I’ve lived in New Zealand for nearly three decades and I’ve seen the country through all months of the year, through the economic up and downs, and through the recent tourism boom. As a local, I’ve accepted New Zealand’s quirks and fickle demands on its citizens that will probably seem outright bizarre to you.
So read on for insider knowledge that will make your trip to NZ a wild one:
1 Grab a copy of NZ frenzy (an amateur guidebook) that offers fantastic off the beaten path suggestions. Lonely Planet’s New Zealand guidebook is sterile and characterless and I’m sorry to say that because I loved LP’s Southeast Asia version, but unfortunately, their NZ guidebook is just well below standard.
2 Food is expensive for a country that produces 10 times its own consumption. Buy your fruits and veggies from street stalls on the side of the highway. Fish for paua and visit bakeries in the hour before closing to keep your food costs low. It’s also worth noting that tipping in restaurants isn’t expected (although always a nice surprise).
3 The Wi-Fi here is criminally slow and expensive. You will almost always have to pay per MB in hostels and hotels. Personal data plans and throw away SIMS aren’t much better either – sorry, you’re better off keeping the internet usage to a minimum.
4 Don’t rush through the North Island to get to the South Island. Take the time to enjoy the cities, beaches and warmer, dryer weather before crossing the strait.
5 Public transport is few and far between compared to where you’re from. Many choose to drive, but the turns in our roads are challenging and be aware that locals will drive right on the speed limit or faster. So be careful. (We also drive on the left).
6 Cheap New Zealand wine doesn’t taste cheap. An NZ$8-10 bottle is actually pretty decent stuff – drink it, drink it all.
7 Learn to love hiking (if you don’t already) because it’s the group tour activities that will drive up the cost of your trip. Save your money for the best tours.
8 Travel in the shoulder seasons – summer is overrated and crowded and winter is much too cold and wet. In spring: September, October, November, and autumn: March, April, May, you won’t have to book too far in advance – or at all – and it’ll give your trip a little spontaneity that a trip in NZ needs.
Read: To be kiwi
9 Freedom camping is legal which means you can park up overnight and sleep anywhere that there isn’t a local council bylaw (a sign saying no overnight camping) or common sense places like outside of a school and city centres are frowned upon. Coastal lookouts are my favourites to stop for a night. If a parking officer tries to fine you, just say you pulled over for a rest because you didn’t want to continue driving while tired.
10 Bring a great camera, or better - a photographic memory – your photographs will never measure up to the real life experience.
11 Talk to the locals, in cafés or at a Marae – we love a good chat and we’re pretty proud of our little nation, so ask us about kiwi and Maori culture. You can visit any Marae in the country, but it’s customary to bring a small gift of food.
12 Allow extra time to travel anywhere, because despite the small size of the country, you’ll want to pull over for photo opportunities, to buy fresh fruit from the roadside stalls, and to follow signs pointing to waterfalls and hikes not listed in your guidebooks.
13 You’ll need a passport to buy alcohol if you look in anyway under 30 years old, as strict alcohol policies at liquor stores and supermarkets mean that that they won’t accept foreign driver’s licenses. It’s harder for the staff to spot a fake if they’ve never seen a licence from that country before.
Check out my New Zealand travel resource page for city guides and off the beaten path locations
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