New Zealand Guide
Travelling to New Zealand
Although it is small in size, New Zealand has a huge amount to offer any visitor. Made up of the North and South Islands, NZ has a population of close to five million people which means it is totally possible to find a stretch of beach or a peaceful park to have all to yourself.A blend of unspoilt scenery, warm and friendly locals, outdoor adventures and vibrant cities has put New Zealand on the map as a most magnetic holiday destination. New Zealand’s history is rooted in a Māori, European and Pacific Island cultures and there are opportunities to learn about this young country’s heritage thanks to a coterie of world-class museums, galleries and immersive experiences. Some visitors return home from New Zealand with tales of exciting mountain biking, skiing and fly-fishing excursions. Others remember the unsurpassed natural beauty, as well as glorious wine routes. And then there are those who book flights to New Zealand to step foot in the mythical world of Middle Earth from the Lord of the Rings movie franchise.
What Should I Know Before Visiting New Zealand?
- New Zealand has three official languages: English, Maori and NZ Sign Language. English is used for day-to-day business, but it won't hurt to pick up a few basic Maori phrases before you leave. The locals will appreciate it, and it will give you greater room for cultural immersion.
- There are strict biosecurity laws. New Zealanders are protective of their natural environment and have strict custom laws as a result. You will need to declare any food, plants, animal products, camping gear, muddy boots, golf clubs or bicycles on arrival. Even if you aren't sure, it's best to declare as you can face hefty fines for failure to do so.
- Bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. There's a chance of getting sunburnt in New Zealand so make sure you go above and beyond with skin protection while you're outside exploring.
- Tipping is not customary in New Zealand. However, if you think your service was exceptional, a tip is always appreciated, and the standard is 10%.
- Be aware of black ice. If you are visiting New Zealand during the colder months and are hiring a car, it's possible you'll encounter black ice on the roads. Before arriving, read up on how to drive in these conditions to avoid any accidents.
When is the Best Time to Visit New Zealand?
New Zealand is a destination that you can visit any time of year but deciding when to go depends on what kind of adventure you want to have.
In the summer months (December - February), the excellent weather attracts tourists from near and far. The sun doesn't set until 9:00 p.m. giving you plenty of time to explore New Zealand's incredible sights.
For culture vultures, there are also a number of festivals that take place in the summer months. Book your tickets for the beginning of the year if you want to experience the World Busker's Festival or the famous Sevens Rugby Tournament. But if you are on a tight budget, skip the peak tourist season and visit off season when prices are much lower.
From March to May, temperatures start to drop making it one of the best times of year to go hiking in New Zealand. There are also many cultural events to take part in as well. Head to Hamilton for the famous Balloons Over Waikato or if you're a foodie, save room for the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival.
It's also one of the best times of year to visit New Zealand for budget travellers. With the summer crowds gone, prices drop, and you'll have the top attractions all to yourself.
The winter months are a popular time to visit New Zealand if you're an adventure junkie. Kickstart your trip in Queenstown for its annual winter festival or head straight for the slopes in Wanaka, Otago and Canterbury. June is also when Matariki (the Maori New Year) takes place. Celebrations are held all over the country, and it's a cultural experience not to be missed.
September to November is spring and a beautiful time of year to visit New Zealand's blooming gardens. But as it gets closer to the summer months, the crowds and prices will start to rise. Be sure to book your accommodation and flights a month or two in advance to lock in better prices.
What Are New Zealand's Top Cities?
Rated as the world’s third most liveable city, Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand. This diverse, energetic metropolis combines urban style with spectacular landscapes, and it is one of the most popular destinations for those that have booked cheap airfares to New Zealand. Visitors can explore nearby beaches, hiking trails and award-winning wineries. Keen foodies are spoilt for choice with the lively restaurant scene, which dishes up world-class cuisine made from outstanding local produce. Art and culture aficionados can enjoy the collection of theatres and galleries, and those looking for a little retail therapy will jump for joy over the shopping opportunities, especially along Queen Street, High Street and Chancery.
First things first, Wellington is the capital of New Zealand; not Auckland. And what a cool capital it is. Wellington is a harbour city and has stunning beaches and bays to surf, scuba dive or swim. Oriental Bay is a great place for walking, cycling or people-watching. It is said that Wellington has more bars and restaurants per capita than New York City and it was even recently named by CNN as one of 8 top international destinations for coffee. In good news for oenophiles, Wellington sits close to some of New Zealand’s most acclaimed wine regions, including Waipara/Martinborough and Marlborough.
