From the Bay of Islands’ pristine beaches in the north to the soaring pinnacles of Milford Sound in the south, New Zealand is a stunner. Glaciated mountains, steaming volcanoes, and lush forests give adventurers a vast array of ecological playgrounds to explore. While hikers retreat to 14 national parks, bird-watchers find their bliss on peaceful Stewart Island. But it’s not all parks and rec. Māori enclaves display deep native heritage, idyllic vineyards produce world-class wines, and vibrant dining and arts scenes thrive in cities like Auckland and Wellington.
EXPLORE NEW ZEALAND
The least expensive airfares to New Zealand are priced for round-trip travel and must usually be purchased in advance. Airlines generally allow you to change your return date for a fee; most low-fare tickets, however, are nonrefundable. To expedite an airline fare search on the Web, check travel search engines with meta-search technology, such as www.mobissimo.com. These search across a broad supplier base so you can compare rates offered by travel agents, consolidators, and airlines in one fell swoop.
Although air travel within New Zealand can be expensive compared with bus travel, the one-way fare system does make it easy to get around, especially if you don’t want to spend all your time on the road. These days, booking your domestic flights in conjunction with your international flight won’t necessarily save you any money, but it can help if connecting flights are running late—they will hold your next flight for you if possible. Luggage allowances are generally 1 x 50 lb bag when flying with Air New Zealand, and 1 x 70 lb bag when flying with Qantas, though these vary depending on online booking specials. Some airlines give great deals if you add stopovers to your flight itinerary. You’ll need to stop in at a Pacific destination like Tahiti or Fiji for a limited time before heading to New Zealand. Check with the airline and see what they’re offering; make sure that New Zealand is included in Pacific deals because sometimes it’s the one exception. Qantas has a low-budget airline called Jetstar, which serves trans-Tasman and between major New Zealand hubs Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, and Queenstown. When booking domestic flights with either Jetstar or Air New Zealand make sure you read the fine print regarding baggage allowance, as the cheaper fares have zero checked baggage allowance. If you hold an international student identification card, you’ll save even more. But make sure you check in well before time! Jetstar is notorious for turning away passengers if they arrive even one second after cutoff time.
From New York to Auckland (via Los Angeles) flights take about 19 hours; from Chicago, about 17 hours; from Los Angeles to Auckland (nonstop), about 12 hours. From the United States and Canada, you will have to connect to a New Zealand–bound flight in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Houston.
All international departure taxes are now factored into your airfare.
For domestic flights within New Zealand, check-in at least a half-hour before departure.
It is not required that you reconfirm outbound flights from or within New Zealand.
In line with all airlines, all New Zealand domestic and international bound flights are no-smoking.
The major airport is Auckland International Airport (AKL). It is usually a bit cheaper to fly into and out of this airport, but the supplemental fees for flights to Wellington (WLG) or Christchurch (CHC) are reasonable. New Zealand’s airports are relatively compact and easy to negotiate.
Auckland’s international and domestic terminals are in separate buildings, a 10-minute walk apart. Free bus shuttles run constantly (however, after an incoming long-haul flight you may find that the walk and fresh air is great for the soul!). Christchurch International Airport is the main gateway to southern tourism destinations. After a major redevelopment, completed in 2013, it was awarded “New Zealand Major Airport of the Year” for its design and facilities.
New Zealand has a dense network of domestic air routes, so hopping from one area to another is fairly easy, if not inexpensive. Air New Zealand partners with other international airlines and serves smaller regional airports, so you can make these flight arrangements when booking your international flight. There are also several smaller regional and charter companies with planes carrying a dozen passengers or less.
Air New Zealand flies two to three times a day from Los Angeles to Auckland and is the only carrier that extends a daily nonstop flight from San Francisco to Auckland. Qantas flies from Los Angeles to New Zealand daily, mostly through Sydney. United and Air Canada, affiliates of Air New Zealand, connect from points in North America to Los Angeles. Fiji Airways connects from Los Angeles through Nadi, Fiji, with Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.
Within New Zealand, Air New Zealand and Jetstar compete on intercity trunk routes, along with smaller airlines Sounds Air, Origin, and Air Chathams who fly several intercity routes.
Several airlines provide services to Australia: trans-Tasman flights are available from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Queenstown.
To travel between the North Island and the South Island, take either the Interislander or Bluebridge ferry between Wellington and Picton. Both ferries carry cars. They also connect with KiwiRail trains. A free shuttle is available between the railway station and InterIslander ferry terminal in Wellington The Bluebridge terminal is right across the road from the station. The Picton railway station is a few minutes’ walk from the ferry terminals. Both ferries travel four to five times a day. Standard one-way passenger fare can be as much as NZ$70, but there are off-peak deals to be had for as low as NZ$39. The fare for a medium-size sedan costs around NZ$200. Be sure to ask about specials, including ferry-train package deals through KiwiRail, when you book.
Schedules are available at i-SITE visitor-information centers around the country. Most will arrange Interislander and Bluebridge ferry bookings. You can also check schedules and fares and book online via the Interislander and Bluebridge websites. Some fares allow you to make schedule changes up to the last minute and guarantee a full refund if you cancel prior to check-in. Discount fares can be booked once in New Zealand; these have some restrictions. No matter how you go about it, it’s a good idea to reserve in advance, especially during holiday periods.
New Zealand is served by an extensive bus network. The InterCity Group operates the main bus line, InterCity, and Newmans.
