We would also recommend fitting in a trip to visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Paihia to learn about the most influential part of New Zealand’s history.

2. Explore Queenstown

 

Named the adventure capital of New Zealand, Queenstown is the ultimate hub for anyone looking to jump out of planes, raft down whitewater rapid, or roll down a hill in a giant plastic bubble.  This Queenstown Itinerary is the perfect guide to this awesome town.

Wine-lovers will enjoy the region as the wineries in Queenstown are amongst the best in the world.  They are particularly renowned for their Pinot Noir varieties.  Likewise, the restaurants in Queenstown are awesome – with Ferg Burger being the budget option that no traveller can afford to miss.

History-buffs can explore all the cute things to do in Arrowtown, which was once a thriving gold mining town.

Nature-lovers and hikers can look a bit further afield to find some of the best hikes in New Zealand all around the region.  The Wanaka region, in particular, is home to the famous Roy’s Peak (seriously, look it up) and Isthmus walk, amongst other awesome things to do in Wanaka.  Likewise, explore the best things to do in Glenorchy for some epic hikes and great sunrises.

If you’re sold on Queenstown, make sure to check out some of the best Queenstown accommodation!

New Zealand Travel Guide (1)

3. Visit the Milford Sound

 

Truthfully, the Milford Sound really should be the 8th wonder of the world.  It is one of many magnificent fiords in New Zealand’s South Island, but it is the most popular with tourists making it easy to visit.

You’ll find majestic mountains towering above you, with water weaving throughout them.  Stunning views can be found either by taking a boat tour through the fiord, or by hiking through the forests and the mountains to view the Milford Sound from above.

If money dictates, a helicopter tour is the ultimate way to experience the best sites in New Zealand.  For most travellers, however, a bus-cruise-bus tour is the best value.  No matter your budget, we recommend making it stretch to include a cruise – there is nowhere else like this.

4. Abel Tasman National Park

 

At the Northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, you will find Abel Tasman National Park.  Stunning golden beaches, jagged granite cliffs, and jade forests.  

Travellers can get off the Interislander ferry at nearby Picton and make their way to Abel Tasman National Park.  Relaxing at the beaches is easy, but the most rewarding activity here is the famous Coastal Walk.

5. Aoraki / Mount Cook

 

New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki, is nestled within Aoraki National Park, aptly named by Doc as a rugged land of ice and rock.

Hiking to the top is no small feet – it was the pivotal training ground for Sir Edmond Hillary, one of two people to be the first to summit Mount Everest.  

Despite this, Aoraki is easily accessible by car, with a wide range of unbelievably scenic walks suitable for all skill levels.  You definitely do not need to be an experienced mountaineer to enjoy Mount Cook, but you shouldn’t try to summit it if you aren’t.

Queenstown is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand (we’d argue the world).

Check out our ultimate guide on the 63 BEST things to do in Queenstown.  Don’t miss out on the adventure capital of the world.

 

New Zealand Accommodation

New Zealand certainly isn’t considered a cheap country, but it’s really not too bad if you need to be thrifty.  

Most international backpackers opt for the van life.  Cheap Toyota Hiaces, Nissan Vanettes and Mitsubishi L300s can be picked up in Auckland fully converted and driven 2000km to the bottom of the country.  

The hostel scene is also thriving in New Zealand.  The accommodation here can be more costly than a lot of other countries, but it’s also possible to find a bed for $30-50 a night.  Private rooms will average around $100 per night, but can be found for less.

Hotels in New Zealand cover all price ranges.  The best luxury accommodation runs into 5-figures a night, but you can expect to pay about $200 per night for your typical 4 star hotel.  Sometimes less.

New Zealand Travel Tips

Currency: New Zealand Dollar

Electricity Socket: 230V AC electricity

Capital: Wellington

Population: 4.9 Million

New Zealand Visa: Most people can visit New Zealand for up to 9 months without a visa.  Check out this official list of countries with a visa exemption.  You will require an NZeTA and IVL which costs $47 here.  Anyone visiting from a country not on the aforementioned list will need to apply for a visa. Visa costs vary.

Safety: New Zealand is a very safe destination.  As with anywhere, exercise caution when alone or out at night.

Spoken Language: English is the official language of New Zealand and is widely spoken.  

Religion: 49% of New Zealanders have no religion.  37% are Christian.

Banks & ATMs: The main five banks in New Zealand are ASB, ANZ, Westpac, KiwiBank, and BNZ.  All ATMS are safe to use in NZ.  All banks charge withdrawal fees for foreign cards.  Your can minimize your withdrawal and exchange fees by getting a Transferwise Mastercard.

Sim Cards: The main telco providers in NZ are 2 Degrees, Spark, and Vodafone.  All three offer suitable coverage and are fine to use.  As kiwis, we’ve found 2 Degrees to have the best customer services so we recommend them.  Anyone can purchase a prepaid sim card for $10 – $70, check out the current pricing here.

Water:  It is safe to drink tap water in New Zealand.  If you are ever unsure, purchase bottled water or use a purifier. 

Best Way to Travel Around New Zealand

Rent or Purchase a Car / Van & Go on a Road Trip

The best way to travel around New Zealand is by car. After flying into Auckland, pick up a rental car, or purchase one, and start driving. New Zealand is small and well connected by road so a road trip is by far your best bet.

The basic road trip route starts in Auckland, loops up to Cape Reinga (the top of the North Island), then heads all the way down to Wellington, across the Cook Strait by Ferry, then down to Stewart Island.  Then either fly back to Auckland or continue your trip up the opposite coast, visiting The Catlins, Christchurch, Akaroa and the Coromandel along the west coast.

Bus Tours, Ubers and Flights

If you don’t drive (or don’t want to), then there are other great options, mainly buses, Ubers and planes.  This will be costlier, and it won’t offer you the same flexibility as having your own car.  Some of the best places to visit in New Zealand are a little out of the way.  Only major cities and towns have Ubers and taxis in New Zealand are extremely expensive.

That said, there are some decent hop on hop off buses and bus tours that can tick off the major sights.

Public Transport

Within the main towns you can also try the public transport, but New Zealand is notorious for our poor public transport system.  So good luck sitting in traffic for hours or waiting for the bus that never comes in the rain.

Hitchhiking

Despite what people might tell you, hitchhiking isn’t normal in New Zealand.  It’s not done and locals find it weird and unsafe.  New Zealand is a safe country by global standards, but hitchhiking is a part of our culture that has died out in recent years.  

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