New Zealand is one of my favorite places on earth. It is something else, with the wide open space, gorgeous scenery and beautiful snow-capped mountains. In my books, there is only one way to discover New Zealand and that is with a road trip. We spent two weeks driving around the South Island and in many ways it felt like it was not enough.
You will love New Zealand if you are into adventure, nature and relaxing activities among others.
Here is what you should know before visiting New Zealand:
It is beautiful
Words do not do justice to the beauty of New Zealand. On our two week road trip, I had many moments where I felt like I was in a dream, because surely such beauty does not exist. The scenery in surreal. You would only understand it once you experience it for yourself.
You cannot do it all in one trip
NZ is a place that invites you to slow down. The best way to visit this beautiful country is by slowly wandering around and taking it all in. As such, it will take a few trips to see all that this country has to offer.
It is expensive
If you thought Australia was expensive, then NZ is on another level. Being that far away and relatively small (population 4.5m) means that it costs more for Kiwis to import products and as such you can expect to see that expense reflected in the cost of goods.
Spring is the best time to visit
There are multiple reasons why Spring is the best time to visit but for me there is two: nicer weather and fewer visitors. If you are not into skiing, then do yourself a favour and skip winter in NZ. It is very crowded, you will pay a premium and cannot enjoy many of the activities.
We didn’t use a campervan on our road trip. I must admit that I hate camping, but New Zealand is such a place that I would happily drive around in a campervan. They have freedom camping in place, which means that as long as you have the right equipment, you can pretty much camp everywhere (off roads). When I think of freedom camping, I think of camping by lakes or near the beach.
If you however prefer a dedicated campsite, New Zealand has you covered with some of the cleanest camp sites.
You need snow chains (in winter)
Black ice is real in NZ, especially in south of the island. Between May and September you must carry snow chains. There are even random police checks and if you are not compliant, they will turn you back. So better safe than sorry. Car rental companies will hire out snow chains.
Wanaka over Queenstown
Controversy time: I actually didn’t enjoy Queenstown. Before stones start getting thrown, let me explain myself.
Queenstown is beautiful with amazing scenery, stunning lake and friendly people. What I didn’t enjoy was the crowd. After a week or so on the roads of NZ, I got used to the quiet and genteel pace of life, so Queenstown was a shock to the system with its big city feel and the party crowd. The visitors in Queenstown are generally younger.
So if I had to redo my itinerary, I would pick Wanaka over Queenstown. I have it on good authority that Wanaka is actually as good as Queenstown for skiers (but let’s keep that a secret). I would like Wanaka to stay as it is.
Honey is King
Honey is one of the cornerstones of the NZ economy and they have some amazing honey. It is pretty much everywhere in NZ, in fact in places like Queenstown, there are dedicated honey stores. The products are not necessarily cheap but they are good quality.
FUN FACT: The whole time we were in NZ, it felt like an extension of Australia apart from the stunning scenery so much so that when it was time to fly home, we forgot that we were taking an international flight. At the security gate, we suddenly remembered that we had glass jars of honey in our carry on. Long story short, we essentially had to bin about #100 worth of products. To show that even seasoned travellers can sometimes be stupid.
No dangerous creatures
As Australians we are so used to being surrounded by danger, from spiders to snakes to kangaroos to crocodiles to everything (pretty much everything can be dangerous here). It is actually very relaxing to go for a bush walk in NZ and not have to continually scan your environment for creepy crawlies.
When I moved to Australia, I was not aware of all the creepy crawlies, I might have chosen somewhere else if I had known (I love Aus, creepy crawlies and all ☺).
Sheep, Sheep, and more sheep
They have sheep grazing pretty much everywhere in NZ. I stopped noticing the livestock after a while (that’s how much there was). All this livestock means that lamb is reasonably priced and you should really try the local lamb dishes.
The supermarkets and shops are not always easily accessible
One of the things that surprised me the most is that supermarkets and shops are not very prominent. In fact, it can be a good 3 to 4 hour drive before you reach the next supermarket. Places like Franz Joseph and other similar small towns have local stores which carry a limited supply of brands and products. These small shops are also a lot more expensive.
So if you are camping or need any supplies, make sure to stock at the bigger towns such as Christchurch or Queenstown.
Kiwis are super friendly
Asking for directions or recommendations on where to eat was always met with a smile.
No need to tip
Just like in Australia, there is no need to tip in New Zealand. It is not expected.
Hi guys, Scott here. Nirisha has asked me to write this section, because let’s face it, she would never drive in a foreign country.
New Zealand drives on the left, like Australia, the UK and Japan. Most of the roads are good but usually they are only one lane each way. There are some motorways near the bigger cities, but generally the roads are smaller. There weren’t a heap of motorhomes driving around when we were there but apparently it can get quite frustrating during the peak season. Overtaking can be tricky – especially on the windy mountain roads. Keep an eye out for the single-lane bridges. You have to give way
These were my 14 tips for first time travellers to New Zealand. What do you think travellers should know about New Zealand?