The sunny summer months (October to April) are the most popular time for travellers visiting New Zealand, but winter offers great skiing and snowboarding and the days are often clear and bright, if chilly. The far north of the country is often dubbed the “winterless north”, although even in this subtropical area, winters can be nippy. The far south is the coldest part of the country – if you’re surfing you’ll need a wetsuit year-round.
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The relatively strong Kiwi dollar and effects of the global financial crisis means that New Zealand is no bargain, but with high standards of quality and service the country is still decent value for money.
Daily costs vary enormously, and the following estimates are per person for two people travelling together. (With the prevalence of good hostels, single travellers can live almost as cheaply as couples, though you’ll pay around thirty percent more if you want a room to yourself.)
If you’re on a tight budget, using public transport, camping or staying in hostels, and cooking most of your own meals, you could scrape by on $60 a day. Renting a car, staying in budget motels, and eating out a fair bit, you’re looking at more like $160 a day. Step up to comfortable B&Bs and nicer restaurants, throw in a few trips, and you can easily find yourself spending over $350 a day. Also, you can completely blow your budget on adventure trips such as a bungy jump or tandem parachuting, so it pays to think carefully about how to get the maximum bang for your buck.
The price quoted is what you pay. With the exception of some business hotels, the 15-percent Goods and Service Tax (GST) is always included in the listed price. GST refunds are available on more expensive items bought then taken out of the country – keep your receipts and carry the items as hand luggage.
Student discounts are few and far between, but you can make substantial savings on accommodation and travel by buying one of the backpacker or YHA cards. Kids enjoy reductions of around fifty percent on most trains, buses and entry to many sights.
Crime and personal safety
New Zealand’s rates of violent crime are in line with those in other developed countries and you’ll almost certainly come across some grisly stories in the media. Still, as long as you use your common sense, you’re unlikely to run into any trouble. Some caution is needed in the seedier quarters of the larger cities where it’s unwise to walk alone late at night. One major safety issue is “boy racers” using city and town streets as racetracks for customized cars, leading to bystander fatalities. Although the police do take action, their presence is relatively thin on the ground so be careful when out late in city suburbs.
Always take precautions against petty theft, particularly from cars and campervans. When staying in cities you should move valuables into your lodging. Thieves also prey on visitors’ vehicles left at trailheads and car parks. Campervans containing all your possessions make obvious and easy pickings. Take your valuables with you, put packs and bags out of sight and get good insurance. When setting out on long walks use a secure car park if possible, where your vehicle will be kept safe for a small sum.
Police and the law
If you do get arrested, you will be allowed one phone call; a solicitor will be appointed if you can’t afford one and you may be able to claim legal aid. It’s unlikely that your consulate will take more than a passing interest unless there is something strange or unusual about the case against you.
The laws regarding alcohol consumption have traditionally been pretty lenient, though persistent rowdy behaviour has encouraged some towns to ban drinking in public spaces. Still, most of the time nobody’s going to bother you if you fancy a beer on the beach or glass of wine at some wayside picnic area. The same does not apply to drink driving, which is taken very seriously.
Marijuana has a reputation for being very potent and relatively easily available. It is, however, illegal, and although a certain amount of tolerance is sometimes shown towards personal use, the police and courts take a dim view of larger quantities and hard drugs, handing out long custodial sentences.
New Zealanders like to think of themselves as a tolerant and open-minded people, and foreign visitors are generally welcomed with open arms. Racism is far from unknown, but you’re unlikely to experience overt discrimination or be refused service because of your race, colour or gender. In out-of-the-way rural pubs, women, foreigners – and just about anyone who doesn’t live within a 10km radius – may get a frosty reception, though this soon breaks down once you get talking.
Despite constant efforts to maintain good relations between Maori and Pakeha, tensions do exist. Ever since colonization, Maori have achieved lower educational standards, earned less and maintained disproportionately high rates of unemployment and imprisonment. Slowly Maori are getting some restitution for the wrongs perpetrated on their race, which of course plays into the hands of those who feel that such positive discrimination is unfair.
