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New Zealand travel tips: How to plan your road trip

Curtain up for one of our favorite travel destinations. Although New Zealand is at the other end of the world, we have already been there twice. Already on our very first New Zealand trip of the year 2013 we fell head over heels in love with this beautiful country – so much that it was clear: we will come back.

And we did. 2018 to have we made our second road trip through New Zealand. And once again we realized that we are happy in New Zealand. The endless expanse that emanates from this country fascinates us. So much so that we could even imagine emigrating to New Zealand – if, yes, if it weren’t so incredibly far away from Europe.

This blog article is our very personal travel guide for a road trip through New Zealand. We tell you what you should pay attention to when planning and tell you all our travel tips.

1. Preparation: Before your trip to New Zealand What to expect in New Zealand Rough coasts, endless expanses, rugged mountain ranges, sparkling blue lakes. In New Zealand, the focus is clearly on nature. And it’s really spectacular. New Zealand is one of those countries that has succeeded in inspiring us every day.

New Zealand consists of two islands: The North and the south island. While more than 3 million people live on the smaller North Island, the larger South Island has just 1 million inhabitants. A curious detail: For more than 4 million inhabitants there are more than 30 (!) million sheep.

New Zealand is very sparsely populated. You notice that especially on the South Island. One is often on the road here for hours in lonely areas. Hardly any residents, no gas stations, even oncoming traffic is rare. And yes: here and there in New Zealand there is a feeling of loneliness. As travelers, that didn’t bother us at all – quite the opposite!

Because once you’ve had enough of lonely nature, then there’s the urban side of New Zealand: There is a lot going on in the big city of Auckland and in the capital Wellington.

Duration: How much time should I allow for New Zealand? An answer that will probably not satisfy you: as much time as possible! New Zealand is incredibly diverse. Even if you are traveling in New Zealand for three months, you will still find new destinations.

We ourselves were in New Zealand for one month. That might sound like a lot, but it’s not. On both road trips we had to be careful with our time to see as much as possible. We usually spent about 2 nights in one place before we drove on.

You also have to consider that the long flights take a lot of time. In addition, the time difference between Austria and Germany is unbelievable 10 hours. If you’re prone to Jetlag (like we are), then you should take that into account as well.

We’ve met along the way with many, entertained many travellers: From a travel time of just 10 days (they are crazy!) up to half a year or longer everything was there. Most, however, settle into somewhere between 3 and 5 weeks travel time.

In our opinion you can see a lot in one month and definitely explore the highlights of New Zealand. If you stay less than 3 weeks, we would choose one of the two islands if we were you (our choice would be the South Island).

Climate: The best season for a New Zealand road trip “In New Zealand you can experience all four seasons in one day.” How many times had we heard this sentence before we traveled to New Zealand for the first time. And we can confirm: The weather in New Zealand is very changeable: one day it’s pouring and you’re freezing, the next you’re sitting in the sun with a t-shirt.

New Zealand summer From December to January prevails in New Zealand summer. This is also the time when the Kiwis have their long summer holidays. The weather is mostly mild across the country. It rains comparatively little and during these months you usually enjoy the most hours of sunshine.

But not all summers are the same: Yes, there are midsummer days when the thermometer rises to 30 Degrees Celsius is climbing. But there are also rainy days when the temperature hardly 10 Degree reached. Roughly speaking, the further south you travel, the harsher the climate.

What we want to say with that: Even if you travel to New Zealand in summer, you have no guarantee of good weather. You definitely have to be prepared for this if you are planning a trip to New Zealand.

New Zealand’s summer is also peak travel time. Prices for rental cars and campers are multiplying (no kidding) and in general the accommodation and campsites are very busy. But: Don’t let yourself be persuaded that everything will be fully booked everywhere. We were in New Zealand both times in January/February (that is, during the absolute high season) and still spontaneously found mostly great accommodation.

