New Zealand is a popular travel destination for both solo explorers and adventurers, and it knows how to charm its visitors. A bit of planning will make your trip much easier, so here’s Culture Trip’s guide on how to avoid any cultural gaffes or logistical mix-ups – just follow these 14 life-saving tips and you can truly embrace the Kiwi experience.
Compared to many places in the world, New Zealand is incredibly safe. But that doesn’t mean the general rules don’t apply: always lock up your valuables, avoid walking alone at night and, whenever possible, make sure to learn about which places are best left unexplored.
In case of emergencies, dial 111 to get connected to ambulance services, the fire department or the police. When you call that number, you will be prompted to state which service you are looking for before you’re referred to a dispatch operator – you can choose more than one if required.
Every single town or city will have its own i-SITE. As you can probably guess by the name, this is where you’ll find maps, brochures and essential details about the location you’re passing through. Intercity buses usually stop right next to these venues, and you can book your next ticket or tour as soon as you arrive. If you’re driving and you need some extra travel information or advice, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the local branch yourself.
The summer months are perfect for exploring the coastlines and greenery. Winter will greatly serve those who want to get a glimpse of the country’s best skiing destinations (Mount Ruapehu in the North; Mount Cook/Aoraki in the South) and mind-blowing glaciers. Autumn offers a remarkable showcase of colourful foliage, and tends to be quite temperate, too.
We’d suggest avoiding the spring months, as it’s when the weather is at its windiest and most unstable. If you do find yourself visiting in the chillier months, make sure to invest in a good windproof jacket – because those chilling gusts can really cut right through you.
Remember, New Zealand is a very popular tourist destination. As such, you can usually expect accommodation to be booked out during the high season. Whether you’re visiting Waiheke Island in summer, or chilling out at an eco-resort destination in winter, you need to reserve your room ASAP.
If you’re trying to minimise costs, backpacking hostels tend to be a lot cheaper than your standard hotels. Couchsurfing is also an option in some of the main tourist areas, including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. Airbnb in New Zealand is a bit of a mixed bag – while there are plenty of rentals available, they can be as expensive as a hotel room.
New Zealand has special agreements with various countries that enable travellers under the age of 30 to grab a working holiday visa. If this applies to you, you’ll get help to temporarily settle into the country.
TradeMe is the website where you’ll find rentals, jobs and items for sale. Facebook groups are also gaining traction with sales and flatmate searches, but it’s nowhere near as reliable. Seek and Backpackers Board are the other main websites to use for your job search. Hospitality is usually the industry with the highest demand (and the most competition) but, depending on the season, you might be able to score some fruit-picking work too. Seasonal farm work is also popular among working-holiday travellers.
Since you’re spending an extended amount of time in the country, make the most of the festivals and events around you. Eventfinda will have a list of all kinds of upcoming gigs, and there are plenty of regular happenings worth checking out. For example, Queenstown has its own winter festival, Auckland and Christchurch have Lantern Festivals every Chinese New Year, Tauranga is renowned for its Jazz Festival around Easter, and Wellington’s Cuba Street Festival happens every summer, too.
Take a look at how the New Zealand dollar is faring compared to your home currency. Even if yours is the stronger tender, it’s likely that prices are going to be much higher than you’re used to – that’s the downside of being isolated from the rest of the world. Needless to say, whether you’re buying a souvenir or deciding where to grab a bite to eat, you need to watch those funds.
If you’re trying to save money on food, choose your dining experiences carefully, and opt to make your own meals if you can. Zomato will give you an idea of how much you’ll spend at a typical cafe, bar or restaurant. New Zealand’s cheapest supermarket chain is Pak’nSave, though Countdown and New World often do specials too.
It’s not necessary to drive in New Zealand unless you want to explore some really secluded locations – or if you love a good road trip, and who could blame you? If you are going to be hiring a car, make sure to ask the rental company whether they have any policies or restrictions related to inter-island travel.
Take note of travel times – in a country where winding roads are the norm, it can take much longer than you’d expect to go a relatively short distance. Get plenty of rest before departing, and take extra care on those unfamiliar highways.
It’s also (obviously) important to remember that Kiwis drive on the left. If you’re used to driving on the opposite side, spend some time brushing up on road rules and regulations. It’s not uncommon for tourist car crashes to make local headlines – it pays to be extra cautious.
Trails such as the Tongariro Crossing are notorious for packing all four seasons into a single day. This will also be true for alpine locations and native bush. Pack for all types of weather, making sure to bring plenty of water and food, and don’t forget to bring a first aid kit, just in case. If you’re a novice hiker, opt for a guided tour. It will be safer, and will save the risk of braving those volatile conditions solo.
This is as much a legal matter as it is a safety concern. Cyclists aren’t allowed on the motorways, and it’s generally not recommended to bike along the busiest roads. Also, remember that wearing a helmet is mandatory and, just like drivers, you need to verse yourself on local traffic rules.
Qualmark is the local authority when it comes to all things tourism. They assess the quality of hotels, experiences, transport rentals, visitor services and guided tours – awarding them the proper accreditation if they meet the right criteria. Sustainability is taken into account as much as professionalism and ethics. The symbol is usually silver with the quintessential New Zealand fern attached.
Te Ara has a list of dos and don’ts that will help you get started. Key cultural norms to keep in mind include taking your shoes off before entering the marae, not sitting anywhere you’d place food and following the right protocols during the Powhiri (welcome) ceremony. Getting a few Maori phrases under your belt can also help you get the gist of what’s going on.
You don’t really tip waiters in New Zealand unless you’ve received exceptional service. Even then, it’s more of a courtesy gesture than an unspoken norm. How much to tip is at your discretion – though 10% tends be a safe enough number. You can also round up your taxi fare, but tipping in any industry outside of hospitality is unheard of.
Finally, don’t try to low-ball on retail prices – you’ll fail miserably. New Zealand is not a country of bartering, full stop. Prices are marked as is and you’ll seldom find room for negotiation – unless you’re buying a car or a house, but presumably that’s not going to be the case.