Some Newmans and InterCity bus routes overlap, but Newmans tends to have fewer stops and sticks to the key tourism routes, for example, Christchurch to Queenstown and the West Coast. InterCity buses, on the other hand, cover more remote areas.
There are also many regional bus services. For instance, Bottom Bus, operated by Travel Head First, runs from Dunedin through the Catlins to Southland, Queenstown, and Fiordland; while Atomic Travel covers much of the South Island.
Take a hop-on, hop-off bus if you prefer a more flexible itinerary, typically valid for 12 months. InterCity offers this, along with “backpacker-target” companies like Kiwi Experience and Stray Bus. Some passes cover all of New Zealand, whereas others are limited to specific regions. Most of the backpacker buses have affiliations with accommodation and activities and can offer priority bookings and special deals.
Fares and Passes
Fares vary greatly. A standard full fare between Auckland and Wellington is NZ$95 but can be obtained for as low as NZ$34. A certain number of seats are sold at a discounted rate, so book your tickets as early as possible, especially during the holidays. Individual company websites are the best way to find out about special fares.
Look into the various flexible passes that allow coach travel over a set route in a given time frame, usually three or six months. You can travel whenever you like, without paying extra, as long as you stick to the stops covered by your pass. There is also the New Zealand Travelpass, which allows unlimited travel on buses and trains and on the Interislander ferries that link the North and South islands.
Flexipass. The Flexipass is sold in blocks of time during which you’re eligible to travel on regular InterCity bus routes. This is such a good deal that locals even use this pass for their daily commute. Typically valid for a year, you can hop on and off, changing your plans without a penalty at least two hours prior to your departure. You must schedule in advance, as independent bus ticketing windows don’t track your Flexipass hours. www.intercity.co.nz/bus-pass/flexipass.
Kiwi Experience and Stray Bus also visit some pretty cool destinations with special accommodations not found on the mainstream traveler networks—remote farming settlements, small-town pubs, and Māori marae (villages), for example.
Credit cards and traveler’s checks are accepted by the major bus companies. Nakedbus, a true budget service, offers a backpacker bus pass where you choose how many trips you’d like to take in increments of five trips, or they offer an unlimited trip pass for just under NZ$600.
Getting Used to Kiwi Cars
Nothing beats the freedom and mobility of a car for exploring. Even if you’re nervous about driving on the “wrong” side of the road, driving here is relatively easy. Many rental cars will have a sticker right next to the steering wheel reading “stay to the left.” Having said this, as tourism numbers increase so, too, have the number of driving accidents involving tourists. Tourism organizations have prepared a Voluntary Code to help rental vehicle companies advise their clients, and the Drive Safe website www.drivesafe.org.nz, which gives some handy tips.
Remember this simple axiom: drive left, look right. That means keep to the left lane, and when turning right or left from a stop sign, the closest lane of traffic will be coming from the right, so look in that direction first. By the same token, pedestrians should look right before crossing the street. Americans and Canadians can blindly step into the path of an oncoming car by looking left as they do when crossing streets at home. You’ll find yourself in a constant comedy of errors when you go to use directional signals and windshield wipers—in Kiwi cars it’s the reverse of what you’re used to.
Japanese brands dominate rental agencies in New Zealand. Most major agencies also offer higher-end options, for example, convertibles and esteemed European models such as BMWs. Domestic agency Smart Cars specialize in luxury rentals such as Mercedes and Audi convertibles. Most Kiwi cars these days are automatic, though some stick shifts (manual) are included in hire fleets, so specify if you prefer an automatic.
Kiwi companies Maui New Zealand and Kea Campers are best known for wide selections of campers, motor homes, and 4X4 vehicles. Most major international car rental companies operate here; there are also reputable domestic agencies.
Rates in New Zealand begin at about NZ$35 a day and NZ$320 a week—although you can sometimes get even cheaper deals on economy cars with unlimited mileage. This does not include tax on car rentals, which is 12.5%. Reserve a vehicle well in advance if renting during holiday seasons, especially Christmas.
Most major international companies (and some local companies) have a convenient service if you are taking the ferry between the North and South islands and want to continue your rental contract. You simply drop off the car in Wellington and on the same contract pick up a car in Picton, or vice versa. It saves you from paying the fare for taking a car across on the ferry (though you will have to organize your luggage into carry-on). Your rental contract is terminated only at the far end of your trip, wherever you end up. In this system, there is no drop-off charge for one-way rentals, making an Auckland–Queenstown rental as easy as it could be.
Check for rates based on a south-to-north itinerary; it may be less expensive as it’s against the normal flow. Special rates should be available whether you book from abroad or within New Zealand.
In New Zealand your own driver’s license is acceptable. Still, an International Driver’s Permit is a good idea; it’s available from the American Automobile Association. These international permits are universally recognized, and having one in your wallet may save you problems with the local authorities.
For most major rental companies in New Zealand, 21 is the minimum age for renting a car. With some local rental companies, however, drivers under 21 years old can rent a car but may be liable for a higher deductible. Children’s car seats are mandatory for kids under seven years old. Car-rental companies may ask drivers not to take their cars onto certain (rough) roads, so ask about such restrictions.
On main routes, you’ll find stations at regular intervals. However, if you’re traveling on back roads where the population is sparse, don’t let your tank get low—it can be a long walk to the nearest farmer.
Credit cards are widely accepted.
