Helpful Things to Know Before Traveling to New Zealand

The things to know before traveling to New Zealand described in this post are the experience from our three weeks road trip. We have read many lists of things to know before traveling to New Zealand during our planning, they were certainly quite useful. However, I have experienced other things which are not only helpful for the first-timers, but also would make a trip to New Zealand more valuable.

Things to Know Before Traveling to New Zealand

In this post, I will only mention those things that we had experienced. I group the list of things to know before traveling to New Zealand into the following sections:

  • Things to be aware of on the road
  • What to consider during trip planning
  • Personal care issues
  • Food-related topics

Things to be aware of on the road

Rental car in a  shady situation

It is possible to hire a car when traveling in New Zealand for a few weeks. If the price is cheap, then the rental car could be an outdated model. Besides, the status of such a rental car could be in a very poor condition. We had some memorable experiences with our rental cars.

Changes of the speed limits 

If you always drive on the right side in your home country, you might get nervous to do left-driving in New Zealand. When you are busy keeping yourself at the left-driving mode, it is quite often to neglect other traffic rules. Among those rules is the speed limit.

We get used to driving high-speed in Germany, it took us a while to adopt the local speed limit. On top is the change of speed limit problem, within a short distance, the speed limit could change several times as well.

Carry a GPS or an updated map

Since a rental car would most likely be an old model, it won’t come with a built-in GPS. To rent one is expensive. So it is better to have your own GPS or an updated map. We downloaded an offline version for our road trip. Sometimes, we also got some free maps from the local tourist information.

Many one-way bridges in remote areas

For many reasons, cost or usages, New Zealand has many one-way bridges, especially in the remote rural area in South Island. It is quite often to cross several bridges during a short trip. Sometimes, a one-way bridge is so short that we didn’t even notice it. This situation could be very dangerous in case of traffic from the other side comes across. Drivers have to know the strict rules of crossing a one-way bridge.

Add enough gasoline before the journey

But it is quite often, the distance between the two places is quite far, especially in the South Island. You need to make sure that you have enough fuel to reach the next town since there won’t have any gas station on the way.

On the day we drove to Milford Sound, we nearly ran out of gasoline. But we realized early enough to avoid an awkward situation. It is always a good way to add enough gasoline before the journey.

What to consider during trip planning

Plan enough photo time

New Zealand has a heavenly nature landscape. You should plan enough time to shot some memorable  pictures. Some times, from different angles, you could get different compositions. It is easy to make a common mistake by adding many places to the itinerary but leave no time for photographs.

Join an organized tour instead of self-driving

One of the most important things to know before traveling to New Zealand is to balance between the self-driving and organized tours. During our three weeks road trip, we spent a significant time driving from one place to the next. As a result of that, we also missed several events because we could not be there on time.

To make the holiday more comfortable, you probably should consider joining an organized tour to see some places. The prices of the tours are quite reasonable. You can slow down your tempo and get rid of your stress while still following the itinerary.

Stay in one place for a couple of days

We stayed in some hotels which are run by private persons. Unlike some international hotel chains, these privately run hotels only offered a fixed period to check-in and check-out. So we always had to catch time for the check-in and check-out process. Had we changed the hotel every day, we would have lost much time every day.  Therefore, in most cases we stayed in one place at least for two days to cope with the constraints.

In New Zealand, many towns and villages are bases to explore the surroundings. You would also discover the area better if you stay in one place for a couple of days.

Book hotels early enough

The average accommodation per day during our New Zealand road trip is around 120 Euro/day for a 3-star or 4-star hotel or apartment. That was much higher than we expected. About one month before our planned trip, all hotels with reasonable prices were unavailable. The prices were also getting much more expensive. We just booked too late.

Low Internet speed

We used the roaming function of our mobile phones and hoped to stay connected with the local internet. Unfortunately, that did not help us so much. The WiFi speed in hotels was too slow in many places. If we wanted to stay connected on the road, the internet speed was even slower.

If possible, you might consider buying a 4G SIM card at Auckland Airport or at Christchurch Airport. Such SIM cards have several options.

Personal care issues

Be aware of Sandflies

Several sandfly species in New Zealand bite humans. They are found in the North Island and coastal areas of the South Island, particularly prolific in areas near water and humid bush, for example at beaches, lakes, rivers, and swamps. And, they are day biters.

We had seen them in several places and they were really annoying. If possible, apply an insect repellent regularly when exposed to those areas.

Protect yourself from sunburn

New Zealand’s sun is harsh and it will burn you even on days that are not sunny. That’s how we got sunburn on during our Dolphin tour on a cloudy day.

Be sure to equip with such as sunscreen, hats, proper clothes on the road to protect yourself from sunburn.

Wear clothes in layers

Most of the country lies close to the coast, which means mild temperatures year-round. However, New Zealand’s climate varies wildly.

In New Zealand, even two places are not far from each other, they could have very different weather. And, in the same area, the weather changes also dramatically, from hot and sunny to cold and rainy in one day.

What we did was to wear a 3-in-1 jacket on the road.  So be prepared and wear clothes in layers.

Food-related topics

High food prices

In the supermarket, we noticed that some basic food could be quite expensive, for example, New Zealand apples were quite expensive, compared to the apple price in Europe. Vegetables were also not cheap. We calculated the cost of a self-cooked meal, and it was only a little less than a similar meal in the restaurant.

Expect a different taste of the same food from its origin

Since we had to cater to our breakfast every day, we bought bread, jam, fruit drinks, hams, etc. However, a baguette, the French type of bread, was made very fluffy. It had a shape of baguette but not the taste. Neither did several hams.

We tried some Asian food, but they also tasted different from where they originated. Food has a taste that fits the local tongues.

Good ciders

In supermarkets, we bought different types of ciders. Other than the traditional apple cider, they have different fruit flavours. They taste so good! I wonder why they were not in German markets.

The delicious Blue Cod Fish

In supermarkets, we often saw Salmon selling at a high price. But in restaurants, we ate the yummy blue codfish. Blue cod has delicate and flaky textured white flesh. It is mild in flavour, and with low oil content, it is suitable for most cooking methods, such as in chowder soup or fry.

The Blue Cod Fish is exclusively found in New Zealand in shallow waters around the rocky coasts to a depth of 150 m.  And, they were not so expensive if you order it in restaurants.

Summary of our experience

We learned most of the things above during our road trip. To plan as detail as possible could avoid potentially uncomfortable situations. A few weeks of trip to New Zealand is a stay away from home, and I hope the list of things above would help you for the next trip.


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