The Complete Guide to New Zealand continues with my New Zealand Tips and Tricks.
These New Zealand tips will help you navigate the country (and avoid many of the mistakes that I made). I mean, why do I get into so many kerfuffles if not to help you avoid them?
Read on to find out all my tips and tricks for visiting New Zealand.
- 1 Know That You’re Leaving
- 2 Unpack Your Snacks and Wash Your Boots
- 3 Drive on the Right (Left) Side of the Road
- 4 Get a SIM Card
- 5 Buy Groceries
- 6 Budget Budget Budget!
- 7 The Most Popular Hostels
- 8 Pack a Portable Charger
- 9 Be Prepared to Exercise
- 10 No Ozone Mo’ Problems
- 11 What to Eat in New Zealand
- 12 Tipping in New Zealand
Know That You’re Leaving
New Zealand is so amazing that they have to have rules that keep you from just staying there forever. So my first New Zealand tip is that you actually have to leave.
When you are flying to New Zealand, you MUST have a return ticket. You’re only allowed to remain in the country without one if you have a Work Visa (which you’ll need to show them).
Tourists can stay in New Zealand for a long time without a Visa (Canadians can stay for somewhere between 9 and 18-months), but they still need that exit ticket.
This is so New Zealand can ensure that you will actually leave one day.
Not sure when you’re leaving yet? Book a cheap (comparably) Jetstar flight to Australia for a holiday and delay having to make that decision!
Unpack Your Snacks and Wash Your Boots
This is an essential tip for visiting New Zealand: do not bring food into the country! Seriously, they treat an errant apple like it’s a pound of cocaine (… ok not that bad. But you get my point!).
Save yourself the hassle (and save the country the irreparable damage) and toss any food stuffs before you enter the country.
That means plane food, sealed snacks from your home country, treats for friends, even processed foods like cookies. Some sealed snacks will be allowed, but it’s best to declare them and have them checked.
Because New Zealand exists in isolation, outside foods can introduce disease. Your Granny Smith could wipe out all the kiwifruit. Do you really want to risk that??
Also, be sure to clean your hiking equipment before you arrive.
If you’re like me and “cleaning your hiking equipment” means letting the mud dry and stamping your feet, don’t worry. Declare your gear at the airport and they’ll clean it for you. (This isn’t some scary declare it and they’ll confiscate it deal. They really do clean it!)
You’ll get some shiny, disinfected gear. And they get the assurance that your boots won’t bring in a virus.
Most hiking spots in the country have little disinfectant stations. Please be kind to New Zealand and take the moment to brush your shoes. Your effort is helping save the majestic Kauri tree and other incredible wildlife in New Zealand.
Drive on the Right (Left) Side of the Road
I honestly didn’t think about driving before I got to New Zealand, even though I initially planned to rent a camper van. Can you imagine how much of a disaster that would have been??
New Zealand tip for my driving friends: they drive on the left side of the road (the same as the UK).
Oddly, although Kiwis drive on the British side of the road, they use km/h. The standard speed in cities is 50 km/h. On highways its 100 km/h. In the country it averages 80 km/h. (Check road signs for accurate speed limits.)
You can get automatic and manual cars in the country, although automatic will cost you a bit more. If, like me, that’s all you know how to drive, please pay the extra money!
Tourists cause the most accidents in New Zealand. Along the road to Milford Sound, there are a number of collisions daily due to inexperienced drivers, exhausted travellers, and cheap cars.
Read up on the New Zealand rules of the road and be careful if you decide to drive here!
Get a SIM Card
I recommend getting a SIM card while travelling in New Zealand. Hostels and hotels have spotty wifi, if any. It’s usually not free.
Most pit stops don’t have wifi either.
Travellers wanting to call home, Instagram the incredible landscapes, or find their way on Google Maps will need the help of a data plan.
The easiest way to get a phone plan is at the airport. There are booths at the arrivals gate.
Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees are the big companies in New Zealand. They have similar coverage maps (there are some areas of the country that will always be dead zones. New Zealand is too rural to be fully wired), extensive data options, and lots of data options.
I opted for Vodafone, since I’d heard of the brand before and it was the first kiosk I saw at the airport. Their monthly 2.5 GB plan got me through my year in New Zealand with ease. BUT my tour bus had WIFI.
If you think you’ll need more data, you’re better to go for a higher plan early on. There are few kiosks throughout the country where you can change your plan.
Every country has their own grocery stores. I think wandering through them is the best way to get to know a place.
In New Zealand, there are 5 major brands:
- New World,
- Four Square, and
- Fresh Choice.
PAKn’SAVE is the cheapest option. It’s the equivalent to a Costco or a Walmart. Like Costco, you won’t find them in the city centre. They’re on the edge of the city or off the highways.
New World and Countdown are more middle range. They’d be like the British Tesco/Sainsbury or Canadian Sobeys/Loblaws.
Four Square and Fresh Choice are more expensive. Fresh Choice isn’t quite as high quality as Waitrose in the UK, but it is clearly aiming for that level.
Cities and towns will have independent stores and markets as well, but knowing the big 5 will help you plan your larger shops.
Grocery stores in New Zealand have reward points cards. You can sign up at the cash register and get a temporary card that works just like a real one. Use the card to earn points towards discounts and unlock loyalty discounts. At New World, you can even get a tourist card version of their loyalty card.
