New Zealand Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know Before You Go
New Zealand belongs to our most favourite countries. We spent ten weeks travelling there and will definitely keep coming back. We totally fell in love with this country of stunning landscapes and incredibly welcoming locals. The scenery is truly magnificent – you won’t believe it until you see it. Snowcapped mountains, pristine lakes, primeval forests, impressive geysers, majestic volcanoes and beautiful rough beaches. What’s more, New Zealand has fascinating fauna too; penguins, whales, seals, dolphins and interesting birds are on the reach.
Map of New Zealand
Click on the map to make it larger
When to go:
Most travellers visit New Zealand in summer – between December and February. Temperatures go up to 20 or even 30 degrees Celsius. When measuring the temperature in the same day, there can be a considerable difference between the north of the North Island and the south of the South Island. Nights in the South Island can be quite cold, especially in the southern part and in the mountains. It’s not rare to experience 4 seasons in one day. The sun can be very strong in summer.
Shoulder season – September, October, November (spring) and March, April, May (autumn) – is the season when less travellers come to New Zealand. Temperatures are lower than in summer, but the weather is still good for travelling.
Winter – June to August – is the wettest and coldest part of the year. Perfect time if you want to ski in the Southern Alps or central North Island.
To see the average minimum and maximum temperature in various parts of New Zealand over the year, go to weather-and-climate.com
You can check the current weather and weather forecast on MetService (Meteorological Service of New Zealand), New Zealand’s official weather forecast and warnings website.
Where to stay:
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is a great way how you can get to know the locals, stay with them for free and cut your travel expenses. The number of Couchsurfing hosts in New Zealand is not huge, but getting a couch is not impossible, if you write to a host well in advance. In summer it’s more difficult to find a host because hosts receive a lot of couch requests from travellers. If you’re new to Couchsurfing, you might want to have a look at our post How to use Couchsurfing to travel the world.
- House-sit- If you’re not in a hurry, house-sitting may be a great option for you. In short, the concept of house-sitting is that you look after a house and pets while the owners are away. You don’t get paid, but your stay for free in exchange for the care of a house/an apartment and pets. You will have lots of free time to explore the surrounding area, of course! You can find house-sitting opportunities all over New Zealand on the following websites: Kiwi Housesitters, Trusted Housesitters and House Carers. There is a fee to pay if you want to join these websites, but comparing to prices of accommodation in New Zealand, this fee is minimal.
- Camp – With its wonderful countryside, New Zealand is an ideal country for camping. There are lots of paid and free camping sites through the country; if you want to know more about places where you camp in NZ, read this article: Where you can camp in New Zealand
- Rent a shared room, private room or the whole apartment on Airbnb – Airbnb is a great website which connects travellers with home owners who rent out either dorm beds, private rooms or whole apartments or houses. It works very well in New Zealand, so staying with people from Airbnb might be an option for you if you don’t want to stay in hotels and want to get to know someone local. Get 20 $ discount on your first Airbnb booking here
- Stay in hostels – there are lots of hostels in New Zealand. Staying in hostels is great especially for solo travellers who want to meet other fellow travellers. In hostels, you can stay in a dormitory or in a private room. The best websites to find good hostels in New Zealand are: HostelWorld and HostelBookers.
- Stay in hotels or b&b – New Zealand has got plenty of beautiful hotels all around the country. Staying in Bed and Breakfast is quite common in NZ, too. If you’re travelling to NZ in summer, book in advance as hotels fill up quite fast. The best websites to book your hotel stay in NZ are: Agoda, Booking, Expedia, Hotels.com.
How to get around:
- Hitch-hike – hitch-hiking in New Zealand is a very common way to get around for travellers. It’s easy and fun. We hitch-hiked all around New Zealand for the two months we spent there. Locals were very friendly and are quite used to seeing travellers hitch-hiking. We were even invited to stay with two families who gave us a ride.
- Travel by buses – you can book tickets on-line with these three main bus companies: Naked Bus, InterCity and Kiwi Experience If you book in advance, you can get a bus ticket for as low as 1 NZD.
- Rent a car or a camper van – if you want to hire a camper van or a motorhome, go to Jucy, Wilderness, New Zealand Motorhomes. If you want to rent a car, go to Budget, New Zealand Rent A Car, Thrifty, Europcar.
- Relocate cars – Relocating cars works like this: rental car companies need to have their cars relocated to their branches in other cities. You can search for car relocation opportunities and then drive a car from point A to point B for free! Of course, you can stop on the way, but you must deliver the car to point B by the agreed day and time. There is no car rental fee to pay and the companies often pay for the petrol, insurance and ferry (if the transfer is between the two islands), too. Check out TransferCar, Thrifty, Omega Rental Cars for transfer cars opportunities in New Zealand. For camper van relocation opportunities, go to Jucy relocations.