The New Zealand Winter Winter is a less popular travel time than summer. As a result, many, much fewer tourists are out and about. If you love cool temperatures or winter sports, then the New Zealand winter (June to August) is probably the best time to visit.

Winter is the rainiest season. However: It doesn’t get so cold everywhere that snow falls – quite the opposite. In many parts of the country, the weather is relatively mild even in winter. For example, Auckland has an average maximum winter temperature of 14 Centigrade. As in summer, the further south you travel, the cooler it tends to be.

Many popular hikes in New Zealand lead through alpine terrain. While it “only” gets fresh in the mountains in summer, you have to be prepared for snow and ice in winter. Especially on the South Island you have to expect that one or the other road will be closed in winter. And: Camping is of course less comfortable in winter.

The transitional periods Because many people want to avoid the high season, spring and autumn are also popular travel times. The weather is then of course more unstable than in summer. But especially in autumn (especially in the months of March to April) you can still experience beautiful late summer days. During the day in autumn it usually has an average of between 12 and 21 Degrees Celsius.

The big advantage of the transitional periods is that there are fewer tourists and the prices (especially for campers) are much lower than in the overpriced high season.

Travel guide for New Zealand: Our tips We admit it: We get weak with printed travel guides. Although we always get a lot of information about a travel destination from other blogs (and also appreciate these insider tips), we can never start a trip without a travel guide.

So far we have bought and tested three different travel guides for New Zealand and would like to tell you about our experiences below.

Stefan Loose Travel Guide New Zealand Our very first New Zealand travel guide was that of Stefan Loose. The travel guide comes from a German publisher and is therefore written in German.

The very clear distinguishing feature of the Loose travel guide is (besides the eye-catching colour ) the fact that it is very detailed and very well researched. Above 900 This travel guide is thick on pages and therefore weighs a little more heavily than others.

We can highly recommend the Stefan Loose travel guide for New Zealand. For us it offers the best value for money.

You can buy the guide here: Stefan Loose Guide New Zealand

Lonely Planet New Zealand Some The classic Lonely Planet travel guide is more compact and therefore lighter. On our last trip to New Zealand we used the English edition of this travel guide.

With the Lonely Planet you are definitely moving on the “classic, touristic” paths (which is not necessarily a bad thing). We felt that Lonely Planet was the number one travel guide for tourists.

You can buy the guide in English here: Lonely Planet Travel Guide New Zealand
You can buy the travel guide in German here: Lonely Planet Travel Guide New Zealand

Lonely Planet Best of New Zealand Same brand, different concept: As the name suggests, this one does it Book about the highlights in New Zealand. These are also described really well and there are always cool insider tips. The graphic presentation We like this travel guide much better than the classic Lonely Planet travel guide.

However: The focus is on the highlights and the rest is left out completely. Tekapo and Mount Cook, for example, are not mentioned at all. So we can only recommend this travel guide to a limited extent – for example if you are really only traveling through New Zealand for a short time or are looking for a second travel guide.

Here you can you buy the guide (English): Lonely Planet Best of New Zealand

2. Transportation in New Zealand Car or camper? You can also travel by public bus or even hitchhike, but for New Zealand we definitely recommend your own vehicle to be flexible . Perhaps the most important question is: do you prefer to travel by car and sleep in accommodations on your road trip, or is a camper the right choice for you?

Through New Zealand with a rental car We ourselves have done our road trips through New Zealand both times with a rented vehicle. Both times we thought back and forth for a long time whether we shouldn’t choose a camper after all, but in the end our need for comfort won out.

Being on the road with a rental car has several Pros: First of all, the rental costs are relatively manageable (especially in the high season when camper prices skyrocket). The fuel costs are also significantly lower for a car than for a campervan or even a large mobile home. You can choose your accommodation every night and thus have the accommodation costs pretty much under control: You have a free choice from a bed in a hostel dormitory to a luxury hotel (in principle at least – in practice, of course, not everything is always available).

