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New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors

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FACT – New Zealand is our nirvana and we bloody love it there! We were fortunate enough to have both lived, worked and travelled in and around Aotearoa (Maori for New Zealand, meaning the ‘land of the long white cloud) for several years so we always tried to make the most of our time there.

From the crown of Cape Reinga to the base of Bluff, we relished our road trips and embraced all kinds of Kiwiana. Here are our top New Zealand travel tips for getting the most out of your time here (and your wallet!).

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors

New Zealand travel tips:

Plan according to the time of year

Obviously when you visit may depend on your itinerary (e.g. summer road trip vs. winter skiing) but remember that if you’re visiting from the northern hemisphere, the New Zealand summer is your winter. Many of you reading this will currently be rolling your eyes but it is incredible the amount of people we’ve met in hostels who hadn’t packed properly and were surprised by the climate switcheroo.

Prices vary throughout the year but their summer (December to March) is peak season so definitely book in advance especially in isolated regions where accommodation is scare like Mount Cook. Also try to avoid their school holidays – places like Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel are NOT pleasant to visit during the school break.


Car Hire Vs Campervan

Sometimes, campervanning isn’t always the cheapest combined form of travel and accommodation once you take into account additional campsite fees (and ‘freedom camping’ is on the decrease due to ‘misbehaving’ backpackers). If you are on a tight budget, it can work out cheaper to get a budget unbranded car from the likes of Jucy or Apex (but not Omega car rentals as they are baadddddd!) and stay in private rooms or dorms in hostels. Check out to compare different prices from all the rental car companies. 

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors

Public Transport

If driving isn’t your style then it is possible to explore most of New Zealand by public transport:


There are two major bus companies that offer routes across the country – Intercity and Skip. The fares for great for budget travellers and certain routes can start from $1 a ticket. Intercity also offer a couple of different passes that allow flexible travel and save you lots of money!

If you are a young backpacker and want to make friends during your New Zealand trip then you might want to book a bus pass with either Stray or Kiwi Experience. Both companies offer a variety of different hop-on, hop-off routes and organise lots of fun activities that may (or may not) involve copious amounts of drinking.

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors
Kiwi Experience backpacker bus


There are local train services in both Auckland and Wellington, but New Zealand does not have any major commuter lines that you can ride on from city to city. However there are some long distance scenic train services for tourists which come with comfy seating, open-air viewing carriages, audio commentary, onboard cafe and large windows. Head to the Great Journeys of New Zealand website for information on routes, fares and timetables >

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors
TranzAlpine train between Christchurch and Greymouth

FURTHER READINGUltimate New Zealand bucket list – top 50 things to do

Awesome Accommodation

As alluded to above, hostel accommodation can be quite cheap in New Zealand but make sure you do your research beforehand, especially in Auckland as good hostels are few and far between (check Hostelworld for ratings). Surprisingly, private rooms in hostels can be quite affordable compared to hotels – you can also get discounts if you have an ISIC or YHA membership card. If you want a truly unique Kiwi experience, you can book a Bach online, which is essentially a cabin like experience with basic amenities but usually in stunning settings.

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors
Private room in Hanmer Springs YHA Hostel

‘Weather’ to pack more than you need

One of Kiwi crooner’s Crowded House’s most famous songs is ‘Four Seasons in One Day’  – whilst not strictly about weather, this is a good reminder that the climate in New Zealand can change very quickly, especially if you are exploring the mountainous areas in the South Island – so pack for all occasions.

Slip slop

Wear sunscreen as and when required as you can easily get burned as the UV is very high in New Zealand (especially when skiing as the sun reflects from the snow). Suntan lotion is comparatively expensive to buy in New Zealand so it may be best to bring it with you.

Supermarket Savings

Undoubtedly the best (i.e cheapest) place to get food and provisions whilst travelling is at one of the big supermarkets. Countdown and New World are the most common but the larger cities and towns also have Pak’nSave (look out for big bright yellow shed type stores). They sometimes provide fuel coupons if you spend a certain amount in store, saving you a few cents per gallon of petrol / gasoline. Four Square supermarkets are quite common too in smaller towns but the groceries tend to be a bit expensive (look out for their smiling Mr Four Square cartoon character with the big thumb – a real slice of Kiwiana).

For toiletries, travel items and clothing, The Warehouse is your best bet (K Mart are good too but there are not many branches of these). 

Another New Zealand travel tip – if you are visiting for several weeks, pick up a ‘tourist’ loyalty card inside Countdown and New World – this is a cardboard / temporary version of their usual loyalty card and it enables you to access lots of exclusive offers on their shelves without the need for a permanent address.

At Your Convenience

If someone mentions a dairy, don’t expect to be milking cows or selecting eggs – a ‘dairy’ in New Zealand is basically a convenience store (grocery store). These are mainly independently run and are open long hours.

For Your Information

Although most travellers now plan their travel online, it is still nice occasionally to pop into a tourist information office (known as ‘i-SITE’ offices in New Zealand) and either speak with someone knowledgeable or pick up some quirky maps or find special offers. They are dotted all over the country and the one in Auckland Harbour is particularly good.

