Travelling New Zealand: Your Ultimate New Zealand Travel Guide
Last Updated on November 8, 2023
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The magical country of New Zealand is a popular option for travellers who are looking for a sense of adventure.
There are so many great places to visit while travelling New Zealand, so many fun things to do, that it can be overwhelming when planning your NZ travels.
And that’s why I have put together this comprehensive New Zealand travel guide!
I hope that this NZ travel guide will answer all the burning questions you have for when you are travelling New Zealand!
I always say that the best places are the hardest to access, and New Zealand is certainly one of the hardest places to access.
Although New Zealand has many international airports, it can be a pain in the arse (and long!) to get to and very expensive to visit. That’s your first piece of New Zealand travel information!
That said, vacationing in New Zealand is something I believe everyone should try and do at least once.
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So, here is your ultimate guide to travelling New Zealand. Follow along with with this New Zealand travel guide with a Google map of the country, which you can find here.
Table of Contents
Where is New Zealand
No, New Zealand is not part of Australia! It is very much its own country, believe it or not. This is essential New Zealand travel information.
New Zealand sits in the southern hemisphere and has 3 main islands, North Island, South Island and Stuart Island.
It’s at least a 3-and-a-half-hour flight from our Australian neighbours which may seem surprising since it looks close on the map.
Getting to New Zealand
The cheapest and easiest way of travelling to New Zealand: Fly into Auckland.
Auckland Airport is the main international airport, and the best way to get to New Zealand from abroad.
However, Auckland is not the capital, which can be confusing since usually the capital has the biggest airport in many countries.
Wellington is the capital however wellington is a small city and unable to expand for a big enough airport.
Therefore, Auckland takes most international flights! This makes it the perfect starting point for travelling around New Zealand.
So there’s a high chance that you will begin your travels to and from Auckland if you are travelling to New Zealand from abroad.
If you want to start in a specific location, you will most likely fly into Auckland and then catch a domestic flight to wherever you would like to go.
Some of the main airports include:
• Auckland (North Island)
• Wellington (North Island)
• Christchurch (South Island)
• Dunedin (South Island)
• Queenstown (South Island)
Which is the best way to start your travels in New Zealand?
Because flying into Auckland is the best way to travel New Zealand, most travellers will most likely start their trip here meaning most itineraries for travellers are the same.
From Auckland, you can choose to take a flight down south to the likes of Queenstown and then slowly travelling back up through the South Island, to the north island and back to Auckland.
Before you leave, make sure you have applied for your eTA Visa and it’s been approved to save any hassles when you do arrive!
You can find details on how to apply here: https://evisa.express/en/new-zealand
New Zealand Transportation – Getting around New Zealand Travel Guide
New Zealand is a big country with little public transport. Kiwis themselves find it impossible to get anywhere if you don’t have a car.
Therefore, many travellers on a trip to New Zealand opt to hire a car or a campervan to see the country to give you the freedom to visit the most beautiful places.
1. Travelling New Zealand by car
Travelling by car is often considered the best way to travel in New Zealand, as you have control and will get to see the best places.
The biggest disadvantage of travelling by car is the fuel cost which can be high as well as daily rentals.
But it is also the best and most flexible way to get where you want to go, and to find whatever part you consider to be the most beautiful place in New Zealand.
You can read more about planning for a New Zealand road trip here.
2. Travelling New Zealand by campervan or van
This is one of the most popular ways to get around and I think it’s the best way to get around New Zealand.
New Zealand has a lot of great campgrounds in jaw-dropping locations.
I spent most of my childhood going on trips around New Zealand via campervan with my parents and we got to go and stay in some of the best places!
3. Travelling New Zealand by bus
Although buses aren’t ask common, any backpackers guide to New Zealand will definitely include buses as an option.
You can either travel by major national bus companies or you also have the option to pick a backpacker bus, which is the cheapest way to travel around New Zealand.
These buses are made for travellers in mind so you can buy a ticket and use it like a hop on hop off type situation.
There are a few great companies that will connect you to the major stopovers.
• Kiwi Experience (This is the most popular option for hop on/off)
• Stray (Hop on/off)
• Intercity (main bus company for locals)
• Skip (Low-cost buses serving the North Island only)
4. Travelling New Zealand by train
Travelling by train is a great idea. With incredible views, it’s the perfect way to travel the country and to just sit back and relax.
It’s a little more expensive than if you were to catch the bus or maybe even drive but it’s a great way to experience New Zealand and parts of the country which you wouldn’t see if you were driving.
I have heard great things about the train ride from Auckland to Wellington called the Northern Explorer.
I am eager to do this trip myself! There is also a train ride all the TranzAlpine which goes between Christchurch and Greymouth, going through Arthurs pass and other picturesque places.