The biggest disadvantage is clearly that you cannot enjoy the beautifully situated campsites. So of course you can sleep in the car or get a tent, but the most comfortable cam ping option is still a large RV or at least a campervan.

With the camper through New Zealand Camping in New Zealand is extremely popular with travelers of all ages. It doesn’t matter whether you have a car and tent, a rickety campervan or a luxurious mobile home: everyone seems to be camping.

There is one important thing to remember here: “Freedom Camping” in New Zealand (ie wild camping in the open air) is only permitted if your vehicle is “self-contained”, ie if it has certain features (including a toilet). Only then do you get the well-known blue sticker and you can stand freely in certain regions. However, “freedom camping” is not always possible everywhere (and the laws are becoming increasingly strict), so you definitely have to factor in budget for campsites.

Which Rental car company for New Zealand? For our two trips to New Zealand we chose Sunny Cars, which we can highly recommend. Sunny Cars does not have its own fleet, but acts as an intermediary. This means that Sunny Cars works locally with many local car rental companies (e.g. Hertz) and selects the best deal for you.

We made our choice for two reasons on Sunny Cars: On the one hand, we always found the cheapest offer there. And on the other hand (which is almost more important) a booking with Sunny Cars automatically means that you will be reimbursed for the deductible in the event of damage. So if something happens, you will first have to pay the deductible (which the local car rental company asks you to pay), but you will then be reimbursed for all costs by Sunny Cars.

This also means that when you pick up of the rental car with the local rental company (e.g. Hertz) does not have to take out additional insurance. Many employees know about this, but we have been offered additional insurance before. So you can refuse such a thing when booking via Sunny Cars.

Why is the reimbursement of the deductible so important? We can confirm from experience: A scratch happens faster than you would like. We had our car 801 parked in a parking lot in New Zealand when a stranger (we were just shopping) made quite a scratch in our car. The 250 Euro deductible that we had to pay to the local car rental company at the time, we were reimbursed by Sunny Cars very easily.

Here you can you are looking for cheap rental cars: Sunny Cars

International driving license An international driver’s license is almost always required for renting. We strongly recommend that you have one made at home. If you don’t have one with you, in this blog article you will find our personal experiences on how you can rent a car or a campervan without an international driver’s license.

By car on the Ferry between North and South Island If you book your rental car one-way (e.g. with pick-up in Auckland and return in Christchurch), then you will get this to 99 % Not to the other island. Instead, you hand it in at the port on one island and you get a new car of the same class when you arrive on the other island.

This has both advantages and disadvantages: The big advantage is, that you save money. Transporting your own car on the ferry costs approx. NZD. The downside: You have to clear the entire car (in which you’ve already made yourself comfortable) and pack everything up. But don’t worry: the whole rental process is pretty quick, because the employees are very well trained.

3. Travel expenses New Zealand: This is how much money you need New Zealand is not a cheap travel destination. There are two reasons for this: First of all, of course, there is the long and usually quite expensive flight, which has to be paid for. And secondly: The price level on site is not exactly low either.

Currency & payment in New Zealand The New Zealand currency is the New Zealand Dollar (abbreviated to NZD or NZ$). The exchange rate varies, when we visited 1 NZD was about 0,60 EUR.

With the German or Austrian Maestro and credit card, you can withdraw money from most cash dispensers (ATMs) . The limit is usually at 400 NZD. (Note: In Austria you must first deactivate the geo-control function at your local bank.)

The fees for withdrawals vary greatly. On the one hand, you often pay a fee to the New Zealand bank. This varies between 0 and per transaction NZD. In order to save money, we usually withdrew the maximum amount. Most of the time, the fee is shown on the display and you can still cancel the transaction in good time (if the fees are around 12 NZD).

On the other hand, you pay expenses to your local bank. These charges vary by bank and by card (ie Maestro, credit card). Our most important tip: Find out in advance from your bank what fees they charge.

