Ultimate New Zealand Travel Guide

Ultimate New Zealand Travel Guide clear-water-lake-wakatipu

Welcome to the “Adventure Capital of the World”! In New Zealand, you can go caving, hiking, skydiving, skiing, climbing, bungy jumping, jet boating, swimming with dolphins, and camping… just to name a few of the heart-pumping activities you’ll find! Everywhere you look, there’s jaw-dropping landscapes and adventures to be had. Welcome to the real Middle Earth.

If you are planning a trip to New Zealand, this travel guide has everything you need to know. Plus, scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page, and you’ll see all of our New Zealand articles!

Important Information about New Zealand

Visas/Documentation Needed to Enter New Zealand: Okay, so they don’t exactly call it a “visa”, but as of October 1st, 2019 you need to pay enter New Zealand. Please apply on the New Zealand Government website or using their free mobile app. The two fees you need to pay before entering NZ are below. You can take care of both of these fees by following the link we provided.

New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA): cost $9 NZD on the official app or $12 NZD on a browser.

International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL): Costs $35 NZD for each person entering New Zealand. The fees will be put toward conservation of New Zealand’s land and nature as well as tourism infrastructure. Citizens of Australia and some South Pacific Islands are exempt.

New Zealand at a Glance: What’s not to love about New Zealand? It has white snow capped mountains, creaking glaciers, silent lakes, thunderous waves, black sandy beaches and smoking volcanoes – almost everything that makes a picturesque paradise.

Currency in New Zealand: New Zealand Dollar | 2019 Conversion Rate: 1 NZD = $0.68 USD

Tipping in New Zealand: While tipping is common in other parts of the world, it isn’t so much in New Zealand. You don’t need to leave a tip in restaurants but if you feel the service was excellent, a 10% gratuity is sufficient. For taxi drivers, you can simply leave your change as it is not common practice to tip taxi drivers. In hotels, tipping $1-$2 per bag and $1-$5 for maid/room service is seen as a nice gesture. Tipping tour guides are more common since their services are mainly for tourists. While tipping is not necessary, you can tip your guide a few dollars if you feel that they did an excellent job.

Language & Helpful Phrases: English… but Kiwi English. What do we mean? Well, here are a few Kiwi phrases that will help you get around New Zealand:

  • Kia ora: This is the Māori word for “welcome”, and you will hear it everywhere!

  • Sweet as: Pretty cool, sweet, or a nicer way to “sweet as F#@%!”

  • Togs: Swimsuit

  • Dairy: Corner store, typically serves milkshakes

  • Jandals: Flip flops/sandals

  • Tramping: Hiking (longer hikes when you plan to stay overnight)

Religion and Culture: The Maori people and different European heritages have greatly influenced the religion and culture of New Zealand. Nowadays, the country has a multicultural society with all sorts of religions: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Traditional Maori religion.

Transportation around New Zealand: The main form of public transportation in New Zealand is via bus. The main cities, Auckland and Wellington, have suburban rail systems and ferries. The best way to get around is to rent your own campervan, which gives you a ton more freedom.

Psst! Read up on the things to know before traveling to New Zealand.

Most popular places to visit in New Zealand:

Fiordland – This is one of the most scenic spots in the country. It offers incredible hikes, cruises on amazing fjords, and beautiful waterfalls. The biggest attraction here is the Milford Sound.

Tongariro National Park – Tongariro is New Zealand’s first national park and is well known for its extremes and surprises. You will find here active volcanoes, untamed forests, herb fields, tranquil lakes, desert-like plateaus, and one of the most epic hikes we’ve every been on.

Queenstown – For people looking for some adventure and adrenaline, Queenstown is paradise. With the surrounding Southern Alps and blue Lake Wakatipu, this place is a picture perfect spot.

Auckland – As the largest city in the country, Auckland has fun and quirky neighborhoods and many things to do.

Wellington – The country’s capital city has a growing craft beer scene, a lively nightlife, and lots of pretty sights. Known as being the southernmost capital city, this hipster hotspot makes a good stop on your New Zealand itinerary.