5. Hitchhiking in New Zealand
If might seem unbelievable, but any New Zealand travel guides that know what they’re talking about, will tell you that hitchhiking is hugely popular in New Zealand.
Locals are always stopping to pick up travellers around the country, and it’s pretty safe.
My friend Jub hitchhikes all over the world and as a kiwi himself, he has a great article on what hitchhiking in New Zealand is like and his best tips for you.
Languages of New Zealand
New Zealand has 3 official languages – Maori, English and NZ sign language.
English is the most widely spoken language in New Zealand. However, the original language of New Zealand is Maori.
Unfortunately, Maori is a dying language which is a real shame as it’s such a beautiful language and is New Zealand’s identity.
If you want to try some Maori words on your travels, then try:
Kia ora – Hello
Ka Pai – Good
Nga Mihi – Thank you
Morena – Good morning
Haere mai – welcome, come in
Aotearoa – New Zealand
A lot of the place names are in Maori so you may find it hard to pronounce some.
Some names like Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch are British names put by the British settlers.
But these names still have a Maori name. For instance, Wellington in Maori is Te Whanganui-a-Tara however most of Wellington residents wouldn’t be able to tell you that!
Try saying New Zealand’s longest place name: Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu.
The New Zealand language has a lot of slang words also which can be a tunnel of confusion! The kiwis love a good bit of slang.
Make sure to check out my guide on New Zealand slang words so that you’re not too confused or don’t accidentally insult anyone!
Capital of New Zealand
The capital of New Zealand is Wellington which is located at the bottom of the North Island. In my opinion its one of the most beautiful capitals in the world.
It’s small, quaint, artsy and unique! Wellington sits right on the water. There are many things to do in Wellington whether you’re visiting for a weekend or a week.
The best New Zealand travel guide will always have a spot for Wellington on its itinerary.
When to visit New Zealand
It’s not just the change in hemisphere that makes people ask, “When is the best time to travel to New Zealand?”. There’s also the weather to consider.
New Zealand weather can be very unpredictable. It’s very common to experience 4 seasons within one day.
In the south you can experience -10 degree temperatures, in the north, you can experience late 20’s in the summer.
The South Island is closer to the south pole which is why sometimes it can be super chilly!
When is the best time to visit New Zealand?
My favourite time is spring as the flowers are in bloom, the lambs are being born and it’s just an all-round great time to visit.
I also think this is when the New Zealand climate is at its best.
Here’s a low down on what you can expect in New Zealand for every season and decide what the best time to travel to New Zealand would be for you.
1. Summer (December, January & February)
This is the most popular time to visit New Zealand, seeing as the New Zealand weather in December is hot and summery instead of cold and snowy.
During summers New Zealand tourism is at its busiest and some sites and cities can get pretty crowded.
But the New Zealand climate during summer can be also very unpredictable depending on where in the country you want to visit.
In the likes of the north island, temperatures can reach the high 20’s!
There are some pockets in the North Island such as Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa and Tauranga that can experience temperatures in the early 30’s during the summer.
2. Autumn (March, April & May)
The leaves are falling, the temperatures are cooling, it’s time for autumn. And for many, March/April is the best month to visit New Zealand.
Autumn is probably my second favorite time in regards to the weather in New Zealand.
Temperatures on average will be around 15-20 degrees throughout the country but that will also depend on where, as mentioned above.
If you are coming to New Zealand this can be a gamble, especially if you want to do hiking (Check out this awesome hiking guide to NZ) and anything outdoors.
However, in my experience, the seasons are changing and its becoming winter a bit later than normal so you can choose to take the gamble and visit New Zealand at this time.
3. Winter (June, July & August)
If you’re a skier or snowboarder, then this season is a great time to come. There are great ski fields throughout the country, particularly in the south.
In the North Island, you can check out Mt. Ruapehu which regularly sees great snowfall in the winter.
4. Spring (September, October, November)
As mentioned above, this is my favourite time in New Zealand. The weather in New Zealand is starting to warm and nature becomes bright with colours.
Travel insurance in New Zealand
I have two travel insurance recommendations for you, which are outlined below. You can also read my full review on the best nomad travel insurance for backpackers.
SafetyWing: I have used this travel insurance provider and they are my top recommendation! SafetyWing is particularly made with digital nomads in mind.
They have basic cover at a very good price, but they do have plans soon to make their plan more comprehensive!
World Nomads Travel Insurance: They have two great plans whether you are on a budget or want a more comprehensive insurance plan.
This is a great option if you want to do some outdoor activities or extreme sports which NZ is known for!
🧳 MUST-HAVE: Before you head out on your trip, make sure you have travel insurance. My #1 recommendation is SafetyWing!
New Zealand holidays and celebrations
New year’s: one of the most popular holidays throughout the world is New Years, the Kiwis are no different.