If you are traveling in New Zealand, you will quickly come across the expression EFTPOS stumble. EFTPOS is a payment system within New Zealand, with which you can use a card to pay almost anywhere without cash (comparable to the domestic Maestro card).

You will therefore quickly notice that in New Zealand (unlike in Germany or Austria) an unusual amount is paid by card. However, the EFTPOS system is only reserved for those who have an account in New Zealand. As a tourist you have to pay with your credit card. Of course, that doesn’t mean that cash payments aren’t possible. The Kiwis, however, are fans of card payments.

It is important not to rely on just one payment method in New Zealand. A Maestro card and a credit card are the minimum in our opinion. It happened to us several times that one of our cards didn’t work. Our credit card limit was also reached faster than we had expected.

Travel expenses in New Zealand If we had to compare the prices in New Zealand with another country, we would spontaneously name Germany or Austria. Sure, some things are cheaper in New Zealand and others are more expensive, but all in all the comparison is about right.

How expensive your New Zealand road trip will ultimately be depends heavily on the following factors:

On the type of transport (bus vs. motorhome) By type of accommodations (hostel dormitory vs. comfortable hotel room) On the type of catering (self-catering vs. restaurant visits) And from the question of how many “activities” you would like to afford. How much does it cost in New Zealand…? 360gr yoghurt in the supermarket : 4NZD 1 liter milk: 3 NZD a glass of wine or a large beer in a pub: 8-12 NZD a beer in the supermarket: from 3-4 NZD Coffee to go: 4.5 NZD Meal in a cheap restaurant: 15 NZD Vodafone SIM card with 8GB data: 86 NZD (if purchased directly at the airport) Helicopter flight over Queenstown: 230 NZD per person Water Taxi Tour in Abel Tasman National Park: 80 NZD per person Our New Zealand travel expenses In advance: Travel expenses are something very individual. Our numbers should only serve as a guide. It is quite possible to spend the night in New Zealand much cheaper and at the same time you can leave a lot more money behind.

The travel costs listed refer to our last New Zealand road trip in January/February 2018. We were traveling by rental car and mostly stayed in mid-priced motels/apartments.

Rental car: 1.338 euros for almost 3.5 weeks ( second cheapest car class) Accommodations: average 99 Euro per night (for both of us) Meals: approx. 20 Euro per person per day To the Transport costs are added to fuel charges. These vary greatly depending on the vehicle. While we were relatively economical with our car, you quickly have to calculate twice as much for a larger campervan.

Warning: Also not listed are the costs for activities that quickly add up in money in New Zealand – be it the ticket for the visitor platform of the Sky Tower in Auckland, the ride on the gondola in Queenstown or the water taxi in Abel Tasman National Park. Tours and activities are pretty expensive in New Zealand.

4. Entering New Zealand Apply for NZeTA With a German or Austrian passport you can stay up to 3 months in New Zealand without having to apply for a visa in advance. This option is called Visa Waiver.

Important: Since October 2019 you must have a apply for electronic travel authorization (NZeTA, New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority).

You can get your NZeTA online request via the website or via a corresponding app. It is best to do this as soon as you have booked the flight, but at the latest 72 hours before departure (as it may take that long for your NZeTA to be approved). Your NZeTA is valid for two years from approval.

The costs for the NZeTA are currently (as of January 2020) 9 NZD (via app) or 12 NZD (via website). However, when you apply, you also pay a tourist fee (IVL ) in the amount of 35 NZD.

Here is the link to the official website: Apply for NZeTA

For other visa options (e.g. longer than 3 months, work visa etc.) we can also highly recommend the official website (Immigration New Zealand). There you can enter the country of your passport and the type of stay you want in New Zealand and you will be given all the options.