Rotorua is famous for its geothermal springs, incredible landscapes and heritage landmarks. Situated in the heart of the North Island, the city attracts millions of visitors each year. It's won the award for the country's "Most Beautiful City" six times in the last 11-years and is one of the best places to go for an adrenaline rush. Get your fix from white river rafting or try your hand at zorbing. Once you've worked up a sweat, it's time to relax in the spa-worthy hot springs that put the city on the map.
On the South Island, between the shores of Lake Wakatipu and the snowy peaks of the Remarkables, you will find Queenstown. This stunning city is New Zealand's adventure capital. If you are an adrenaline junkie, you can get your fix with Bungee jumping, jet boating, white-water rafting, paragliding, rock climbing, mountain biking or downhill skiing. This area also has an excellent grid of hiking trails where you can explore the stunning mountain scenery at your own pace. For those less-inclined towards action, Queenstown also has a portfolio of hotels, spas, restaurants, galleries and shops.
Christchurch sits on the east coast of the South Island and is beloved for its English heritage and feel. Here, you will discover a vibrant city where urban regeneration, creativity and innovation thrive. Look out for the eye-catching street art, a diverse hospitality scene and an interesting mix of shops and boutiques. Relax on a journey down the Avon river in a punt, taking in Hagley Park and the pretty Christchurch Botanic Gardens. A historic walking tour is a great way to see some of Christchurch’s significant sites as well as more recent architecture that is popping up following the recent earthquakes.
Dunedin is the second largest city on the South Island and is known for its Scottish and Maori heritage, Victorian and Edwardian architecture and a large student population. If you are looking for an urban adventure, Dunedin has plenty to offer including farmers’ markets, breweries, live music, galleries and a busy nightlife scene. Get outdoors and tackle the hiking and cycling of the adjoining Otago Peninsula where you have a chance to see colonies of albatross, sea lions and rare yellow-eyed penguins.
What Are the Best Things to do in New Zealand?
Fiordland National Park
A World Heritage Site, Fiordland National Park is home to some of the country's most incredible scenery. It's a destination that is on every hiker's bucket list with scenic sights around every corner. Inside the park, you'll also find one of its most popular attractions: the Milford Sound. Rudyard Kipling once dubbed this fjord the eighth wonder of the world, and it attracts almost one million visitors a year. But if you don't have the time or aren't able to hike, take to the skies and book a scenic flight over the fjords. Or if you need a dose of adrenaline, explore the park's epic scenery from the helm of a kayak.
Bay of Islands
Just three hours away from Auckland, lies the Bay of Islands. It's one of New Zealand's most popular destinations, attracting nature and sailing lovers from all over. Spend a day or three exploring the 144 islands that dot the bay. Hike along the many coastal trails, jump in a kayak and go searching for penguins, whales and dolphins or unwind in one of the hidden coves. After a day of exploring the region's natural wonders, head to one of the nearby towns. Russell, Paihia and Kerikeri are some of the best spots to base yourself while exploring this part of New Zealand.
Tongariro National Park
Tongariro is the oldest national park in New Zealand and the fourth one established in the world. It's home to the country's largest lake, holds a significant place in Maori culture and is a dual World Heritage Site. Its dramatic beauty attracts not only nature lovers but also movie buffs and winter sports enthusiasts. Mt Ngauruhoe (one of the three active volcanoes) was used as Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings trilogy films, and Mt Ruapehu has two of the largest ski fields in New Zealand. The highlight of the park is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the best day walks in the world. The full 19 km trek will take hikers past the Emerald Lakes, the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe and boasts spectacular views of the Rangipo Desert.
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
The Waitomo Caves is one of New Zealand's most iconic attractions. Located on the North Island, it's one of the best places in the world to see glow worms. Since the late 1880's, guided tours have taken visitors 150 feet underground to witness these tiny creatures light up the ceilings of 30 million-year-old caves. The Arachnocampa Luminosa glow worms are unique to New Zealand and survive by spinning a silk nest from the roof and lowering a thread down to fish for prey. The result is a breathtaking sight that looks like a Milky Way of little lights surrounding you as you glide past on a boat.
Abel Tasman National Park
If you're looking to immerse yourself in New Zealand's natural beauty, head to Abel Tasman National Park. It's only accessible by boat, on foot or by small plane but the pristine environment will more than make up for it. The park boasts one of the country's Great Walks, a 51 km hike from Marahau to Separation Point. On the way, you'll be able to snorkel in untouched coves, spot a diverse range of birds and mammals and enjoy panoramic views of South Island's rugged cliffs. It's a photographers' dream, boasts rustic to luxury accommodation and even the option to explore the coastline aboard a sea kayak.