New Zealand Travel Tips For First-Time Visitors: The Ultimate Guide to Aotearoa

New Zealand is a bucket list destination for many but planning a trip to the bottom of the world is a big task.  It’s for this very reason that having access to a great set of top New Zealand travel tips is essential!

As kiwis born and bred, we’re excited to bring you this conclusive set of New Zealand travel tips – absolutely everything you need to know when booking your trip down to Aotearoa.

Whether you’re visiting the sub-tropical far North, venturing right down to the deep South, or exploring somewhere in between, this guide will help you understand what makes New Zealand tick and set you up with all of the information that you need to make informed decisions about your visit to the greatest country on Earth.

When is the best time to travel to New Zealand?  What’s the best way to travel around the country?  What spots are unmissable? Do I need a visa to enter New Zealand? How expensive is it there?

So many questions!

This guide will answer those questions and many, many more.

We’re here to help you organise a once-in-a-lifetime visit to a country that you’ll want to return to time and time again.

Haere mai.  Welcome to our one-stop-shop when it comes to all things kiwi

Pro Tip: Because this is such an information-rich post, you might like to use the following ‘table of contents’ box to jump directly to the details you need.  Or read your way though and soak it all up – it’s entirely up to you!  Either way, enjoy planning your visit with these top New Zealand travel tips.

Auckland City New Zealand Travel Tips

Jump straight on in...

Where is New Zealand?

New Zealand is made up of two main islands (the North Island and South Island), one smaller island (Stewart Island) and a series of much smaller islands spread all around the country.

Located in the South Pacific, New Zealand is part of Oceania/Australasia.  We’re in the same part of the world as Australia, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.

If you’re looking for ideas about what to do in different parts of New Zealand, jump straight there!


Visa Requirements for New Zealand

Regardless of the passport you’re travelling on, it is important to ensure that you’ve got more than 3 months validity from the date of your intended departure from New Zealand.  To be safe, we’d recommend even more time on your passport validity (6 months+) incase you get held up in New Zealand.

To avoid an expensive and inconvenient turn-around at the airport, it is important to check that you are meeting your obligations upon entry to New Zealand.

If there’s one New Zealand travel tip that you listen to, make sure it’s this one!

Nationalities That Do Not Require a Visa to Visit New Zealand

The following passport-holders do not require a visa to visit New Zealand:

  • New Zealand citizens or residents – indefinite stay.
  • Australian citizens – indefinite stay.
  • Australian permanent residents (note that you will need an NZeTA, see below) – indefinite stay.
  • Citizens/passport holders from the United Kingdom (note that you will need an NZeTA, see below) – maximum 6 month stay.
  • Citizens from countries with a visa waiver agreement with New Zealand (note that you will need an NZeTA, see below) – maximum 3 month stay.
  • Visitors arriving on cruise ships (note that you will need an NZeTA if you do not have a valid visa/exemption and you will need to meet normal visa requirements for vacation time following your cruise) – maximum 28 days.

Nationalities that Require an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA/NZeTA) – Visa Waiver Countries

As of the 1st of October 2019, residents from the following countries require a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority to enter the country.  This is also known as an ETA or NZeTA.

In addition, Australian permanent residents will also need to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (though citizens do not).

visa waiver countries New Zealand

The New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority is easy to apply for online.  It’s affordable and valid for multiple visits over a period of two years.

  • The visa itself costs NZD12 if completed online and only NZD9 if you use the free app.  Apply for your NZeTA here.
  • Allow up to 72 hours for your electronic visa to be issued.  In reality though, you can expect your visa to be issued almost right away!
  • Your ETA must be issued before arriving in New Zealand.
  • You’ll need access to your passport, along with a valid credit card and email address to apply for your NZ Electronic Travel Authority.
  • You will likely also need to pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) when your NZeTA is processed. This costs an additional NZD35 (more on this shortly).

Nationalities That Require a Visa to Visit New Zealand

If you do not fall into one of the above categories (or you do and would like to stay longer), then you’ll need to apply in advance for a visitor visa to visit New Zealand for up to 9 months.

To determine whether you need a visa to visit New Zealand, we recommend you check your visa requirements online.

Applying on the NZ Immigration site is also the most efficient way of doing so.  It’s also worth noting that you can include your partner and dependent children (19 years and younger) on your own visa application.

Be sure to apply whilst you have plenty of time up your sleeve!

Do I Have to Pay the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL)?

