New Zealand was on my bucket list for at least a couple of years until I finally bought a ticket to Auckland. I was so excited about it that I started to plan my trip right after the booking of the flight!
Before visiting New Zealand, I have been to over 60 countries, so I guess I can call myself quite an experienced traveler, so it usually doesn’t take me long to make a draft itinerary. But not with New Zealand – planning this trip was actually quite a challenge as there were too many places that were unknown to me in the research stage and different websites recommended different things.
The planning stage was definitely overwhelming. Going so far away, I did not want to miss something important.
I needed to really plan my vacation. As I live in Europe, it’s not like I could go back to New Zealand anytime for a weekend, if I missed something important.
Having been there and having made some mistakes, I know now what was done right and what should have been planned better.
That is why I combined in this post some tips that you should take into consideration when planning your dream vacation in New Zealand, if you want to make this stage easy and flawless for you.
UPDATE JUNE 2019: Starting with the 1st of October 2019, the New Zealand Government will introduce an eTA (Electronic Travel Authority). Travelers who do not require a visa for New Zealand will have to obtain this eTA instead. You can find more details about this change here and here you can find the list of countries that meet the eTA requirements.
- The Basics of traveling to New Zealand
- When is the best time to visit New Zealand?
- How long should you stay in New Zealand?
- How to plan your New Zealand trip from scratch?
- Distances in New Zealand
- How to budget your trip to New Zealand?
- Camping in New Zealand
- How to find deals in New Zealand – some smart tips
- Suggested New Zealand packing list
- Internet in New Zealand
- What type of transportation to choose in New Zealand?
Let’s start from…
The Basics of traveling to New Zealand
- The country is located in Oceania. Auckland is the biggest city, Wellington is the capital
- The flight is approximately 18 hours from NYC and 27 hours from Paris (both times depend on how long your transfer will be)
- The official languages in New Zealand are English and Māori. English is spoken by everyone which makes traveling in the country a breeze!
- The currency is New Zealand Dollar (NZD) and the exchange rate is $1 NZD ~ USD$ 0,72. Check the up-to-date rate here
New Zealand is composed of 2 islands that are called, as you guessed it – North Island and South Island.
North Island is famous for its beautiful beaches, snowcapped volcanoes, Wellington city, and small islands located close enough for you to enjoy a day trip there.
South Island is famous for its steep fjords, mountains ranges and glaciers, wildlife, Christchurch and Queenstown.
When is the best time to visit New Zealand?
Comparing to North America and Europe, the seasons are upside down there. So let me explain it this way:
- Summer (December to February) – the temperature is ~25 C (77 F), but it is a very busy time due to the holidays
- Autumn (March to May) – autumn is very beautiful, it is less touristy but it can get cold-ish
- Winter (June to August) – short days and quite cold (around 10C or 50F), but hey, it is skiing time!
- Spring (September to November) – fewer tourists, you might get some fantastic weather, but you might as well be unlucky.
I have visited in mid-September. Even though we were mostly very lucky with the weather, it was still quite unpredictable at times.
If you are thinking of visiting during winter, there is only one thing you should keep in mind – due to weather conditions many of the activities (skydiving, glacier walks, rafting etc.) might be cancelled.
The best months to visit New Zealand are considered to be January and February. I honestly think it would be beautiful to visit in November, as it should be already warm, but not so crowded yet.
How long should you stay in New Zealand?
If you are coming from far away, which is the case for almost everyone (unless you are from Australia), I suggest your stay should have a minimum of 2 weeks.
You didn’t come all the way to New Zealand just to have a glimpse of its beauty in 5 days, didn’t you?
3 weeks is even better – that is how much time I had to discover the country and I feel like it was just about right. I divided my time into 1 week for the North Island and 2 weeks for the South Island. This seems to be a popular option amongst tourist.
However, if you have more time, there are plenty of things to do on both islands. So, in total, if you have the time, your vacation could easily be 4 or even 5 weeks. You will not run out of things to do and visit, so don’t worry!
