DOS & DON’TS
What to Wear
Mail & Package Services
Newspapers & Magazines
For More Information
New Zealanders sometimes refer to their country as “God Zone,” a rather prideful twist on the phrase “God’s Own.” But if you like gorgeous scenery and gutsy people, you’ll agree with them. New Zealand is blessed with some of the most varied and dramatic terrain in the world—from glaciers, fjords and beaches to mountains, meadows and rain forests, known to New Zealanders as “native bush.” If you’re so inclined, you can admire the breathtaking scenery while skiing, surfing, horseback riding, mountain climbing, hiking (which the locals call “tramping”) or kayaking.
And if those pursuits aren’t exciting enough, you can try some of the adventures the Kiwis (as New Zealanders are called) have invented: You can bungee jump off cliffs or bridges; paddle through white-water rapids; rocket through narrow caverns on jet boats; or strap yourself inside a giant plastic ball and roll down a hillside.
If you prefer more leisurely activities, you can still enjoy New Zealand’s natural wonders by strolling on its pristine beaches, sailing along its picturesque coastline or fishing in its crystal clear rivers and lakes.
New Zealand consists of two large islands (called the North Island and the South Island), as well as numerous small islands. Both major islands are mountainous with coastal plains. The North Island is more populated and has a warmer, temperate climate, along with vigorous geothermal areas and active volcanoes. The South Island has a more open, spacious feel with spectacular fjords, glaciers, agricultural plains, and hundreds of streams and lakes.
Many historians designate 800-1350 as a likely time frame for the Maori (pronounced MAU-ree) settlement of New Zealand. The Maori called their new home Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud), and their oral history recounts how they took a large fleet of canoes from a place called Hawaiiki (perhaps a set of islands in French Polynesia) to sail to what is now New Zealand. For hundreds of years, Maori life went untouched by the outside world. They had spectacularly elaborate body and face tattoos and maintained a culture of fishing, hunting and gathering. Rival tribes warred with one another, and the battles often resulted in the losers being eaten or enslaved by the victors.
The next epoch in the islands’ history opened in 1642, when Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted the land and called it “Niuew Zeeland.” He charted part of the coastline but left without officially claiming it after some of his men were killed by Maori. Some 130 years later, Capt. James Cook claimed the islands for the British crown. He circumnavigated both main islands, which he mapped with an accuracy that is still admired (and used) today.
Once European settlement began in earnest, the introduction of muskets and other weapons to the Maori led to fierce intertribal wars, which—in addition to new European diseases—nearly wiped out their population. Calm ensued by the 1830s, however, and in 1840, a conditional alliance between the Maori and the British, called the Treaty of Waitangi, acknowledged British sovereignty in exchange for some Maori land rights. Despite being signed by more than 500 Maori chiefs, it was a controversial document. It was only after several subsequent decades of bloody war over these land rights that an easier coexistence—which persists to this day—evolved.
From the 1860s to the 1880s, gold fever drew thousands of prospectors to New Zealand. About the same time, large sheep farms began to be established on land cleared from the native forests. The country became autonomous in 1907 and is today an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Everyone should visit New Zealand at least once. The country’s foremost attractions include great natural beauty, mountains and glaciers, rain forests, beaches, bright blue skies, fjords, fishing, sailing, surfing, scuba diving,
There are 33.9 million sheep in New Zealand, a major reduction from the peak of nearly 70 million in 1981.
Sir Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, and his Sherpa fellow climber, Tenzing Norgay, were the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.
In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
Fiordland National Park stretches out for nearly 3 million acres/1.2 million hectares.
The flightless, herbivorous moa is New Zealand’s most famous extinct bird. There were several types, with the largest reaching heights of 14 ft/3.5 m and weighing more than 450 lbs/200 kg. Their flesh was an important part of the Maori diet; they were killed off by over-hunting long before Europeans arrived.
Manukau City to the south of Auckland has about 160 ethnic groups based there.
The All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, is revered worldwide for its skill and the intimidating Maori haka, a warrior dance used to begin each match. In 2011, the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup at the tournament held in New Zealand.
