11 Essential Tips For Your New Zealand Vacation

arrive in nz
arrive in nz

New Zealand is tiny but terrific; a total land area of 104, 000 square miles (268,000Km) when compared to approx. 3.8 million square miles for America, or China, or mainland Europe. Don’t be deceived by the numbers. Those 104, 000 square miles are overflowing with scenic beauty, unmissable destinations and unique experiences.

The contrast between New Zealand and the rest of the world is not just confined to land area. They do things differently in New Zealand, and some of those things should be into your vacation planning.

How long should you stay – and how long will your visa LET you stay?


Visitors from any nation listed as a “visa waiver country” can stay in New Zealand for upto three months without having to apply for a visa. Visa waiver status applies to many countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan.

The full list of NZ Visas can be found here

Visitors without “visa waiver country” status can apply for a visa through New Zealand Immigration.

A guide to applying can be found here

As to how long you should stay: how long have you got?


New Zealand has two main islands: the North and South islands.  A two-week vacation will let you see a fair portion of both but you’d have to travel every day. If you can, stay three to four weeks at least. New Zealand is only 1,000 miles long but with so much to see, it might take longer than you think to experience all that this big little country has to offer.

Where should you go on your New Zealand Vacation?


While we’ve said we won’t tell you all the places to go on your NZ vacation, we can give you some names to research. In a 2018 survey by a New Zealand car hire company, these were voted the Top 20 destinations for an NZ Vacation. Google the names, and let the images speak for themselves.

Picturesque by day and dazzling by night, Lake Tekapo is part of a Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect spot for stargazing.

Milford Sound
New Zealand’s most stunning natural attraction. With its magical combination of mountain peaks, ink-dark waters and superb dramatic forest-clad cliffs, it must be seen to be believed.

Cathedral Cove, Coromandel
In New Zealand’s North, you will see stunning views of the coast guide you to the dramatic cliffs and iconic rock archway of Cathedral Cove. This is one of best short walks in New Zealand.

Mount Maunganui
A holiday paradise – surf, swim, play golf, shop, dine or simply relax or even soak up the atmosphere. There’s no pressure in Mount Maunganui, just take your time to enjoy the pace of life you want.

Abel Tasman National Park
Renowned for its golden beaches, sculptured granite cliffs, and its world-famous coast track. The Abel Tasman National Park is New Zealand’s smallest national park – but it’s perfectly formed for relaxation and adventure.

An ideal spot to go fishing, hiking, skiing, wine-tasting or golfing. The city also hosts Warbirds Over Wanaka, the largest three-day air show in the Southern Hemisphere.

Tongariro National Park
New Zealand’s oldest national park and a dual World Heritage area. This status recognises the park’s important Maori cultural and spiritual associations as well as its outstanding volcanic features.

Where New Zealand began – Swim with the dolphins. Go kayaking, swimming, fishing, or picnic along secluded beaches. Walk or drive to the spectacular Haruru Falls. Learn about early New Zealand history where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed.

Each of the seasons has its own special vibe in Queenstown, and the great thing is that most activities can be accessed all year round. Home to a huge choice of adrenaline activities including jet boating, bungy jumping, white water rafting, skydiving and even indoor thrills.

Nestled on the banks of the mighty Waikato River and is known for its walks, gardens, cafes and nightlife.

A historic French and British settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. Explore the village with its colonial architecture, galleries, craft stores, and cafés. Relax or take part in the many activities that are on offer

Street after street of stunning and beautifully-restored Art Deco buildings have made Napier famous as one of the most complete collections of Art Deco buildings in the world.

Located in the South Island this city is full of authentic welcoming characters that tell it like it is. With abundant wildlife on its doorstep and heritage buildings housing the great cafes and nightlife why wouldn’t you visit?

A resilient city that continues to show that creativity will get you through the hard times. Since the devastating 2011 earthquake, ongoing reconstruction efforts have solidified the city’s place as one of New Zealand’s best travel destinations.