Unleaded gas is widely available and often referred to as 91. High-octane unleaded gas is called 95. The 91 is usually a couple of cents cheaper than 95; most rental cars run on 91. Virtually all gas stations will have staff on hand to pump gas or assist motorists in other ways; however, they tend to have self-service facilities for anyone in a hurry. These are simply operated by pushing numbers on a console to coincide with the dollar value of the gas required. When you pump the gas, the pump will automatically switch off when you have reached the stated amount. Or push “fill” and the pump will stop when the tank is full. Mostly you can pay at the counter inside the station after you fill your tank, although a few stations–-perhaps victims of previous dishonesty–-now request payment first.
Roads are well maintained and generally not crowded (except for leaving major cities at peak holiday weekends). In rural areas, you may find some unpaved roads. On most highways, it’s easier to use the signposted names of upcoming towns to navigate rather than route numbers.
Due to the less-than-flat terrain, many New Zealand roads are “wonky,” or crooked. So when mapping out your itinerary, don’t plan on averaging the speed limit of 100 kph (62 mph) too often. Expect two or three lanes; there are no special multi-occupant lanes on the major highways. In areas where there is only one lane for each direction, cars can pass, with care, while facing oncoming traffic, except where there is a double-yellow centerline. Rural areas still have some one-lane roads. One-lane bridges are common.
Dangerous overtaking, speeders, lack of indication, tailgating (following too close), and slow drivers in passing lanes are all afflictions suffered on New Zealand highways.
In the case of a serious accident, immediately pull over to the side of the road and phone 111. Except on city motorways, emergency phone boxes are not common; you may have to rely on a cellular phone. You will find New Zealanders quick to help if they are able to, particularly if you need to use a phone. Minor accidents are normally sorted out in a calm and collected manner at the side of the road. However, “road rage” is not unknown. If the driver of the other vehicle looks particularly angry or aggressive, you are within your rights to take note of the registration number and then report the accident at the local or nearest police station.
The New Zealand Automobile Association (NZAA) provides emergency road service and is associated with the American Automobile Association (AAA). If you are an AAA member, you will be covered by the service as long as you register in person with an NZAA office in New Zealand and present your membership card with an expiration date showing it is still valid. NZAA advises that you register before you begin your trip.
Should you find yourself at a panel beater (repair shop) after a prang (minor car accident), talking about your vehicle might end up sounding like more of an Abbott and Costello routine if you’re not prepared with the appropriate vehicle vernacular. For instance, you might hear the panel beater say, “Geez mate! Doing the ton on loose metal when it was hosing down? You have a chip in the windscreen, the fender has to be reattached under the boot, and your axle is munted. Pop the bonnet and let’s take a look.” Translation: “Wow! Driving so fast on a gravel road in the rain? You chipped the windshield, the bumper needs to be reattached under the trunk, and the axle is broken. Pop the hood.”
Rules of the Road
The speed limit is 100 kph (62 mph) on the open road, 50 kph (31 mph) in towns and cities, and 70 kph (44 mph) or 80 kph (50 mph) in some “in between” areas. Watch for the signs that show where these change. A circular sign with the letters LSZ (Limited Speed Zone) means speed should be governed by prevailing road conditions but still not exceed 100 kph. Speed cameras, particularly in city suburbs and on approaches to and exits from small towns, will snap your number plate if you’re driving too fast. Fines start at about NZ$60 for speeds 10 kph (6 mph) over the speed limit. (If you’re driving a rental, the company will track you down for payment.) It’s easier and safer for everyone to obey the speed limit.
New Zealand law states that you must always wear a seat belt, whether you are driving or are a passenger. As the driver, you can be fined for any passenger not wearing a seat belt or approved child restraint if under the age of seven. If you are caught without a seat belt and you are clearly not a New Zealander, the result is likely to be a friendly but firm warning. Drunk drivers are not tolerated in New Zealand. The blood alcohol limit is 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood for adults), and it’s safest to avoid driving altogether if you’ve had a drink. If you are caught driving over the limit you will most likely be taken to the nearest police station to dry out and be required to pay a high fine. Repeat offenses or instances of causing injury or death while under the influence of alcohol are likely to result in jail terms.
When driving in rural New Zealand, cross one-lane bridges with caution—there are plenty of them. A yellow sign with parallel black lines will usually warn you that you are approaching a one-lane bridge, and another sign will tell you whether you have the right-of-way. A rectangular blue sign with a bigger white arrow on the left side of a smaller red arrow means you have the right-of-way, and a circular sign with a red border and red arrow on the left side of a white arrow means you must pull over to the left and wait to cross until oncoming traffic has passed. Even when you have the right-of-way, slow down and take care. Roundabouts can be particularly confusing for newcomers. When entering a roundabout, yield to all vehicles coming from the right. A blue sign with a white arrow indicates that you should keep to the left of the traffic island as you come up to the roundabout. In a multilane roundabout, stay in the lane closest to the island until ready to exit the circle. You must indicate left just before you exit.
You can only pass on the left if there are two or more lanes on your side of the centerline, if the vehicle you are passing has stopped, or if the vehicle ahead is signaling a right turn. At all other times, you must pass on the right, and only when you have enough clear road to do so.
When you encounter fog, try putting your headlights on low beam, this sometimes helps as high beams refract light and decrease visibility. It is illegal to drive with only your parking lights on.
In cities and towns, the usual fine for parking over the time limit on meters is NZ$10–NZ$15. In the last few years “pay-and-display” meters have been put up in cities. You’ll need to drop a couple of dollars’ worth of coins in the meter, take the dispensed ticket, and put it in view on the dashboard of your car. The fine for running over the time for these meters runs about NZ$12, but if you don’t display your ticket at all, the fine will be at least NZ$40 and you may risk being towed. So carry a few coins at all times—any denomination will usually do (gold coins only in Auckland and Wellington). Credit cards also work in some machines. Make sure to observe all “no parking” signs. If you don’t, your car is highly likely to be towed away. It will cost about NZ$100 to NZ$200 to have the car released, and most tow companies won’t accept anything but cash.