How to plan your New Zealand trip from scratch?
Planning a trip to New Zealand can be overwhelming, I know, been there done that!
There are so many names and so many options, and you don’t know which one is right for you.
So, this is what I did – I just opened Google Maps and started to write down the places I would like to visit, meaning all the ones I saw on the internet. I just marked everything I liked there without any timing estimation.
Then I realistically measured the transportation time between the spots and evaluated each of them in terms of how much time I had and how much I would like to visit on a scale of 1 to 10.
Then here comes the hardest part – I took out the ones that were not 10/10 from the map and I was left with a draft itinerary.
Here you go, this one is mine (you can try to do something similar, as it does not take that much time and you will be left with the options you REALLY want to visit):
Don’t worry about the hidden gems you might’ve missed in your plan – just leave some space in between the points so that you have some time to be flexible. We will discuss this below.
Distances in New Zealand
Here is one important thing you should understand before planning your vacation in New Zealand –
If two places seem close on the map, it does not necessarily mean it’s fast to get there.
There might be some mountains on your way and you will have to drive around them, sometimes driving can take longer than expected due to bad weather or winding roads…
Here is an estimated time from most popular places by car:
- Auckland – Wellington: 8h drive
- Wellington – Picton: 3h ferry ride
- Picton – Christchurch: 4h30 drive
- Christchurch – Dunedin: 4h30 drive
- Christchurch – Queenstown: 6 hour drive
- Dunedin – Queenstown: 3h30 drive
PRO TIP: Use this site to calculate how long it will take for you to drive from point A to point B.
Distances can be quite big and I, for some reason, compared New Zealand with Iceland, which is a much smaller island. You should be prepared to drive for quite some time, especially in the North Island.
We will talk about transportation in detail below in this post, and here is my detailed post about 7 things you should know before renting a car in New Zealand.
How to budget your trip to New Zealand?
Let’s be honest here, New Zealand isn’t one of the cheapest countries in the world and you should carefully estimate your budget before going in order to not be caught by surprise in the middle of your trip.
It’s going to be hard for me to estimate YOUR budget because different people have different preferences and they stay in different hotels (or maybe tents?), but I will try my best.
Remember, if you will only stay in your tent and cook your own food, the price will be significantly lower than if you would dine in restaurants, stay in hotels and take helicopter tours.
Here are the prices you might be expecting to pay per day as a middle budget traveler:
- Car – $50-100 NZD depending on the season and the car, this includes full insurance
- Gas – around $30-40 NZD for a small car, $40–50 NZD for a big one (full tank of gas)
- Accommodation – around $100 NZD for 2 people
- Food – ~$60-80 NZD for 2 people, it can go lower if you only do supermarket food
- Activities – this can vary so much depending on what you do. It can be 0 if you are only doing hikes or it can go up to $300-400 NZD for a helicopter tour per person. Let’s say $50 NZD per person a day considering you will do a couple of cool things (if you are an adrenaline junkie and you know you will do a lot of extreme tours, I would make it at least $70 NZD per day per person).
- Other – sim cards, sun creams and some other things that you might need ~$20 NZD for both people per day.
So how much will I spend per day roughly if I have a middle budget?
I would calculate it (70+40+100+70+50*2+20) to around $400 NZD for 2 people or $200 NZD per person per day ($144 USD).
With this budget, we were able to do so many cool things in the country, and it will always stay in our hearts!
What if you are traveling on a tight budget?
I would calculate the cost of a budget traveler if he/she pays for transportation and stays in hostels/tent to be around $100 NZD ($72 USD) per day. Keep in mind that this can be lower if you do hitchhiking, which is absolutely legal in New Zealand. I think this is a good article that has all the calculations in it, so you should check it out.
What if you are a luxury traveler?
In this case, your costs can go up to infinity, really. There are endless amounts of awesome things to do, luxury hotels to stay in and helicopter tours to take. You can really splurge there, the sky is the limit!