Coromandel Peninsula – For water sports, sailing, and fishing, don’t miss the Bay of Islands. You can also go scuba diving in this gorgeous region. And there are plenty of things to do inland too, like the Pinnacles Hut hike and incredible waterfalls to chase!

Other popular spots include:

  • Waiheke Island

  • Christchurch

  • Nelson

  • Glacier Country

  • Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley

  • Waitomo Glowworm Caves

  • Rotorua

  • Abel Tasman National Park

  • Franz Josef Glacier

  • Marlborough wine region

Wondering how to fit all this into one trip? We’ve got you covered! We’ve created the perfect customizable New Zealand Itinerary for a one-month road trip.

New Zealand Travel Guide Hooker Valley Track

Best Time To Visit New Zealand

Climate in New Zealand

Since New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are a bit different than what Americans and Europeans are used to. While it’s snowing in the United States, it’s summer in New Zealand.

  • Summer: December to February (Peak Season)

  • Fall: March to May

  • Winter: June to August

  • Spring: September to November

Peak season for tourists is summer. It is the busiest time of the year and the most crowded so expect that prices are a little bit higher than other months.

Times to avoid traveling in New Zealand

There’s no bad time to go to New Zealand. But if you don’t like the snow and the cold, avoid visiting in the winter. Also, try to avoid New Zealand during early January. Most of the locals go for a vacation. A lot of cafes and restaurants are shut down.

Still can’t decide when to travel? We’ve broken down the very best times to visit New Zealand so the hard work is done for you!

Major Festivals in New Zealand

Pasifika Cultural Festival, March: Have a fantastic weekend filled with dance, arts, food and music at Auckland’s Pasifika Festival.

Auckland Lantern Festival, February/March: This is a popular event where lanterns lit up the Albert Park. Don’t miss the live music, delicious Chinese cuisine, fireworks, dance, and martial arts.

Parihaka Peace Festival, January: If you want to listen to the top Kiwi Music performers, Parihaka Peace Festival is just for you. Coupled with arts, crafts, food, and a film festival, this is a must-visit festival in New Zealand.

*These festivals follow the Lunar calendar, so the exact dates vary each year

New Zealand Travel Guide Bungy Jump

Top Things to Do in New Zealand

Learn about Maori Culture

Around 700 years ago, the Māori people discovered and settled in New Zealand. The Māori culture has been a great influence on what New Zealand is today. You can find local Māori guides who will show you how their culture is surviving in modern times. In the town of Rotorua, there are living Māori villages, cultural dinners and dances you can attend.

Go Kayaking

With the amazing wildlife and stunning scenery, kayaking in New Zealand is a mind-blowing experience. You can try paddling in islands around the North Island or through the Fiordland.

Try Tramping

There’s no such thing as trekking for New Zealanders. With the snow-capped mountain peaks, lakes, craters and beautiful fjordlands, New Zealanders go tramping. You can even hike to mountain huts, spend the night and return in the morning. We rounded up the best New Zealand hikes to put our your adventure bucket list.

Explore in a Campervan

Experience the greatest sense of freedom by driving along with everything you need. There are so many hidden spots in New Zealand that can be only seen with renting a campervan. It’s definitely the best way to see the country and we have all the info you need to plan your campervan trip in New Zealand.

Visit Middle Earth

If you’re a Lord of the Rings movie fan, New Zealand is probably in your top destination for the Matamatato rolling hills. See the idyllic Hobbiton movie set and explore the 44 Hobbit holes.

Swim with dolphins

With Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura, you’ll have the opportunity to swim with these wild animals ethically, making it one of the best places to swim with dolphins in the world.

There’s so much more… There are so many more incredible things to do in New Zealand, we had to create an entire article about it. We’ve rounded up the top adventures, sights to see and culinary experiences so you can create your own New Zealand bucket list.