People Who Do Not Need to Pay the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy

  • Those travelling to New Zealand on a New Zealand passport
  • People with a New Zealand resident visa
  • Australian passport holders
  • Many passport-holders from the Pacific Islands
  • Transit passengers that are simply arriving and then leaving from Auckland International Airport
  • Passengers with a Business Visitor Visa or APEC business travel card

There are also some other visa holders who are exempt from paying the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy.

To be sure of your own requirements, you can search for your specific visa online.

People Who Need to Pay the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy

If you do not fall into one of the above categories, it is likely that you will need to pay for an IVL.  This is done at the time you apply for your NZeTA or New Zealand visa and costs NZD35.

Zip lining in New Zealand


Travelling to New Zealand

A relatively small group of islands located at the bottom of the South Pacific, New Zealand is almost always accessed via plane.

Fly to New Zealand

As New Zealand is a small country, far from the majority of the world, we don’t have the same level of competition between airlines.  This can result in higher airfare prices.

To find the best prices, we suggest booking domestic flights as part of a through-fare if possible.  For example, rather than booking an international flight to Auckland on one ticket and then a domestic connection to Wellington on another, compare the price should you fly all the way through to Wellington – this often works out to be more affordable.

Airlines

When looking for the cheapest fares, we always compare different airlines via Skyscanner.  We have booked with the websites that they promote on countless occasions and have always found them to be reputable.

Top New Zealand Travel Tip:  Sometimes you’ll see what appears to be the best-priced fare, only to find that when credit card fees are added, it’s no longer the cheapest.  If you have time, it’s worth comparing the next cheapest option to see if that already includes the credit card fees.

Airlines Flying Internationally into New Zealand

The following airlines fly in and out of New Zealand.  Again, we recommend you check with Skyscanner to see if there are any alternative airlines that have opened a new route recently and/or to compare pricing and route timings.

To/From AsiaAir China, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, China Eastern, China Southern, Fiji Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Sichuan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways

To/From AustraliaAir New Zealand, Jetstar, Virgin Australia, Qantas

To/From EuropeAir New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Emirates, Etihad, Malaysia Airlines, Qatar, Thai Airways

To/From the AmericasAir New Zealand, American Airlines, Fiji Airways, United, Qantas

To/From the Middle East:  Cathay Pacific, China Southern, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, Singapore Airlines

To/From the PacificAircalin, Air New Zealand, Fiji Airways, Qantas, Samoa Airways, Virgin Australia

Regional/Domestic Airlines Operating Around New Zealand

Air New Zealand and Jetstar both operate domestically within Aotearoa.

Top New Zealand travel tips for domestic flights:  If possible, book your domestic flights with plenty of notice – you won’t find discounted standby flights in New Zealand at the last minute, so ideally you’ll want to book before everyone else.  Also, keep an eye on grabaseat – there you’ll find discounted seats for specific Air New Zealand flights.

AirNZ New Zealand Travel Tips

Airports

Major North Island Airports
  • Auckland (AKL) – Our largest international airport
  • Wellington (WLG)
Regional North Island Airports
  • Gisborne (GIS)
  • Great Barrier Island (GBZ)
  • Hamilton (HLZ)
  • Kaitaia (KAT)
  • Kerikeri (KKE)
  • Napier/Hastings (NPE)
  • New Plymouth (NPL)
  • Palmerston North (PMR)
  • Paraparaumu (PPQ)
  • Rotorua (ROT)
  • Taupo (TUO)
  • Tauranga (TRG)
  • Whakatane (WHK)
  • Whanganui (WAG)
  • Whangarei (WRE)
Major South Island Airports
  • Christchurch (CHC)
  • Queenstown (ZQN)
Regional South Island Airports
  • Blenheim (BHE)
  • Dunedin (DUD)
  • Hokitika (HKK)
  • Invercargill (IVC)
  • Kaikoura (KBZ)
  • Nelson (NSN)
  • Oamaru (OAM)
  • Timaru (TIU)
  • Wanaka (WKA)
  • Westport (WSZ)

Cruise/Sail to New Zealand

Though the vast, vast majority of visitors to New Zealand arrive by air, it is also possible to do so by cruise ship.

The following boats pass through New Zealand waters, generally leaving from Auckland (NZ), Sydney (Australia) or Melbourne (Australia).  Some ships touch down briefly in New Zealand before continuing on elsewhere (to Antarctica or the South-Pacific, for example), whilst others focus solely on Aotearoa.