The only cities with a serious congestion problem during rush hour are Auckland and Wellington, particularly on inner-city highways and on- and off-ramps. Avoid driving between 7:30 am and 9 am, and 5 pm and 6:30 pm. It is also worth taking this into account if you have important appointments or a plane to catch. Give yourself a spare 30 minutes to be on the safe side. Traffic around Christchurch also builds up at these times and has been particularly problematic since the 2011 earthquake damaged many roads. Also, as the city is rebuilt, many roads become closed or changed to one-way. Even the locals get confused (and bemused).
CRUISE SHIP TRAVEL
Cruise companies are increasingly drawn to Auckland and Wellington’s superb harbors, as well as to the gorgeous scenery in places such as the Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Napier, Marlborough Sounds, Akaroa, Dunedin, Fiordland, and Stewart Island. World-cruise itineraries with Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises now include New Zealand. But some of the best cruising programs are those that concentrate entirely on the South Pacific and combine New Zealand with destinations such as Fiji, New Caledonia, Tonga, and Samoa. Generally, such cruises start and finish in Auckland and visit South Pacific islands in between.
P&O Cruises runs a couple of cruises out of Auckland to the South Pacific. Another choice is the Holland America Line vessel Volendam with its cruises around New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific.
Don’t rely on trains to get you around; train travel in New Zealand is limited to three routes operated by Kiwi Rail Scenic Journeys and commuter services in Wellington and Auckland. That said, the three long journeys are indeed scenic. They include the daily TranzAlpine Express, a spectacular ride over Arthur’s Pass and the mountainous spine of the South Island between Greymouth, on the West Coast, and Christchurch on the east. The Coastal Pacific runs from Christchurch along the stunning Kaikoura coast (between mountains and sea), to Marlborough wine country and Picton. This runs daily between October and April and a few days a week through winter months (timetable varies). The Northern Explorer travels from Wellington to Auckland, departing Auckland on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and Wellington Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday.
The trains do leave and arrive on time as a rule. They have one class, with standard comfortable seats and a basic food service selling light meals, snacks, beer, wine, and spirits. Special meals (diabetic, wheat-free, or vegetarian) can be arranged, but you have to order at least 48 hours before you board the train. Most carriages have large windows from which to view the spectacular passing scenery, and you’ll hear commentary on passing points of interest. Most trains also have a viewing carriage at the rear.
Travelers can purchase a New Zealand Travelpass for unlimited travel by train, bus, and Interislander ferry for a variety of periods. Senior citizens (over 60) get a 20% discount with proof of age.
You can obtain both schedules and tickets at i-SITE visitor information centers and at train stations. Major credit cards are accepted, as are cash and traveler’s checks. Reservations are advised, particularly in the summer months. Book at least 48 hours in advance.
Traveling with a laptop does not present any problems in New Zealand, where the electricity supply is reliable. However, you will need a converter and adapter as with other electronic equipment. It pays to carry a spare battery and adapter because they’re expensive and can be hard to replace.
Most accommodations throughout the country, even in smaller, remote areas, provide Wi-Fi connections. Increasingly, connections are offered free for guests; however, there remains a lot of inconsistency with regard to the cost and speed. In many cases, you will need to pay about NZ$2 or NZ$5 for 10 or 20 minutes, or NZ$10 to NZ$15 for 24-hour coverage. City hotels seem to offer either free or expensive connections, up to NZ$25 for 24 hours. The Cybercafes website lists more than 4,000 Internet cafés worldwide. Increasingly there are Free Spots in public areas around cities and holiday towns.
The country code for New Zealand is 64. When dialing from abroad, drop the initial “0” from the local area code. Main area codes within New Zealand include 09 (Auckland and the North), 04 (Wellington), and 03 (South Island). Dialing from New Zealand to back home, the country code is 1 for the United States and Canada, 61 for Australia, and 44 for the United Kingdom. The prefixes 0800, 0508, and 0867 are used for toll-free numbers in New Zealand.
Dial 018 for New Zealand directory assistance. For international numbers, dial 0172. To call the Telecom “calling assistance,” dial 010; for international operator assistance, dial 0170.
Calling Outside New Zealand
To make international calls directly, dial 00, then the international access code, area code, and number required. The country code for the United States is 1.
With the increasing use of mobile phones, there are fewer public payphones to be found. Of those remaining, most phones accept PhoneCards or major credit cards rather than coins. PhoneCards, available in denominations of NZ$5, NZ$10, NZ$20, or NZ$50, are sold at post offices, dairies (convenience stores), tourist centers, and any other shops displaying the green PhoneCard symbol. To use a PhoneCard, lift the receiver, put the card in the slot in the front of the phone, and dial. The cost of the call is automatically deducted from your card; the display on the telephone tells you how much credit you have left at the end of the call. A local call from a public phone costs 70¢. Don’t forget to take your PhoneCard with you when you finish your call or those minutes will be lost—or spent by a stranger.
Telecom has a reliable card called Easy Call, which covers calls to the United States for as low as 3¢ per minute. You can add minutes to the card by using your credit card; unlike a PhoneCard, you don’t need to purchase a new one when you’re running out of time. Other phone cards include KiaOra and Talk ’n’ Save (both sold by Compass Phone Cards), which operate in the same way; you can call the United States for as low as 3.9¢ per minute. You can buy these phone cards at gas stations, dairies, and most hostels.