Entry into New Zealand: Customs & Co Get on the plane you will also be given a form (Passenger Arrival Card) that you need to fill out and hand in upon immigration (it’s a good idea to have a pen with you). You are asked here, for example, in which countries you have been before, whether you have hiking boots/camping equipment or goods that have to be declared with you. You should clean very dirty shoes beforehand, because New Zealand is very careful not to import anything that could harm the native vegetation.

After you have picked up your luggage from the conveyor belt, you give the form to a border officer upon entry. He/she will ask you some questions and may have to you show the things too. However, the process usually takes place very quickly.

Warning (from personal experience!): In New Zealand they are particularly strict with fresh groceries. On our first trip to New Zealand, we mistakenly had an apple in our hand luggage that we didn’t declare. oops After a 15 minute, very tedious procedure, we received an official warning. Actually, this would be a penalty of incredible 360 NZD provided.

5. Highlights & Itinerary Enough of the dry prep topics. Now we come to the most important part: What can you see in New Zealand? And: How do I plan a road trip that takes me to the highlights of the country?

In this context, we highly recommend this blog article from us:

Our itinerary for New Zealand

In this article we have given you our personal highlights for a road trip through New Zealand summarized – including driving times, options for stopovers and accommodation tips. You can travel the route both from north to south and vice versa.

To make it short: If you have at least three weeks, you can travel both North and South Island. If you have less time, we recommend that you focus on one island (our choice would be the South Island).

6. Eating & Drinking in New Zealand To be honest: New Zealand’s cuisine is not necessarily what we particularly like about this country memory remains. Don’t get me wrong: You can eat very well (and also very expensively) in New Zealand, but things just didn’t spark as much between us and the kitchen as in Thailand or India.

The New Zealand kitchen is characterized by international and above all European influences. In addition to burgers and steaks, the classics in New Zealand also include fish & chips and pies, which are traditionally filled with meat.

There is a lot of meat and fish

eaten. As a vegetarian this is unfortunately sometimes a bit tedious. You can always find a vegetarian or vegan alternative, but unfortunately the range is often not very varied. It’s easier in larger cities: more and more bars and restaurants are opening there that offer healthy vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Our favorite restaurants on our New Zealand -Travel were by the way:

Fergburger in Queenstown An institution par excellence. You almost always have to wait in line in Queenstown for what is said to be the best burger in the country. But it’s worth it. Most burgers are made with beef, but there are also two vegetarian options.

Big Fig in Wanaka A poem! Under the motto “Slow food served fast”, delicious dishes and salads are served at the Big Fig in Wanaka. There are plenty of vegetarian alternatives.

The Corner Store in Dunedin Really cool young cafe in Dunedin with great breakfast and brunch.

Farmers markets all over New Zealand And not to forget, of course, the numerous “Farmers’ Markets”, which usually take place at the weekend, such as the Otago Farmers’ Market in Dunedin.

Supermarket & self-catering Because it was simply too expensive for us to eat out all the time, we always cooked for ourselves . In most motels you either have your own kitchenette or you can use the shared kitchen.

Don’t underestimate the costs for this either: buy some fresh vegetables and cheese in the supermarket and you’ll have a bill from 30 or 40 NZD. Overall, of course, it is cheaper for you if you take care of yourself.

7. Overnight stays and accommodation in New Zealand In New Zealand you roughly speaking two accommodation options:

1. In your own vehicle (campervan, mobile home)
2 In an accommodation (hostel, motel, hotel, airbnb)

If you are traveling with a campervan or mobile home, the accommodation costs will be lower. But: It’s not completely free here either, because there are also fees for camping sites.

Accommodations in New Zealand We have been to New Zealand twice with a rental car and have mainly stayed in motels or apartments. When booking, we always made sure that we had cooking facilities in the apartment if possible. By the way, many accommodations in New Zealand are still a bit old-fashioned (or getting old), but we have always lived very comfortably.

First of all or book spontaneously? Although we always traveled in the main season (January/February), we booked our accommodations almost exclusively spontaneously booked, ie usually one to a maximum of two days before arrival – often on the same day.