Carnival Cruise Lines, Celebrity Cruises, Coral Princess Cruises, Costa Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Cunard Line, Fred Olsen Cruises, Hapag Lloyd, Holland America, Oceania, Orion Expeditions, P&O Cruises, Phoenix Reisen, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, Silversea, Spirit of Adventure, Saga and Zegrahm Expeditions.

SUP in NZ


Travelling Around Aotearoa: New Zealand Travel Tips To Help You Get Around

New Zealand is widely recognised as being a friendly, safe country; because of this, there are many options available to travellers looking to make their way around.

Did you know? Aotearoa is the Māori word for New Zealand; it means ‘long white cloud‘.

How Can I Get Around New Zealand?

Travelling by Car

  • Pros:  Driving in New Zealand is safe and fairly easy – we have clear road rules and an orderly manner on the road.  You’ll be able to stop at any point on your trip so check out points of interest.
  • Cons:  Having a car will limit your ability to fly from place to place.  If you’re travelling in a small group, you won’t have many people to share the cost of the car and fuel with.  You’ll need to have a good understanding of the stops you want to make, as without a guide, you might drive right past them.

If you’ve got time on your hands (and the budget), the flexibility and ease of a car makes it one of the best ways to get around.

Should I Buy a Car?
  • Pros:  Purchasing a car be more affordable than a rental in the long-term.
  • Cons:  You’ll be responsible for any issues should the car break down (and if you buy an affordable ‘backpacker’ car, that’s quite possible).
Should I Rent a Car?
  • Pros:  You’ll have support on the phone right away should you encounter any issues.  If you have a break down, repairs/a replacement will be organised by the car rental company.
  • Cons:  If you’re travelling for an extended period, the price of a rental can add up.
New Zealand Travel Tips to Save You Money: What About Car Relocation?
  • Pros:  Car relocation is free or incredibly low-cost (and often comes with a tank of fuel and ferry crossing, if required, too!) – won’t that be amazing for your budget?!
  • Cons:  You’ll be held to a fairly tight timeframe and may not be able to find a relocatable car during your travel period.  As a general rule, free relocations are over a short period, whereas paid (but cheap) relocations often give you a little more time.

If you’re looking to relocate a car, we first recommend you check out Transfercar as they work with a number of NZ rental operators.  You can also apply for a rental relocation directly through these operators: Thrifty, Ace Rental Cars, Omega Rental Cars, Go Rentals and Juicy Rentals.

Travelling by Motorhome/RV

  • Pros:  You’ll have the flexibility of a car with the added bonus of travelling with a fully-stocked fridge/pantry and without the need to unpack at each and every stop.
  • Cons:  Parking in larger downs can be challenging.  Motorhomes/RVs are also expensive to rent (and even more expensive should you have an accident without an excess waiver on your insurance).
Save Serious Money on your RV Hire with Motorhome Relocation

If you’ve got flexibility in your schedule and are happy to see the countryside fairly quickly, a free (or heavily discounted) motorhome relocation could be perfect for you.

Again, we recommend checking out Transfercar to see what’s available across the different RV rental companies.  Likewise, these companies offer direct relocation: Spaceships, Juicy Rentals, Apollo, Wilderness and Hippie.

Travelling New Zealand by Group Tour

  • Pros:  You’ll be led by a fun, knowledgeable guide to all of the must-see spots in New Zealand.  You’ll also have a ready-made group of friends, keen to explore alongside you.  Accommodation is included and thanks to big-group buying power, you’ll likely pay less for the total tour than you would have for standalone bus tickets and accommodation.
  • Cons:  Set routes can sometimes mean you don’t get as much time in each individual spot as you’d like.  The initial financial outlay can be significant.

Hands-down, our favourite tour company in New Zealand is Haka Tours.  They offer great value for money, amazing tour guides and a fun, social atmosphere.  Some tours are all about drinking and we just love that although these tours make a real effort to bond groups, they’re not about getting blind-drunk.

Travelling by Hop-On Hop-Off Tour

  • Pros:  You’ll have more flexibility than you would on a set tour without the cost of hiring/buying a car by yourself.  You’ll learn from your guide and enjoy local commentary.  If travelling with Stray, you’ll have guaranteed accommodation reservations right throughout the year, even in peak season!
  • Cons:  Because people hop-on and hop-off at different times, you may not get to know one guide or group of people very well.  You’ll also limited in your ability to stop whenever/wherever you like whilst travelling.

If you’re looking for flexibility whilst travelling the country but don’t want the expense and hassle of travelling solo, a Stray hop-on hop-off bus tour is just the ticket!

