Planning a Vacation in New Zealand
Key information for the intending
New Zealand is an
uncrowded land of glorious scenery.
While there is no one
thing that makes New Zealand unique, its combination of so
many different types of landscape and surroundings in such a
small country make for an experience filled and diverse
of a series on travel to and in New Zealand -
click the links on the right hand
side for more articles.
Whatever type of vacation
experience you're seeking, the chances are New Zealand can offer
it to you. The information in these pages will help you to
plan your visit to New Zealand and then help you to enjoy your
time there to best advantage.
Sunny sandy beaches? NZ
has plenty - with a choice of white or black sand, and a choice
of gentle waves or world class surfing conditions.
Mountains? Yes, enjoy of the best skiing of anywhere in
the world. Spas and resorts? The Rotorua area is
overflowing (almost literally) with natural spas.
And so on through a lengthy
list of other attractions and activities. Truly New
Zealand is a wonderful destination for people of all interests.
Here's what you need to plan your own visit downunder.
New Zealand is closer than you
people think of New Zealand is about as far away from the rest
of the world as it is possible to be.
This perception is made worse by
Mercator projection maps that distort distances. These
maps flatten out the world to fit into a rectangle and make
distances away from the equator seem greater than they are. NZ
seems more distant than it really is.
Using the most relevant measure,
New Zealand is just over 12 hours flying time from Los
Angeles, 8.5 hours from Honolulu, and 3 hours from Australia.
In other words; from Los Angeles,
it takes about the same time to fly to New Zealand as it does to
Britain or Europe. But whereas people consider Europe
'close' they often consider NZ as 'distant'.
Getting to New Zealand
Nonstop flights operate from Los
Angeles and San Francisco. If you wished to include a stop
on your way to or from New Zealand, you can choose from various
Pacific islands including Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji and Rarotonga.
Many people, if planning a longer
vacation, will choose to combine a
visit to New Zealand with time in Australia too. The extra
airfare to include Australia isn't very much, and the flight
across the Tasman Sea between various cities in New Zealand
(primarily Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) and Australia (primarily Melbourne, Sydney
and Brisbane) is an easy flight of just over
three hours. This gives you the opportunity to visit two destinations for little more than the
cost of one.
Surprisingly, no US carriers fly to
New Zealand. But this is maybe good news rather than bad
news. The two carriers offering nonstop service between
the US and New Zealand -
Air New Zealand
- are among the world's best airlines, with excellent standards
of cabin comforts and amenities. Qantas (my preferred
of the two carriers) is a oneWorld
carrier, code-sharing with American Airlines and British Airways, and Air NZ, a Star
carrier, code-shares with United.
Other airlines can also get you
to New Zealand, but on a more roundabout way - sometimes some of
the Asian carriers will have surprisingly affordable fares,
flying you first to their Asian hub, and from there down to
Crossing the International
An interesting anomaly occurs
when you fly west (eg from North America) to New Zealand.
As your journey progresses, you cross the international date
line and, if westbound, you jump ahead a day. One minute
it might be Tuesday, the next minute it is Wednesday.
This means if you leave the
US in the evening on, eg, a Monday, you'll arrive into New
Zealand in the morning, but not on Tuesday; instead, you arrive
on Wednesday morning. You never had a Tuesday.
However, it balances out.
On your return, as you cross the dateline going east, you jump
back a day and repeat the day you've just had. Which makes
for the even more remarkable circumstance that if you leave New
Zealand in the evening on, eg, Monday, you arrive into Los
Angeles on Monday morning - apparently earlier than when you
Local time in New Zealand
The dateline issue also makes it
interesting to compare local time in New Zealand with time back
New Zealand has daylight saving,
more or less the same as we do, but the dates are reversed
(because the seasons are reversed). When we start our
daylight saving is within a week or two of when NZ finishes
their daylight saving, and when we finish is within a week or
two of when NZ starts.
When we do not have daylight
saving, and New Zealand does, the time in NZ is three hours
behind the US/Canadian Pacific time zone, but, on the next day.
For example, 5pm in Los Angeles on Monday is the same as 2pm in
New Zealand, but in NZ it is Tuesday.
When we have daylight saving and
NZ does not, NZ is five hours behind and still one day ahead.
So 5pm Monday PDT would now be 12 noon in NZ on Tuesday.
All of New Zealand is in the
Cruise ships will often include New
Zealand in their world cruise itineraries (eg
II), offering a much more
leisurely way to travel. Some cruise lines (eg
Princess) also offer cruising around New Zealand and over to
Australia and some of the nearby islands, usually during NZ's
summer season only.
A very few people choose to
travel by ocean freighter. It is about a two week
nonstop journey by ship from Los Angeles to New Zealand.
Contrary to what some people
expect or believe, there is no passenger ferry service between New Zealand
and Australia. It takes merchant ships three days to
travel the almost 1500 mile journey between Auckland and Sydney.
You need a current passport, of
course, to travel to New Zealand.
Visitors from most western
countries (including the US, Canada, UK and EU) do not need
visas to visit New Zealand for a vacation, with most such
visitors being given approval to stay in the country for up to
three months. More details on the
NZ Government's Immigration site.
Traveling within New Zealand
New Zealand is a moderately small
country. It is only 300 miles, as the crow flies, between
Auckland and Wellington, and 737 miles from Auckland to the
southernmost city of Invercargill.