- Buy a (used) car – if you’re going to travel in NZ for a longer period of time, you might want to consider buying a used car. Used cars are quite inexpensive in NZ – you can buy a used car in a good condition for less than 2000 NZD. You can find some great tips for buying a used car in NZ on Wikipedia and Buying a used car in NZ.
Best places to visit
To see our top 5 places to visit in New Zealand’s South Island, check out this post:
Other spectacular places to see
Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier
New Zealand’s most famous glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, are located on the West Coast of South Island and cover about half of the area of Mount Cook National Park.
The combination of ice and temperate rainforest is a unique ecosystem that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
7000 years old Franz Josef Glacier is 12 km high and it’s the fastest (up to 200 m/year) moving glacier in New Zealand.
13 km long Fox Glacier is situated 25 km from Franz Josef Glacier.
Both glaciers are spectacular and must see places!
Where to stay:
The closest places to stay can be found in two nearby small towns with the same names as the glaciers – Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier.
Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown (south-west of South Island)
Set by a beautiful Wakatipu lake and surrounded by dramatic mountains of Southern Alps, busy Queenstown is a hot spot for nature and adventure lovers. You can enjoy skiing in winter and paragliding, mountain biking and bungee jumping in summer months.
Penguins in Oamaru (south-east of South Island)
Oamaru harbour is home to little blue penguins, the smallest penguins in the world. Every late evening, the cute penguins make their way to the shore and sleep under an old building. You can see the penguins in the harbour while they are crossing the road from the sea to their nest for the night. The best time to see them is around the sunset time.
You can watch yellow eyed penguins and seals on wild Bushy beach between 4 and 6 p.m.
Hokitika (north-west of South Island)
Hokitika is a beautiful small historical town on the west coast of South Island. It’s a perfect place to learn about the history of the area, admire jewellery made of pounamu, the local jade, and chill out on the long rough beach.
Picton (north of South Island)
The lovely town of Picton on South Island is a base for connection between South and North Island by ferry.
The town has number of nice cafes facing beautiful Marlborough Sound, there’s a floating maritime museum and an aquarium. Numerous operators will take you cruising, dolphin watching and kayaking.
Take the ferry before the dark so that you can admire the fascinating Marlborough Sound.
There are two companies that can take you to Wellington – Blue Bridge and Interislander.
You can find timetables for both companies here:
Milford Sound (south-west of South Island)
With the scenery that has reminded untouched through ages, the spectacular fjord Milford Sound is a big attraction of South Island. It’s easy accessible by Milford Road, which is a stunning alpine drive.
You can explore the magnificent area on a cruise, by kayak or you can take a scenic flight to Milford sound from Queenstown.
Te Anau is the closest town to Milford Sound where you can stay overnight before/after visiting Milford Sound.
Doubtful Sound (south-west of South Island)
Mysterious Doubtful Sound is an imposing fiord in the south west of New Zealand. It’s known for its incredible wilderness and wildlife. Take a cruise to explore the fjord. Doubtful Sound is a quieter fjord – it received much less visitors than Milford Sound.
Doubtful Sound is not accessible by road. The only option how to get there is by boat from Manapouri to Wilmot Pass and then by bus from there to Doubtful Sound. You might arrange a tour to Doubtful Sound in Manapouri.
Kaikoura (north-east of South Island)
Situated on the east coast of South Island, picturesque Kaikoura is a perfect place to watch whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds, and take one of many coastal trails.
Tongariro Crossing National Park (central North Island)
Hiking the Tongariro Crossing was undoubtedly the best experience we had on New Zealand’s North Island. Read more and find tips for the hike in our post Hiking the Tongariro Crossing.
Esmerald lakes in Tongariro Crossing National Park
Lake Taupo (central North Island)
Situated in centre of North Island, Lake Taupo was created about 2000 years ago by a volcanic eruption. Visit the evidence, “Craters of the moon”, with geysers and boiling mug pools.
At some beaches, swimmers can enjoy warm water currents, or bath in hot springs in nearby beautifully clear Tongariro River.
Taupo is great for water skiing, kayaking and sailing; go to see Maori rock carving at Mine Bay. Walking trails in the lush native bushes around the lake are perfect for hikers.
Huka Falls situated north of Lake Taupo are a big draw of the region, too.
Camp on the shores of the river and enjoy pristine nature there.
Other useful websites that will help you to plan your trip to New Zealand
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