Stray NZ - NZ Backpacking Tours

Travelling by Public Bus/Coach

  • Pros:  Catching normal buses will help keep costs down if you’re travelling solo/as a couple.
  • Cons:  Normal intercity buses aren’t as social as hop-on/hop-off buses our tours, so your chances of meeting other travellers may not be as great.

Travelling by Plane

  • Pros:  You’ll obviously move through the country very quickly, giving you more time for fun activities and exploration.
  • Cons:  Flights can be expensive, especially if booked at the last minute (keep an eye on grabaseat to score yourself a deal).  When you land, you’ll have to rent a car or use a bus service – this isn’t so convenient or affordable if you’ve already got a car elsewhere.

Getting Licensed to Drive in New Zealand

If you decide to drive yourself, either of all of part of your visit to New Zealand, you’ll need to ensure that you’re correctly licensed.

What Licence Do I Need to Drive in New Zealand?

Whilst travelling as a tourist in New Zealand, there are three different drivers licence options.

  1. Use your existing licence.  Your existing drivers licence (from your home country) is suitable for use in New Zealand.  If it’s not issued in English, you will need to carry a translation with you at all times.  Suitable for up to 12 months from your date of entry.
  2. Get a IDP (International Driving Permit).  It is also possible to have an IDP issued before you arrive in New Zealand.  This document serves as an official translation for your drivers licence (in and out of a number of languages) and must be carried alongside your home licence to be valid.  Suitable for up to 12 months from your date of entry.
  3. Convert to a New Zealand drivers licence.  The least likely option for visitors, this is really only worth considering if you plan to stay in the country for longer than a year.  If that’s on the cards for you, you’ll convert your licence with a registered provider in New Zealand and be able to drive without needing a passport or IDP from abroad.  Valid indefinitely.

Do I Need an International Driving Permit for NZ?

No, an IDP is not required whilst visiting New Zealand, assuming that you are already carrying a drivers licence from abroad and an English translation (should your licence not be printed in English).

Once you’ve ensured you have the right kind of licence to drive in New Zealand, you’ll want to figure out how exactly you’ll get around.

Basic Road Rules in Aotearoa – Important New Zealand Travel Tips

  • Drive on the left hand side of the road at all times.
  • Give way to your right.  This is especially true at roundabouts; look to your right – if there is a car about to move or already doing so, wait for a gap.  Assuming the path to your right is clear, you’re free to go.
  • If turning onto a side road, cars doing so without crossing traffic have the right of way.  Should you need to cross traffic, you’ll need to wait until you have a suitable gap to do so.
  • Whilst on the motorway or a multi-lane road, stay on the left, unless passing.  If you do wish to pass another car, move into the right-hand lane, overtake and then return to the left.
  • If you’re driving a large/slow vehicle, use the slow vehicle lanes and/or pull over on the open road to allow others to pass.
  • Observe the sign-posted speed limits.  You’re allowed to go up to 10% over before getting a ticket, with some odd exceptions (around public holidays and long weekends, for example).  As a general rule, travel is 50km/hour around residential areas and 100km/h on motorways and open roads.
  • Be mindful of those on bikes.  Give them a wide berth, especially on the open road or when driving on a road that has parked cars.

driving in NZ - Queenstown


Money Matters in New Zealand

Currency

New Zealand has one nationwide currency; the New Zealand Dollar (NZD).

Currencies from other countries are not accepted by locals or in shops (including your Australian and US Dollars).

If you are carrying cash from overseas, currency conversion is widely available, both at banks and at currency conversion shops. You’ll need to convert any international currency you’re carrying before being able to use it in New Zealand.

New Zealand Dollars are also official tender in the following countries:

  • Cook Islands
  • Niue
  • The Ross Dependency
  • Tokelau
  • The Pitcairn Islands

The kiwi currency was recently updated with lots of bright colours and security features – this means that notes are incredibly hard to duplicate, making counterfeit money almost non-existent.

Notes come in the following denominations; $5, $10, $20, $50, $100 and $500, whilst you’ll find the following coins; $0.10, $0.20, $0.50, $1 and $2.

New Zealand currency

Spending in NZ

New Zealand is one of the largest users of EFTPOS anywhere in the world so it’s not surprising that, as a country, we don’t use a lot of cash.

EFTPOS, credit cards, debit cards and travel cards are widely accepted; you literally won’t find a shop that turns you away.  Generally these transactions are processed without any additional fees, though very occasionally an online provider will pass a portion of these fees to you.  Keep your eyes peeled just incase, though you’re unlikely to encounter it.

