Everything you need to know before you visit New Zealand

Queenstown, New Zealand

New Zealand is a natural wonder… No doubt about it. From the volcanic landscape of the North Island to the snow capped mountains of the South Island.

It’s just a simply stunning place to visit, and that is before you get into anything else that New Zealand has to offer.

I’ve been very fortunate enough to have been able to visit New Zealand on several occasions, both the north and the south islands, so what I thought I would do is put together my comprehensive advice to help you make planning your visit so much easier.

Fun Fact: While New Zealand only appears to be a small country on the map, it’s actually larger than the UK and only a bit smaller than Japan. That said, it holds a much smaller population. So it will take you more than just a couple of days to see what it has to offer.

New Zealand is a very geographically diverse country with the two big islands very distinctly different, offering so many amazing places to explore.

If you really want to visit both islands and get a really good feel for what New Zealand has to offer I would really recommend that you give yourself at least two weeks, a week each on the North and South Islands. That said you could easily spend a month or longer!

During my travels to New Zealand, I’ve picked up plenty of tips, both from locals and my own experience that I think you will find very valuable in planning your first trip to New Zealand.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Pools and Rotorua is only a couple of hours drive from Auckland

Internet/Mobile Phones/Data in New Zealand

I’ll kick this off with pro-tip straightway… You don’t need to spend the money on global roaming service from your home provider when you travel to New Zealand.

You’ll save yourself a tonne of money by simply picking up a prepaid travel sim from either Spark or Vodafone when you arrive in the country. And its much easier!

Both Auckland and Queenstown international airports (I’m sure the others do as well but I’ve never flown into them directly) have Spark and Vodafone stores where you can pick up a travel sim for with a decent amount of data and free local calls and texts for as little as $49(NZD).

For myself, since a lot of what I do is reliant on having internet access, I tend to pick up the $99(NZD) travel sim pack just to give myself some extra data (20GB from memory). But the companies websites have all the latest details and up to date pricing.

From my experience, there is no real difference between Spark or Vodafone in the cities. However, if you are planning on visiting some of the more regional areas around New Zealand, maybe you are renting a campervan and road-tripping around, then Spark tends to have better coverage in those areas.

WiFi connectivity is also sporadic across New Zealand. You’ll find it much easier to find free WiFi in the cities and tourist hubs like Auckland, Rotorua and Queenstown, but outside of that offering WiFi is not really a common practice.

It’s also worth noting that even though some hotels (definitely not all) do offer WiFi, it can be horrendous slow.

Internet connectivity on the go is probably the only real downfall about New Zealand, so just make sure you pick up a travel sim.

Rental Cars in New Zealand

New Zealand is a great place to explore and while there are a couple of bus services to get you between cities (no intercity trains though) and some of the key attractions, the best way to really explore the country properly is to have a car.

Just take my advice when planning your trip to New Zealand, at some point you will need a car. So definitely account for renting one in your planning, you’ll thank me later!

All the big-name rental car companies have a presence in New Zealand, but they tend to be quite expensive.

I’ve found that you can save a significant of money by renting a car through one of the companies that tend to use slightly older cars like Go Rental and Rent-A-Dent. I’ve used both in the past and never had any issues.

It’s worth noting that the cheaper rental companies don’t tend to have a presence at the airports, but you can easily book cars with them online in advance. Both Go Rental and Rent-A-Dent include airport pickups are part of their service, so it’s not a huge inconvenience.

One other thing to keep in mind is that fuel (both petrol and diesel) is also quite expensive in New Zealand. It’s also worth keeping in mind that service stations (petrol stations) can be few and far between in some of the more regional areas if you are planning on exploring all the stunning landscapes that the country has to offer.

Now don’t let any of the information freak you out. New Zealand is really one of those countries best explored by car. You just make sure that you account for that in your planning and keep a bit more room in your budget to cover these costs than you might expect at home.

Jet-boating just outside of Queenstown
Jet-boating just outside of Queenstown

Getting Around New Zealand

As I just mentioned, having a car will make your life a lot easier to get around New Zeland.

Mass transit has been a bit of an afterthought in the small country, in fact, boats were one of the primary forms of transport for a long time in New Zealand.

Nowadays infrastructure like motorways and trains are slowly being built u, particularly around Auckland as the city continues to grow. Other cities tend to rely on the good network of bus services they’ve developed over the years.