The Net2Phone Direct Calling Card provides an affordable solution by utilizing local access numbers to make calls utilizing the Internet. This is used in the same manner as a regular calling card, but depending on the area from which you are calling there is sometimes a slight voice delay. Of course, Internet connections such as Skype and Viber can make communications with those back home even easier. It is advisable to use a headset for the best clarity and, if using in a cybercafé or other public area, in consideration of others.
Mobile-communications networks cover pretty much all of New Zealand, which operate on the GSM system. U.S.-based CDMA phones will work, as long as the phone has a dual-band switch so it can be switched to GSM. Contact your provider about specific requirements for your phone. Once in New Zealand, you can purchase a SIM card (prices from NZ$25 to NZ$55). Keep in mind, however, that the phone must be unlocked.
Low-cost cell phones can also be purchased at Auckland, Queenstown, and Christchurch airports starting from NZ$29, or NZ$49 with credit, or a prepaid service plan. Look for a Vodafone stand in the arrival area of each airport.
Roaming fees can be steep: 99¢ a minute is considered reasonable. And overseas you normally pay the toll charges for incoming calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call since text messages have a really low set fee (often less than 5¢).
If you just want to make local calls, buying a SIM card or cheap phone means you’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old mobile phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.
CUSTOMS AND DUTIES
New Zealand has stringent regulations governing the import of weapons, foodstuffs, and certain plant and animal material. Anti-drug laws are strict and penalties severe. In addition to personal effects, nonresidents over 17 years of age may bring in, duty-free, 200 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco or 50 cigars, 4.5 liters of wine, three bottles of spirits or liquor containing not more than 1,125 milliliters, and personal purchases and gifts up to the value of NZ$700.
Most stringent is the agricultural quarantine. New Zealand is highly dependent on its agriculture and horticulture industries and cannot risk unwanted introduction of pest plants or animals or disease. The authorities don’t want any nonnative seeds (or popcorn kernels or honey) haplessly transported into the country. You must declare even a single piece of fruit, and all camping and hiking gear must be declared and inspected at customs. You’ll be hit with an instant NZ$400 fine if you’re caught bringing in fruit—those cute beagles at customs will bark if they smell even a whiff of a banana. And be truthful about your camping gear because they will want to take a look at it, unravel your tent and sleeping bag, and check for grass and muck. Do yourself a favor and make sure any camping gear and hiking boots are reasonably clean when entering the country. If you are unsure, simply declare it on the immigration card. An official will ask what you’re declaring and if it’s okay (like chocolate, for example), he’ll send you straight through. Check the following websites for a more detailed description and explanations of no-nos. All bags coming into the country are X-rayed.
Some restaurants serve a fixed-price dinner, but the majority are à la carte. Remember that “entrée” in Kiwi English is the equivalent of an appetizer. Increasingly, restaurants are offering smaller, tapas-style plates for sharing. It’s wise to make a reservation and inquire if the restaurant has a liquor license or is “BYOB” or “BYO” (Bring Your Own Bottle)—a few places have both. This only pertains to wine, not bottles of beer or liquor. Be prepared to pay a corkage fee, which can be up to NZ$10.
Many restaurants add a 15% surcharge on public holidays. Employers are required by law to pay staff a higher wage during holidays. This amount will be itemized separately on your bill.
New Zealand’s Cuisine magazine has a special annual issue devoted to restaurants throughout the country; check their website if you’d like to get a copy before your trip. There are also a few helpful New Zealand dining websites worth a look. Through some, you can make online reservations. These include Dine Out and Zomato, two national databases with customer reviews.
Burgers and Bacon
Burgers are a staple for a quick bite. However, you’ll find there’s a whole lot more than two all-beef patties and a bun—two of the most popular fillings are beetroot and a fried egg. Cheese on burgers (and sandwiches) is often grated bits sprinkled atop. Another Kiwi snack staple, meat pies, is sold just about everywhere. The classic steak-and-mince fillings are getting gussied up these days with cheese or mushrooms. And who could forget good ol’ fish-and-chips in this former British colony? Appropriately called “greasies,” this mainstay is often made of shark but called lemon fish or flake. You might notice bowls by the cash registers of take-out shops containing packets of tartar sauce or tomato sauce (catsup). These are usually not free for the taking; they cost about 50¢ each.
Be aware that “bacon” might consist of a thick blubbery slice of ham or a processed fatty, pink, spongy substance. If you love your bacon streaky and crisp, politely inquire what kind of bacon they serve before ordering a BLT.
When in New Zealand, taste the lamb. No matter where you go in the country, it’s sure to be on the menu along with locally farmed beef. Cervena, or farm-raised venison, is another local delicacy available all over New Zealand.
Lemon & Paeroa, otherwise known as L&P, is New Zealand’s most famous soft drink. Keep in mind that if you order a lemonade you will be served a carbonated lemon-flavored drink. If you have a sweet tooth, nibble a chocolate fish, a chocolate-covered fish-shape marshmallow. This treat has become so popular in New Zealand that it’s now synonymous with success. You’ll often hear someone say, “you deserve a chocolate fish!” in place of “job well done!” And if you’re traveling in the heat of the summer, don’t leave town until you’ve tried a hokey pokey ice cream, another New Zealand mainstay. If you want to try a truly unique bit of New Zealand grub, and we do mean grub, taste the larvae of the huhu beetle. (Okay, this isn’t readily available, probably only at the annual Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, on the South Island West Coast.)