NOTE: Please keep in mind that this digit is a very rough estimate and it will vary significantly depending on the number of people you are sharing your car/accommodation with, your preferences, season, food and many other criteria.
We mostly stayed in nice, inexpensive hotels. I will give you the prices of all the tours and the hotels I stayed in in the articles dedicated to the North Island and the South Island. Be sure to check them out, as they will give you a better idea of how much the trip will cost you.
You should add the price of the flight to this (find best deals on Skyscanner or Kiwi) and please do not forget to get a travel insurance, I especially recommend to have one in a country like New Zealand. Better safe than sorry!
UPDATE: There’s a new article that will help you choose the best travel insurance here!
Camping in New Zealand
I personally did not camp, but I learned a lot about it while traveling in the country.
Before wild camping (camping anywhere you like) was allowed in New Zealand. But, as people started to turn the beautiful places they stayed overnight into a big trash bin/toilet, the government changed the laws and now camping can be done in specially organized places.
No worries, traveler, it is still very nice to camp in New Zealand, and now it’s also organized. There are tent sites and powered/unpowered motorhome sites where you will find clean toilets, sometimes hot showers and even a kitchen with all the needed facilities.
The price is different from camping to camping, but it is somewhere around $10 to 40 NZD per tent site or around $50 NZD or more per campervan.
The fine for camping in undesignated areas is $200 NZD. You don’t usually need to book the campsite in advance, as they work on a first-come, first-served basis. However, ALL campsites on Great Walk Track need to be booked in advance.
Also, do not forget to pay for using the campsite’s facilities in the special box. Rangers regularly check the facilities and you might be fined if you did not pay for using the camp.
How to find deals in New Zealand – some smart tips
As we talked above, New Zealand can be quite pricey at times, but there are some tricks you can use to not overpay for things.
When I traveled to New Zealand, I met some locals and they shared some secret local websites with me. Enjoy all the deals I found:
Food deals in New Zealand
How about using a site like Groupon for discounted meals?
It’s a bit more time consuming as you have to check the coupons and decide which restaurant to go to, but it can be a great money saver! If you can have a well-cooked meal for the price of supermarket food, why not use this chance?
I often used Groupon when I lived in Moscow, so why not use it in a foreign country, too? The best part is that you don’t even need to translate it – it’s already in English!
Generally, take-away food is cheaper than eating in a restaurant.
You should also know that tips are not expected in New Zealand. However, if you wish to leave some gratuities (5-10%) for an excellent service, they are always welcomed.
Big supermarket chains don’t only offer membership discount cards for locals, but also some paper “tourist cards” for international travelers. We were given one and we used it in different cities across the country when shopping for food. The saving was not that big, but it was still a nice extra!
Transportation deals in New Zealand
Transportation costs will probably represent a significant part of your vacation budget, so why not try some money saving tricks on it too?
Internal flights are surprisingly inexpensive. I am talking about my experience taking flights inside New Zealand here. Try https://grabaseat.co.nz – it’s a local fare finder that has destination deals and also some nice getaway packages. They sometimes throw $1 NZD flights, but they will be gone very quickly, so make sure to check the website in advance!
Jet Star airlines is usually cheaper if you know your route at least 2 months in advance. Air New Zealand is the second biggest domestic airline and sometimes they can have even better prices than Jet Star! There are a couple more options, but they fly to some lesser known destinations, so I recommend simply checking Skyscanner or your preferred flight comparison platform.
Deciding to rent a car in New Zealand can be one of the best decisions for your trip, because of the freedom and flexibility it gives you!
Here is the deal – most of the travelers pick up their car in Auckland and drop it off in Queenstown or in Christchurch, and the car rental companies obviously want the car back to the headquarters.
So, if you are willing to return the car for them, the car hire will be free for you and they usually even cover the cost of the ferry if needed. The catch? You are usually given only 3-4 days to deliver the car, so this is a good option only for people who really don’t have much time to travel in the country. Here and here are examples of companies that offer rental car relocation.
