Discovering beautiful Lake Howden while hiking the Routeburn Track

New Zealand Travel Guide

If you plan to travel to New Zealand, this guide will help you plan your trip. It highlights the top destinations of this stunning country, how to get around, visa and currency concerns, the best time to visit, safety, and lots more.

This travel guide and posts on New Zealand are updated as of January 2022.

New Zealand

New Zealand is full of spectacular landscapes. From golden sandy beaches, to picturesque rolling pastures, fern-filled rainforests, epic snow-capped mountains, ancient volcanos, stunning fiords, brilliant lakes, and massive glaciers. It’s extremely diverse and insanely beautiful.

Hiking Cape Brett Walkway is noted as one of the top things to do in the Zealand Travel Guide
Cape Brett Penninsula

If you want to experience outdoor adventure, New Zealand is the perfect place. There’s superb hiking, including its many “Great Walks” along epic mountains, volcanos, and beaches, as well as world class ski resorts.

Hiking Abel Tasman Track is noted as one of the top things to do in the New Zealand Travel Guide
View From Abel Tasman Track

It’s also full of water sport activities, like white water rafting, kayaking, and paddle boarding. And the spectacular scenery makes it the perfect place to skydive or bungy jump.

Queenstown Hill in New Zealand is one of the top things to do in Queenstown in the New Zealand Travel Guide
View From Queenstown Hill

But you don’t have to be athletic to enjoy New Zealand, it’s also a great place for a road trip. You can take in the sights on an epic drive along Milford highway to magnificent Milford Sound, stop at the world-renowned Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in Marlborough, or visit Franz Josef Glacier.

If that isn’t enough, New Zealanders (or Kiwis) are very welcoming and laid back, making you feel right at home.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that New Zealand is much bigger than it looks on the world map, and there’s a lot to see. So unless you’re planning to spend a month here (like I did), you’ll need to narrow down your trip.

I’ve arranged this travel guide with information you need to plan your trip, like the best time to visit for various outdoor adventure activities in New Zealand, how to get around, visa and customs information, and a lot more. You can also click on the destinations featured at the bottom to learn more about each location.

Best Time To Visit New Zealand

New Zealand’s peak season is summer (December to February). It’s also the busiest time so book far in advance. New Zealand’s many Great Walks are best from November through April.

White water rafting is generally best in spring (September to November) and skiing is best mid-June to September.

The Routeburn Track is one of the Top things to do in the New Zealand Travel Guide
Harris Saddle on Routeburn Track

New Zealand Travel Guide: Languages

Officially there are 3 languages; English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign Language.

Although most everyone speaks English, it does take some time to get used to the Kiwi accent (LOL).

New Zealand Travel Guide: Money Matters

New Zealand Dollars (NZD): The New Zealand dollar is also sometimes called the Kiwi. Conversion rates as of January 1, 2024 are as follows.

  • USD = 1.59 NZD
  • Euro = 1.75 NZD
  • CNY = .22 NZD

Credit Cards & ATMs: Widely accepted and available.

Tipping: Tipping is not customary, but welcome if you received excellent service.

New Zealand Travel Guide: Safety

New Zealand is very safe. As in any touristy area, however, there can be petty theft, pick-pocketing, and purse-snatching, so always be vigilant.

One thing to be aware of, however, is that car break-ins are known to occur. Especially on rented vehicles (tourists are targets). If you decide to rent a car (or campervan), don’t leave valuables inside. This is true both in the city and in rural areas.

In most cases, however, just take normal precautions and be aware of your surroundings. If things don’t feel right, trust your instincts and find alternatives.

Auckland
Wellington

New Zealand Travel Guide: Getting Around

Although New Zealand looks small on the map, the two main islands cover a lot of territory. It’s about the twice the size of Florida and bigger than the U.K., plus destinations are spread all over both the North and Sound island. The top transportation options include the following:

Car

Driving provides the ultimate flexibility to get around and New Zealand’s road infrastructure is very good. A couple things to keep in mind, however, are that driving is done on the left side of the road and you’ll miss some of New Zealand’s spectacular scenery with your eyes focused on the road. Yes, it’s that beautiful! Also, make sure to consider the extra fees, like taking a car on the ferry between the North and South Island, and the cost of driving one way (ending your rental in a different location).

Campervans

Campervans also provide a lot of flexibility. Although they’re more expensive than a car, that expense is somewhat offset by sharing with multiple people, staying at campsites, and being able to cook in your campervan, rather than always eating out. The extra fees for taking one on a ferry and ending your rental ina different location apply here too.

Bus

I know it doesn’t sound glamorous, but the bus system is very efficient in New Zealand and a great way to get around. Especially if you’re traveling solo. It’s not only inexpensive, but the buses are clean and comfortable, with regular routes to top destinations. They also have large windows to enjoy that epic scenery. The main bus line in New Zealand is Intercity. I spent a little over a month here and rode the bus about 2,000 miles (3,200 km) through the North and South Island. My transportation costs were about $500, or $14/day.

Ferry

Ferries regularly cross Cook Straight, which is between the North and South Island. It’s a very scenic 3 hour journey between Wellington and Picton, via The Interislander. It’s best to book in advance as some ferries book out. Also, know that sometimes ferries are cancelled. When they do this, they try to get you on the next ferry if possible.

New Zealand Travel Guide: Visa Information

New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) or visa is required (except for Australians). See immigration.govt.nz for more details and information by country.

Other Key Notes On New Zealand

Return or Forwarding Airline Tickets: Visitors must have a return or forward airline ticket to enter the country. This will likely be enforced before you board your flight into New Zelaand, so be prepared. Keep in mind that you can always buy a fully refundable airline ticket and cancel it after you check in for your flight to get around this.

Customs: New Zealand is very serious about their customs inspections at the airport, to protect the plant and animal life. Fines can be stiff. Make sure you read the latest list of prohibited items before packing. They literally inspected the bottom of my hiking shoes (luckily, they only had dust from the desert in arizona where I live) and they also confiscated a package of honey I had. If in doubt, declare everything.

Travel Blogs on Top New Zealand Destinations

The following are some of the top destinations in New Zealand and my favorites. Select any of the images, or the copy below, below to read more details on each location.

If you’ve been to New Zealand or have comments on my travel guide, please drop a note below.

Safe travels!

Julie

Note: All efforts have been made to provide detailed and accurate information on the travel guide and detailed posts on New Zealand, but things do change from time to time. Please contact me if you are aware of changes.

And to learn more about me and my philosophy on travel, read my About Me page.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

2 Comments

  • Paula Cullison

    Julie, I always recommend your blog to friends and acquaintances who travel. Your articles are so very informative and the photos are great. I look forward to returning to New Zealand. The country is beautiful and people are friendly. BTW: I enjoyed a wine tour from Napier. Keep on writing!

    • Julie

      Thanks Paula,
      You are so kind. I appreciate the kind words.
      Julie

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