New Zealand’s tourism industry hasn’t stopped picking up pace since the premiere of the first The Lord of The Rings. Nowadays, it is difficult to meet someone who either hasn’t been or doesn’t want to visit the Land of The Long White Cloud – or a popular travel-related Instagram profile that doesn’t feature the country’s surreal landscapes. There are an array of practical and tangible reasons to choose New Zealand as your next holiday getaway: friendly locals, incredible scenery, rich culture, laid-back atmosphere, among other things. But there are also smaller details – hidden secrets, if you wish – that are equally important to be aware of when planning your trip to Aotearoa.
So if New Zealand is one of the places you are considering visiting for your next holidays, a handful of insightful information can be a big help in the organisation process. In the next paragraphs, we have outlined five things you need to know before travelling to NZ.
Every season is a good season to visit New Zealand
If you have got a flexible schedule and/or are able to take a holiday when you wish, timing your visit to New Zealand becomes more a matter of what you want to see/do than what you can see/do. Conversely, if your vacation has been allocated to a particular time of the year, your trip will likely have to be designed around the season at hand and what’s on in each place. But regardless of when you travel, there is always a well-balanced and unique way to experience New Zealand.
Being a southern hemisphere country, New Zealand begins to warm up in September, cooling back down in April. The high summer season falls between December and February, with average temperatures on the North Island fluctuating between 20 – 30ºC, making it the best time for travellers looking to enjoy the beach. As usual, the warm temperatures instigate people to move around and be outdoors, which increases the demand and consequently prices of tours and accommodation across the country. So although the chances of having good weather during your stay are higher, so maybe the overall cost of your trip and the difficulty to book particular spots – thus requiring advanced planning. If you prefer a more low-key and low-cost trip, consider visiting New Zealand either before or just after high season – in October or May, for example. Some of the most popular summer destinations are the Bay of Islands and the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island, and Nelson and Queenstown on the South Island.
Between June and August, the average temperature drops down to 10 – 15ºC on the North Island and below zero in some areas of the South Island. Hence, in wintertime, many visitors opt to head inland and explore the snowy peaks and vast lakes of New Zealand’s South Island. It is in the outskirts of Queenstown, Wanaka, and Christchurch that the main ski fields of the country are situated – a heaven for any snow sports aficionado. But if you are a fan of winter for the wine-drinking vibe it has instead of a passion for snowboard, a visit to the wine regions in Hawkes Bay or Blenheim for a taste of the local Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc is also possible.
Drive around and indulge in free camping as much as possible
One of the best things about New Zealand that only becomes evident once you have already spent some time travelling there are short distances between points of interest. Unlike neighbouring Australia, where an internal flight from one coast to the other can last nine hours, no domestic flight in New Zealand takes more than two hours. But even with such ease of mobility by air, the best way to explore the country still remains to hit the road and indulge in an interminable contrast of jaw-dropping sceneries.
Not only are New Zealand’s roads well-maintained and thoroughly signposted, but the fact that traffic concentrates around urban centres (and there aren’t that many of those) means that you have a good chance of driving alone on straight-line highways for hours on end. There are various companies that rent out spacey cars and self-sustained motorhomes at competitive prices, which end up beating what you would pay for one bus fare after another to go from A to B with a structured timetable.
For those spending more than a few weeks in Aotearoa, a good idea may be to buy a second-hand car with the intention of selling it before leaving. Both New Zealand and Australia have agreements with Japan to import cars at very low rates – you will see mostly Subaru, Toyota, and Daihatsu cars around – and you can pick one up for less than NZD$1000. Plus, the New Zealand government charges a relatively inexpensive road tax and doesn’t require you to purchase car insurance, making it the cheapest way of getting around. On top of that, New Zealand’s railway system is way less efficient than those found in Europe and the US, so relying on trains to get anywhere is a risky business.
Another factor that draws visitors to explore New Zealand by car is the possibility to park somewhere and spend the night. While there are many freedom camping spots across both the north and south island, parking up or pitching a tent anywhere is not legal. In fact, parking inspectors take their job seriously and fines for spending the night where you are not supposed to can amount up to NZD$300. Hence, make sure you know where all the free camping spots are before setting off on a road trip. But if you don’t want to take chances, try looking for DOC (Department of Conservation) campgrounds in the region where you are travelling – they are owned by the government, relatively cheap and well-kept, and tend to be located in amazing areas. In the end, all you actually need is an international driver license and the awareness to keep to the left-hand side of the road.