Once you get outside the cities, you definitely going to want to have a car. And as I’ve said before driving around New Zealand really is the best way to properly explore the country.

Literally, the entire countryside is a stunningly picturesque landscape that you’ll want to keep stopping to photograph. Plus, the roads are a lot of fun to drive, even at the signposted speed limits.

Just another tip about driving in New Zealand, navigation can be a little tricky so I find it be handy to use a service like Google Maps to save myself from getting too lost.

I’ve found in the past what appeared to be a major road from looking at maps and route numbers turned out to be small single-lane tracks and as a result, I’ve missed many turnoffs and alike.

So with that in mind, do take advantage of some sort of GPS service be it a physical unit that you buy or rent or the maps services on your phone (which you’ll need data for). It will save you a bit of time and hassle.

Money in New Zealand – Credit Cards/Cash

You might probably already know that New Zealand uses the New Zealand Dollar, which is typically worth just a bit less than the Australian Dollar.

Depending on the exchange rate at the time $1AUD (Australian Dollar) will buy you roughly between $1.20NZD and $1.01NZD as some general advice. Definitely look up the most recent exchange rate while planning your trip.

While we are on the topic of money for New Zealand, I’ve also got a couple of tips that will keep you out of trouble while you are there.

I would highly recommend that you carry cash with you while you are in New Zealand. While most developed countries have modernised with contactless card (PayPass/tap payments) and other payment options, cash is still a key payment method in New Zealand, especially in the more regional areas.

Sure you might be able to get away with using international credit cards etc in the bigger cities and tourist hubs like Auckland and Queenstown, but once you start to explore more of the country, those facilities become harder to find with a lot of places only accepting cash. ATM’s can also be a little tricky to locate outside of the cities as well.

It’s not a big hassle, it’s just something to keep in mind. I have been caught out a couple of times stopping to get some lunch or dinner, in what I thought would have been a decent-sized town to find out most of the stores and restaurants only accepted cash. Then I’d have to go and search for an ATM. So it’s just a good idea to make sure you’ve got a little bit of NZD on you in cash, just to be on the safe side.

Tipping: Another thing to note is that tipping is not a common occurrence in New Zealand nor is it expected. That said if you feel staff you have dealt have done an exceptional job, no doubt they will appreciate it.

New Zealand has so many stunning landscapes to explore
New Zealand has so many stunning landscapes to explore

Keeping Healthy in New Zealand

If you haven’t already seen it, you might find my keeping healthy while travelling overseas post useful for some more general tips.

For New Zealand, specifically though, treat it like any modern country you might travel to. The tap water is generally fine to drink and you’ll find that pharmacies and medical services fairly easy to locate throughout the country.

One thing I would really recommend, particularly if you are looking to enjoy some of the adventure sports that New Zealand is famous for around Queenstown and Rotorua, is to invest in some travel insurance.

When it comes to these things it is just better to be safe than sorry, particularly mountain biking, snowboarding or even zorbing. I typically use Cover-More for travel insurance as the odd times I’ve needed to make a claim I haven’t had any issues.

New Zealand’s Immigration and Customs

Much like Australia, New Zealand takes its customs and immigration process very seriously.

Customs officials have definitely held me up at the airport for wearing boots that looked like hiking boots just in case they were dirty.

They are very protective of their local flora and fauna, and understandably so, so just make sure that your shoes are clean and that you don’t pack any food, animal or wood items when you are making the trip to New Zealand. 

For more of the latest up to date information about New Zealand’s Visa, Immigration and Customs head on over to New Zealand’s official tourism website – https://www.newzealand.com/au/visas-and-immigration/

Conclusion

All in all, New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful country to visit. I think you’ll find that it won’t matter how much time you give yourself to explore it, it just won’t be enough. However, hopefully these tips will allow you to hit the ground running so you can really make the most of your time there.

If you’d like to get some more information to help in planning your trip to New Zealand… I’ve got a whole series of blog posts with all sorts of tips and advice to you.

Feel free to share this post with your friends and if you’d like some more general travel tips, head on over to my travel tips page for plenty more advice.

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And if you have a travel-related question you would like me to answer, head on over to my contact page to get in touch and let me know.

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About the Author: Rhys Vandersyde

Traveller, Photographer, Content Creator. I've spent the last 10 years exploring all over the world, but there is still plenty more to see. Find out more about me at vandersyde.com.au

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