Waitangi Day 6th February: Waitangi Day is the day when the Maori (indigenous to NZ) signed a treaty with the British colonists who came to New Zealand.
The Maori essentially signed over the land to the Europeans and traded with them.
These days Waitangi Day is controversial as when you dig deeper, the trade was less of trade and more of a compulsory move for the Maoris so they did not get killed.
Easter: Easter weekend dates change every year, but it is celebrated in New Zealand, even if you’re not religious as New Zealand is originally a Christian country.
ANZAC day 25th of April: ANZAC day is one of the most popular holidays. It commemorates the thousands of soldiers who died in Gallipoli, Turkey.
Every year there is dawn services around the country.
King’s birthday 3rd June: New Zealand has a king; the British king and the 3rd of June is his birthday.
Labour Day 28th October: This labour day is to celebrate a man who fought for the 8-hour workday.
To be honest, Kiwis don’t celebrate this day. It’s just another day (or a great day) where they get paid time and a half!
Christmas day 25th December: As New Zealand is originally a Christian country Christmas is celebrated in a big way whether you’re religious or not.
All the stores shut, and the streets are empty. People celebrate with their families and usually enjoy a nice BBQ!
Boxing day 26th December: Boxing day is a huge shopping day in New Zealand. After Christmas, you will find nearly every store has a big sale.
Prices in New Zealand
Prices in New Zealand are expensive, not going to lie. Fruit and vegetables mostly have to be imported.
The influx in prices in New Zealand is a real problem for everyday kiwis and the cost of living in New Zealand is only increasing.
You will find the likes of junk food much cheaper than healthier food, unfortunately.
Some top tips for saving money in New Zealand
- Buy at fruit and vegetable stores if you can and buy in season
- Go vegetarian, meat in New Zealand is expensive and just an extra cost
- Pak’n save is one of the cheapest supermarkets as well as Countdown
- The Warehouse is also a cheap store where you can buy clothes, camping gear and some food
- Drink tap water, it’s free and safe to drink
- Relocate a vehicle rather than renting one! Hiring companies are always looking for people to relocate their cars and campervans around the country
- If you don’t need your own vehicle, travelling by bus is the cheapest way to get around New Zealand
- Travel in the off-season
- Cook your meals instead of eating out
Check out my guide for even more top travel tips for New Zealand to ensure the best trip!
Accommodation in New Zealand
Hotels: There is a range of hotels throughout New Zealand but compared to other countries they are quite expensive for what they are.
Since you’ll likely be starting your trip in Auckland, check out my New Zealand guide on the best luxury Auckland accommodation options.
Hostels: As New Zealand is a backpacking destination; there are some great hostels throughout the country. Check out Hotelworld for the best prices and availability.
Airbnb: This is one of the best ways to travel around NZ because having an Airbnb you will usually have a kitchen, which is a great money-saving tip!
DoC camping grounds: this is my favourite option when travelling New Zealand.
They are some great camping sites which are run by DOC (Department of Conservation).
Some are paid and some are free, but they are set in some of the most beautiful locations around the country!
Other camping grounds: You will see the option of another privately-owned campground.
There’s something called a ‘top 10-holiday park’ which is a selection of 46 campsites around New Zealand which are very affordable and have all the amenities.
These are paid of course, but if you want a proper shower (which most of the DOC campsites don’t offer) then a stopover at one of these holiday parks for a night and freshen up.
Freedom camping (camping without a campsite) is illegal in New Zealand and if you are caught you will be fined so don’t do it.
Things to do in New Zealand
There are so many great things to do in New Zealand.
I teamed up with some of the biggest travel bloggers around the world and have published a guide on the 30 best things to do in New Zealand.
From nature to adventure and food (of course!), you’ll find something amazing to do here!
Check out the full post on the best things to do in New Zealand.
Places to visit in New Zealand
Depending on how much time and what you are into will depend on where you go in New Zealand if you love beaches and the warmer weather then the North Island is a great place for that.
If you want to experience some of the most beautiful nature and do some real adventure stuff then try the south, or you can do a mixture of both.
A lot of people do 1 week in the North Island and 1 week in the South Island in order to complete their list of the 10 best places to visit in New Zealand or some such.
I have a full guide on the best cities in New Zealand, but you can click on the bolded places below for more information on each place.
- Goat Island
- Abel Tasman Park
- Milford sound
- Marlborough Sounds
The best beaches in New Zealand
For many people, working out what to do in New Zealand includes visiting a lot of beaches.
Some of the best beaches can be found in the North Island. You will find white sand beaches, black sand beaches and rocky beaches.
The longest stretch of beach in New Zealand is the 90-mile beach which is in the far North Island.
Read my full guide on the most beautiful New Zealand beaches.
New Zealand road trip
One of the most popular ways to get around New Zealand is by car or campervan. It’s not only a great way to see the country but also a lot more cost-effective.