Recent high levels of immigration from East Asia – Hong Kong, China and Taiwan in particular – have rapidly changed the demographics in Auckland, where most have settled. Central Auckland also has several English-language schools that are mostly full of Asian students. The combined effect means that in parts of Auckland, especially downtown, longer-established New Zealanders are in the minority. It is a sensation that some Maori and Pakeha find faintly disturbing. There’s little overt racism, but neither is there much mixing.
New Zealand operates a 230/240-volt, 50Hz AC power supply, and sockets take a three-prong, flat-pin type of plug. Suitable socket adaptors are widely available in New Zealand and at most international airports; and for phone chargers and laptops that’s all you’ll need. In most other cases, North American appliances require both a transformer and an adaptor, British and Irish equipment needs only an adaptor and Australian appliances need no alteration.
All visitors to New Zealand need a passport, which must be valid for at least three months beyond the time you intend to stay. When flying to New Zealand you’ll probably need to show you have an onward or return ticket before they’ll let you board the plane.
On arrival, British citizens are automatically issued with a permit to stay for up to six months, and a three-month permit is granted to citizens of most other European countries, Southeast Asian nations, Japan, South Africa, the US and Canada, and several other countries. Australian citizens can stay indefinitely.
Other nationalities need to obtain a visitor visa in advance from a New Zealand embassy, costing the local equivalent of NZ$140 and usually valid for three months. Visas are issued by Immigration New Zealand (w immigration.govt.nz). for advice on working visas.
Websites and contact details for all NZ embassies and consulates abroad can be found at w nzembassy.com.
Quarantine and customs
In a country all too familiar with the damage that can be caused by introduced plants and animals, New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF; wmpi.govt.nz) takes a hard line. On arrival you’ll be asked to declare any food, plants or parts of plants, animals (dead or alive), equipment used with animals, wooden products (including musical instruments), camping gear, golf clubs, bicycles, biological specimens and hiking boots. Outdoor equipment and walking boots will be taken away, inspected and perhaps cleaned then returned shortly thereafter. After a long flight it can seem a bit of a pain, but such precautions are important and there are huge fines for non-compliance. Be sure to dispose of any fresh fruit, vegetables and meat in the bins provided or you’re liable for an instant $400 fine (even for that orange you forgot about in the bottom of your bag). Processed foods are usually allowed through, but must be declared.
Visitors aged 18 and over are entitled to a duty-free allowance (w customs.govt.nz) of 200 cigarettes (or 250 grams of tobacco, or 50 cigars), 4.5 litres of wine or beer, three 1125ml bottles of spirits, and up to $700 worth of goods. There are export restrictions on wildlife, plants, antiquities and works of art.
Gay and lesbian travellers
Homosexuality was decriminalized in New Zealand in 1986 and the age of consent was set at 16 (the same as for heterosexuals). It is illegal to discriminate against gays and people with HIV or AIDS, and New Zealand makes no limitation on people with HIV or AIDS entering the country.
Though there remains an undercurrent of redneck intolerance, particularly in rural areas, it generally stays well below the surface, and New Zealand is a broadly gay-friendly place. The mainstream acceptance is such that the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Auckland Philharmonia composer, Gareth Farr, also performs as drag queen Lilith LaCroix. This tolerant attitude has conspired to de-ghettoize the gay community; even in Auckland and Wellington, the only cities with genuinely vibrant gay scenes, there aren’t any predominantly gay areas and most venues have a mixed clientele. Auckland’s scene is generally the largest and most lively, but the intimate nature of Wellington makes it more accessible and welcoming. Christchurch, Nelson and Queenstown also have small gay scenes.
Major events on the gay calendar include the Vinegar Hill Summer Camp (w vinegarhill.co.nz), held 5km north of the small town of Hunterville, in the middle of the North Island, from Boxing Day to just after New Year. It’s a very laidback affair, with a couple of hundred gay men and women camping out, mixing and partying. There’s no charge (except around $5 for camping) and no hot water, but a large river runs through the grounds and everyone has a great time.
The best source of on-the-ground information is the fortnightly gay newspaper Express (w expresstoday.co.nz), available free in gay-friendly cafés and venues and almost any decent bookshop.