According to Maori legend, New Zealand’s North Island was a great fish hooked by Maui, a heroic demi-god figure who appears in many Maori legends. The South Island was his canoe and Stewart Island his anchor. Therefore the North Island’s name in Maori is Te Ika a Maui, the fish of Maui, and Stewart Island Te Puka o te Waka a Maui, the anchor stone of the canoe of Maui. And while the South Island is thought of as Maui’s waka, or canoe, its name is
Te Wai Ponamu, the waters of Ponamu (or greenstone) in acknowledgment of places on the island where the deep-green stone, valued for weapons, tools and ornaments, was sourced.
Our favorite place name in New Zealand is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, a coastal hill 60 mi/95 km south of Napier, on the North Island. The name is shortened to Taumata in conversation. It means, “The brow of a hill where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as the Land Eater, played his flute to his lover.”
The kiwi is a flightless native bird about the size of a large chicken and, relative to its body size, lays the largest egg of any bird—up to 20% of its body weight. There are six varieties of kiwi; females are always larger and more aggressive than the males. They are active at night, sniffing out worms using tiny nostrils at the end of their long beaks.
New Zealand’s Antipodes Islands (from the Greek anti—opposite—and podes—feet) are so named because, on a globe, they are almost precisely opposite England.
When people say kia ora (pronouned kee-a or-a), they are offering an informal greeting in Maori that can be used instead of hello.
New Zealand’s “living dinosaur,” the Tuatara lizard, has a third eye, an organ under its skin in the middle of the head, which is sensitive to light.
Recreation in New Zealand is somewhat of a national pastime. Whether it’s playing touch rugby with friends or sailing to secluded islands, Kiwis think they have one of the world’s best outdoor environments in which to relax or get active.
Summer inevitably means picnics in the park, listening to outdoor concerts, or lazy days at a favorite beach spot. Other pastimes include biking along a waterfront or playing backyard cricket with mates before a Sunday afternoon barbecue—getting into the spirit of friendship is important.
Being surrounded by the sea means fishing and boating are high on most people’s lists—one New Zealander in four is said to own a boat. The west coast boasts superb beaches for surfing, and the North Island’s east coast, especially in the Gisbourne and Hawkes Bay areas, also attracts wave-riders. Blessed with high mountain peaks and year-round glaciers, winter rewards many with some of the Southern Hemisphere’s best skiing resorts.
Teeing off for a round of golf is a perennial favorite, with championship courses dotted all over the country. Now more popular than ever, mountain biking and even more adventurous pursuits can be found on both the North and South islands.
HIKING & WALKING
Nature is the main reason most people visit New Zealand, and trekking on one of the country’s many tracks (hiking routes) and spending each night in a hut is the best way to experience it. New Zealanders are ardent trampers, so it’s also a good way to meet locals.
Of course, first-time visitors may have a problem setting aside three or four days, possibly longer, to undertake a trek. But if you’re a returning visitor and like to walk, one of these multiday hikes should be a top priority. Given the popularity of some of the tracks and the restrictions placed on the number of hikers at one time, planning ahead is essential. The Department of Conservation (DOC) is responsible for the tracks, and it has local offices throughout New Zealand. You can also access information at http://www.doc.govt.nz.
Of the hundreds of tracks in New Zealand, there are a few standouts: South Island:
The Milford Track, a four-day, three-night hike in deepest Fiordland, is the most famous track. It stretches 35 mi/55 km from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound in the deep south. The best known and most popular, it is also the most expensive, and must be booked well in advance (except in winter). There is separate accommodation for independent walkers and guided groups.
The Routeburn Track is almost as popular as the Milford for its beautiful mountain scenery (three days, 20 mi/32 km in Mount Aspiring and Fiordland national parks). Like the Milford, it must be booked in advance.
The Abel Tasman Coast Track (three to five days, covering 32 mi/51 km along beaches and bays on the South Island’s northern coast, the Nelson and Marlborough regions) is also extremely popular. It is possible to shorten this to two days by arranging a pickup by sea. In summer, reservations are essential. This is classified as a Great Walk, requiring specific passes (see the DOC website for details).
More demanding four- or five-day walks include the Kepler Track (from Te Anau), the Heaphy Track (through rain forest to the beach, in Kahurangi National Park) and the Rees-Dart Track (steep hikes over a mountain pass and through river valleys, from Glenorchy). The Cascade Saddle route, regarded as one of the nation’s hardest hikes, has spectacular alpine scenery. It creates an exciting through-route from Wanaka, past Mount Aspiring, to Queenstown.