If you would like to travel by bus, check out these two websites: InterCity.co.nz, http://nakedbus.com/nz. They also do some $1 NZD deals if you book in advance. It still can be pretty cheap even if you book it last minute though. If you sign up for their membership program (which is free), you will also get a $2-6 NZD discount.
Sometimes it’s possible to get a 10% discount on the Interislander Ferry (the one between the islands) if you simply google “Interislander Ferry discount code”! 😉
Depending on the area, the prices start from $15 NZD for a hostel and from $70 NZD for a regular hotel for 2.
I always use Booking.com as they have the biggest variety of hotels and the best price guarantee policy.
As for the deals, www.bookme.co.nz can again come in very handy here – they throw nice deals for New Zealand for last-minute travelers (7 days or less in advance).
If you like to stay in apartments, Airbnb is always a choice (here is my 25 off discount for you if you are booking for the first time). There is also a great alternative to this – a local apartment rental website called BookaBatch where the variety of choices is even wider in my opinion.
NOTE: Surprisingly, most of the budget hotels will make you pay for your internet. Usually around $5 NZD for 1GB.
NOTE2: Again surprisingly, the check out in most of the hotels in New Zealand is at 10 a.m. I think this is quite early, but it was good in a way because we’ve been forced to start our day early.
UPDATE: By a popular request, here is the article that will help you book ALL the accommodation for your road trip in New Zealand. All hotels all carefully selected by reviews and sorted by price for you! Click here:
Tours deals in New Zealand
Again, our good old friend Groupon can come in handy!
www.bookme.co.nz is an AMAZING find – if you are flexible with tours and dates, you can find some really great deals there! Often you can find popular tours discounted 50-70%, that’s a nice saving!
In addition, you should know that sometimes you do not need to spend money on tours, you can actually encounter penguins in some part of the country. It pays off to do a research sometimes!
My other tip would be to visit an i-Site, which you can practically find in all towns across the country. Not only it has free Wi-Fi, but it can be useful for you because local experts will be ready to answer your questions about local deals, finds, discounts etc.
Sometimes booking online can save you 10%, check each website in advance.
If you want to visit a lot in Wellington look into the Wellington City Pass.
Insurance for New Zealand
A travel insurance is very important to have in any country you go to, but especially in New Zealand.
New Zealand may seem like an idyllic and calm country, but trust me, things happen there too! I saw a robbed car once. You will probably also do a lot of extreme activities, so it’s just best to stay safe.
World Nomads is the insurance I can wholeheartedly recommend, check the rates for New Zealand here.
Suggested New Zealand packing list
Things are suuper expensive to buy pretty much anywhere in the country (think about the transportation costs for them), so try to think about what to pack for New Zealand in advance.
Here are some things that I would not go to New Zealand without:
- layers – fleece, warm jacket, winter and waterproof jacket
- hiking sturdy boots
- wires to connect your phone to the car if you will rent a car
- sun block is absolutely essential! the ozone layer hole is right above New Zealand, you will feel it fast if you’re not using sun protection
- a cardigan
- hiking pants
- swimming suit
- sunglasses, better polarized protection (even in winter)
- a hat and gloves if you’re not traveling in New Zealand summer
- refillable water bottle
- motion sickness pills for the ferry and dolphin watching tour
- hiking poles – I did Torres del Paine and Nepal without them and I was not going to repeat my mistake!
- first aid kit
Of course, your list might vary depending on the season you will be visiting New Zealand. The general rule is – bring warmer clothes if visiting in the wintertime and less layers in the summer (it can still get windy and unpredictable though).
Here is my detailed article on New Zealand packing list, it has recommendations for every season!
Internet in New Zealand
Internet in hotels
In fact, I have found Internet in New Zealand to be quite slow and pricey.
