Whether you are an engaged couple, a gap-year seeker, a long-term backpacker, an adrenaline-rush lover or a family of five, there is a big chance New Zealand is on the top of your list of places to travel to. If it still isn’t, a simple Google search will provide more than enough reasons on why it needs to be. But beyond the breath-taking landscapes one sees when typing “New Zealand” on Google, there are attributes that, despite being concealed by photos and videos of mind-blowing scenery and outdoor adventure experiences, are worth taking into account when planning a trip to Aotearoa.
With that in mind, we have compiled a bunch of inside information about underrated yet practical elements you may come across when travelling in “The Land of The Long White Cloud”. Below is a list of the things you should know when choosing New Zealand as your next holiday getaway.
There is a lot more to NZ than just The Lord of The Rings
Indeed, this is often the first association that comes to mind when thinking of New Zealand, but it may well represent only 1% of what the country has to offer. Although the launching of the first Lord of The Rings film did kick-start a new, prosperous era for the New Zealand tourism industry, it was features like the country’s picturesque landscapes, welcoming people and culture, laid-back atmosphere, and an incredible array of outdoor activity and adrenaline sports destinations what kept visitors coming back. Places like Rotorua, the Tongariro National Park and the Taranaki region on the North Island, as well as the Abel Tasman National Park, Lake Tekapo and Fiordland on the South Island, are just some of the examples of New Zealand’s natural richness. Meanwhile, the likewise rich Maori culture adds to the unique and romantic atmosphere that surround the islands.
Anytime is the best time to visit New Zealand
New Zealand’s latitude and relief generate a mild climate with relatively well-balanced seasons which, when it comes to planning a holiday trip, facilitate decision-making processes over where to go and what to do. The further north you move, the more subtropical the landscape gets, and the further south, the more temperate. Intuitively, this means that those seeking to spend time by the beach should focus on places like Bay of Islands, the Coromandel Peninsula, Cape Reinga, and prefer to visit between October and March when temperatures stay around 20-something degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, visitors who wish to explore southern New Zealand’s mountains and lakes or indulge in snow sports should consider a trip between June and August, making sure to add Queenstown, Wanaka and Christchurch in the itinerary. For those who aren’t particular about neither sand nor snow, the transitional seasons are a good time (September-October and April-May) not only for being able to design a balanced trip but also a cheaper one, as prices tend to get back to normal after summer/winter peak seasons.
Strict customs and biosecurity laws
As a couple of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it is natural that New Zealand’s fauna and flora are both peculiar and delicate. Aware of this attribute and the consequences of having invasive species introduced into the local environment, customs policies and biosecurity regulations in New Zealand are very strict. This means that you are required to declare any sort of animal, food, or plant items upon arrival and, should a customs officer deem necessary, undergo a thorough baggage search in order to determine whether any other articles you carry may contain alien species. With that in mind, be certain that all your gear is clean before boarding. Failing to declare potentially threatening items may result in fines.
New Zealand is a very safe country – even when it comes to dangerous animals
New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world – it holds the fourth position according to the Global Peace Index 2016, an annual study conducted by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP). The country also ranks ninth in relation to the Human Development Index (HDI), in addition to being a reference in the fight against corruption. In practical terms, this translates to being able to leave your car door and windows open while going to the beach, walking around alone at night, and having your camera on you everywhere you go. On top of that, besides the Katipo Spider, there are no poisonous or dangerous animals in New Zealand, which makes hiking in the country’s dense forests or camping under the stars a very safe thing to do. Conversely, what some of the country’s regions – particularly Fiordland – does have are sand flies, and lots of them. Even though they are not harmful, they bite hard and leave a mark and itchy skin. So although you don’t have to keep an eye out for snakes while exploring the outdoors in New Zealand, it pays off to pack a powerful bug spray.
Easy to get around
For having such a variety of landscapes, New Zealand is a very small country and distances between the main touristic destinations are often short. So when you combine proximity between places, road infrastructure, breath-taking scenery and the fact that the country doesn’t have a very efficient railway network, the best option for getting around is by road. Although bus companies connect the main urban centres, the majority of tourists choose to rent either a car or motorhome and explore the country without being restricted to timetables. Plus, the fact that there are a huge number of well-kept camping spots across the country – some of which are free – adds an extra charm and adventure to the trip, while taking it easy on the pocket. Keep an eye out for DOC (Department of Conservation) sites, as these are often well-located, relatively well-maintained, legitimate, and if not free, very cheap. In a nutshell, your only concerns when driving around New Zealand should be to carry a valid driver license (with an authorised translation if not in English), check camping/overnight parking regulations, and keep to the left-hand side of the road. And if the need to catch a plane arises, know that you won’t be flying for longer than two hours.