Should you wish to get cash out, it is readily available from ATMs (which are always found at banks and shopping centres and often at petrol stations).  You are also able to request ‘cash out’ when you make a purchase using your card in a store; businesses won’t always have enough cash to honour your request but you can certainly ask.

New Zealand Travel Tips: Do I Need to Tip in Aotearoa?

Tipping is not expected in New Zealand.

If you receive outstanding service in a restaurant, you might choose to round up or leave a tip, and though it is of course appreciated, it genuinely is not expected.

New Zealand has a fairly high minimum wage so tips are not required, as they are in the United States.

This is definitely one of the New Zealand travel tips that is entirely up to you.

Do I Need to Add the Cost of Tax to my Purchases in NZ?

No, tax is included in the ticket price of all goods in New Zealand.

We pay 15% GST (Goods and Services Tax) in Aotearoa, but there’s no need to add it to the price you see in stores – it’s always included as part of the final price.

The Cost of Travelling in New Zealand

Let’s be clear; travelling in New Zealand is not particularly cheap.

If you’re well-planned and sensible though, it is well within the reach of most travellers.

The following prices will give you an idea of how much items cost in New Zealand when purchased from a supermarket (all stated in New Zealand Dollars):

  • 1.5L bottle of Coke = $3.80 (USD2.40)
  • 2L milk = $3.50 – $4.50 (USD2.20 – USD2.85)
  • Loaf of bread = $1.00 – $4.00 (USD0.65 – USD2.50)
  • A dozen eggs = $4.00 (USD2.50)
  • Whittakers chocolate block 250g = $5.30 (USD3.35)
  • 1kg of apples = $3.00 – $5.00 (USD1.90 – USD3.15)
  • 12 pack Corona beer = $31 ($2.60 each = USD1.65)

The following New Zealand travel tips will help you plan a budget for your travels:

  • Fuel = Approximately $2.30/L.  You can check recent updates to the fuel price online – keep in mind that prices differ across the country though.
  • Accommodation in a backpackers/hostel = $15 – $25 per person, per night
  • A night at an entry level motel = $100 per room
  • Accommodation in a luxury name-brand hotel = $200+ per room

To save money whilst you’re travelling in New Zealand, we recommend you keep an eye on Bookme and Treat Me – both of these sites offer excellent deals on activities.

New Zealand Travel Tips


The Climate in New Zealand – Plan Effectively with these New Zealand Travel Tips

Seasons

Most of New Zealand has four defined seasons which makes planning a visit fairly easy to navigate (around the weather, anyway).

The following seasonal New Zealand travel tips will help you to decide when you might like to travel to New Zealand.  Each season offers something different and has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Summer:  December, January, February – Warm and sunny throughout the country.  Mid-December through to late January can be very busy, especially near tourist hotspots and beach settlements.  Peak season.

Autumn (Fall): March, April, May – Fairly settled weather, getting colder as the season progresses.  Occasional rain.  Shoulder season.

Winter: June, July, August – The coldest months in New Zealand.  Periods of rain (though when the weather is nice, you can expect chilly blue-sky days) with occasional snow to ground-level in the deep south.  Off season for most of the country. Peak season for Queenstown, Ohakune etc – anywhere with skiing/snowboarding.

Spring: September, October, November – Weather starts to warm up but can still be fairly unsettled with periods of fine weather followed by days of rain.  Shoulder season.

Seasonal Variance Throughout the Country

As you hit the northern-most part of New Zealand (nicknamed the ‘winterless north’), winter is less pronounced.

By comparison, the further south you travel, the more variation you will notice between the seasons.  This is most noticeable in the winter months when the South Island experiences the coldest weather in the country.

Generally speaking throughout the country, the weather is normally warmest by the coast.

Four Seasons in One Day

In the words of Crowded House, the weather in New Zealand is incredibly changeable, or as we say, you’ll experience four seasons in one day.

This is because Aotearoa lacks the landmass of larger continental countries.  When weather fronts arrive, they are not always here to stay.

When travelling around the country, we recommend you’re well equipped for changeable conditions, regardless of the season.  This means that in the summertime, you’ll still want a jumper/rain jacket close to hand and in the wintertime, it’s sensible to dress in layers so you can easily adjust to remain comfortable.

