Updated August 10, 2020.
If you’ve been following along on Facebook and Instagram, you know I just got back from this year’s Trip of a Lifetime to New Zealand’s South Island! We had a fantastic time, but there are a few things we learned along the way that other travelers might find useful, so here you go! This is what you should know before your trip to beautiful New Zealand!
Need to Know
Here is a quick list of useful, general information!
- What is a person from New Zealand called? A “Kiwi”! They are sometimes also called “New Zealanders”, but I really like saying Kiwi!
- Capital city: Auckland, on the North Island
- They have caves full of glow worms! But you will have to catch them at night. We didn’t see them while we were there, much to our disappointment.
- Currency: New Zealand Dollar (How much is that? Check xe.com to find out!)
- Toilets: This sign was posted in every single bathroom stall across New Zealand! It’s there because Asians come to New Zealand often for vacation, and if you’ve seen an Asian-style toilet, you know that Asians use a very different kind of toilet, and they use it very differently. I can tell you from experience that during my three months living in Japan, it would have been nice to have a diagram showing me how to use it! So don’t think poorly of anyone who may need the diagram!
Keep reading: What Women Pack for Winter in New Zealand
- Official Language: English; and yes, their accent is different from Australia!
- iSite: These are information centers in seemingly every town and village all over New Zealand. Don’t hesitate to step inside and ask your questions. Kiwis are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
- Car Registration: When you check in for your accommodation, you will be asked for your car’s registration—this is not a piece of paper from your glove compartment, it’s your license plate number! Commit it to memory or write it down and keep it with you.
- Outlets: This is what the outlets look like in New Zealand and Australia, and most importantly, you must switch the outlet on!
Keep reading: 5 Essentials for International Travel
- Tipping and taxes: You do not have to tip in New Zealand. A service charge is already included in the price at restaurants, and taxes are included in all prices—restaurants, souvenirs, grocery stores, etc. The price you see is the price you pay!
- Water: Speaking of restaurants, water is free at restaurants and is typically self-service. This is something we take for granted in the U.S., but in many countries you have to pay for tap water! It was nice to know New Zealand has the same water policy—it’s hard enough to stay hydrated when traveling!
- Cell Service: Cell service is strong enough in towns and surrounding areas, but you will lose service in some long stretches between towns. This was never problematic, but it’s good to be aware of it. In all honesty, we had more and better service than we expected!
Keep reading: New Zealand’s Epic Scenery
For Americans, a trip to New Zealand is quite a journey! To find the best way to get to New Zealand from your current location, I recommend using Rome 2 Rio. This will show you all available options! For Americans coming from the East Coast (like Steve and I did), you will have to connect somewhere. There are seasonal nonstop flights on United from San Francisco (SFO), and Air New Zealand has nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX), SFO, Houston (HOU), and Hawaii (HNL).
Flights can be expensive, but if you are willing to make a stop or two along the way, you can find affordable flights. We flew from Washington-Dulles (IAD) to Houston (HOU) to Sydney (SYD), enjoyed a 26-hour layover in Sydney, and flew to Christchurch, New Zealand, the following day. It took longer than a non-stop from the U.S., but we got to spend a whole day in one of our favorite cities in the world on the way!
Take a sneak peek: Flying Business Class on Air New Zealand
Also, please note that you will be filling out a Passenger Arrival Card before you land (to be received and filled out on the plane–bring a pen!). You will turn it in at customs. You will also fill out a Passenger Departure Card to be turned in before you go through security at the airport in New Zealand.
The best way to see the most of New Zealand is driving! There is very little public transportation, so you will most likely want to rent a car. Also:
- It’s about the journey: You are not going to New Zealand for the cities, you’re going for the nature, scenery, landscapes, etc. Don’t be in a hurry to get to your next destination. Enjoy the drive and make sure you stop often to take pictures!
- Which side: Drive on the LEFT!
- Gas: Gas is measured by the liter, not by the gallon. There are approximately 4 liters in a gallon, so just multiply by four for a comparison.
- Speed limits: Speed is in kilometers per hour (kph), not miles per hour (mph)!
- SH: State Highway.
- Roads with one number: Primary roads.
- Roads with two numbers: Secondary Roads, often one-lane.
- Want to use the same rental car on both islands? Don’t worry, there’s a ferry between the North and South Islands!
Check out my full guide to Road Tripping New Zealand’s South Island!
What to Bring with You
If you’re coming from the northern hemisphere, please remember that New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere! That is not a detail you want to get wrong. But no matter when you visit, here are a few things to pack—and one thing to leave behind.
- Do bring a jacket. The mountains will be chilly year-round, and even the summers can bring a chilly breeze, so bring a light jacket, just in case!
- Do bring a bathing suit. There are hot springs scattered about, and if you’re there in summer, you might want to take a dip in the ocean or one of their large lakes!
- Do bring a raincoat to the West Coast. Even just a poncho will help. The West Coast is lush and beautiful, but that’s because it’s rainy!
- Don’t bring food! Or any other plant or animal products. New Zealand is very strict on that.
Read on: Men’s New Zealand Winter Packing List
and Women’s New Zealand Winter Packing List
Planning to fly in and/or out of Christchurch? Here’s my list of the Top 10 Things to Do in Christchurch, and here are some handy things to know:
- There is a FREE shuttle between the Centerbury Museum in Christchurch and the International Antarctic Centre near airport. You ticket to the Antarctic Centre is not cheap, but if it’s on your list of things to do, you might as well get a free ride to the airport! There are luggage storage lockers available for NZ$2.50; one locker was large enough for both Steve’s and my luggage, plus his carry-on backpack, with LOADS of room to spare!
- The Canterbury Museum is FREE!
- The Quake City Museum is a must, and I suggest going early in your trip so you understand the city around you. Tickets are NZ$20, but only NZ$18 if bought at the iSite office across the street from the Centerbury Museum.
- Check out Steve’s Airport Shuttle. I wish we’d known about this before we spent over NZ$50 on a cab from the airport to downtown our first day! It costs NZ$23 for the first person; $5 for each additional person; and they offer discounts for backpackers. Here’s to packing light!
- You can fly to Antarctica from Christchurch!
Keep Reading: How to Spend 2 Days in Christchurch
Need more? You’ll find it all on my New Zealand Page!
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