Grocery shopping is a great way to keep costs down while you travel. Packing lunches also helps you keep moving so you can fit more into your day!
Budget Budget Budget!
New Zealand isn’t an easy place to go to on a whim (I would know. I moved there after finding a $200 CAD ticket to avoid going to law school).
Everything is expensive. The food is expensive (because everything is important – even the kiwifruit!). The activities are expensive (but they’re so cool that you’ll want to do them all and quickly spend every penny you have). The transit is expensive (because even though it looks like a tiny island, things are actually far apart). The accommodations are expensive (how can a 3-star hotel be $500NZD??).
Plan ahead, and plan to spend more than you think. You’ll be swayed by cool activities and yummy looking meat pies.
Avoid living off cup noodle and missing out on adventures by taking the time to look at your money.
It’ll suck while you’re doing it, but you’ll appreciate it later!
Note: You can use ATM and credit cards at most places across the country. So if your budget isn’t perfect, you’ll be able to access more money.
The Most Popular Hostels
This New Zealand tip is for the backpackers among us.
The most popular hostels in New Zealand are the big brands:
- BASE, and
Before you plan to stay in hostels because they’re insanely cheap, remember that New Zealand hostels aren’t like Asia. They’re actually sort of expensive.
Hostels in New Zealand are still cheaper than other accommodations, but they’ll cost you a lot more than any other hostel I’ve ever heard of.
Hostels average $30NZD per night in a shared room with 8-12 (bunk beds). In cities like Queenstown, the price and number of roommates go up as the quality goes down.
Hostels always advertise free WIFI. It never works. They usually sell WIFI as well. It’s 50/50 if that will work. You’re better to buy a SIM card and rely on data.
If you’re planning to stay in hostels, invest in an adapter with a bunch of USB ports. New Zealand hostels tend to have 2 plugs to a room, which leads to a lot of drama over phone charging. Be the hero of the room when you can offer a place for everyone to plug in their devices.
New Zealand hostels book up quickly. Book ahead to avoid disappointment! This can be annoying for people who want to go with the flow, but planning a week ahead is better than sleeping in the bush with the stoats and the possums.
Not into hostels? Don’t worry!
New Zealand has tons of other options.
You can camp, Airbnb, Farmstay, Housesit, rent a house, book a BnB, or stay in a hotel. These come from a variety of brands with a number of unique options.
Pack a Portable Charger
You’ll be taking photos half the day. Then sitting on a bus the other half.
It’s worth it to invest in a good portable charger so your devices don’t die.
Don’t miss out on that awesome waterfall shot because you wanted to save 20 bucks on a charger.
Be Prepared to Exercise
This was the New Zealand tip I needed most before I visited.
New Zealand is a volcanic country. That means it is HILLY.
I’m not talking nice gentle slopes that you can stroll over. I’m talking giant mountains that will have you sweating so much you feel like you’ll slide out of your own skin.
At least if you’re me.
Be prepared to do a lot of exercise in New Zealand.
Even if you don’t like exercise, trust me, you’ll be exercising. The country is just too full of beautiful mountains for you to not climb them!
Pack comfortable shoes (preferably hiking shoes), exercise clothing, a water bottle, and whatever else you need to help you tackle those hills.
(An additional New Zealand tip: pack a Whittakers chocolate bar for the top of those hikes. Its a perfect mountain peak treat!)
No Ozone Mo’ Problems
Well there is, but there’s a giant hole in it.
That means the sun is insanely strong in New Zealand. Tip for visitors to New Zealand: wear sunscreen ALL THE TIME.
I still bear weird tan lines from cloudy days in the country.
Wear hats and sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare, as well. But mostly work to protect your skin.
Seriously, there are apps you can get that will tell you the time it takes for you to get a sunburn each day. One day mine said 2 minutes.
I mean, I know I’m pale but that’s ridiculous!
What to Eat in New Zealand
Not many people know that New Zealand has a cuisine. It is mostly British, but the Kiwis put a unique spin on all their meals!
Read more about what to eat in New Zealand my Comprehensive Guide to Must Try New Zealand Food.
Tipping in New Zealand
The short answer: no.
Tipping isn’t commonplace in New Zealand. Servers make a living wage so they don’t require tip money in the same way that North Americans do.
If you really enjoy your service, say thank you with a small tip. This can be done at restaurants, bars, with food delivery or in taxis/Ubers.
(Hehe a New Zealand tip about New Zealand tips. Not funny? Just me?)
Thank you for joining me for another instalment of my Complete Guide to New Zealand: Tips and Tricks edition.
By now you probably understand why I’m so obsessed with this country and why I feel the need to share it all with you.
Hopefully these New Zealand tips and tricks will answer your questions about travelling to New Zealand. With this knowledge, and the ideas from my North and South Island Guides, you have all you need to plan a truly epic New Zealand itinerary.
If not, seriously what else can I do to convince you besides scream at you to go. GO TO NEW ZEALAND!
There? Are you going now?
Have an amazing trip to the best country in the world, and the place my heart will forever call home: New Zealand.
Have any questions that weren’t answered in these New Zealand tips and tricks? Ask me in the comments section below!