Stewart Island, known by its Maori name Rakiura, has two recognized hikes: the Rakiura Track (three days) and the harder North West Circuit (10-12 days). These are much less popular than the heavily hyped mainland tracks, and are therefore more relaxed; hiking there is like walking back in time.
It’s essential to book all hikes in advance through the DOC—far in advance for the Milford, Abel Tasman and Routeburn Tracks, in particular.
North Island walking tracks are less commercial than the Milford, Routeburn, Heaphy and Abel Tasman walks and require a little more planning. They have their own spectacular characteristics, and the terrain is generally less mountainous than on the South Island.
Several half- or full-day walks from the Kaimai Ranges to the Bay of Plenty begin from locations just outside Tauranga. Ask for local advice and directions at the tourist office, and don’t overestimate your stamina in territory that is new to you.
The Te Urewera National Park is home to the Lake Waikaremoana Track (28.5 mi/46 km, three to four days). This is one of the most popular trails in the North Island, with great views, beaches and swimming. The lake’s name means “sea of rippling waters.” It is one of the North Island’s two Great Walks (the other is the Tongariro Northern Circuit).
Tongariro National Park is, physically and spiritually, the heart of the North Island. This sacred Maori homeland is also home to the Tongariro Northern Circuit, a four-day, 25-mi/41-km trek around the active volcano Mount Ngauruhoe. This Great Walk includes the Tongariro Crossing, regarded as the best one-day walk in New Zealand. On its own, this hike takes seven to nine hours (up to 12 hours if you include an ascent of Mount Ngauruhoe) and is a must-do for most hikers.
An iconic sight in North Island is Mount Taranaki, previously called Mount Egmont. This conical volcano rises 8,259 ft/2,518 m above sea level and is most spectacular when capped with snow. A four-day trek (35 mi/55 km) circumnavigates this beauty, and is known as Mount Taranaki Around the Mountain Circuit.
Shop for paua-shell jewelry, Maori items (wood and bone carvings, music and handicrafts), sheepskin rugs, merino-wool sweaters and other wool clothing, possum-skin accessories, high-quality outdoor clothing and equipment (especially fleece jackets), greenstone jewelry and ornaments (greenstone, or jade, is called pounamu in Maori), and items carved from native woods. The locally grown produce is fantastic, so look for things such as jams, manuka honey, cheeses, and local avocado and olive oils. New Zealand is home to hundreds of “boutique” vineyards, so wine is also a good buy.
Glass vases and art galleries are forever popular with tourists visiting New Zealand (including former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who always buys a glass vase for wife Hillary when he is in Parnell, Auckland). New Zealand artwork has also become highly sought-after, but look for artists working in their own studios to find a true bargain. And always keep an eye open for specialty stores that stock New Zealand goods in smaller towns, because larger cities may overcharge for similar items.
In recent years there has been a renaissance in “Kiwiana,” a somewhat kitschy and quirky celebration of nostalgic items that encapsulate the uniqueness of all things New Zealand. Look out for things such as jewelry made from old teaspoons and coins, cushion covers crafted from souvenir tea towels, and T-shirts carrying iconic motifs such as the Maori tiki.
The bigger cities and towns have malls if you like concentrated shopping, but the local weekend produce markets are a fun way to meet New Zealanders. Another tip: As you drive around, be sure to look for little signs along the road identifying artists’ studios and workshops for potters, glassblowers and woodworkers. We’ve found that it’s very rewarding to stop in at some of these places.
Shopping Hours: Generally, Monday-Friday 9 am-5 pm, Saturday 10 am-4 pm. Some shops, most malls and many outdoor produce markets are open Sunday.
New Zealand’s cuisine has come into its own. Excellent restaurants have popped up all across the country, serving homegrown fare with a strong Pacific flavor as well as a wide variety of international cuisine, particularly Asian—or Asian fusion, which gives a unique Kiwi twist to the genre.
The local foods to try include venison, fresh fish (the salmon is especially good), shellfish (New Zealand is famous for mussels and oysters) and fruits such as kiwifruit, passion fruit and tamarillos (tree tomatoes). Make sure you sample a specialty meat pie—a tasty throwback of British influence but updated with a variety of unique ingredients. Steak-and-cheese pies are especially popular, but are definitely an acquired taste.