Don’t miss a Māori hāngi. This culinary experience is most likely to be available in conjunction with a cultural show, or marae visit. The traditional preparation involves steaming meat, seafood, and vegetables, for several hours, in a large underground pit. Also be sure to try the locally grown kūmara, or sweet potato. Some Kiwi folk view muttonbird (the cute name for young sooty shearwaters, harvested from their burrows on little islands around Stewart Island) as a special treat, but others balk at its peculiar smell and strong flavor. It is an acquired taste, but if you’re an adventurous eater it’s definitely one to try.
Of course, seafood is a specialty, and much of the fish is not exported so this is your chance to try it. The tastiest fish around is snapper in the North, and blue cod (not a true cod relative) in the South. Grouper (often listed by its Māori name of hāpuku), terakihi, and marine-farmed salmon are also menu toppers, as is whitebait, the juvenile of several fish species, in the whitebait-fishing season of spring. As for shellfish: try the Bluff oysters (in season March–August), Greenshell mussels (also known as green-lipped or New Zealand green mussels), scallops, crayfish (spiny lobster), and local clamlike shellfish, pipi and tuatua.
In New Zealand restaurants, many vegetables have two names, used interchangeably. Eggplants are often called aubergines, zucchini are also known as courgettes. The vegetable North Americans know as a bell pepper is a capsicum here. The tropical fruit papaya is known by its British name, pawpaw.
Hotel restaurants serve breakfast roughly between 7 and 10; cafés and restaurants often serve breakfast/brunch to 11 am, or even an “all-day breakfast.” Lunch usually starts about noon and is over by 3. Dinners are usually served from 6 pm, but the most popular dining time is around 7 to 8. Restaurants in cities and resort areas will serve dinner well into the night, but some places in small towns or rural areas still shut their doors at around 8.
Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants and cafés. There are a few exceptions to this rule, so check first. In some areas, American Express and Diners Club cards are accepted far less frequently than MasterCard and Visa.
For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (a week or more) and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.
Attire countrywide is casual; unless you’re planning to dine at the finest and more conservative of places, men won’t need to bring a jacket and tie. At the same time, the most common dinner attire is usually a notch above jeans and T-shirts.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
New Zealand is well known for its white wines, particularly Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. The country has also gained a reputation for red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. The main wine-producing areas are Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson, Waipara (north Canterbury), and Central Otago. Restaurants almost without exception serve New Zealand products on their wine list.
When ordering a beer, you’ll get either a handle (mug), a one-liter jug (pitcher) with glasses, or a “stubby” (small bottle). If you’ve asked for one of these (a bottle), you might need to request a glass if you don’t want to glug straight from the bottle (depending how casual the bar is). Two large mainstream breweries, DB and Lion, produce their own products along with smaller, well-known brands that initially started as independent breweries, such as Macs, Monteiths, and Speights. They also dispense international brands Steinlager, Stella Artois, Heinekin, and more. The big trend in recent years, however, has been to boutique microbreweries and craft beers. Innovation, international awards, and ever-changing brews are the features of brands where even the brewery names are interesting, for example, Tuatara, Garage Project, Epic and 8, Wired Brewing. Each brand has its own fan base and the good pubs will have at least a couple of ever-changing taps serving up these tasty brews. Most restaurants and liquor stores also sell beers from Australia, Europe, and other parts of the world. Some of the beer in New Zealand is stronger than the 4% alcohol per volume brew that is the norm in the United States. Many go up to 7% or 8% alcohol per volume, so check that number before downing your usual number of drinks.
Popular for its wacky marketing as well as the flavor is 42 Below vodka, which incorporates local flavors: feijoa, manuka honey, passion fruit, and kiwifruit. Most inner-city bars will have it on the menu if you want to try before you buy a bottle; and having won a slew of gold and silver medals at international wine and spirit competitions around the world, it makes a cool duty-free gift to bring to vodka connoisseurs back home. When it comes to gin, the Kiwi Lighthouse is an award winner and South is also tasty and comes in a gorgeous bottle.
Use your judgment about ordering “off the drinks menu.” If you’re in a small country pub, don’t try to order an umbrella cocktail. By insisting on a margarita from an establishment that doesn’t have the mix, the recipe, or the right glass, you’re not gaining anything except a lousy margarita and a reputation as an obnoxious customer.
Beer and wine can be purchased in supermarkets, specialized shops, and even little corner suburban shops—seven days a week. People under 18 are not permitted by law to purchase alcohol, and shops, bars, and restaurants strictly enforce this. If you look younger than you are, carry photo identification to prove your age.
If you forget to pack a converter, you’ll find a selection at duty-free shops in Auckland’s airport and at electrical shops in towns and cities. The electrical current in New Zealand is 240 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take slanted three-prong plugs (but not the U.K. three-prong) and plugs with two flat prongs set at a “V” angle.
Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and mobile phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts), requiring only an adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “for shavers only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.
Steve Kropla’s Help for World Travelers has information on electrical and telephone plugs around the world. Walkabout Travel Gear has a good coverage of electricity under “adapters.”
For fire, police, or ambulance services, dial 111.
In Auckland, the U.S. Consulate is open from 8:30 until around 5:30 on weekdays (closed last Wednesday of each month).
In Wellington, the U.S. Embassy is open weekdays 8:15 am to 5 pm.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
The most common types of illnesses are caused by contaminated food and water. In New Zealand that really shouldn’t be an issue. New Zealand has high hygiene standards and strict health regulations when it comes to serving food and beverage from shops, restaurants, cafés, and bars. The tap water is fine to drink. Locals do it all the time.