The disadvantage is of course that the really cool accommodations are often already fully booked or the prices can sometimes increase. For us personally, however, the advantages outweigh: Only if you book spontaneously can you react to possible changes in the weather or leave out certain travel destinations as you wish or integrate them into your road trip.

There is no right or wrong. So whether you prefer to book your accommodation before you travel or whether you book it spontaneously depends on 100 percent depends on your preferences and type of travel. Maybe a combination of both variants is something for you? At (where we almost always booked) there is sometimes the possibility to cancel free of charge up to a few days before arrival. We often use this booking option when we want to leave a cancellation or rebooking open.

8th. Other travel tips for your New Zealand road trip Health: UV radiation & sand flies New Zealand is an extremely safe travel destination from a health point of view. There are no dangerous animals or insects that transmit tropical diseases.

What you need to watch out for is the high UV radiation. Due to the clear , unpolluted air, the sun’s rays are particularly intense in New Zealand. We therefore recommend that you always put on sunscreen when you leave the house (this is especially true if you are out in the mountains or by the sea at lunchtime). You really get sunburnt faster in New Zealand than you would like.

The New Zealand Sandflies (or Sandflies as they are called locally) are pretty annoying will). You can find sand flies all over New Zealand, but especially near rivers and standing water. They are not dangerous, but the bites itch like hell in some people. Our tip in sand fly areas is to wear long clothes. Sometimes a mosquito repellent may be necessary (however, we always fled before it came to that).

Travel plug for New Zealand In order to plug your devices into the power supply in New Zealand, you absolutely need an adapter. The mains voltage is the same (230 volts), but the three-pin socket in New Zealand does not fit a two-pin plug from Austria or Germany. Another tip: An adapter would not have been enough for us personally, as we always charge a lot of devices (cell phone, laptop, cameras). We bought two adapters locally. It’s cheaper if you get them at home.

You can find the right adapter here: Travel adapter for New Zealand

Internet & Telephoning We got a New Zealand one as soon as we arrived at Christchurch Airport Bought a SIM card with 8GB data volume. Sim cards are not exactly cheap in New Zealand: We have at least for our 8GB Paid NZD. (Tip: The SIM card is a bit cheaper at the airport itself.) This package also includes unlimited SMS & minutes within New Zealand as well as 230 free SMS and 100 Minutes in certain countries (among others Germany, but not Austria) included.

Even if such a SIM card is initially a rather expensive investment, we would do it again at any time. It’s just incredibly handy if you want to look for accommodation or information on the go. Of course there are also cheaper packages (with 1 GB or 3 GB).

Earthquake in New Zealand New Zealand is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. Around 20. Earthquakes are registered every year – not all of which can of course be felt. Minor earthquakes are part of everyday life for the residents of New Zealand. But you will also come into contact with earthquakes as a tourist.

We have both of ours New Zealand trips always witnessed at least one earthquake. Both times we were in Christchurch – the city that registers a particularly large number of earthquakes. There is no question that earthquakes can become a serious threat. In many accommodations you will therefore find emergency plans for emergencies on the room door. Nevertheless, we recommend that you do not let this drive you crazy. Fortunately, devastating catastrophes are very, very rare.

9. More New Zealand articles to plan your trip Hiking in New Zealand: The most beautiful day hikes Our Itinerary in New Zealand You can find our New Zealand articles for each place we have visited here: All New Zealand Travel Reports Transparency: This blog article contains our personal recommendations in the form of so-called affiliate links. If you book or buy something through the links, we will receive a small commission. For you, this does not change the price at all. cool thing right? We got a discount from Sunny Cars for our rental car in New Zealand – thank you very much! Nothing changes in our opinion at all. We have booked privately with Sunny Cars several times (i.e. paid the full price) and have always had good experiences.

Have you ever done a road trip through New Zealand? Did the country inspire you too? Or do you have any other tips for us? As always, we look forward to your comments!