A city with a lot of character. As New Zealand’s largest and most diverse city, it is definitely a place to visit if you’re looking to experience an array of different attractions. 

Whether you’re looking for world-class surf, stunning scenery, beautiful beaches, inspiring arts or simply a good old cup of coffee, Raglan has something for everyone.

Waiheke Island
A haven of beautiful vineyards, olive groves and beaches, all just a 40-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland.

Famous for its 20-odd vineyards and most within walking or cycling distance of the village square. Martinborough is full of colonial charm and crisscrossed with walking and cycle tracks to explore.

New Plymouth
Dominated by Mount Taranaki, an almost perfect volcanic cone from which the region takes its name, Taranaki is noted for dairying, and its petro-chemical and engineering industries.

New Zealands Capital – while it is a small city, it is an incredibly cool little capital, and exudes a large amount of character and charm. From the world’s best coffee, to scenic views which will blow your mind, a unique and cozy bar scene, and accessibility to both the North and South Islands, Wellington is one of those city’s you really shouldn’t miss.

Limited for time on your vacation?

If you have limited time, and can only visit one part of the country, remember this: the South Island has the amazing alpine scenery you saw in the Lord of the Rings movies; Queenstown is the perfect example. The South Island is also perfect for high-adrenaline activities like skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, or rafting.

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NZ vacation trip

The North Island is a cultural hot-spot with excellent museums and galleries in Auckland and Wellington, plus centers of great historical significance, usually connected to the country’s Maori culture and European settlement e.g. Rotorua and the Bay of Islands.

kiwiana miss home

When to go to New Zealand

Lake Wakatipu Queenstown New Zealand

The summer season, December to February, sees New Zealand at its busiest. Most international visitors arrive at this time, while many locals also take an extended summer vacation. As a result, accommodation prices increase to reflect demand. The cooler fall/winter months, from May to September, see smaller crowds and lower prices on accommodation and airfares.

New Zealand’s weather doesn’t always stick to the script. It can snow in summer, especially in the South Island– and be extremely warm in winter. Average variations between winter and summer temperatures in Auckland are just 16 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s best, therefore, to take a year-round wardrobe to New Zealand including at least one thick coat, even in summer.

  • Spring average daytime temperatures
    • September, October, November: 61-66F (16-18C)
  • Summer average daytime temperatures
    • December, January, February: 68-77F (20-25C)
  • Fall (fall is called autumn in NZ) average daytime temperatures
    • March, April, May: 62–70F (16-21C)
  • Winter average daytime temperatures
    • June, July, August: 53-61F (11-16C)
  • Sunshine hours – most of New Zealand has over 2000 sunshine hours every year.
    • Sunniest areas are Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay (both on the East Coast of the North Island), and Nelson and Marlborough (both at the top of the South Island)
  • Average rainfall – approx. 43 inches per year.
    • Highest rainfall is on the west coast of the South Island with 63 inches.

For weather forecasts during your stay

Money matters

getting money in nz e

Tipping isn’t compulsory in New Zealand. By all means, leave a tip for exceptional service, but service staff won’t chase you down the street if you don’t.

The news gets even better when you consider the exchange rate for many visitors who arrive in New Zealand with plenty of buying power. At the time of writing:

  • One American dollar would buy NZD $1.50
  • One Euro would buy NZD $ 1.72
  • One British pound would buy NZD $ 1.93

How you use that buying power depends on the type of accommodation you choose, how you transport yourself around the country, and what sort of places you eat out at. For daily living costs in New Zealand, and how they compare to the rest of the world, click here.

New Zealand offers the same payment methods as anywhere else in the world: cash, credit card, debit card etc. Also, hold onto your small change – it could be worth more than you think because New Zealand uses coins for one dollar and two-dollar denominations.

Getting the best deals on tours, travel and accommodation in NZ

climb mt taranaki

New Zealand is a wonderful country, and like most Island Nations, it is on the pricier side of countries to visit. We admit that it’s not cheap, so let’s try and get the best bang for your dollar (or euro!) Below are a few of our favourite places that will get the most from your vacation.