New Zealand Travel Guide Best Food Fish and Chips

Best Food to Eat in New Zealand

New Zealand is not only famous for its stunning views but also for its delicious cuisines. As a country with thousands of kilometers of coastline, it’s not surprising that one of the most served dishes are seafood. If you’re planning a food trip in New Zealand, here are some of our favorites:

Hangi: Hangi is a traditional Maori dish that involves slow-cooked vegetables and meat in an underground oven. It is often served more often at special occasions.

Hokey Pokey Ice Cream: Who doesn’t want ice cream? New Zealand’s Hokey Pokey ice cream take the delight further with it’s caramelized honeycomb. Yum!

Crayfish: Everything seafood is delicious and Kiwi’s favorite crayfish or lobster is a must try in New Zealand!

Kina: Ever tried eating sea urchins? You should! It’s a foodie delight that New Zealanders love.

Jaffas: Here’s another sweet candy for your sweet tooths! Jaffas are chocolate balls coated with sugar. It also has an orange flavor to it. You would think the combination’s weird but its definitely heavenly!

Kiwi Burger: Burger lovers unite! The Kiwi burger is a weird and genius dish. It has fried egg and beetroot included in a typical burger. Try it once and you’ll be hooked!

Insider Tip: Happy Cow is a great resource for finding vegetarian and vegan restaurants all around the country!

Typical Budget for New Zealand

New Zealand is paradise to most travelers for its amazing sights and delicious food, but it all comes at a cost.

Good to know: Food and drinks are expensive. If you want to save some money, plan to cook your own food in your campervan. PAKn’Save and New World are good grocery stores to stock up and are in most big towns. And check out our campervan recipes for some meal ideas!

How Much to Budget in New Zealand Per Day

Budget traveler: If you are on a tight budget and watch your spending closely, $60 – $90 could be a sufficient budget. Psst! We have an entire article devoted to budget tips for traveling in New Zealand!

Mid-range traveler: If you want to have a few splurges and stay in nicer accommodation, plan to budget $100 – $150 per day per person.

Luxury traveler: It won’t be hard to blow through $200 per person each day if you’re renting a top of the line campervan and packing your itinerary with tours like bungey jumping and scenic helicopter flights.

Travel Guide | Two Wandering Soles

Dorm bed = $15-$25

Camping = $0-$20

Campervan Rental = $75-450 per day

Budget room = $45-$65

Mid-range = $90-$125

Luxury hotel = $135+

Travel Guide | Two Wandering Soles

Fast food = $5-$20

Mid-range restaurant = $8-$40

Fancy restaurant = $50+

Local beer = $5-$8

Travel Guide | Two Wandering Soles

Bus Fare = $25-$40

Ferry from North to South Island = $55

Domestic Flights = $80-$165

Train = $68-$150

Travel Guide | Two Wandering Soles

Skydive = $230-300

Bungy Jump = $150-200

Whitewater Rafting = $68-100

Glacier Hiking = $265-320

New Zealand Travel Guide Spiral Koru Ferns

Responsible Travel Tips in New Zealand

We are passionate about sharing tips anyone can use to travel more responsibly. Here are some easy ways you can travel better in New Zealand.

1. Respect the environment

New Zealanders love recycling. If you don’t recycle properly, you can get fines! When going to beaches, read the signs with the do’s and dont’s so you’ll know what you can and can’t do. Also, avoid buying bottled water. Instead, have a reusable water bottle.

Related Article: Eco-friendly Travel Gear Packing List

2. Bring all your trash with you

If you’re going camping, make sure you tidy up after you’re all done. Have a handy trash bag where you can put all of your garbage during the trip.

3. Shop local

Support local artisans to help keep the traditional Māori crafts alive. Check out the Jade carvings in the West Coast, they are stunning!

Related Article: 36 Responsible Travel Tips for anywhere in the world.

New Zealand Travel Guide Packing for Milford Sound

What to Pack for New Zealand

The weather in New Zealand changes drastically from season to season and from the South to the North Islands. Be sure to pack appropriately for the region, season and activities you’ll be doing. You can download this 7-page packing list for free. Just give us your email and we’ll send it straight to you inbox.

Here are some New Zealand-specific items we’d recommend packing:

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