It isn’t as horrible as in the Philippines (because at least it works in New Zealand), so I guess I shouldn’t be complaining.
You know what I was surprised about though?
In New Zealand, you have to pay extra for using the hotel’s Wi-Fi!
This does not hold true for luxury hotels, but for mid-price and budget accommodations you will probably need to pay $5-10 NZD and you will also have limited MB!
That was something that I needed to get used to and something that is good to know for you too.
As for the mobile internet, I got myself a sim card right at the airport – there is a Spark Mobile stand right in the Auckland airport. You can check the current rates here (they are quite expensive, so if you have a good roaming tariff you might be better off using it in fact).
Spark has the best coverage and it’s not as pricey as Vodafone, so I went for that option.
There is also a 2DegreesMobile – it’s much cheaper than the first two, but they do not have a stand in the airport, unfortunately. Thus, if you can wait until you reach a city and buy it from there, that’s the best option! Their tariffs are usually half the price comparing to their competitors. You can see the rates here.
What type of transportation to choose in New Zealand?
As I mentioned earlier, the distances are big and thinking about the way you are going to reach the destinations is essential during the planning stage.
This (and probably the accommodation) will be the most expensive part of your trip, so it pays off to think about it in advance.
Could you use a small economic car or do you need a big minivan for the whole family? What distance do you want to cover?
Here are my suggestion for transport options depending on the type of traveling you are going to do:
- a couple – a rented car would suit you great, especially if you are a nature addict! This is the most popular option for discovering New Zealand because you can tailor-make your trip and stop anywhere you like for pictures. You can choose either a normal rented car (my choice) or a camper van and stay in camping zones.
- a group of friends – depending on how big your group is, a camper van or a car will be great for you as well. You will be able to share the transportation costs and it’s also a lot of fun sharing the beauty of a country with friends, isn’t it?
- budget traveler/solo traveler – if you’d like to meet new people, I think that one of those prearranged hop-on/hop-off buses that go over the whole country can be a great option for you! There is no driving involved, so you can relax and enjoy the views!
- A family – a camper van is a great option for a big family (bonus points – you can cook there!). If you are a family of 3-4 people without much luggage, a normal car would suffice.
- budget travelers not fond of party buses – In case the rental is too expensive for you, you can also do this – buy a car/campervan and sell it afterward. I am dead serious, people say you can do it, but you will need to stay for at least 4-5 days in a city to make sure you will sell it.
- travelers that don’t drive and are not fond of party buses – you should know that there are also trains in New Zealand. They don’t go everywhere of course, but they have a quite big coverage. Check Overlander and Transcoastal to see the routes. Another option is to go by public transport, but again, you will be limited by a certain route and you can’t stop on the way.
- traveling on very, veeerrrry limited budget – having little money should not stop you from discovering New Zealand – you can either hitchhike (it is not illegal in the country) or cycle around the country. I know these options are for adventurous travelers, but it can definitely be done!
New Zealand is an amazing country, it is the homeland to 4 million people and 60 million sheep!
It might look like the country is small, but New Zealand is full of incredible corners and it can be discovered in 5 weeks or even more if only you (and I) had the time!
I hope this post was useful in creating your ideal itinerary for your future New Zealand trip, I have covered a lot of useful tips that were given to me by the locals and tried to name all the prices.
If you are still hesitant whether or not you should visit New Zealand, DON’T BE! The nature is breathtaking, the country is like no other, and chances are it will become your favorite country!
Remember that I have many other articles about New Zealand including some detailed itineraries for each island with prices and recommendations, you can find them here.
If you have any more questions, please let me know in the comments, I will be happy to answer!
- TOP 10 Things to visit in New Zealand
- North Island In New Zealand 1 Week Road Trip – A Day-By-Day Itinerary
- Ultimate South Island Road Trip In New Zealand – A Day-By-Day Itinerary
- What To Pack For Your New Zealand Trip (All Seasons List)
- A Perfect Road Trip Around New Zealand In 3 Weeks
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