New Zealand English is slightly different but easy to understand
Although not comparable to a strong Irish or Glaswegian accent, New Zealanders have an utterly noticeable accent of their own – a kiwi accent. Often confused with an Australian accent, when examined closely (although sometimes the evidence is more than clear) the distinctions are solid both in the lingo and the speech pattern. In fact, besides the heavy G’ day, there are very few intersections in local vocabulary. “Jandals” are flip-flop sandals, “thongs” are underwear, and “the diary” refers to a corner store or mini-market. Also, a “capsicum” is not the name of a village or virus, but a bell pepper. There are lots of “bro”, “sweet as”, and “all good” going around, and don’t be surprised if greeted with a Kia Ora – a Maori wish of good health often translated to “Hi” or “Hello”.
Watch the weather and bring sunscreen
Apart from the deep South, temperatures in New Zealand are mostly mild and regional numbers don’t fluctuate too much throughout the year. That being said, it is not surprising to feel like you have gone through all four seasons in the same day and a thick cloud can bring rain anytime, so come prepared for all weather patterns regardless of the season.
One of the downsides of being such a pristine environment is that having less pollution and ozone in the stratosphere allows for harmful ultra-violet rays to breach through with ease, which means a couple of hours in the Kiwi sun is more detrimental to your skin’s health than in the United States, for instance. As a matter of fact, New Zealand sadly ranks high in the list of countries with high skin cancer rates. Therefore, make sure to pack some FPS 50+ sunscreen, long sleeve shirts, a hat, and manage your sun exposure times wisely.
Not the best internet access in the world
New Zealand can pride itself for being a country where most services and systems work really well, but high-speed internet access is not one of them. While most cafes, restaurants, and hotels will provide free Wi-Fi it is best not to rely on them for heavy-duty uploads and downloads – especially if you are travelling by car in more rural areas. Depending on the duration of your trip, it may be wise to purchase a local NZ SIM card with a data package; but then again, don’t expect it to have coverage in remote areas. The next option is to organise yourself ahead and be offline as much as possible during your trip to New Zealand.
Tipping is not expected or required
Whether you are going out for dinner, having your luggage taken to the room or taking a guided tour, tipping in New Zealand is neither expected by the service-provider nor required. The only time you will see a New Zealander tipping for something is when the service is exceptional, in which case you can follow suit, using 10% as a guideline. Otherwise, feel free to pay for the numbers on your bill, noting that most cafes and restaurants include a service fee of 10-15% on national holidays.
Always bring a passport to buy alcohol
Despite looking your age, it is better to stay on the safe side when heading to a supermarket or liquor store for a bottle of wine and bring your passport along. Your national ID, international driver’s license or even a copy of your passport will likely be refused – original passport only. Then again, much like its neighbour Australia, the price of almost any type of alcohol in New Zealand can be shocking to most tourists. The best bet is to stick with local wine and buy it straight from one of the many high-end wineries the country has on offer.
New Zealanders appreciate a good coffee
Like Australians, Kiwis take their coffee-making seriously, so much so that most cafes are very particular about whom they hire to make their coffee. It is a borderline obsession that has spread to almost every bar, restaurant, cafe, and even gas stations across the country. You will rarely come across a place that serves filter coffee – the majority of cafes in New Zealand use only espresso machines and the closer you will get to a black filter coffee is an Americano. Instead, expect to drink lots of espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, and the favourite of New Zealanders – the flat white.
NZ holiday visa policies will change in October 2019
Up until now, many international travellers have been able to enjoy a visa-less agreement when visiting New Zealand with the purpose of tourism. And although the NZ visa-waiver agreement itself remains intact, an electronic authorization process for those who are currently exempt of a visa to travel in New Zealand will be implemented as of October 2019. Much like the Canadian eTA and U.S. ESTA, the NZ Electronic Travel Authority (NZ eTA) comes as a measure to better manage immigration and biosecurity-related issues and facilitate border check procedures. The process will be straightforward and done fully online, with a response being provided in a matter of minutes or, in some cases, up to 72 hours. A processing fee will be charged with every application, but once granted the eTA will be valid for a period of two years. While the system will only come into force on the 1st of October, the Government of New Zealand will open a pre-registration period starting in July 2019.