Lamb and hogget (1-year-old lamb) is delicious and very different from much of the lamb served in North America—it is milder and similar to high-quality beef or pork. For dessert, the country’s specialty is pavlova, an incredibly sweet baked meringue usually topped with cream and fresh passion fruit, kiwifruit or strawberries.
Outdoor dining is now commonplace in most towns and cities, and it ranges from sidewalk tables spilling out from quiet lanes to corner cafes and waterfront restaurants. Seafood is without a doubt the biggest draw when eating out in New Zealand; species not found in North American supermarkets include John Dory, New Zealand snapper, kingfish and North Island trevally.
When in season (late September and early October), look for whitebait fritters—delicate inch-long fish held together with egg whites—to appear on menus. Green-lip mussels are featured on most coastal menus; these are large and rather chewy, and usually served steamed in pots. Abalone, called paua in New Zealand, is often served minced in fritters.
In winter months, Bluff Oysters come into season. Fished from the cold waters of the South Island’s southernmost coast, these large, firm oysters have a strong flavor and are best eaten raw with just a drizzle of lemon juice. Bought in pots by the dozen, prices are high—especially in Auckland restaurants.
Auckland’s Viaduct Harbor and Wynyard Quarter areas are a mecca of restaurants, as are the Parnell and Ponsonby districts. Wellington’s Courtenay Place is packed with bars and restaurants that bubble over most evenings. Queenstown restaurants are all within easy walking distance right in the heart of town.
Distinctly different, and usually of the highest standard, are the many vineyard restaurants that have popped up around the country. Be spontaneous and stop at one in Hawkes Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough, North Auckland, Waiheke Island or way down south in the Otago region—and remember to complement your meal with a nice bottle of New Zealand wine. Note that screw caps are now more common than corks, regardless of the wine cost or quality.
Note: Be aware that the waitstaff will not bring your bill until you ask for it. Tipping is not expected but appreciated when you find the service good.
New Zealand is generally a safe place to visit. Unprovoked violent crime is minimal even in the larger cities, but as you would anywhere, take commonsense precautions.
The overall crime rate has declined since a peak in 1992, but crime can happen anywhere, at any time. A good rule of thumb is to not be lulled into the false sense of security by the generally laid-back attitude for which New Zealand is known. Visitors who hire cars and recreational vehicles can be an obvious target, so never leave valuables in your car, especially if parking at the head of a walking track or tourist spot. Be aware that kea, the large native alpine parrots with curved, sharp beaks, are fans of windshield wipers and tires. Their attacks can seriously damage vehicles. Car parks usually have a sign notifying a kea problem.
Most New Zealand cities are safe during daylight hours, but there is always an element of late-night rowdiness on weekends, even in provincial towns, as many young Kiwi males, and some of the females too, can become aggressive after drinking. This can be avoided by staying away from the main gathering spots such as nightclubs and late-night bars.
Keep in mind that New Zealand has strict laws concerning drinking and driving: Police checkpoints are common, and the penalties are harsh.
For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.
Excellent health standards prevail across the country, and good medical facilities are available. No special food or water precautions are necessary, although mountain lakes and streams—even those that look pristine—often carry the protozoa giardia. Be sure to treat water taken from these sources while hiking or sightseeing.
The sun is a big health concern, so be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen. In some parts of the country you might encounter sand flies and mosquitoes, so take along insect repellent (the Kiwi version of Dettol, mixed with baby oil, is often the most effective against sand flies). Apart from the rare katipo spider, the country is lucky not to have any poisonous insects or animals, but be careful when swimming on the rugged west-coast surf beaches—huge riptides pull the unwary out to sea during the summer months, so swim on beaches patrolled by lifeguards. Never swim alone.
The current health-care service is a government-subsidized system. Hospitals provide a variety of publicly funded health and disability services such as medical, surgical, maternity, diagnostic and emergency services. The range of services offered by an individual hospital is affected both by the size of the local population and the services offered by other hospitals in the region. Treatment is relatively inexpensive by global standards, but visitors should always have some form of travel insurance.
For nonemergency health concerns, it is better to consult a local general practitioner rather than going to a large hospital, which may have lengthy waiting times. A list of general practitioners can be found in any telephone book or local directory, and nearly every neighborhood has at least one clinic.