Gay travel websites
w gaynewzealand.com A virtual tour of the country with a gay and lesbian slant.
w gaynz.net.nz Useful site with direct access to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender information including the Pink Pages, covering what’s on in the gay community and a calendar of events all over the country.
w gaytravel.net.nz A gay online accommodation and travel reservation service.
w rainbowtourism.com An excellent resource for gay and lesbian travellers in both NZ and Oz, listing accommodation, events, clubs and tours.
w samesextravel.com Lists gay and lesbian owned and operated accommodation throughout NZ and Oz.
w purpleroofs.com Comprehensive listing for gay-owned and gay-friendly accommodation in NZ and beyond.
New Zealand is relatively free of serious health hazards and the most common pitfall is simply underestimating the power of nature. No vaccinations are required to enter the country, but you should make sure you have adequate health cover in your travel insurance, especially if you plan to take on the great outdoors.
New Zealand has a good health service that’s reasonably cheap by world standards. All visitors are covered by the accident compensation scheme, under which you can claim some medical and hospital expenses in the event of an accident, but without full cover in your travel insurance you could still face a hefty bill. For more minor ailments, you can visit a doctor for a consultation (from around $60) and, armed with a prescription, buy any required medication at a pharmacy at a reasonable price.
Sun, surf and earthquakes
Visitors to New Zealand frequently get caught out by the intensity of the sun, its damaging ultraviolet rays easily penetrating the thin ozone layer and reducing burn times to as little as ten minutes in spring and summer. Stay out of the sun (or keep covered up) as much as possible between 11am and 3pm, and always slap on plenty of sunblock. Re-apply every few hours as well as after swimming, and keep a check on any moles on your body: if you notice any changes, during or after your trip, see a doctor right away.
The sea is a more immediate killer and even strong swimmers should read our surf warning (see Swim between the flags).
New Zealand is regularly shaken by earthquakes, but, although Christchurch experienced major quakes in 2010 and 2011, most are minor and it is generally not something to worry about. If the worst happens, the best advice is to stand in a doorway or crouch under a table. If caught in the open, try to get inside; failing that, keep your distance from trees and rocky outcrops to reduce the chances of being injured by falling branches or debris.
New Zealand’s wildlife is amazingly benign. There are no snakes, scorpions or other nasties, and only a few venomous spiders, all rarely seen. No one has died from an encounter with a spider for many years, but if you get a serious reaction from a bite be sure to see a doctor or head to the nearest hospital, where antivenin will be available.
Shark attacks are also rare; you’re more likely to be carried away by a strong tide than a great white, though it still pays to be sensible and obey any local warnings when swimming.
A far bigger problem is the country’s mosquitoes and sandflies, although they’re generally free of life-threatening diseases. The West Coast of the South Island in the summer is the worst place for these irritating insects, though they appear to a lesser degree in many other places across the country. A liberal application of repellent helps keep them at bay; for a natural deterrent, try lavender oil.
At the microscopic level, giardia inhabits many rivers and lakes, and infection results from drinking contaminated water, with symptoms appearing several weeks later: a bloated stomach, cramps, explosive diarrhoea and wind. The Department of Conservation advises you to purify drinking water by using iodine-based solutions or tablets (regular chlorine-based tablets aren’t effective against giardia), by fast-boiling water for at least seven minutes or by using a giardia-rated filter (obtainable from any outdoors or camping shop).
The relatively rare amoebic meningitis is another waterborne hazard, this time contracted from hot pools. Commercial pools are almost always safe, but in natural pools surrounded by earth you should avoid contamination by keeping your head above water. The amoeba enters the body via the nose or ears, lodges in the brain, and weeks later causes severe headaches, stiffness of the neck, hypersensitivity to light, and eventually coma. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Commission (w acc.co.nz) provides limited medical treatment for visitors injured while in New Zealand, but is no substitute for having comprehensive travel insurance to cover against theft, loss and illness or injury.
Before paying for a new policy, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered: some home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes include cover when abroad. Students will often find that their student health coverage extends during the vacations and for one term beyond the date of last enrollment.