One of the best places to get deals anywhere in New Zealand. Groupon offers limited-time offers on dining, travel and wellness products and services, with new deals added to the mix daily.

One of the greatest finds for travelling around New Zealand is BookMe. Find deals and book activities, attractions, restaurants and more awesome things around New Zealand.

Not sure what to see and do while you’re in New Zealand? Get tips from a local! New Zealand has many i-site locations designed just for travelers like you. Each site has local experts who are bilingual. They can help you with a lot of free information for your New Zealand adventure, from:  guides and maps, booking services for: rental vehicles, accommodation, tours and transport, attractions activities and travel sims or cards for public transport services.
Google: i-Site “Your destination”

Want to get around quickly? Grabaseat is the best place to get great flight deals around New Zealand. You will find the airfares a lot cheaper that AirNZ’s main website and yes it is a real website.

Flying to New Zealand for your Vacation

Southern Alps

The flight to New Zealand is a long one. 12 hours from the West Coast of America, 13 hours from China, 14 hours from India and, in total, about 24 hours from Europe! So, pack your carry-on luggage accordingly. Take a neck pillow and eye mask to help you sleep, and moisturiser so your skin doesn’t dry out. Dress in loose and comfortable layers; temperatures on a flight can vary greatly so by layering you won’t feel too cold or too hot.

Competition between the increasing number of airlines that now fly into New Zealand means lower fares. As many travelers are keen to break up the long journey, some airlines allow for a stopover at minimal cost…or sometimes for free. For example, many American visitors flying on Fiji Airways or Air Tahiti Nui to New Zealand will enjoy a day or two in Fiji or Tahiti on the way. Meanwhile, a similar option exists for travellers going to or from Europe, with stopovers available in Asia or the Middle East.

Welcome to Auckland, New Zealand


Most international flights into New Zealand land at Auckland; a population of 1.7 million people makes it New Zealand’s largest city. The airport itself looks like any modern airport, although it is much more compact than JFK, Heathrow or Beijing Capital.

Moving through customs and passport control is easy compared to most international airports. It is a relaxed welcome, but there are still rules to follow, particularly about what you can bring into the country. Unprocessed food is not allowed, so that apple you put in your backpack for a mid-flight snack, and promptly forgot about, must be thrown away on arrival.

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Most processed foods can be brought in, but if in doubt, declare it on your arrival card and let customs decide.

More information can be found here.

The airport is 16 miles south of Auckland’s city center. Transport into the CBD includes:

  • Uber: fare depends on price surge
  • Taxi: average fare from NZD$38 in a budget taxi upto NZD$75 for corporate taxi
  • Airport Skybus: NZD$18 one way, NZD$34 round trip (as of June 2019)
  • Airport shuttle van: around NZD$35 for one person, then NZD$8 for each other person in your group

To check how your currency compares to those New Zealand dollar prices, go here. 

If Auckland is your gateway to the rest of New Zealand, and you’re flying straight to another destination, a free shuttle bus will take you to the domestic terminal, or you can walk there in about 10 minutes. To make your walk easier, check your luggage at the Domestic Transfer area at the international terminal at least 60 minutes before your onward flight.

Getting around New Zealand

Abel Tasman Nat Park

New Zealand has an extensive bus network although a rental car or motorhome will let you set your own schedule.

Flying between cities will save time; the two main domestic carriers are Air New Zealand and Jetstar. Smaller airlines like Sounds Air or Chatham Air can take you to regional centers. Sites like grabaseat.co.nz or skyscanner.co.nz have low fares if you book early enough.

Buses have replaced trains on many routes. However, there are some spectacular rail journeys to check out at kiwirail.co.nz/. These include:

  • Northern Explorer: Auckland to Wellington through the heart of the North Island.
  • Coastal Pacific: Picton, Blenheim and Kaikoura to Christchurch along the east coast of the South Island.
  • TranzAlpine: Christchurch to Greymouth, considered one of the world’s most scenic railway journeys.