Emergency number 111

Hopefully you will never need to dial the emergency services, but be aware that the New Zealand emergency number is 111 (NOT 911 or 999). Also make sure you have medical insurance (although there are reciprocal healthcare arrangements in place for travellers from certain destinations, including most Commonwealth countries) – that said, calling an ambulance will likely result in a fee.

Swedish rounding in New Zealand

Kerching. Something to look out for when using cash in shops – dollar amounts get rounded up to the nearest 10c, as there are no 1c coins in circulation. NB This doesn’t happen when you pay by card or EFTPOS.

Cheap As Discounted Tours

Good cheap discounted deals are to be had and two of the best deal websites are Grab One (good for restaurant deals) and Bookme. A great sample Bookme deal is the Shotover Jet in Queenstown for $1 as opposed to $159 – but very very VERY limited availability.

Some of the best previous deals we’ve managed to bag on these sites include $1 ferry tickets to Waiheke Island from Auckland, $1 Auckland harbour cruise, plus various dinner, wine-tasting and hot pool experiences.

YHAs and i-SITEs also sometimes have discounted deals, or if you are staying in a particular area for several weeks, check out the Entertainment Book website. We purchased a membership for our time spent in Auckland and Queenstown and ‘saved’ hundreds of dollars on sit-down meals, attraction entrance fees and tours.

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors
Shotover Jet in Queenstown

Wine Not

Any country where good wine is officially cheaper to buy in restaurants than the mineral water is alright by us. Whilst in New Zealand, make sure you visit one of the wineries such as Gibbston Valley near Queenstown or drop by one of the many awesome breweries. The booze scene here is incredible and unlike the United States, Australia or Canada, you can buy alcohol in supermarkets (similar to Europe).

Happy Hours in New Zealand are also pretty abundant and are a regular part of the drinking scene. Several of the cheapest happy hour bars we can recall are the Spitting Feathers and Bluestone Room (both in Auckland) plus the 1876 Old Courthouse bar in Queenstown ($3 schooners).

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors
Yealands Winery Estate in the south island

Kiwi Flavours

We have so many food and drink items to recommend that we’ve written a dedicated New Zealand food and drink blog all about them – Enjoy!

Whittaker’s – the most popular chocolate bars in New Zealand

L&P, World Famous in New Zealand

Make sure you quench your thirst with a bottle of L&P, a refreshing and uniquely fizzy Kiwi drink made from lemon and mineral water – it also goes perfectly with ‘fush and chups’.

If you are passing through Paeroa where the drink used to be manufactured, you can pose and take a photo with the big bottle of L&P there.

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors

The Next Big Thing – Large Statues in New Zealand

During our time in Aoteroa, we became slightly obsessed by visiting the various ‘big things’ on our road-trips, essentially weird and wonderful roadside statues, from big fruit in Cromwell to a big boot in Taihepe. Read our guide to all of these amazing big statues in New Zealand >

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors


More of a problem in the South Island (but not exclusive), these Kiwi critters are relentless bloodsuckers (not vampires!) and continually nip at you, generally whilst on the beaches or at night (they frequent bush and moving water areas). Whilst annoying, the bites won’t cause you any harm but can become inflamed and quite itchy – insect repellants will be your new best friend in New Zealand (but it is still nowhere near as bad as the fly situation in the Aussie outback!)

Maori culture

Learning about the Maori culture, New Zealand’s native and indigenous people should be high on your agenda whilst in Aotearoa. There are plenty of Maori experiences all around the islands (some legit and authentic, some not so) – above all, be respectful and take time to do your research before visiting such a site (e.g. always take off your shoes before entering a wharenui). The amount of times we’ve also seen drunken hakas performed in hostels make us cringe.

New Zealand travel tips for first-time visitors

Aotearoa Accent’s are Sweet As

The Kiwi dialect is choice and one of our favourites in the world – just remember that the ‘e’ is often pronounced like an ‘i’ (so for instance, ‘sex’ becomes ‘six’ and ‘dead’ becomes ‘did – hopefully you don’t mix up those particular examples up). And be careful when you ask for ‘thongs’…

If you want to hear the lingo beforehand, check out the famous ‘Beached As’ whale clip below or watch Kiwi movie classics like Scarfies, The World’s Fastest Indian, Goodbye Pork Pie or Hunt for the Wilderpeople during your visit (or ‘Shortland Street’ on TV if you get really desperate…)

Quick Kiwi lingo guide

Aotearoa: Maori name for ‘New Zealand’ (meaning land of the long white cloud)
Bach: (pronounced ‘batch’) – Holiday home usually by the sea 
Bro: Mate
Choice: Good/cool
Churs: Thanks
Dairy: Newsagents/small supermarket
Haka: A Maori ceremonial war dance
Hangi: Traditional Maori cooking method using an underground earth oven
Jandals: Flip flops
Kia Ora: Hello (in Maori)
Stoked: Happy
Sweet as: No worries
Togs: Swimsuit
Tramping: Hiking
Yeah, nah: A polite no

New Zealand road trip itineraries

Here are some sample itineraries if you are planning a New Zealand road trip:

New Zealand destination guides:

Check out some of our most popular New Zealand area guides:

Watch our New Zealand South Island video

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