After exhausting the possibilities above, you might want to contact a specialist travel insurance company, or consider the travel insurance deal we offer. Most of them exclude so-called dangerous activities unless an extra premium is paid. In New Zealand this can mean scuba diving, bungy jumping, whitewater rafting, windsurfing, surfing, skiing and snowboarding, and even tramping under some policies.
Many policies can exclude coverage you don’t need. If you do take medical coverage, ascertain whether benefits will be paid as treatment proceeds or only after return home, and if there’s a 24-hour medical emergency number. When securing baggage cover, make sure that the per-article limit will cover your most valuable possession. If you need to make a claim, you’ll need to keep receipts for medicines and medical treatment, and in the event you have anything stolen, you must obtain an official statement from the police.
Internet access is abundant and fairly cheap though seldom blindingly fast. You’ll find coin-operated machines at most visitor centres, backpacker hostels, motels and campsites, generally charging around $6 an hour. Most are set up with card readers, headsets and webcams, and often loaded with Skype and iTunes. At more expensive accommodation there’ll often be a free-use computer, and laptop connections may be available.
There’s often better functionality and lower prices at the abundant internet cafés lining city streets, which typically charge $3–6 per hour. Libraries typically have internet access – some offer this service free, while others charge.
Wi-fi access is increasingly widespread. In addition to internet cafés, many holiday parks, hostels, motels and hotels have hotspots accessible using your credit card or by buying access from reception. Rates vary considerably: an hour might cost $10 but you can often get a full 24-hour day for under $25. Swankier B&Bs and lodges will usually have free wi-fi in all rooms. Organizations such as Zenbu (w zenbu.net.nz) allow you to store your purchased time for future use. Note that in New Zealand, there’s often a kilobyte cap, so make sure your device isn’t using up your kilobytes in automatic updates.
Stamps, postcards, envelopes, packing materials and a lot more can be bought at post offices (a.k.a. PostShops), which are open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm, plus Saturday 9 or 10am to noon or 1pm in some large towns and cities. Red and silver post boxes are found outside post offices and on street corners, and mail is collected daily.
Parcels are quite expensive to send overseas as everything goes by air and the economy service only saves fifteen percent for a considerably delayed delivery.
One post office in each major town operates a Poste Restante (or General Delivery) service where you can receive mail; we’ve listed the major ones in town accounts. Most hostels and hotels will keep mail for you, preferably marked with your expected date of arrival.
Maps and GPS
Specialist outlets should have a reasonable stock of maps of New Zealand. Road atlases are widely available in bookshops and service stations; the most detailed are those produced by Kiwi Pathfinder, which indicate numerous points of interest and the type of road surface. Also look out for A Driving Guide to Scenic New Zealand ($40) with handy angled projections giving a real sense of the lay of the land. Many car- and van-rental places have GPS navigation systems, usually for an additional $5–15 a day.
With a road atlas and our city plans you can’t go far wrong on the roads, but more detailed maps may be required for tramping. All the major walks are covered by the Park Map series, complete with photos (around $19 from DOC offices and bookshops in NZ), while the larger-scale 1:50,000 Topo50 and 1:250,000 Topo250 (downloadable at w linz.govt.nz and sold in i-SITEs, book and outdoors shops and DOC offices) cover the whole country.
The Kiwi dollar is divided into 100 cents. There are $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 notes made of a sturdy plastic material, and coins in denominations of $2, $1 (both gold in colour), 50¢, 20¢ and 10¢. Grocery prices are given to the nearest cent, but the final bill is rounded up or down to the nearest ten cents. All prices quoted in the guide are in New Zealand dollars.
Cards, cheques and ATMs
For purchases, visitors generally rely on credit cards, particularly Visa and MasterCard, which are widely accepted, though many hostels, campsites and homestays will only accept cash. American Express and Diners Club are far less useful. You’ll also find credit cards handy for advance booking of accommodation and trips, and with the appropriate PIN you can obtain cash advances through 24-hour ATMs found almost everywhere. Debit cards are also useful for purchases and ATM cash withdrawals.
