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New Zealand Travel Advice: How to Plan a Trip to New Zealand

What you need to know about planning a trip to New Zealand.

So you’re thinking of travelling to New Zealand! That’s awesome! This guide to how to plan a trip to New Zealand is a great place to start. Follow this New Zealand travel advice and you’ll see just how easy a trip to New Zealand can be. This guide will be a complete introduction for anyone just thinking about making dreams of a trip to New Zealand a reality. We’ll go through the nitty gritty of what to consider when planning a trip, linking to a whole bunch of information if you really want to take a deep dive into our New Zealand travel advice.

This article aims to be as broad as possible taking into account different time frames for travelling New Zealand. We mainly focus on budget travel but the information can be applied to all kinds of travel in New Zealand.

About New Zealand

First, let’s cover a little bit about New Zealand!  New Zealand consists of two main islands, the North Island and the South Island, as well as a whole bunch of smaller surrounding islands. For instance, Stewart Island and Waiheke Island are among the most popular.

Why do travellers come to New Zealand?

New Zealand is mostly famous for its outstanding natural beauty! Despite being a small country of around 260,000km2, New Zealand boasts a variety of landscapes from mountains to beaches, volcanoes to lakes, and so much more. Thanks to this outdoors playground, New Zealand is well-known for it’s outdoor activities.

Who are the population of New Zealand?

The first human settlers to New Zealand were the Maori, Polynesian people, who first discovered New Zealand around the 1300s. European settlers, mostly the British, colonised New Zealand in the 1800s. For this reason, the language in New Zealand is English, while the Maori language is still used and taught in schools. New Zealand has a mostly westernised culture with a mix of Polynesian culture from the Maori heritage. Check out more about the history of New Zealand in this article.

Flying Kiwi

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When is the best time to visit New Zealand?

New Zealand has a famous saying: “Four seasons in a day”. This means that you will pretty much experience a variety of weather no matter what the season is. For this reason, we do not recommend planning your trip in New Zealand around the weather. Nevertheless, here is what you can typically expect in each season:

Summer (December – February)

Summer is the warmest time of year reaching highs of 25°C. It is also the most popular time to travel New Zealand meaning it feels busier and flights/rentals tend to be more expensive.

Autumn (March – May)

Autumn has milder weather anywhere between 6°C and 20°C. It’s considered the shoulder season in New Zealand when tourist attractions get quieter and the prices lower.

Winter (June – August)

Temperatures can be anywhere between -3°C and 15°C depending on which parts of the country you are in. While most of the country is quiet during the low season, ski field hubs experience a busier season. Prices are usually at their lowest in winter.

Spring (September – November)

Temperatures rise again, yet prices are still pretty low during this shoulder season until November.

For more information, check out What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?

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What Do you Need to Bring with you to New Zealand?

Of course, packing is a personal choice, so we won’t dive into clothes packing too much in this section. For that, see our Ultimate Packing Guide. The most important thing to remember is layers! What ever the season, have some extra layers for those unexpected cold or rainy days.

Instead, we’ll talk about the things you need to bring to New Zealand that you might have not thought about.

Do you need a visa to visit New Zealand?

A tourist visa is activated automatically upon entry to New Zealand for most countries. This usually allows visitors to stay for up to three months. Find out if this applies to you in our Visitor visa article. Other popular visa options to stay in New Zealand longer are the Working Holiday Visa and Student Visas.

Travel insurance for New Zealand

Although the ACC in New Zealand partly covers accidental injury medical bills, many travellers opt for travel insurance for extra peace of mind should anything go wrong on their trip. For more information, head to Medical and Travel Insurance for New Zealand.

Identification

Your passport is obviously coming to New Zealand with you. If you plan on driving, you should also bring your driving license. If your driving license is not written in English then it will need to be accompanied by an International Driving Permit. There are only three valid forms of ID to buy alcohol in New Zealand, so consider getting an Hospitality New Zealand 18+ Card if you are staying in New Zealand for a while.

