The quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get to New Zealand is to fly. It is possible to arrive by sea, but there are no international passenger ferries, so unless you own a boat this means joining a cruise, crewing on a private yacht, or paying for your passage on a cargo ship (a rewarding experience for those who like sea journeys – find out more at w freightertravel.co.nz).
Air fares depend on the season, with the highest during the New Zealand summer (Dec–Feb); prices drop during the shoulder seasons (Sept–Nov & March–May) and you’ll get the cheapest rates during the low (ski) season (June–Aug).
Arriving in New Zealand, your only real choice, unless you’re coming from Australia, is between the international airports at Auckland and Christchurch. Christchurch receives fewer direct flights but many scheduled airlines have a codeshare shuttle from Auckland at no extra cost. The most desirable option, an open-jaw ticket (flying into one and out of the other), usually costs no more than an ordinary return.
Tourists and those on short-term working visas (see Safety) are generally required by New Zealand immigration to arrive with an outward bound ticket, so one-way tickets are really only viable for Australian and NZ residents.
If you’ve purchased a return ticket and find you want to stay longer or head off on a totally different route, it’s possible to change the dates and, more rarely, route with the airline or travel agent, depending on the conditions of your ticket, though there is often a fee.
Over a dozen airlines compete to fly you from Britain to New Zealand for as little as £757, including British Airways (w ba.com), but prices depend upon the time of year, and can be double that amount at Christmas. Going for the cheapest flight typically means sacrificing some comfort (multiple stops, longer layovers), which you may regret, given that even the shortest journey will last at least 24 hours including an obligatory refuelling stop. There are no direct flights to New Zealand from Ireland, and prices are proportionately higher, since the short hop to London (around £100 return, cheaper with internet deals) has to be added to the fare.
Most scheduled flights allow multiple stopovers either in North America and the Pacific, or Asia and Australia. The vast majority of direct scheduled flights depart from London Heathrow, though some services operate from London Gatwick, Manchester and Newcastle.
Direct trans-Pacific flights to Auckland operate from Los Angeles with Air New Zealand (w airnewzealand.com), Qantas (w qantas.com), Virgin (w www.virginatlantic.com), Singapore Airlines (w singaporeair.com) and various US airlines including American (w aa.com). Air New Zealand and Virgin fly from San Francisco, while your best option from Vancouver is with Air New Zealand, a flight of 12–16 hours. Assorted codeshare partners – Air Canada, American Airlines, British Airways – sell tickets to New Zealand, usually offering several connections a day to Wellington and Christchurch.
From the US a direct LA–Auckland or San Francisco–Auckland round-trip fare goes for around US$1400 during the southern winter, rising to around US$1800 or more in peak southern summer season. Flights from all other US cities are routed via California. Off-peak you might expect to pay US$1800–2000 from New York or Chicago, but shopping around could save you money.
From Canada, Air New Zealand runs direct Vancouver–Auckland flights three days per week, and codeshares with Air Canada for links to provincial capitals. Depending on the season, fares from Vancouver are around Can$1600; from Toronto, around Can$2100; and from Montréal, around Can$2300; substantial savings can often be made through discount travel companies and websites.
Apart from a RTW ticket, an alternative approach from North America is to fly via Asia, which may work out cheaper. Korean Air, for example, has flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington DC, all changing at Seoul (Incheon) before continuing to Auckland. An equally exotic option is to stop off at a Pacific island or two along the way. Air New Zealand visits half a dozen islands and often charges less than US$100 per stopover.
Qantas (w qantas.com), Jetstar (w jetstar.com), Air New Zealand (w airnewzealand.com) and Virgin (w virginaustralia.com) all fly between Australia and New Zealand, as do Thai (w thaiairways.com), Emirates (w emirates.com), Aerolineas Argentinas (w aerolineas.ar) and LanChile (w lan.com). Prices vary enormously depending on demand (book well in advance in summer), but the level of competition generally keeps them reasonable – as low as Aus$300 return from Australia’s east coast (including a basic baggage allowance) if you’re prepared to go for non-refundable tickets. Return flights from Perth start at around Aus$760.
Flying time from Sydney or Melbourne to New Zealand is around three hours. Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Rotorua, Queenstown and Wellington international airports all have direct flights to/from Australia.
From Australia, there’s a huge variety of package holidays to New Zealand. Air New Zealand’s holiday subsidiary offers short city-breaks (flight and accommodation), winter skiing packages and fly-drive deals for little more than the cost of the regular air fare.
Travelling to New Zealand from South Africa invariably involves flying via Australia. Qantas (w qantas.com) flies Johannesburg–Sydney then on to New Zealand. South African Airways (w flysaa.com) operates the same route as a codeshare with Qantas and Air New Zealand. Expect to pay around Zar16,000–27,000 depending on the season.
If New Zealand is only one stop on a longer journey, you might consider buying a Round-the-World (RTW) ticket. An “off-the-shelf” RTW ticket will have you touching down in about half a dozen cities (Auckland is on many itineraries), or you can assemble one tailored to your needs, though this is liable to be more expensive.
If time is limited and you have a clear idea of what you want to do, numerous companies offer organized tours, from backpacker excursions to no-expense-spared extravaganzas. Full “see-it-all” packages, with most meals and transport included, can be good value, considering what you’d be spending anyway. Some companies offer tours specifically for those aged 18–35, such as Contiki (UK w contiki.co.uk; US w contiki.com); or seniors, such as Road Scholar (w roadscholar.org); while others are adventure specialists, such as UK-based The Adventure Company (w primeadventures.co.uk) or US-based Adventures Abroad (w adventures-abroad.com). You can also find tours to suit your interest (such as hiking or kayaking).
A number of companies operate flexible bus tours, which you can hop off whenever you like and rejoin a day or two later when the next bus comes through (see Backpacker buses).
Pretty much all the major tour operators can also book you onto tramping trips, including some of the guided Great Walks; you’ll still need to book way in advance, though. For skiing trips, the cheapest option is usually to contact ski clubs at the fields directly: check out contact details at w snow.co.nz.
Even if an all-in package doesn’t appeal, it still may be worth investigating potential savings by pre-booking some accommodation, tours or a rental vehicle.
Backpackers World Travel Australia t 1800 676 763, w backpackersworld.com.
North South Travel UK t 01245 608 291, w northsouthtravel.co.uk. Competitive travel agency, offering discounted fares worldwide. Profits are used to support projects in the developing world, especially the promotion of sustainable tourism.
STA TravelUK t 0871 2300 040, US t 1-800 781 4040, Australia t 134 782, NZ t 0800 474 400, South Africa t 0861 781 781; w statravel.co.uk. Worldwide specialists in independent travel; also student IDs, travel insurance, car rental, rail passes and more. Good discounts for students and under-26s. Experts on NZ travel with branches in major Kiwi cities.
Trailfinders UK t 0207 368 1200, Ireland t 01 677 7888, Australia t 1300 780 212; w trailfinders.com. One of the best-informed and most efficient agents for independent travellers.
Travel Cuts Canada t 1 866 246-9762, US t 1 800 667-2887; w travelcuts.com. Canadian student-travel organization.
Ireland t 01 602 1906; Northern Ireland t 028 9032 7111; w usit.ie. Ireland’s main student and youth travel specialists.