Keen to learn more about the best time to visit New Zealand? We’ve got a detailed post for you – it’s essential reading for anyone organising their first trip to Aotearoa.
Incredible kayaking Cormandel NZ

What to Pack For Your Trip to New Zealand

Aside from the standard gear that you’d take anywhere (your passport, undies, toiletries etc), we recommend the following items for each season you spend in NZ…

Packing for Summer in New Zealand

  • Sunscreen – the sun in New Zealand is likely to be harsher than you’re used to
  • Insect repellent
  • Swimming togs (that’s what we call a bathing suit)
  • A cap/sunhat
  • T-shirts
  • Shorts
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Jandals (flip flops)

Optional extras:

  • A rash top (for extra sun protection in the water)
  • Water shoes

Packing for Winter in NZ

  • Merino layers
  • Jeans and/or track pants
  • A warm, waterproof jacket

Optional extras:

  • Gloves
  • A beanie
  • A scarf

Packing for Autumn/Spring in Aotearoa

During the shoulder seasons, you’ll want a mixture from both the summer and winter packing lists.  The key to travelling during these seasons is to pack in layers – that way it’s easy to increase/decrease your temperate as required. As the weather is so changeable in New Zealand, it’s a real advantage.

Heli hiking glaciers South Island NZ


Plugs and Devices in Aotearoa

Electrical Plugs and Outlets

New Zealand uses the Type I outlet.  Some plugs will have two prongs, whilst others will have three.  All are able to be used in the country though (as all outlets cater to the three-pronged triangle configuration).

Electricity Rating

Across New Zealand, the standard voltage is 230V, whilst the standard frequency is 50Hz.

Can I Use My International Devices in New Zealand?

That depends entirely on the electricity that your device is rated for.

Devices from the majority of locations around the world will work.  These countries/regions include the following (and will work without fault):

  • Australia
  • The United Kingdom
  • South Africa
  • The Middle East
  • and many more.

To check your country, please use this detailed guide.

A 220V appliance is safe to use in a country like New Zealand (with a voltage of 230v), as is a 240V.  They are able to handle that level of variation.

Any difference more significant variation (for example, 120V in the United States and Canada) is sometimes too great.  Without a step-down transformer (or a device designed to work across electrical networks, as outlined in the following paragraph), you run the risk of blowing (and breaking) devices like hair driers.

In short, a device purchased in the US or Canada may not work in New Zealand.

It is worth checking your appliance as some will work in New Zealand regardless of where they were made.  If the label says ‘Input 100-240V, 50/60Hz’ then it is designed to work across all electrical systems.  This is most often found on camera chargers, mobile phone chargers, electric toothbrush chargers and computer chargers; generally low-output devices.

Please note, the fact that your device will work with the electrical system in New Zealand will not negate your need for an appropriate adapter.

Surfing - New Zealand Travel Tips


New Zealand Travel Tips: Communicating in New Zealand

Te Reo Māori

The Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand; they were here long before New Zealand was settled by Pākehā and their culture and language is seen throughout the country today.

As you travel New Zealand, you may notice place names that look unfamiliar to you and hear words that you don’t recognise – chances are, those will be te reo Māori words.

Did you know? Te = ‘the’ & reo = ‘language’.  So te reo Māori literally means ‘the Māori language‘.

Te reo uses the same letters as English (though it does drop some off).  There are five vowels (the same as in English), which are grouped together with consonants or other vowels.

Vowels have either a long or a short sound.  If you see a line over the top of a letter (know as a macron), that’s your signal to extend the vowel sound.

Te Reo Māori Pronunciation Tips

The five te reo vowels are pronounced differently to the English language.

Each of the vowels are pronounced as follows:

Vowels

Short

A as in aloud
E as in entry
I as in eat
O as in ordinary
U as in to

Long

A as in car
E as in led
I as in peep
O as in pork
U as in loot

Consonants

The Māori consonants are pronounced as you would in English with very few exceptions.

T The ‘t’ sound depends on which vowel appears after it. When it is followed by an ‘a’, ‘e’ or ‘o’, pronounce it with as little sibilant sound as possible (almost like a ‘d’). When it is followed by an ‘i’ or ‘u’, it includes a slight sibilant sound, but not nearly as much as an English ‘t’.

R Pronounced as a soft ‘rolled’ r.

Digraphs

The ‘ng’ digraph is pronounced as it sounds in the English word ‘singer’.

The ‘wh’ digraph originally sounded like the ‘wh’ in ‘whisper’, but in most dialects has evolved to be more like the English ‘f’ sound.

Victoria University Wellington

When reading words aloud, you’ll notice that sounds are grouped together.  This video does an excellent job of explaining how that sounds.