You can cook your meals, stay in DOC campsites and experience the real New Zealand.
NZ is all about nature and the best way to experience that is by car so you can stop off at all the beautiful places along the way!
To ensure the best time while travelling in New Zealand on the open road, check out my New Zealand road trip guide.
New Zealand itinerary
Want to know where to go in New Zealand? Do you need the ultimate New Zealand itinerary?
Make sure you check back as I’m currently constructing a 2-week, 3 weeks and 1 month New Zealand itinerary.
If you’re coming from a far destination I would really recommend you stay at least 2 weeks. The country is just so so beautiful and once you get there you will really want to spend longer.
New Zealand is quite the trip and it can take some time for your body and sleep pattern to go back to normal.
Make sure that you really make the most out of your vacation days and spend as long as you can in the country before going back home!
Facts about New Zealand
There are so many interesting facts about New Zealand that you probably didn’t know.
Did you know that New Zealand has over 20,000 earthquakes per year? Or did you know that New Zealand has 3 official languages?
Read more fun and interesting facts about New Zealand. You might even find some extra helpful New Zealand travel tips in there, such as what to see in New Zealand!
Wi-Fi in New Zealand
New Zealand Wi-Fi is shit, sorry to say. It’s not only shit, but it’s also expensive. Nearly all cafes and hotels will have Wi-Fi but if you’re camping you will want to get a sim card.
A lot of the cities now have free Wi-Fi which is awesome!
But, make sure when you are logging onto any public Wi-Fi, to get a VPN to keep your information private and protected when you’re online.
Getting a sim card in New Zealand
If you are going to some remote places it’s best to get a sim card just in case.
They cost around $5 then you will have to buy a prepaid top-up (usually around $25-$30 a month for 3gb and some calling).
The most popular companies for sim cards are:
• Skinny Mobile ($24 for 2gb)
• 2 degrees ($30 for 2.5gb)
• Spark ($29 for 2gb)
• Vodafone ($40 for 2.5gb)
My personal favourites are Skinny or 2 degrees. They have always been the best for me and I think they offer the best New Zealand sim card for travellers.
Religion in New Zealand
New Zealand is a very multi-cultural country with lots of different people from lots of different countries.
About 48% are Christian and around 42 percent said they are not religious. For reference, the population of New Zealand is around 5 million people.
There is a lot of different religions that thrive in NZ as well including Islam, Hinduism and Judaism.
You will find that in New Zealand culture, most Kiwis are very open and considerate to every religion and nationality.
Is New Zealand safe
Absolutely! New Zealand has been deemed one of the safest countries in the world.
Over the last couple of years, there has been a couple of incidents (the shooting in Christchurch and the murder of a backpacker) but these incidents rarely occur.
If you look at how the Kiwis acted after these horrible events happened it will tell you a lot about the kiwi people.
They are very compassionate and when something bad happens we take it very personally and hard.
We take pride in our country being one of the safest and always look after the visitors coming to New Zealand.
You will find New Zealand one of the safest countries in the world, even after these horrible events.
Food in New Zealand
Food in New Zealand is very international! So you might be asking yourself, “what do they eat in New Zealand?
Well, we have a range of different cuisines from around the world – your typical New Zealand food might well be Asian, Italian, American and so on.
But if you are looking for a kiwi classic, it’s fish and chips. It’s one of the popular New Zealand foods and one of the most popular takeaway dinners you can get (and one of the most delicious!).
Traditional Maori food includes Hangi which is a meal cooked underground. It’s delicious! If you get the chance to try a hangi, do it!
I have an article all about the must-try New Zealand foods!
What to drink in New Zealand?
When trying popular food in New Zealand, you need to pair it with a delicious New Zealand drink. But what?
Well, wine is the most popular alcoholic drink in New Zealand. NZ produces some of the best wine in the world! Some wine regions include:
• Hawkes Bay
• Central Otago
New Zealanders are also big beer drinkers. Tui is one of the most popular beers that’s produced in New Zealand.
🗺 TOUR RECOMMENDATION: Looking to do a tour to discover the best of New Zealand? Join a Haka tour and see some of the most beautiful spots NZ has to offer!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re not renting a car or campervan, buses are one of the best ways for travelling New Zealand. Trains are also good if a little more expensive, and hitchhiking is much cheaper although less reliable.
Spring is the best time for travelling New Zealand in my opinion, which are the months of September through November in the southern hemisphere.
New Zealand is known for many things! We have exotic animals, beautiful landscapes, friendly locals, delicious wines, rich culture and much, much more!
Driving around New Zealand is not difficult, as many of the roads are quiet and in good repair. Just remember to drive on the left hand side of the road!
I hope this New Zealand travel guide helped you. If you have any further questions about travelling New Zealand be sure to leave them below!
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