Specific Issues in New Zealand
General health standards in New Zealand are high, and it would be hard to find a more pristine natural environment.
The major health hazard in New Zealand is sunburn or sunstroke. Even people who are not normally bothered by strong sun should cover up with a long-sleeve shirt, a hat, and pants or a beach wrap. At higher altitudes, you will burn more easily, so apply sunscreen liberally before you go out—even for a half-hour—and wear a visor or sunglasses.
Dehydration is another serious danger that can be easily avoided, so be sure to carry water and drink often. Limit the amount of time you spend in the sun for the first few days until you are acclimatized, and avoid sunbathing in the middle of the day.
There are no venomous snakes, and the only native poisonous spider, the katipo, is a rarity. The whitetail spider, an unwelcome and accidental import from Australia, packs a nasty bite and can cause discomfort but is also rarely encountered.
One New Zealander you will come to loathe is the tiny black sand fly (some call it the state bird), common to the western half of the South Island, which inflicts a painful bite that can itch for several days. In other parts of the country, especially around rivers and lakes, you may be pestered by mosquitoes. Be sure to use insect repellent.
One of New Zealand’s rare health hazards involves its pristine-looking bodies of water; as a precaution don’t drink water from natural outdoor sources. Although the country’s alpine lakes might look like backdrops for mineral-water ads, some in the South Island harbor a tiny organism that can cause “duck itch,” a temporary but intense skin irritation. The organism is found only on the shallow lake margins, so the chances of infection are greatly reduced if you stick to deeper water. Streams can be infected by giardia, a waterborne protozoan parasite that can cause gastrointestinal disorders, including acute diarrhea. Giardia is most likely contracted when drinking from streams that pass through an area inhabited by mammals (such as cattle or possums). There is no risk of infection if you drink from streams above the tree line.
Less common, but a risk nevertheless, is the possibility of contracting amoebic meningitis from the water in geothermal pools. The illness is caused by an organism that can enter the body when the water is forced up the nose. The organism is quite rare, but you should avoid putting your head underwater in thermal pools or jumping in them. Also remember not to drink geothermic water.
Popular headache, pain, and flu medicines are Nurofen (contains Ibuprofen), Panadol (contains Paracetamol), and Dispirin (contains Aspirin). Dispirin often comes as large tabs, which you must dissolve in water. Many Kiwi households and wheelhouses have a green tube of Berocca, the soluble vitamin supplement often taken the morning after a big night out.
New Zealand is generally safe for travelers, but international visitors have been known to get into trouble when they take their safety for granted. Use common sense, particularly if walking around cities at night. Stay in populated areas, and avoid deserted alleys. Although New Zealand is an affluent society by world standards, it has its share of poor and homeless (some referred to as “street kids” if they are young), and violent gangs do exist. Avoid bus and train stations or city squares and parks late at night.
Hotels furnish safes for guests’ valuables, and it pays to use them. Don’t show off your wealth, and remember to lock doors of hotel rooms and cars. Sadly, opportunist criminals stake out parking lots at some popular tourist attractions. Put valuables out of sight under seats or lock them in your trunk before you arrive at the destination.
Most visitors have no trouble and find New Zealanders among the friendliest people in the world. Nine times out of 10, offers of help or other friendly gestures will be genuine.
Women will not attract more unwanted attention than in most other Western societies, nor will they be immune from the usual hassles. In cities at night, stick to well-lighted areas and avoid being totally alone. Hotel staff will be happy to give tips on any areas to avoid, and the times to avoid them. New Zealand is relatively safe for women, but don’t be complacent. Female travelers have been victim to sexual assault in New Zealand; hitchhiking is not recommended, especially for solo females.
Some top Kiwi destinations have accommodations especially geared to women. Wellington, for instance, has a women-only guesthouse, and the Base Backpacker hostel chain (stayatbase.com), with locations in major New Zealand cities, created Sanctuary Floors, secure women-only zones with special amenities.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Banks are open weekdays from 9–4:30, but some cease trading in foreign currencies at 4.
Gas stations are usually open, at the least, from 7 to 9 daily. Large stations on the main highways are commonly open 24 hours.
Museums around the country do not have standard hours, but many are open daily from 10 to 5. Larger museums and government-run collections are generally open daily, but the hours of small local museums vary, as many are run by volunteers. The New Zealand Museums website (www.nzmuseums.co.nz) is a helpful information source; you can search by collection, region, or museum name.
Pharmacies are generally open from 9 to 5, Monday through Saturday (and Sunday in cities). You will also find basic nonprescription drugstore items in supermarkets, many of which are open until 10 pm. During off-hours, there will usually be emergency-hour pharmacies in the major cities. Phone the local hospital or i-SITE Visitor Centre for details.
Shops are generally open Monday through Saturday 9–5:30, although in small towns many shops close early on Saturday. In cities, shops are generally open on Sunday as well, while in smaller towns Sunday trading hours vary greatly from place to place. In many rural areas, stores are closed on Sunday. Liquor stores are often open daily. In major cities supermarkets and convenience stores, called “dairies,” are usually open from 7 am to 10 pm; a few stay open 24 hours.
On Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and the morning of ANZAC Day, everything closes down in New Zealand except for a few gas stations, some shops selling essential food items, and emergency facilities. On other public holidays, many museums and attractions stay open, as do transportation systems, though on a reduced schedule. Local anniversary days, which vary regionally, pop up as once-a-year three-day weekends in each particular area; some businesses close but hotels and restaurants stay open. Around Christmas and New Year’s Kiwis go to the beach, so seaside resorts will be difficult to visit unless you have booked well in advance. You’ll get plenty of sunshine and far fewer crowds if you visit from late January through to the colder period of late March. Cities such as Auckland and Wellington are pleasantly quiet over Christmas and New Year’s. Fewer cars are on the road, and you’ll get good prices from hotels making up for the lack of corporate guests, though some restaurants will be closed.
For most travelers, New Zealand is not an expensive destination. The cost of meals, accommodations, and travel prove comparable to larger cities within the United States and somewhat less than in Western Europe. Premium-grade gasoline costs more than it does in North America.
Prices here are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
Banks never have every foreign currency on hand, and it may take as long as a week to order. If you’re planning to exchange funds before leaving home, don’t wait until the last minute.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you’ll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
EFTPOS (Electronic Fund Transfer at Point of Sale) is widely used in New Zealand stores and gas stations. ATMs are easily found in city and town banks and in shopping malls. The number of ATMs in small rural communities continues to grow, but there are still areas where ATMs or banks are few and far between. All the major banks in New Zealand (Bank of New Zealand, Westpac, and Auckland Savings Bank) accept cards in the Cirrus and Plus networks. The norm for PINs in New Zealand is four digits. If the PIN for your account has a different number of digits, you must change your PIN number before you leave for New Zealand.
Currency and Exchange
New Zealand’s unit of currency is the dollar, divided into 100 cents. Bills are in $100, $50, $10, and $5 denominations. Coins are $2, $1, 50¢, 20¢, and 10¢. At this writing the rate of exchange was NZ$1.45 to the U.S. dollar, NZ$1.15 to the Canadian dollar, NZ$2.12 to the pound sterling, NZ$1.64 to the euro, and NZ$1.12 to the Australian dollar. Exchange rates change on a daily basis.
In New Zealand, be prepared for weather that can turn suddenly and temperatures that vary greatly from day to night, particularly at the change of seasons. Wear layers. You’ll appreciate being able to remove or put on a jacket. Take along a light raincoat and umbrella, but remember that plastic raincoats and nonbreathing polyester are uncomfortable in the humid climates of Auckland and its northern vicinity. Many shops in New Zealand sell lightweight and mid-weight merino wool garments, which are expensive but breathe, keep you warm, and don’t trap body odor, making them ideal attire for tramping. Don’t wear lotions or perfume in southern places like Southland, either, because they attract mosquitoes and other bugs; carry insect repellent. Sandflies seem drawn to black and dark blue colors (so they say). Bring a hat with a brim to provide protection from the strong sunlight and sunglasses for either summer or winter; the glare on snow and glaciers can be intense. There’s a good chance you’ll need warm clothing in New Zealand no matter what the season; a windbreaker is a good idea wherever you plan to be.
Dress is casual in most cities, though top resorts and restaurants may require a jacket. Some bouncers for big-city bars will shine a flashlight on your shoes; if you like these kinds of places bring some spiffy spats. In autumn, a light wool sweater or a jacket will suffice for evenings in coastal cities, but winter demands a heavier coat—a raincoat with a zip-out wool lining is ideal. Comfortable walking shoes are a must. You should have a pair of what Kiwis call “tramping boots,” or at least running shoes if you’re planning to trek, and rubber-sole sandals or canvas shoes for the beaches.
Shopping malls in cities, major bus and train stations, gas stations, and many towns along main highways have public toilets. Look for a blue sign with white figures (ladies and gents) for directions to a public toilet. New Zealanders often use the word “loo,” or, better yet, “superloo.”
Most New Zealand public restroom facilities are clean and tidy and often have a separate room for mothers with young children.
Some gas stations, shops, and hotels have signs stating that only customers can use the restroom. Kiwis are generally fair-minded folk, so if you’re genuinely caught short and explain the situation you will probably not be turned away.
Most gas stations in New Zealand have toilet facilities, but their standard is varied. As a rule of thumb, the newer and more impressive the gas station, the cleaner and better the toilet facilities.
Many restaurants add a 15% surcharge to your bill on public holidays, reflecting the need to pay staff a higher wage on holidays. This tax will be itemized separately on your bill when applicable.
A goods and services tax (GST) of 15% is levied throughout New Zealand. It’s usually incorporated into the cost of an item, but in some hotels and some restaurants it is added to the bill.
Tipping is not as widely practiced in New Zealand as in the United States or Europe, but in city restaurants and hotels it’s appreciated if you acknowledge good service with a 10% tip. Tour guides and drivers would also be used to receiving some gesture, even though it isn’t mandatory.
Taxi drivers will appreciate rounding up the fare to the nearest NZ$5 amount, but don’t feel you have to do this. Porters will be happy with a NZ$1 or NZ$2 coin. Most other people, like bartenders, theater attendants, gas-station attendants, or barbers, will probably wonder what you are doing if you try to give them a tip. The nice thing about this is good service in New Zealand is given because the person means it, not because they’re aiming for a good tip.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.
WHEN TO GO
New Zealand experiences winter during the American summer. Weather changes rapidly, especially in the mountains. Summer (December–February) is generally warm with long hours of sunshine. Winter (June–September) is mild at lower altitudes, but snow falls in the mountains. Rain can fall year-round. It’s best to visit from October to April, especially in alpine areas. The summer holidays (mid-December to February) can be crowded, and car rentals and accommodations scarce.