10 Things to Know About New Zealand Before You Go

You've made it to the Land of the Long White Cloud. Now what? Travelers share their tips for travel safety in New Zealand, finding campsites, navigating the roads, preparing for day hikes, and more.


A hiker reaches the top of Roy's Peak in New Zealand. Photo © iStock/swissmediavision

What is New Zealand best known for? Stunning scenery and changeable weather, to name a few. We asked our fellow Nomads what tips they would give to first-time travelers going to Aotearoa.

1. Practice sun safety

The strength of the sun in New Zealand may surprise you, 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 civilization 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, there are often reminders on the curb telling tourists that traffic is coming from the opposite direction to what they're probably 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.

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

4. Staying connected in New Zealand

The emergency telephone number in New Zealand is 111. Plus, it's free to call, so 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 probably 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. Natural 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, and never drive if you're tired. Besides, pulling over on the side of the road to rest 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

Be sure to wear proper hiking attire (boots and waterproof layers, not flip-flops and jeans) and bring adequate water and snacks, even if you're only going on a short hike.

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

New Zealand is all about recycling – people can even get fines if they don't recycle properly. If you want to try picking for New Zealand's famous green-lipped mussels, be aware that there are limits on how many you can harvest. Most beaches you'll see signs with details on what you can and can’t do, but be sure to check the New Zealand Fishing and Aquaculture site to find out about current biotoxin warnings.

9. Finding campsites in New Zealand

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 to help you find an adventure right near you. The site lists hundreds 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


Maori religious and meeting place

: New Zealander of non-Māori descent, usually European


Large Native Tree

Tribal dance

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  • 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: jeannemhoward@verizon.net.

  • 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!

  • nz vacations said

    Great tips for those who want to visit NZ. For a hassle free trip, visit: <a href="http://newzealandvacations.com/getting-around">New Zealand Vacations</a>.

  • Debra McCarthy said

    Starting in Perth February then cruising Australia New Zealand ending in Sydney.

  • CM said

    American citizens do not travel or go to New Zealand- do not give your money to a country that dislikes and hates Americans please reconsider spending your money and time elsewhere. There can be terrorism against Americans in New Zealand in the form of mental torture and abuse and extreme dislike or hate for American citizens. You can also be treated very poorly by the national healthcare system if any emergency happens and you have to go to hospital there. There is so much hate and dislike towards Americans that I highly recommend that Americans stop giving New Zealand their money. I recommend rather going to Australia we're only 50% of the population dislikes are hates American where is a New Zealand it'll be about 80%. Tasmania looks just like New Zealand in many respects but it is actually more beautiful due to the Rozalia parrots cockatoos the frogs and the history there you will find out information like how the Australians shut down the aboriginal people and killed them this happened in Tasmania they also burn their bodies alive in the desert out of heat and discuss for the aboriginal people however since World War II America and Australia have had decent relationship. this is not the case in New Zealand since World War II and the fair trade act been cut off between New Zealand and America by the Americans due to New Zealand not complying with American military request to park their ships in their port which they did not allow this happened and this is partly why the heat next to the majority of Americans have an Irish republic support and heritage. New Zealand is a crown and a tea and is operated by the monarchy of England the Queens face remains on all the money in New Zealand. This is one of the reasons why there's so much hate and dislike towards Americans because New Zealand is a British colony.

  • Deb Crump said

    CM what on earth is wrong with you? Everything you say is an absolute load of rubbish. If you have issues with New Zealanders it's your personality and attitude nothing to do with being g American. Folks from the USA are very welcome here. NZ is NOT a British colony that ended about 40 years ago. There is NO terrorism. Lastly many New Zealanders are from Irish heritage. CM I would suggest the problem with you and New Zealand is YOU.

  • ScooterNVA said

    CM is either woefully misinformed or deliberately lying when it comes to New Zealand’s healthcare system and how it treats US tourists. I know this for a fact — my cousin was traveling in NZ in 2019 when her appendix burst. She spent almost two weeks in a government-run hospital (she was in Auckland and I think it was City Hospital) and she marveled at the professionalism, cleanliness, and care she received from her surgeons, doctors and nurses.

    My partner and I visited Australia and Tasmania in 2006 and had a wonderful time. Both Australia and New Zealand are stunningly beautiful countries; CM’s comments are not worthy of either country. We look forward to our month-long trek across NZ in 2024!

  • Joanne Winchester said

    I am going to New Zealand on the Toad Scholar tour
    A New Zealand Odyssey:Indigenous Culture &Natural Beauty
    In November
    It will be my first time in New Zealand I am looking forward to the trip

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