Currency

The currency in New Zealand is New Zealand Dollars (NZD). There are plenty of ATMs in towns and cities where you’ll be able to withdraw cash. Credit cards will also be accepted in most places, however, there is a small fee with each credit card transaction. If you are staying in New Zealand for a few months, you will save a lot of money by opening a New Zealand bank account.

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How Long do you have in New Zealand?

Unlike other holiday destinations where you stay in one place, New Zealand’s attractions are spread out across the country. It’s a place you will want to travel around. Although New Zealand is a small country, the winding roads and mountains makes it a long time to get around. However, here are some tips for different time frames in New Zealand.

1-2 Weeks in New Zealand

In this time, you should explore just one of the main islands. Take a look at these itineraries for the North Island and South Island.

3-4 Weeks in New Zealand

There are a number of bus tour options which will allow you to see both islands in this timeframe, or you can rent a vehicle. Get an idea of what you will have time to see in New Zealand in Three Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary.

Just over a month

Take a hop-on hop-off bus or InterCity bus around both islands or rent a vehicle. Get some inspiration in New Zealand in a Month: Road Trip Itinerary.

2 Months+

Now you have the option to travel by the buses or buy your own car to see a great deal of the country.

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Ways to get around New Zealand

There’s no right or wrong way to get around New Zealand. It depends on your personal style, budget and what experience you want to get out of it. Here are your options:

Buy your own car or campervan

Secondhand cars and campervans are easy to buy and sell in New Zealand. They provide the ultimate freedom to travel where every you want but at the risk of buying a lemon. They can work out very cost-effective if you plan to stay in New Zealand a while. Check out Travel By Car in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide and Travel by Campervan in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide.

Rent a Car or Campervan

Although this is usually the more expensive way to travel New Zealand, it provides freedom for independent travel. Learn more in our Guide to Renting a Car/Campervan in New Zealand.

National Coaches

This is a cheap way of getting from A to B. Buses form the most extensive public transport network in New Zealand. Find out more in Bus Networks in New Zealand.

Hop-on Hop-off buses

This is bus tour on a set route with the option to hop-off at any point for as long as you want. You choose as you go what activities you want to be booked. Learn more in What is a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?

Bus tours

This is a structured tour around New Zealand often with food and accommodation included. It’s a stress-free way to travel the country with other people.

Domestic Flights

While not as popular as other countries, domestic flights in New Zealand are only a good idea is travelling between islands or long distances.

Trains

The train network in New Zealand is very limited but make for a scenic experience.

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Accommodation in New Zealand

Most people don’t consider New Zealand as a cheap place to visit so a great way to save money is with accommodation. Here are you budget accommodation options:

Tourism NZ

Things to do in New Zealand

It’s hard to know where to begin with the things to do in New Zealand. There’s just so much.

Start with taking a look at Top 10 Things to Do in New Zealand.

The main New Zealand attractions include:

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Where to visit in New Zealand?

While we also recommend getting off the beaten track if you can, some of the highlights include…

North Island
South Island

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Food in NEw Zealand

New Zealand mostly has Westernised food, including fried food like fish and chips, burgers and pizzas. You can, however, find much more culturally diverse food in larger cities.

For food you have to try in New Zealand, like New Zealand traditional dishes, see here.

In terms of budgeting on food, see our food shopping guide for supermarkets and typical cost of groceries.

Eating out usually costs between NZ$20-$30 per person per main meal. However, for some cheap eats, see here.

Videos About Planning a Trip to New Zealand

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Finally, cellphone and internet

Free Wi-Fi that is decent is hard to find in New Zealand. Your best options are in accommodations, libraries, some cafes and in the largest cities in New Zealand. Check out more options in 10 Free Wi-Fi Spots in New Zealand Where You’ll Actually Have a Good Connection. To save on data on your phone, we recommend downloading GPS maps onto your phone when you have WiFi.

If you plan to use your phone a lot in New Zealand, first make sure it’s going to be compatible with New Zealand SIM cards, then get yourself a New Zealand SIM card where you can choose a prepay option and save heaps of money on calls, text and data compared to roaming. We compare the phone networks in New Zealand here.

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