New Zealand is an exciting place to visit. With its rugged mountains, crystal clear lakes and stunning lush forest, the Kiwi nation should be on everybody’s bucket list. Also called Aotearoa in Maori, this fantastic country is home to the hobbits, dormant volcanoes, and pristine beaches. Even though New Zealand is not as “exotic” as other countries around the world, there are a few things to be aware of before visiting the country. So, if you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, here are 20 things to know before you go.
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New Zealand has really strict biosecurity laws to prevent unwanted organisms from entering the country which could cause a threat to the country’s biodiversity and agriculture. At the airport, you must declare all foods, and plants, but also camping and hiking gear. I made the mistake of not cleaning my hiking boots before heading to New Zealand, and as a result, I was taken to customs to have them cleaned and disinfected. Border control is very serious in New Zealand, and I was lucky not to get fined. So, make sure you clean all your gear thoroughly before flying to Aotearoa.
I had never heard of sandflies before going to New Zealand, and trust me, I wish I had been better prepared when I arrived. Sandflies are tiny black flies that bite like mosquitoes. Except that sandflies bites are extremely itchy. For real, sandflies bite itch for days, sometimes up to a week. They are all over the country, but you’ll literally be invaded if you go camping. At some point, Robin and I couldn’t go out of the car when we were on the west coast of the South Island, too afraid to get bitten! If you’re going to New Zealand, don’t forget to bring some insect repellent before you go and some papaw to apply on your bites.
One of the most interesting things to know about New Zealand is that it is known for being a shaky country. If you travel the country for a few weeks, you will probably feel at least 1 or 2 small earthquakes. Don’t worry, you will only feel small shakes, and probably see some objects wobble around you. When we lived in Christchurch, my boyfriend and I felt small quakes all the time. It’s really weird when you’re not used to it. At some point, we could feel one almost every day. We were also using the app called GeoNet Quake which reports New Zealand earthquakes. So if you feel something, you can check where it happened and the intensity of the shake.
Around 30% of New Zealand is national park, and a visit to NZ would be incomplete without being immersed in its incredible wilderness. Whether you want to go kayaking in stunning Abel Tasman, hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing or simply cruise the Milford Sounds, the opportunities to get up close and personal with New Zealand’s natural environment are endless.
When planning a trip to New Zealand, keep in mind that the seasons are opposite. Being in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand summer months are December, January, and February. Like their Aussie neighbors, Kiwis celebrate Christmas in summer with dinner on the beach. Winter months are June, July, and August, when the climate brings more rain and snow covers the beautiful mountain peaks the country is known for.
The best way to visit New Zealand is to rent a campervan. Whether you’re a backpacker or a luxury traveler, there are campervan options for all budgets. Renting a campervan gives you the freedom to explore New Zealand at your own pace, stop every 10 minutes to take pictures of the incredible landscape (which you will), and you can enjoy the country’s stunning scenery in the most beautiful campsites.
7. Freedom camping
As you can imagine, in New Zealand camping and outdoor activities are very popular. Freedom camping, or camping for free, is allowed in some areas of the country. However, you need to realize that it doesn’t mean you can camp anywhere. There are many designated areas, ran by the Department Of Conservation (DOC), where you can camp for free in a tent or vehicle. If you’re camping in New Zealand, don’t forget to take your rubbish with you, and be respectful of other campers around you.
Contrarily to its Aussie neighbor, New Zealand doesn’t have poisonous animals, snakes or insects. In fact, New Zealand is one of the few islands around the globe where there have never been native snake populations. The only dangerous insect in NZ is the endangered spider, called the Katipo. It is similar to the Australian redback, but there are very few chances you ever see one. You can hike and explore the amazing natural wonders of Middle Earth worry free.
9. One-lane bridges
New Zealand is home to numerous one-lane bridges, which means they are wide enough to fit one vehicle. In fact, I’ve never seen that many single-lane bridges in my entire life! This is not really surprising considering the many rivers, streams and other waterways there are in this country, especially on the South Island. So, don’t be surprised if you come across one-lane bridges on your road trip. Usually, you’ll see the text “one lane bridge” written directly on the road when you’re approaching one.
