New Zealand: Top 10 Insider Tips

Here are some practical tips that will help you plan your trip to New Zealand.

Driving

Driving is a lot more challenging than you’d imagine in New Zealand. Its one thing to get used to driving on the left side – but the really tough part is the narrow roads that twist and turn endlessly around and up the mountains. There are steep inclines and declines, and you’re sharing the road with big campervans and huge trucks. The driving is much more challenging in the South, but with less traffic. You’ll want to factor these things in when deciding on the type and size of car to rent. Gas is about twice the cost as it is in the States at about $8 USD per gallon. We got around with the help of an app we downloaded to our iPhone called GPS CoPilot that worked very well. It costs around $20 and is offline so you don’t need a phone or data connection to use it, (unlike Google Maps).

{video} Here is a little taste of what it's like driving in New Zealand, although there were must crazier roads that twisted sharply around the mountains. The last video is driving off the ferry into Wellington.

Camping / Accommodations

Most campsites are really well equipped with large kitchens, BBQs, shower and bathroom facilities, laundry machines, and more. Even if you have a camp stove, you’ll probably find it’s just easier to cook in the kitchen. The Rankers website lists all the campgrounds with reviews. If you’re loyal to a chain, you’ll save money and the Kiwi Holiday Parks is a great way to go. We stayed in many of these and saved money by becoming members. The TOP 10 parks are the fanciest if you’ve got cash to burn (they’re also the most expensive). Booking was easy. We booked sites via phone or online that morning or the day before, and even though it was peak season didn’t have much trouble.

Hiking

New Zealand is a hiker’s paradise, with hundreds of tracks from 20 minutes, to several days long. Just be prepared with the right gear and supplies and know what you’re getting into before you head out. There may be river crossings, steep or rocky terrain. Really do your research, don’t forget your camera, and then – enjoy!

 

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Internet / Phone

We got a pre-paid SIM card and plan from Telecom NZ that cost around $30 NZ and included 500 MB of data, unlimited texts and 100 minutes of phone time. This plan also provided 1 GB of wifi per day at locations where we found a pink Telecom box (in most sizeable cities). The wifi at the campsites and hostels usually cost $5-$7 NZ or more per day and was limited to a certain number of megabytes. The connections at the campsites were generally weaker.

Itinerary Planning

We had a total of 16 days in the South Island, 17 days in the North Island. That was a good amount of time to see and do a lot. If you can swing it, two to three months would be ideal to see everything and have plenty of time to get around plus extra days to work around any bad weather. It’s a good idea to plan out a rough itinerary ahead of time using Google Maps, but figure on a bit more drive time than it calculates. The trip will require lots of driving, and its best to keep your drive times to a couple hours per day where possible so you have more time and energy for activities.

We flew into Auckland, and two days later took a quick flight to Christchurch where we picked up our campervan. We then drove around the South Island, took the ferry across to the North Island, and made our way back up to Auckland and retuned the van there. The ferry was nice but we endured a fair amount of sea sickness from it. It's about 4 hours and you need to book ahead.

Budget

It can be expensive to holiday here but one of the best things to do in New Zealand is free – hiking, or walking. Heck – just driving around is great given the scenery. Or, rent a bike with helmet for around $20-30 NZ per day. Special activities and excursions will range in cost, and some of ours below:

  • Kiwi Bird House – $22 per person
  • Auckland Museum – $25 NZ per person
  • Cadbury World Tour – $22 NZ per person
  • Waitomo Gloworm Cave – $48 NZ per person
  • Whale Watching Boat – $145 NZ per person
  • Doubtful Sound Cruise – $385 NZ per person

There are loads of outdoor activities and every adventure sport you can think of, and many of these run in the $50-$150 range. A meal in a restaurant (lunch/dinner) will generally cost at least $15 NZ per person so you'll save some by cooking your own meals.

Weather

This country is colder than you think. And the wind can be fierce. It’s amazing the difference in temperature between night and day when you’re in the mountains! So dressing in layers is key.

Coffee

The locals love their coffee. There is a serious café culture here, but you won’t find filter coffee. It’s all about the espresso drinks and the closest thing to filter coffee is a “long black” which is made by pouring a double-shot of espresso over hot water. A “flat white” is one-third espresso, two-thirds steamed milk and just a touch of swirled froth on top.

 

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Wine

Marlborough, at the top of the South Island, is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region. It’s known for producing the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. A great (and affordable) place to stay, in the center of all the wineries, is Watson's Way Backpackers in Renwick. They have rooms, tent sites, and campervan parking, and the owners are so sweet. I loved this place. You can rent bikes there and easily ride around between them instead of driving. We visited Wairau River, Nautilus, Fromm, Rock Ferry, Drylands, Wither Hills and Hunter’s. Here is a handy map.

Beer

Don’t bother with the ever-present Speight’s brand of beer here, unless you like the taste of Budweiser. Whatever you do, don’t ask for a growler. {ahem} It’s akin to asking for a female’s private parts! If you visit the Marlborough area mentioned above, switch it up by visiting Moa Brewery – you won’t be sorry. If you’re picking up beer in a store, Monteith’s is a solid choice. The city of Nelson is known as NZ’s craft brewing capital and we had a couple of really nice brews at Golden Bear after biking Rabbit Island.

 

What other questions or tips do you have? Let us know in the comments below.