10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to New Zealand

So you've passed the rigorous customs screening, survived a long haul flight from the other side of the world, and made it through New Zealand's airport threshold. Now what?

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Lake Marian Photo © iStock/swissmediavision

We asked a few of our fellow Nomads what tips they would give to first-time travelers going to Aotearoa.

1. Practice Sun Safety

Josh Steinitz from NileGuide says the strength of the sun surprised him, "Especially at high altitudes and on the North Island, so always wear sun block even if it's a cloudy day."

While New Zealand is in the deep southern hemisphere, Auckland is on the 36th parallel south of the equator. So when thinking about the sun and weather, think of cities on the 36th parallel north of the equator – places you're probably more familiar with, such as Malaga in Spain, Tunis the Tunisian capital, and San Luis Obispo in California.

2. Sand Flies

Nobody tells you about the sand flies. These pesky insects will swarm on you in the summer, especially on the South Island on the west coast in places like Milford and Doubtful Sound. Make sure to bring plenty of strong bug spray, or purchase some before you leave civilisation to head out back-country camping and hiking.

It's a good idea to layer up in the evenings, cover your arms and legs, put socks on, and spray everywhere else with insect repellant. Do not underestimate these tiny pests.

3. Drive on the Correct (Left-hand) Side of the Road

Remember to look right before crossing the street. In big cities like Auckland, Alexia Nestora from VoluntourismGal noticed there are reminders on the curb telling tourists that traffic is coming from the opposite direction they're most used to. But, in case the sign isn't there to save you, always look to your right!

There are many one-way bridges on the South Island of New Zealand, which can be very confronting for travelers who've just hired a car and are still getting used to driving on the left-hand side of the road. As you leave the one-way bridge, remember to stick to the left-hand side if there's no on-coming traffic.

New Zealand's roads are often quiet, so exiting these bridges without any cars on the opposite side of the road can be a little daunting for first-timers.

Bonus tip: Always respect the speed limits. The New Zealand police don't take speeding lightly (and so they shouldn't), so you can get a fine even if you're just a few kilometers over the limit.

4. Staying Connected

The emergency telephone number in New Zealand is 111. Plus, it's free to call. If you have an emergency and need a quick response from the Police, Fire Service, Ambulance or Search and Rescue, dial 111.

When it comes to Wi-Fi connectivity, you're totally out of luck in remote areas. But, when you're in the major cities, like Auckland, Queenstown, Wellington, and Christchurch, you'll find plenty of cafes offering free Wi-Fi to customers, as well as accommodation with Wi-Fi in the bundle.

If you want to get a sim card when you arrive in New Zealand, check out the phone stores at the airport to see the best deals and find an option that's right for you. Look out for Spark, 2degrees, and Vodafone.

5. Hazards to Be on the Lookout For

Given New Zealand's sub-tropical climate, it's no surprise that New Zealanders like to spend so much of their leisure time in the water. However, water can conceal hazards. We recommend that you visit the Water Safety New Zealand website for advice on how to stay safe on New Zealand's beaches and waterways.

There are some pretty rugged mountain roads too. Always check road conditions before you head out on a lengthy road-trip – espeically during winter months, when high passes to ski fields or Milford Sound can freeze over. In these conditions it's best to bring tire chains with you to fit onto the wheels when the signs say so.

It's also not uncommon for landslides or rock-falls to cause road closures. On the road from Glenorchy to Queenstown there are a few tricky narrow passes where large rocks are often in the way.

Always drive carefully, never drive if you're tired. Besides, pulling over on the side of the road in New Zealand often means you'll be treated to some pretty incredible scenery!

6. Time Your Trip Right for an All Blacks Game

If you're there when an All Blacks game is on, you've got to get yourself a ticket to see the almighty New Zealand team do the 'Haka'. This tribal tradition is well-known around the world, but it's much better in real life than on a 2D screen. 

7. Prepare Ahead for Day Walks

Sarah Kennerley says she's seen many unprepared tourists wearing jandals (thongs/flip-flops) and jeans hiking through the hills, trails and extreme terrain with no water, no food, and no idea.

What makes New Zealand's day walks different is how quickly conditions can change. Setting off on a sunny morning, sunblock is only the first thing to consider. Within hours the wind might have picked up or there could be freezing horizontal rain, and you might get stuck with no shelter. Casual walks on mountains in Europe might make people believe they are prepared, but this is a completely different place.

8. Respect the Environment

Martina Grossi says New Zealand is all about recycling – people can even get fines if they don't recycle properly. She also says to try picking for mussels. Most beaches you'll see signs with details on what you can and can’t do.

9. Finding Campsites

Marijane Soilis says to bring camping gear and download CamperMate from the App Store for cheap accommodation alternatives in the outdoors.

Check out the Department of Conservation's website before you go – it's got plenty of practical information on campsites that'll hep you find an adventure right near you! The DOC site has thousands of options, and there are plenty of locally-owned campgrounds with tent sides or camper van hook-ups! Don't miss out on sleeping under the stars!

10. Learn Some Maori

The locals will be glad you learned some of their history and culture before visiting. Plus, who doesn't love showing off their new lanugage skills?

Kia Ora: Welcome

Aotearoa: Land of the Long White Cloud, New Zealand

Kai: 
Food

Marae: 
Maori religious and meeting place

Pakeha
: New Zealander of non-Māori descent, usually European

Whanau: 
Family

Kauri: 
Large Native Tree

Haka: 
Tribal dance

What did you learn in New Zealand and wish you knew before you went? Let us know in the comments below!

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3 Comments

  • Jeanne Howard said

    Great article. I conducted tours to New Zealand and Australia for six years and concur with your advice. One thing that I would add: I always carried non-staining Caladrill lotion. When bitten, I'd rub it on and around the bump. The sting and itch immediately subsided. I have written a book: Tales and Travails of a Tour Director, which contains stories of my experiences as well as handy tips for travelers. My website is: [email protected]

  • Naomi said

    You don't have to bring bug spray, it is possible to buy it here! Useful kiwi words/terms to know include "togs" (swimwear), "jandals" (flip flops), "lollies" means any sweets or candy, "bach" is pronounced batch and means holiday home, and "a dairy" is a convenience store. Also handy to know is that generally anyone from outside of Auckland pretty much hates all Aucklanders... but overall, kiwis are a seriously laid-back bunch!

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