10. Alcohol and cigarettes
Cigarettes and alcohol are extremely expensive in New Zealand. In fact, if you’re traveling to New Zealand, the best way to save money is to totally avoid drinking and smoking of any kind. You’d think a bottle of wine would be affordable, but not really. Well, I mean if you buy it at the Countdown or Pack N Save, you can get a bottle for $7 or $10. But, once you go to a restaurant or bar, be prepared to pay at least $10 for a glass. By the way, if you want to buy alcohol in New Zealand, you’ll have to bring your Passport with you as you are required to show proof of ID (overseas ID cards are not accepted). New Zealand aims at becoming smoke-free in 2025, which is why the price of a cigarette package averages $25.
You are not expected to give tips in New Zealand. Employees earn a decent wage. If you’re really happy with the service, then you can tip around 10% of the service’s value. In cafes and restaurants, you’ll sometimes find tip jars near the cashier where you can leave some spare change.
12. Tap water
Tap water in New Zealand is safe to drink across the country. In fact, it’s even better to drink tap water than to buy bottled water. You do not need to filter it before you drink it. In cities, water is being treated and it is also chlorinated, which is something I could sometimes taste in Christchurch.
Internet in New Zealand is not really the best. Actually, there are many places where you’ll have no internet. During our road trip, I barely used my phone, because most of the time we were in such remote areas that there was not even phone signal. In cities, you’ll find free wifi in McDonalds and libraries. If you’re staying in a hotel or hostel, the wifi will most likely be limited. When a place advertises “free wifi” it’s usually 200-500 MB per day. Which isn’t much but enough to keep in touch with your family.
People in New Zealand, also called Kiwis, are extremely friendly. They are very nice, and will most likely go out of their way to help you. During our time in New Zealand, we met many Kiwis interested in hearing our travel stories. Don’t be afraid to talk to the locals, they will most likely give you some tips for traveling New Zealand, and let you know of some amazing places you have to see!
New Zealanders have a very different accent from Americans. It took me a while to get used to it, mostly because the way they pronounce some words is really different. For example, the word “leg” will sound like “league”, bed sounds like “bid”, and “deck” sounds like… Well you get it, right? You will probably also learn new words. For example, a Kumara is a sweet potato (they even have a place called Kumara junction, for real), jandals are flip-flops and the list goes on.
With over 25 million sheep across the country, there is no lack of livestock in Kiwiland. In fact, it is said that there is 6 sheep for every person in New Zealand. Don’t be surprised if you see sheep crossing the road on your trip, or if you see cows for miles on end.
One of the most important things to know about New Zealand is that the sun is extremely strong. This is mostly due to the fact that there is less ozone to block UV rays. In summer, the average maximum temperature ranges between 20-30ºC. So, Make sure to wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
New Zealand is a small country made of two islands. And the fact is, you’re never far from the beach. The farthest from the beach you can be is actually 128kms. Well, I mean, the water is pretty cold even in summer, but it’s still good to know you can head to the beach whenever you want cause it’s not far!
There are many backpackers in New Zealand. So don’t be surprised if you see many European 20-something working in every hotel, restaurant and bar you step foot into. It has become incredibly easy for young people to visit New Zealand for a year or two with Working Holiday visas.
20. It’s incredibly beautiful
New Zealand is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful countries on earth. With its incredible wilderness, snow-covered mountain peaks, and picture-perfect landscapes, New Zealand is definitely worth a trip. This country will leave you in awe of its amazing natural wonders, and you’ll leave wanting more.
New Zealand is one of those destinations you don’t want to miss. With its stunning landscapes, millions of sheep and friendly locals, a trip to Middle Earth is one you will remember for a lifetime. I hope these 20 things to know before visiting New Zealand were helpful. Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Let me know in the comments below!
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