Basic Te Reo Māori Words Worth Learning

The following are words you may hear as you travel around.  You may even like to try speaking some te reo Māori yourself whilst in NZ!

  • kia ora = a casual hello/thank you
  • tēnā koe = hello or thank you to one person
  • tēnā koutou = hello or thank you to a group (3+)
  • haere mai = welcome
  • āe = yes
  • kāo = no
  • puku = tummy
  • kai = food
  • moana = sea, ocean, lake
  • haere rā = goodbye (said to someone who is leaving)
  • e noho rā = goodbye (said to someone who is staying)
  • 1 = tahi
  • 2 = rua
  • 3 = toru
  • 4 = whā
  • 5 = rima
  • 6 = ono
  • 7 = whitu
  • 8 = waru
  • 9 = iwa
  • 10 = tekau

If you’re looking to further upskill your te reo, both this list of 50 words these instructions about how to count in Māori, are great starting points.  This te reo Māori dictionary is a great help when it comes to translation and pronunciation too.

Pro Tip: In New Zealand it is culturally offensive to sit on a table; this is because of the Māori customs observed here.  To show respect, make sure that you keep your bottom away from any tables.

Phrases That Are Uniquely Kiwi (and a wee bit Aussie)

Alongside our te reo words, we have a bunch of words and phrases that are distinctively from New Zealand.  A couple of the words below you might hear whilst visiting Australia too, but if you ask me, we said them first…

You’ll likely hear the following whilst travelling the country:

  • ace = awesome
  • all good = don’t worry
  • bach = a holiday home (pronounced ‘batch’)
  • bloke = man
  • bro = a friendly nickname
  • chocka = full
  • choice = awesome
  • chur = thank you
  • cuppa = tea or coffee
  • dairy = a corner/convenience store
  • duvet = a comforter
  • fizzy drink = soda
  • gumboots = wellington/rubber boots
  • hungus = someone who eats a lot
  • jandals = flip flops
  • jumper/jersey = a fleece/sweater
  • knackered = really tired
  • lollies = candy
  • mate = a friendly nickname
  • motorway = highway
  • she’ll be right = all good/don’t worry
  • skint = broke
  • sprog = kid
  • spud = potato
  • sweet as = good/no worries
  • ta = thank you
  • togs = swimming costume/bathing suit
  • torch = flashlight
  • tramping = hiking
  • ute = pickup truck
  • wop-wops = the middle of nowhere
  • yea-nah = kind of, but mostly no

Maori boys in New Zealand


Food in New Zealand

Traditionally Kiwi Foods – Kai You Have to Try!

Though New Zealand is a relatively young country, there’s no shortage of delicious, unique food to try.

As our communities have diversified, so have the cuisines on offer.  Right throughout the country, you’ll find a variety of delicious cultural foods – Thai, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Italian and much, much more.

If you’re coming all the way to Middle Earth though, you definitely want to try some of our own specialities!

The following are our top New Zealand travel tips when it comes to kai – food you absolutely have to try.

  • Kūmara (kūmera) – sweet potato.  This is a favourite in New Zealand and was a staple of the Māori people.
  • Meat pies.  The perfect lunch on the run, savoury pies are taken very seriously in New Zealand! Available at bakeries, service stations and cafes, you’ll want to try a range of flavours whilst you’re here to figure out your favourites – I personally love a good chicken pie or steak, cheese and bacon.  Though they’re available everywhere, we really do believe the best pies can be found at Miles Better Pies in Te Anau Fun fact – you can even pick up pies at McDonald’s in New Zealand!
  • Kaimoana – seafood.  With so much coastline, it’s barely surprising that the seafood in New Zealand is fresh, plentiful and delicious.
  • NZ lamb.  Known for the best lamb in the world, we definitely recommend trying it if you see it served in a restaurant.
  • Hāngī.  Cooked on hot stones, buried in a pit under the ground, a hāngī is a traditional means of cooking that the Maori people used (and still do, on occasion).  You’ll be able to experience a hāngī at cultural evenings and may even spot someone selling a meal on the side of the road when travelling.  A delicious combination of meat and vegetables, it has a uniquely earthy taste that’s worth trying.
  • Pavlova.  A meringue-based desert, topped with fresh cream and fruit, this is a real summer favourite in New Zealand.  Christmas isn’t complete without a delicious pav for dessert!  If you’d like a taste of New Zealand at home, pavlovas are pretty easy to make.
  • Sweet treats at the bakery.  If you’re looking for a snack (that’s morning or afternoon tea to us kiwis), the following are well worth a crack; louise cake, lolly cake, afghan biscuits, and ANZAC biscuits, just to name a few.
  • Lollies (sweets) and chocolates.  I know, there’s a lot of sugar on this list already, but we’re going to add some more! Whilst travelling in New Zealand, we recommend you pick up some of the following candies (or as we say, ‘lollies’); pineapple lumps, jaffas, Cadbury black forest chocolate, and pretty much anything made by Whittakers chocolate (creamy caramel and coconut block are my personal favourites).
  • Feijoa.  A favourite fruit amongst kiwis, it makes an appearance in the autumn.