Strict biosecurity regulations and customs checks
Being a couple of small islands lots in the South Pacific Ocean, it is only natural that the fauna and flora of New Zealand are unique and, consequently, fragile. Endemic species have thrived and evolved at their own pace for millennia, and to suddenly be in contact with alien groups would be a shock, to say the least. So in order to protect the nature that makes New Zealand the pristine place it is, the NZ Government has encouraged strong conservation efforts through the implementation of solid biosecurity laws and customs regulations at border control posts. Moreover, the DOC (Department of Conservation) is responsible for getting rid of invasive species that have been introduced in the past and make sure the country’s natural environment is kept in harmony.
In practice, that means rigorous security checks upon arrival and the prohibition of a series of items – particularly foods, plants, and animal products – which should be declared prior to going through immigration at the risk of being fined. Likewise, outdoor gear such as tents and hiking boots run the risk of being contaminated with organisms that may be harmful to the environment of New Zealand. Therefore, make sure to give them a thorough clean before boarding and don’t forget to declare each and every item at the port of entry. It is not uncommon for an NZ border control officer to ask to go through your luggage and shoes to make sure it is all in order. If they do so, try not to get offended – it is only a measure to maintain the ecosystems prospering.
Be aware of the fickle weather and the sun
If there is one thing that New Zealand is not proud of is being one of the countries with the highest incidence of skin cancer. When compared to places like Europe and the US, New Zealand’s stratosphere has less pollution and ozone, which means that harmful ultra-violet rays can make their way in more easily and thus damage unprotected skin faster and with more intensity. Come to think of it, it is rather ironic that this is one of the consequences of being such a limpid and clean environment. But the fact of the matter is that visitors should be aware of the dangers of staying out in the Kiwi sun unprotected for too long. So a golden tip is to always carry a tube of good-quality, strong sunscreen (FPS 50 or more), a hat, and long sleeve shirts wherever you go, regardless of the season. On top of that, check the forecast and avoid going to the beach or being out in the sun on times with a high UV index.
And speaking of weather, New Zealand is known for its unpredictability and the fact that you can witness all four seasons on the same day. The climate of the North Island is quite different from that of the South Island, but in both sections of the country, temperatures vary a lot, the wind being the main factor for such abrupt variations. Featuring a subtropical climate, NZ North Island have both mild summers (average of 20-30 °C) and winters (between 10-15 °C) and for that, it hosts the country’s main touristic beach destinations. Meanwhile, the South Island has a more temperate climate and temperatures can reach below zero in winter months, especially in the far south. In summer, the average minimums allow for plenty of pleasant days spent outdoors. Then again, being a mountainous island, New Zealand is very susceptible to frequent and often unforeseen rain. This is particularly the case in the West Coast of the South Island, near Fox and Franz Josef glaciers and in the Fiordland National Park. Hence, it doesn’t matter what season you travel, when coming to New Zealand make sure to pack for all kinds of weather.
New visa policy implemented for NZ visa-waiver nationals in 2019
As it is the case with Europe, Australia, and many other countries, New Zealand has created a visa-waiver agreement with 60 nations allowing their citizens to travel to NZ without having to apply for a formal visa. For many years, visa-exempt passport holders who are coming to NZ for tourism purposes can arrive at any port of entry only bearing a valid passport, onward ticket, and proof of funds to finance their trips in order to enter the country. However, after an increase in the number of annual visitors, the Government of New Zealand found it necessary to streamline their Entry/Exit procedure by implementing a new travel authorization system – the NZ eTA. Hence, starting in October 2019, all members of the NZ visa-waiver accord will subject to an online application process prior to departing for New Zealand.
Similar to the Canadian eTA or the US ESTA, the New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority will assist local authorities in managing who is coming into the country, thus decreasing the chances of biosecurity and immigration-related issue from spurring. The entire process will be done online and after paying a processing fee, each applicant should receive a response in a matter of minutes. On top of the NZ eTA fee, the Government of New Zealand will introduce the IVL (International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy) which should also be paid by visa-exempt travellers who wish to spend less than 90 days in the country. Both the electronic authorization and the NZ IVL will be valid for two years or until the registered passport expires – whichever happens first. The pre-registration period for the new NZ eTA will open on the 1st of July, 2019, but the system will only officially come into force on October the 1st, 2019.