Public transport is busy during school breaks, so book early. Major school breaks in New Zealand occur at these times:

  • Mid to late April
  • Early to late July
  • September/October
  • December/January (the main summer school vacation of 5-6 weeks)

If you decide to drive around New Zealand, remember that New Zealanders drive on the left-hand side of the road. Most urban roads are very good; traffic jams at peak hour can occur, but freeways flow well at all other times.

Outside city limits, roads change significantly. Multi-lane freeways become two-way roads (with overtaking lanes at regular intervals), and they can be narrow, winding and steep, particularly in mountain or rural areas.

To travel from one island to the other, take your vehicle on the Interislander Cook Strait ferry between Wellington in the North Island and Picton in the South Island. Ticket information at greatjourneysofnz.co.nz/interislander/

Speed limits are in kilometres, not miles. 50 kilometers an hour (31 miles an hour) is the speed limit within the city, and on open roads the maximum limit is 100 kilometers an hour (62 miles an hour). Rain, ice and snow can make roads treacherous, so drive to the conditions and not necessarily the speed limit.

You can drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months with a current driver’s license from your home country, or an International Driving Permit. The common legal age to hire a car is 21 years. If you’re hiring during summer, book ahead, as there’s peak demand at this time of year.

A motorhome gives you great flexibility. New Zealand allows freedom camping in some areas, but for laundry, kitchen and shower facilities, book into a campground or holiday park. They’re usually good value, and are often in scenic settings.

Sleeping, wining, and dining


The Airbnb phenomenon has well and truly arrived in New Zealand. This has led to greater competition in the accommodation industry, and lower room rates. According to budgetyourtrip.com/new-zealand, a typical double-occupancy hotel room is USD $133. (116 Euro, 104 British Pounds, 9, 251 Indian Rupee, 913 Chinese Yuan)

Hostels and backpacker accommodation, especially in popular tourist areas, are an even cheaper alternative, about half the price of a standard hotel room.

One of the biggest differences between New Zealand and the rest of the world is the dining scene. As you have already read, tipping is not expected. But the differences don’t end there:

  • Portion sizes in New Zealand tend to be smaller than in most countries. This is particularly the case in the more expensive high-end restaurants.
  • In New Zealand, an entrée is a starter course before the main course, NOT the main course.
  • Many restaurant kitchens in smaller towns close early in the evening, so a late-night walk-in might not be possible.
  • Smoking is not permitted in most outdoor dining settings.

If you want to cook your own food, there are many farmers markets – farmersmarkets.org.nz –  and supermarkets to choose from. The supermarkets don’t stock as many ready-to-cook dinners as other countries, particularly America and the United Kingdom, but fresh produce is of high quality, and most have their own bakery.

New Zealand produces world class wines. Many restaurants boast an impressive local wine list, and most wineries offer free or low-cost tastings.

wine in nz

The main wine regions include:

  • Hawkes Bay, east coast of the North Island. Specialising in Bordeaux reds, syrah, and chardonnay.
  • Gisborne, north of Hawkes Bay. Specialising in chardonnay
  • Martinborough, just north of Wellington. Specialising in pinot noir
  • Marlborough, top of the South Island. A short drive from the ferry terminal at Picton. Specialising in, and world famous for, sauvignon blanc.
  • Central Otago, in the south of the South Island, around the Queenstown area. Specialising in pinot noir

If it’s coffee you’re after, try the local specialty served in every cafe: a flat white. This is a milky coffee, but highly recommended. If you want a dash of cream in your black coffee, ask for a small jug of milk.

Summary: Kiwis are cool

Marlborough Sounds by bike

New Zealanders are called “Kiwis’ after the rarely-seen native bird. They’re laidback, hospitable and helpful. So, while we encourage you to do your planning prior to your New Zealand vacation, you can rest assured that there’ll be a friendly Kiwi close at hand and ready to help should those plans ever go awry.