For the latest information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.
DOS & DON’TS
Don’t underestimate the strength of ultraviolet light on sunny or overcast days. Most Kiwis wear sunhats and total sunblock; some even apply this to their animals.
Do be considerate about taking pictures of people, particularly Polynesians and Maoris.
Don’t disregard Maori wishes if you’re asked not to visit areas that are sacred to their culture.
Don’t be tempted to sit on a table in Maori or Polynesian cultural environments—it’s considered rude and unhygienic.
Don’t spit in public.
Don’t drop litter anywhere—land or sea. A long-standing slogan is “Be A Tidy Kiwi: Keep New Zealand Clean.”
Don’t forget to take a bottle of wine or a six-pack if you are invited to a Kiwi barbecue.
Do be considerate when smoking, even outdoors in public places: New Zealand has a strong anti-smoking element.
Don’t underestimate the weather when hiking. Even a short day hike can turn into a life-threatening situation when New Zealand’s unpredictable weather takes a turn for the worse.
Do stop in small New Zealand towns when traveling to and from the larger centers; it’s there that you get a real taste of Kiwi life.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports but not visas. Proof of sufficient funds and onward passage are required. A departure tax is included in most airline ticket prices. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Languages: English, Maori.
Predominant Religions: Christian (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian).
Time Zone: 12 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+12 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is observed from the last Sunday in September to the first Sunday in April.
Voltage Requirements: 230/240 volts.
Telephone Codes: 64, country code for New Zealand; 9,city code for Northland, Bay of Islands, Auckland; 7,city code for Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Waikato; 6,city code for Hawkes Bay, Gisbourne, Palmerston North, Wairarapa; 4,city code for Wellington; 3,city code for South Island.
The currency is the New Zealand dollar (NZD), and there are coins of 0.10 NZD, 0.20 NZD and 0.50 NZD, as well as 1 NZD and 2 NZD. The currency is stable. In addition to banks, there are many bureaus de change in larger cities; however, they do charge more than the usual bank fee. ATMs are everywhere and are the easiest and cheapest way to withdraw local currency.
Credit cards are accepted everywhere. Traveler’s checks are accepted mainly at hotels or can be exchanged at local banks.
There is a compulsory 15% government sales tax on all consumer items, including restaurant meals, drinks and hotel rooms. There is no specific bed tax.
Gratuities are not expected, but are appreciated when service is good.
New Zealand’s seasons are opposite those in the Northern Hemisphere: July-September is the coldest period, and December-March is the warmest. Overall, the climate is fairly mild with few extremes of temperatures. The average temperature ranges from 60 F/15 C in the upper regions of the North Island to 50 F/10 C near the bottom of the South Island. The west coast is generally wet, while the east coast suffers regular droughts.
The best months to visit are February and March, when summer is in full swing but New Zealand school holidays are over. Spring—mid-October through November—can be damp but beautiful, with flowers and trees in bloom. During New Zealand’s winter, expect rain, with snow at higher altitudes. Take a sweater and an umbrella no matter what time of year you visit. Bear in mind that this is a long, narrow country in the middle of the Southern Ocean, with nothing to shelter it from regular storms.
What to Wear
New Zealand is such a diverse country in terms of climate, it is often recommended to pack for four seasons in one day. For men and women, shorts are favored for hiking trips but can be a problem if sand flies are present. Pants that can be zipped off at the knees are one solution. Kiwis often wear shorts over long underwear. For tops, layering is popular and advised: Consider a lightweight merino-wool top next to skin, a fleece pullover, then a waterproof jacket.
Rainwear is essential in the spring and fall and advisable in the summer. A multiuse jacket for some cold and windy nights will come in handy—even in summer. Good footwear is a must. Flip-flops, or “jandals” as they’re known locally, are the summer footwear of choice in towns and on beaches. Bathing suits (“togs,” as the Kiwis call them) are always worth packing.
Most business meetings are conducted in business suits, shirt and tie, with women dressed in attractive yet functional dresses or suit-type jackets and skirts. Summer “office” wear for men may include shorts with knee-length socks and smart, lace-up shoes, though this is a somewhat dated look and has become less common. Some of the world’s top designers are from New Zealand, so it is not surprising to find chic, one-off creations in the bigger cities and hip towns such as Nelson. A good rule of thumb in rural locations is to dress to fit with the surroundings.