The major banks – ASB, ANZ, BNZ, Kiwibank (found in post offices), National Bank and Westpac – have branches in towns of any size and are open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 4.30pm, with some city branches opening on Saturday mornings (until around 12.30pm). The big cities and tourist centres also have bureaux de change, which are typically open from 8am to 8pm daily.
Especially if you are working in New Zealand you may want to open a bank account. A New Zealand EFTPOS (debit) card can be used just about anywhere for purchases or obtaining cash. An account can usually be set up within a day; remember to take your passport.
New Zealand’s larger cities and tourist centres are increasingly open all hours, with cafés, bars and supermarkets open till very late, and shops open long hours every day. Once you get into rural areas, things change rapidly, and core shopping hours (Mon–Fri 9am–5.30pm, Sat 9am–noon) apply, though tourist-orientated shops stay open daily until 8pm.
An ever-increasing number of supermarkets open 24/7 and small “dairies” (corner shops or convenience stores) also keep long hours and open on Sundays. Museums and sights usually open around 9am, although small-town museums often open only in the afternoons and/or only on specific days.
Given the near-ubiquity of mobile phones, and the prominence of Skype (or similar services) for international calling, most people don’t have much need of public payphones, though they are still fairly widespread across New Zealand. Coin-operated phones are now rare, but all payphones accept major credit cards, account-based phonecards and slot-in disposable PhoneCards sold at post offices, newsagents, dairies, petrol stations, i-SITEs and supermarkets.
New Zealand landline numbers have only five area codes. The North Island is divided into four codes, while the South Island makes do with just one (t 03); all numbers in the guide are given with their code. Even within the same area, you may have to dial the code if you’re calling another town some distance away. Mobile numbers start with t 021, t 022, t 027 or t 029, and you’ll come across freephone numbers which are all t 0800 or t 0508. Numbers prefixed t 0900 are premium-rated and cannot be called from payphones.
Important phone numbers
National directory assistance 018
International directory assistance 0172
Police, ambulance and fire brigade (no charge) 111
International dialling codes
To call New Zealand from overseas, dial the international access code (00 from the UK, 011 from the US and Canada, 0011 from Australia, 09 from South Africa) followed by 64, the area code minus its initial zero, and then the number.
To dial out of New Zealand, it’s
t 00, followed by the country code, then the area code (without the initial zero if there is one) and the number.
Phonecards and calling cards
For long-distance and international calling you are best off with pre-paid account-based phonecards that can be used on any phone. There are numerous such cards around offering highly competitive rates, but be wary of the very cheap ones: they are often internet-based and the voice quality can be poor and delayed. Be warned, though, that public payphones have an additional per-minute charge for account-based phonecards, so try to use them from private phones whenever possible.
New Zealand has three mobile providers: Telecom (w telecom.co.nz), Vodafone (w vodafone.co.nz) and 2degrees (w 2degreesmobile.co.nz). All have excellent reception in populated areas but sporadic coverage in remoter spots.
If you’re thinking of bringing your phone from home, check with your service to see if your phone will roam in New Zealand and check roaming costs, which can be excessive. Providing your phone is unlocked, you can also buy a New Zealand SIM card and pre-pay.
Time and seasons
New Zealand Standard Time (NZST) is twelve hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, but, from the last Sunday in September to the first Sunday in April, Daylight Saving puts the clocks one hour further forward. Throughout the summer, when it is 8pm in New Zealand, it’s 6pm in Sydney, 7am in London, 2am in New York, and 11pm the day before in Los Angeles.
New Zealand follows Britain’s lead with dates, and 1/4/2013 means April 1 not January 4.
Don’t forget that the southern hemisphere seasons are reversed: summer is officially December 1 to February 28 (or 29), and winter is June 1 to August 31.
New Zealand promotes itself enthusiastically abroad throughTourism New Zealand, and its extensive website w newzealand.com.
Many information centres, as well as some cafés, bars and hostels, keep a supply of free newspapers and magazines oriented towards backpackers – they’re usually filled with promotional copy, but are informative nonetheless. TNT (w tntdownunder.com) is about the best.
