My Top 10 Tips for Traveling in New Zealand

Over the last few blog entries I’ve talked about the wonderful 2-week trip that Megan and I took to New Zealand. If the food, beautiful locations, and environmentally friendly aspects of NZ intrigue you and you decide to take a trip there, here are some tips to consider in no particular order:

  1. Plan on at least a 10-day trip including both the north and south islands. We got a lot of advice before the trip about which island to focus on, but as it turns out, I’m really glad we split our 12 days between the two islands, as there’s lots to see and do on both of them–just book the inter-island ferry in advance. If you’re traveling from the US, your trip to NZ will take 2 days, but thanks to time zones, your trip back will take less than an hour.
  2. Rent a car, but don’t add GPS. I was worried about driving on the left side of the road, but it was fine, and it was pretty much a requirement for getting from place to place. The only dangerous part was that it’s very easy to get caught up in New Zealand’s countryside and almost drive off the road–that may sound silly, but it’s a very real danger! We rented a normal car, but we saw lots of people traveling around in camper vans. Oh, and for the GPS offered by the car rental companies, your smartphone is a far superior device. Just sign up for an international plan with your phone service for the month of your trip. You will want to bring an AC charger for your phone, though.
  3. Lord of the Rings (and what to book in advance). We had a lot of fun hunting down Lord of the Rings filming locations, a goal that gave us purpose at times when we didn’t have a specific place to go or be. I would recommend booking the Hobbiton evening tour in advance, but nothing else–even the Weta Workshop tour–requires much advance planning. There are lots of websites that talk about the filming locations, but here’s a place to start. Also, don’t be afraid to trudge off into the wilderness during your LOtR adventure, as there are basically no dangerous animals lurking in the underbrush (no snakes, no big scary animals, no dangerous insects, etc).
  4. Clif Bars, water bottles, and car food. We stocked up on Clif Bars before the trip, which turned out to be incredibly helpful at times when interesting restaurants (or any restaurants) didn’t align with our schedule. We bought a giant water bottle on the first day, and it was great to have in the car during longer stretches of driving. And we checked out a grocery store on our third day to stock up on treats for the car, which I highly recommend–it’s a nice way to try local flavors and have something to munch on while driving. Whittaker’s chocolate is excellent, and I enjoyed the chicken-flavored chips (Megan did not). We also really liked a random bag of ancient grains crisps.
  5. Bring a waterproof and wind-resistant jacket. We were in New Zealand in the spring, so perhaps we got more rain than normal. It didn’t rain consistently–it was more like a series of random downpours. I thought I would be fine without one, but pretty quickly I realized that was a mistake, so I bought one at a store called Kathmandu.
  6. If you’re a coffee drinker, try the flat white coffee. New Zealand has a style of coffee that isn’t offered in most places in the US (maybe it’s more prevalent elsewhere in the world). I’m not a coffee drinker, but Megan loved the flat white style.
  7. Use daily AirBnB bookings to stay flexible. We only booked a few hotel rooms in advance based on days we knew for sure we would be in certain cities. Otherwise, we charted our adventure day to day, booking our AirBnB selection (and sometimes hotels) around 12 hours in advance.
  8. Break up long stretches of driving. After driving for 5 total hours on New Zealand’s Labor Day (we should have checked their holidays in advance), including stretches of 2 and 3 hours, we decided not to do that again. Instead, we tried to find a point of interest every 45-60 minutes–basically any reason to get out of the car for a bit and actually do something. There are a ton of beautiful hikes in New Zealand that are great for this purpose, but you could also just stop for food, a scenic outlook, etc.
  9. Save up and consider your budget (and your regrets). Traveling to and through New Zealand wasn’t cheap, despite the excellent exchange rate. The plane tickets, expensive activities like Hobbiton and the Fox Glacier hike, and nightly lodging add up. For me, it was worth every penny, and the only regrets I have are the things I didn’t do (go north of Auckland and have a Maori cultural experience). I’d recommend saving up as much as you can for the trip so you can have the financial freedom to say “yes” as often as possible.
  10. Watch a lot of videos on BackpackerGuide.NZ. I got a lot of great information about New Zealand by watching videos made by this NZ couple, and I highly recommend it.

That’s it! I hope this is helpful, and if you have any tips to add, please do so in the comments. I’m happy to offer very specific recommendations for food and lodging if you decide to make a trip to New Zealand someday–just post your questions below.

2 thoughts on “My Top 10 Tips for Traveling in New Zealand”

  1. Although I was born in Christchurch my family left NZ when I was 2.5 (in the early 70s) and have lived in Tasmania just across the Tasman Sea ever since… But I have only been back to NZ I think 3 times!

    Last time was about 5 or 6 years ago, spent 3 weeks there and covered less than half the things we wanted to. There is so much to see and only relatively short distances between things, especially compared to our most recent holiday which was in the Northern Territory. Hopefully we’ll head back for another trip in the next few years.

    Oh and the Flat White is an Australian/NZ thing. We both claim to have invented it (like the pavlova).

  2. When I went hobbiton was mostly torn down- but still really cool. They hadn’t started working on the Hobbit movies yet and the original plan was to tear it down altogether. Glad they didn’t.
    Left hand drive wasn’t too bad for me, even in a camper van, since the mine where I work has left hand drive (though still cabs on the regular die so that was different)- but there were some weird rules I didn’t get and got honked at a lot. Turning right you still have right of way? But it’s very confusing. And one time I narrowly avoided a terrible tragedy while turning onto a freeway and looking the wrong way for oncoming traffic.
    Anyways I could go on and on. Loved seeing your photos on instagrams! I’d love to go back someday and take my kids.


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