Public telephones are widely available. Most phone booths accept either coins or phone cards, but some only accept credit cards. You can purchase phone cards at visitor-information centers, convenience stores, post offices, gas stations and most hotels. Out-of-town calls require a prefix area code.
Cell phone coverage is generally good in cities, but in rural or mountainous areas or offshore island locations, reception can sometimes be difficult. If you plan on taking your own cell phone, look into buying a local GSM SIM card to replace the current one.
Spark and Vodafone are New Zealand’s main mobile phone companies, but Two Degrees has made headway into the market by offering cheaper rates and simpler plans. All three companies sell SIM cards on a prepay plan, which is convenient for short-term visitors.
Kiwis love technology and have joined the global move from plug-in to Wi-Fi. It’s available throughout the country in hundreds of cafes and restaurants, airports, hotels, libraries and museums. Internet speeds, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas, can be frustratingly slow at times; patience is required.
Travelers with a laptop or other wireless devices should consider buying a Vodafone NZ Travel SIM card (NZD$29). It offers 500MB of data to be used within a month, as well as 200 minutes and 200 texts. For a list of locations and details, visit the website. http://www.vodafone.co.nz/travel-sim.
Internet cafes are available in most towns and cities.
Major hotels usually offer high-speed, in-room connections (Wi-Fi or plug-in)
Mail & Package Services
New Zealand offers a world-class postal service. Stamps can be bought from PostShops (New Zealand Post) along with all packaging and documentation required. For packages, it’s worth getting quotes from both NZ Post and courier services.
Newspapers & Magazines
The New Zealand Herald is available in most parts of New Zealand, and the Dominion Post (Wellington) and the Christchurch Press are the other main daily newspapers. Two major Sunday papers are available in New Zealand: the Sunday Star Times and Herald on Sunday.
Arrival Magazine, or any of the other free city and country guides, provides tourist information. Information centers are located in all the main tourist spots, with some cities providing i-site interactive stations (similar to phone booths). All hotels and motels offer leaflets on nightlife, dining and entertainment.
Other iconic New Zealand magazines include North & South, The Listener and The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly.
Auckland International Airport (AKL) is 15 mi/25 km south of downtown Auckland. Air New Zealand and Jetstar fly between domestic cities. Airfares booked well in advance can be a good value and are often the cheapest way of traveling any distance. Most moderate-sized towns have an airport. International airports are found in Auckland and Christchurch. Hamilton City Airport also operates flights to Australia.
Car ferries sail the Cook Strait between Wellington (North Island) and Picton (South Island). The journey, which eases through the island-flecked Queen Charlotte Sound, is regarded as one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world. It covers 57 mi/92 km and takes about three hours. The high-speed Lynx catamaran service has been suspended.
Bus services on each island connect the major cities with smaller towns. A number of low-cost shuttle services operate between larger towns and are geared toward budget travelers and backpackers.
Rail travel is possible for selected routes, most notably The Overlander between Auckland and Wellington, via the volcanic plateau and the engineering wonder of the Raurimu Spiral on the North Island. On the South Island, the TranzCoastal runs between Picton and Christchurch; the line follows the coast for much of the journey, so sit on the left side southbound for sea views. The TranzAlpine crosses the island from Christchurch to Greymouth, with
an open-air viewing carriage to maximize the incredible scenery. Travel passes are available for buses, trains, planes and ferries, and some allow you to combine several modes of travel.
Escorted and hosted coach tours, rental cars, campers, motorcycles and bicycles are popular ways to tour the country, but be prepared to take your time. Driving can be fairly slow because most roads have only two lanes, and the terrain can be rugged. Also remember that driving is on the left side of the road.
Many roads in rural New Zealand can be a challenge for overseas drivers to navigate. Roads are often very narrow, sometimes one lane, and many are still unsealed gravel. Caution is a must—even if driving at low speed. On the South Island, icy conditions and black ice are added dangers.
Rental cars can be a cheap, convenient option that allows for greater freedom. Dozens of small budget operators rent small, slightly older-model cars. If you are traveling with a group and splitting the fees, this can be very cost-effective. All companies charge for insurance, but many have a discounted rate for longer rental terms. Prices vary among rental companies, and some include mileage, while others add this to the daily fee.