kaimoana in NZ

Where to Buy Groceries in New Zealand

To help keep costs down, we suggest buying snacks, drinks and groceries from supermarkets whenever possible.

The following supermarkets are listed in order from the cheapest to the most expensive.

  • PAK’nSAVE
  • Countdown
  • New World
  • Farro Fresh

If you do need to stock up, supplies are available from petrol/service stations and from dairies (the equivalent of a corner store).  Remember though, prices will generally be more expensive from these smaller convenience shops.

Where to Get a Grab-and-Go Meal

If you’re looking for a quick grab-and-go meal in New Zealand, you’re in luck!

We’ve got all of the takeaway restaurants (McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway etc) that you’d expect to find here.

In addition, you’ll also find lots of bakeries, lunch bars, service stations and cafes around the country.  We’re really into our pies, sausage rolls and sandwiches here in New Zealand, so chances are, if you stumble across a bakery, it’ll be a pretty good one.

Haast Gorge NZ


Top Spots to Visit in New Zealand

North Island Destinations

South Island Destinations

Along with

  • Stewart Island – Incredible hiking and wildlife.

Driving Itineraries


New Zealand is an incredibly diverse country.  It is culturally rich, absolutely stunning, and best of all, safe for travellers and locals alike.

With friendly locals, a fantastic range of activities (both paid and free) and heaps of adventure, we reckon it’s a must-see part of the world.

Whether you’re planning a short trip or a long one, we hope the New Zealand travel tips in this post help make your job easier.  If there’s anything else we can help with, please do sing out – we’d love to hear from you.

Happy travels, bro!

New Zealand Travel Tips FAQ

How many days should I spend in New Zealand?

We recommend a minimum of 2 weeks (or 14 days) if you plan on enjoying the highlights of the North and South Island.  To see more than just the highlights, we recommend a total of 4 weeks+; New Zealand really shines when you have the time to sit back, relax and really enjoy it.

Is New Zealand worth the trip?

New Zealand is one of the best places in the world so unsurprisingly, it is definitely with the trip!  It is also a long way from much of the rest of the world though.  When planning a visit to Aotearoa, we suggest allowing enough time to really enjoy your visit – it takes longer to get from A to B than you might expect.

Is New Zealand dangerous for tourists?

New Zealand is not generally dangerous, for tourists or locals.  We have low levels of violence but still recommend you observe normal caution when walking alone at night or hitchhiking.  Unfortunately, we have comparatively high levels of theft, especially from cars.  To safeguard yourself, be sure to tuck any personal items out of view, or even better, take them with you during the day.

Is driving in New Zealand difficult?

Driving in New Zealand is not difficult; we have similar road rules and mannerisms to many other western countries, including Australia, the United States and the UK.  In New Zealand we drive on the left-hand side of the road at all times and have speed limits that range from 50km/h to 110km/h.  If you are driving slowly on the open road, it is wide to pull over to left faster traffic past.  When travelling on the motorway (highway), keep to the left unless passing.  Finally, we use roundabouts frequently in New Zealand so it’s worth learning about how to use them safely and efficiently – as a general rule though, you give way to your right.

Is New Zealand expensive?

New Zealand can be an expensive place to visit.  Prices in Aotearoa are generally comparable to European countries like France and Italy.  To keep costs down, you’re able to purchase groceries from supermarkets and drink tap water – it’s just as good as expensive bottled water!

When is the best time to visit New Zealand?

There is no one best time to visit New Zealand but if you want settled weather whilst avoiding crowds, February and March are our favourite months.


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If you\'re travelling to New Zealand, you have to read this guide! A mega post, it\'s been written by kiwis for anyone travelling to Aotearoa for the first time. A guide to food, transport, money, language, packing and much, much more, you shouldn\'t plan a trip to NZ without it.

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