Every town of any size has an official i-SITE visitor centre, staffed by helpful and knowledgeable personnel and sometimes offering some form of video presentation on the area. Apart from dishing out local maps and leaflets, they offer a free booking service for accommodation, trips and activities, and onward travel, but only for businesses registered with them. Some (usually small) businesses choose not to register and may still be worth seeking out; we’ve mentioned them where relevant. In the more popular tourist areas, you’ll also come across places representing themselves as independent information centres that usually follow a hidden agenda (ie commission), typically promoting a number of allied adventure companies. While these can be excellent, it’s worth remembering that their advice may not be impartial.
Other useful resources are Department of Conservation (DOC; w doc.govt.nz) offices and field centres, usually sited close to wilderness areas and popular tramping tracks, and sometimes serving as the local visitor centre as well. These are highly informative and well geared to trampers’ needs, with local weather forecasts, intentions forms and maps as well as historic and environmental displays and audiovisual exhibitions. The website contains loads of detail on the environment and the latest conservation issues plus details of national parks and Great Walks.
Travellers with disabilities
Overall, New Zealand is disabled-traveller friendly. Many public buildings, galleries and museums are accessible, and many tour operators will make a special effort to help you participate in all manner of activities, such as swimming with dolphins or seals. However, restaurants and local public transport generally make few concessions.
Planning a trip
A good starting point is Tourism New Zealand’s w newzealand.com which has a “People with Special Needs” section containing several useful links. There are also organized tours and holidays specifically for people with disabilities.
Independent travellers should advise travel agencies, insurance companies and travel companions of limitations. Reading your travel insurance small print carefully to make sure that people with a pre-existing medical condition aren’t excluded could save you a fortune. Your travel agent can help make your journey simpler: airline or bus companies can better cater to your needs if they are expecting you. A medical certificate of your fitness to travel, provided by your doctor, is also extremely useful; some airlines or insurance companies may insist on it.
New accommodation must have at least one room designed for disabled access, and many pre-existing places have converted rooms, including most YHA hostels, some motels, campsites and larger hotels. Older buildings, homestays and B&Bs are the least likely to lend themselves to such conversions.
For listings, visit w accomobility.co.nz, which has a searchable database of places that have signed up for the service.
Few airlines, trains, ferries and buses allow complete independence. Air New Zealand provides aisle wheelchairs on international (but not domestic) flights, and the rear toilet cubicles are wider than the others to facilitate access; for more details search for “Special Assistance” on its website. Other domestic airlines have poorer facilities. Interislander Cook Strait ferries have reasonable access for disabled travellers, including help while boarding, if needed, and adapted toilets. If given advance warning, trains will provide attendants to get passengers in wheelchairs or sight-impaired travellers on board, but moving around the train in a standard wheelchair is impossible and there are no specially adapted toilets; the problems with long-distance buses are much the same.
In cities there are some taxis specifically adapted for wheelchairs, but these must be pre-booked; otherwise taxi drivers obligingly hoist wheelchairs into the boot and their occupant onto a seat.
Contacts in New Zealand
Access Tourism NZ w accesstourismnz.org.nz. Informative advocacy site.
Disability Resource Centre 14 Erson Ave, Royal Oak, Auckland t 09 625 8069, w disabilityresource.org.nz. General resource centre.
DPA Level 4/173–175 Victoria St, Wellington, NZ t 04 801 9100, w dpa.org.nz. Disability advocacy organization with useful links.
Enable New Zealand t 0800 362 253, w enable.co.nz. Organization assisting people with disabilities, though not specifically focused on travellers.
Kiwi men have fairly progressive attitudes towards women, and travelling in New Zealand doesn’t present any particular problems.
In the unlikely event of trouble, contact w rapecrisis.org.nz. For support, Women’s Centres around the country are listed on the Ministry of Women’s Affairs website at w mwa.govt.nz/where-go-help. You might also consider partly organizing your holiday through Women Travel New Zealand (w womentravel.co.nz), which offers information, links to retreats, women-oriented tour operators and its newsletter. Auckland’s Women’s Bookshop (w womensbookshop.co.nz) is a handy resource and hosts literary events.