Note: The major rental car companies do not allow you to transport a car from one island to the other, but will arrange for a second car for you to pick up if you’re traveling between islands. Some agencies do allow you to take a car on the ferry, but check in advance. This does not affect campers or motor homes, which are often hired on a one-way deal with pickup in Auckland and drop-off in Christchurch.
For More Information
New Zealand is dotted with information centers known as i-sites, which have information on activities, accommodations and transportation. Even some very small towns have one, often attached to the local library or town council offices. Some i-sites in larger centers operate more like travel agents, and you may feel slightly pressured to join a tour or excursion. Others, especially in small towns, are run by local volunteers, often retirees who have excellent knowledge of the area and are only too willing to have a chat along with booking tours, accommodations and transport. http://www.i-site.org.nz.
New Zealand: Tourism New Zealand. 147 Victoria St. W., Auckland. Phone 09-914-4780. http://www.tourismnewzealand.com.
U.S.: Tourism New Zealand. 501 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 300, Los Angeles, CA 90401. Phone 310-395-7480. Toll-free (U.S. and Canada) 866-639-9325.
New Zealand does not have a tourist office in Canada. Canadians should contact the office in the U.S.
New Zealand Embassies
Canada: New Zealand High Commission. Metropolitan House, 99 Bank St., Suite 727, Ottawa, ON K1P 6G3. Phone 613-238-5991. http://www.nzembassy.com/canada.
U.S.: Embassy of New Zealand. 37 Observatory Circle N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-328-4800. http://www.nzembassy.com/usa.
Foreign Embassies in New Zealand
Canada: Canadian High Commission. Level 11, 125 the Terrace, Wellington. Phone 4-473-9577. Toll-free (from Auckland) 09-309-8516.
Canada: Canadian Consulate and Trade Office. Level 9, 48 Emily Place, Auckland. Phone 09-309-3690.
U.S.: U.S. Embassy. 29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon, Wellington. Phone 04-462-6000. The embassy does not have a consular section. Americans in need of consular assistance should contact the U.S. Consulate in Auckland (Citibank Centre, Third Floor, 23 Customs St. E.; phone 9-303-2724).
Walking Wellington by Cathy Ombler (New Holland Publishers). A great way to explore this lovely city.
Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook by Ian Brodie (Harper Collins Publishers). For fans of the famous trilogy
filmed in New Zealand.
New Zealand Driving Holidays by Donna Blaber (Deerace Publishing). This guide, illustrated with color photos, details 29 driving routes throughout the country, including many out-of-the-way surprises.
The Reed Dictionary of Maori Place Names by A.W. Reed (Reed Publishers). A local favorite that provides translations to the Maori meanings of the places you travel to and through.
Two Worlds: First Meetings Between Maori and Europeans 1642-1772 by Anne Salmond (University of Hawaii Press). The story of the original contacts between European explorers and the Maori, told from both cultures’ points of view.
Mountain Solitudes: Solo Journeys in the Southern Alps of New Zealand by Aat Vervoorn (Craig Potton Publishing). Author’s account of 15 years mountaineering and hiking in the Southern Alps.
Sailing a Different Course by Janice Davies (Yellow Brick Publishing). A humorous collection of poems, quotes and anecdotes about sailing in New Zealand.
Dogside Story by Patricia Grace (University of Hawaii Press). Award-winning novel about contemporary Maori life.
Hidden Trails by Walter Hirsh (New Holland Publishers).
Beach, Bach, Boat, Barbecue by Penny Oliver (New Holland Publishers). Stunning photography and mouth-watering New Zealand recipes.
A Land of Two Halves by Joe Bennett (Scribner Publishers). A lighthearted look into New Zealand and New Zealanders by a British immigrant who hitchhiked around the North and South islands.
The Bone People by Keri Hulme (Spiral Publishers). The 1984 Booker Prize winner, one of New Zealand’s most famous novels tells the story of an enigmatic Maori family.
Encircled Lands by Judith Binney (Bridget Williams Books). This award-winning book carries the essence of the Maori struggle for self-determination as told through Aotearoa’s staunchest tribe, the Tuhoe.