Everything you need to know before you visit New Zealand for the first time

Queenstown, New Zealand
Queenstown, New Zealand

Heading to New Zealand for the first time? Great, it’s such a fantastic country to visit!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled over to New Zealand a few different times in the last couple of years, mostly with work, but every time I do get to make the trip I’m always looking for new and interesting places to explore. While only a small country, there are so many amazing places to explore all over in New Zealand, it would be impossible to make a proper dent in all that the country has to offer in just a quick trip there.

During these travels, I’ve picked up plenty of tips, both from locals and my own experience, which I think will be handy for first-timers to New Zealand. So I’ve compiled them and put them in this blog post. Here’s what I think you need to know when you visit New Zealand for the first time.

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

Internet/Mobile Phones/Data in New Zealand

Don’t bother with global roaming when you head to New Zealand, you will be much better off picking up a prepaid travel sim from either Spark or Vodafone when you arrive in the country.

Both Auckland and Queenstown 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 just $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.

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, then Spark tends to have better coverage in those areas.

Wi-Fi connectivity is also sporadic. Cities and tourist hubs like Auckland, Rotorua and Queenstown it is much easier to find, but in small towns its highly unlikely you’ll find Wi-Fi.

It’s also worth noting that even some hotels don’t offer Wi-Fi and if they do the internet can be horrendous slow. It’s probably the only real downfall of New Zealand, so if you are very dependant on requiring an internet connection like I am (for work), 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 main attractions, the best way to really explore the country properly is to have a car. Especially if you would like to take the time to appreciate and even photograph all the stunning landscapes.

All the big-name rental companies have a presence in New Zealand, but they tend to be quite expensive. I’ve found that you can save a lot of money by going with a rental car company that tends to use slightly older cars like Go Rental and Rent-A-Dent. I’ve used both in the past and never had any issues.

The cheaper rental companies don’t tend to have a presence at the airports, but you can easily book cars with them online. 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 quite also expensive in New Zealand and service stations (petrol stations) can be few and far between in some of the more regional areas.

Now don’t let any of the information get you down. New Zealand is really one of those countries best explored by car, just make sure you’ve got 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

Again having a car makes 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 being built up around Auckland as its start to grow. While the other cities tend to rely on the good network of bus services they’ve developed over the years.

However, it’s having a car and driving around New Zealand that is the best way to really properly explore the country. Literally, the entire countryside is a stunningly picturesque landscape that’ll you’ll want to keep stopping to photograph. Plus the roads are a lot of fun to drive, even at the signposted speed limits.

One thing to keep in mind is that 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 I thought would have been major road from looking at maps and route numbers turned out to be small single-lane tracks and as a result, I’ve missed turnoffs and alike.

So with that in mind, do take advantage of some sort of GPS 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 probably already know that New Zealand uses the New Zealand Dollar, which is typically worth just a bit less than the Australian Dollar. 1AUD equals roughly between 0.97NZD and 0.90NZD depending on the economics at the time.

While we are on the topic, I’ve also got a couple of notes about using money in New Zealand. Carrying cash with you is certainly recommended while you are in New Zealand. Bigger cities and tourist hubs like Auckland and Queenstown are certainly set up to use credit cards and things like PayPass/tap payments without any issues. But once you start to explore the country more some of those facilities are harder to find with a lot of places only accepting cash, while ATM’s can be also a little more difficult to locate.

It’s just something to keep in mind if your travelling from Australia, Europe or the US where living off your cards makes life easier. 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 once you look to leave the cities that you’ve got a bit of cash with you.

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, check out my keeping healthy while travelling overseas post, so 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 pharmacies and medical services fairly easily 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, particularly in Queenstown and Rotorua is to invest in some travel insurance. It’s 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 held me up for wearing brand new 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 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/

For more of my New Zealand travel content make sure you follow along on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to find out when those are up. If you’d like to get in touch for any reason head on over to my contact page.

You might like

About the Author: Rhys Vandersyde

Traveler, Photographer, Content Creator. I've spent the last 10 years exploring all over the world, but there is still plenty more to see.

Pin It on Pinterest