Perhaps surprisingly to people
who think of Greyhound as an unpleasant travel experience in the
US, NZ has some excellent
inter-city coach services (a 'bus' is a commuter vehicle
with uncomfortable seats, a 'coach' is a vehicle for traveling
greater distances in much greater comfort).
Inter-city operate medium quality
operate higher quality services.
High quality domestic air service
operates between the major cities and many of the smaller towns.
Most flights are on smaller commuter planes, but some flights
between major cities are on 737s.
Depending on the type of fare you are traveling on, it is
sometimes possible to include one or more domestic flights as
part of your international airfare at a discounted price.
This can be a great way of saving
time - for example you could drive one way between Auckland and
Christchurch, then fly the other way to save a couple of days of
If you buy domestic tickets
separately, you may have a problem with a lower luggage
allowance (only 44 lbs per person instead of the international
allowance of up to 140 lbs per person), and this is something
you should carefully check before traveling.
Ferries operate between Wellington at the bottom of the
North Island and Picton at the top of the South Island.
Traditional ferries take both
passengers and cars, and operate usually between three and five
times a day (but this can include very early or very late
crossings, there are usually only three or four crossings at
convenient times of the day).
It is about 3 hours to get
between the two islands, including almost an hour cruising
sedately through the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, an hour
traveling across Cook Strait, and an hour in Wellington's
glorious natural harbor.
A large high-speed catamaran also
does the crossing, in 2hrs 15 minutes.
If you're taking a car on the
ferry, you're well advised to arrive early, or at busy times of
the year, to book a crossing. But if you're traveling as
foot passengers, you're almost sure to be accepted onto the next
sailing without needing to book in advance.
Driving in New Zealand
Most people will choose to travel
around New Zealand by rental car. The major car rental
companies such as Hertz can be found in most of the cities and
towns, and smaller New Zealand only operators can be found in
the main centers. If you plan to pick up a car in one
island and drop it in the other island, some companies will
allow you to swap cars at either side of the inter-island ferry,
others require you to drive the one car all the way.
Personally I slightly prefer the
convenience of not having to change cars, but the offsetting
consideration is the slight extra cost and hassle of taking a
car on the ferry instead of simply walking on as foot
If you're driving around New
Zealand, you'll find most roads outside of the major cities are
reasonably uncongested and of reasonably good quality, although
perhaps a little hillier and windier than you might be used to.
They are only one lane in each direction; multi-lane freeways
are only found close around the major cities.
New Zealand drives on the other
side of the road. See this page for a discussion of
drive on the left side of the road - it is easier than you
Petrol is more expensive than in
the US, but not by much. In November 05, petrol was costing
about $4.00 a gallon in NZ (NZ$1.40/litre), compared to about $2.80 a gallon in
the US. Cars tend to be generally a bit smaller and more
(Update April 06 :
Petrol is still about US$4 a gallon in NZ (NZ$1.70/litre) and in
the US it is just over $3/gallon. The change in exchange
rates has meant the NZ dollar cost of petrol has increased, but
the US dollar equivalent has stayed about the same.)
Some people are overly concerned
about the cost of petrol as part of their total vacation cost.
It is unlikely that, in a two week vacation in NZ, you'd drive
more than 1,000 miles, and at 30 mpg, this means your total
petrol cost is slightly more than $125. Some people, while
owning large and comfortable cars they rarely drive back home,
turn around and rent the smallest cheapest little car they can
find on vacation, and then spend tens of hours cramped in an
uncomfortable underpowered car. Don't be penny-wise and
pound foolish when it comes to choosing a rental car - a few
more dollars a day for a larger nicer car will give a very
positive impact on your overall travel experience.
New Zealand has its own currency,
the New Zealand dollar. Banknotes are made out of a
plastic rather than paper type material.
Credit cards are widely accepted,
on much the same basis as in the US or other countries.
Small shops in small towns may not accept credit cards, larger
stores in larger towns almost certainly will. Visa and
Mastercard are most common, American Express slightly less
ATMs are located in many
locations in the cities, and can usually be found in towns as
well. Most ATMs will accept most foreign bank cards.
There is a bank at the
international airports that offers money changing services for
all incoming flights.
We recommend you don't get any NZ
cash in your home country, but simply change some of your home
money into NZ currency upon arrival, either at one of the
airport ATMs or at the airport bank.
We also recommend you be sure to
keep a reasonable amount of emergency cash on hand as you travel
around NZ (or any other country). Sometimes you can find
yourself traveling in an area with no ATMs, or the ATMs you do
encounter are not working, and more stores than normal won't
accept credit cards, then all of a sudden, you come across a
'must have' souvenir you want to buy, or perhaps have some sort
of unexpected minor emergency, and if you don't have the needed
cash, you can't buy the item or easily solve the problem.
As of November 2005, a NZ
dollar costs about US70c, and so US$1 buys about NZ$1.43.
Tipping (as in no tipping,
New Zealanders don't tip each
other. They don't need to - people earn fair living wages
without the need for tips to boost their income, and people
provide good service without the need to be bribed to do so.
New Zealanders don't tip in
restaurants, in bars, in taxis, in hotels, or anywhere else.
Indeed, it is quite common for a taxi driver to round down the
fare - a sort of a reverse tip and something that would be quite
unheard of here.
The closest to a tip these days
is to occasionally round up a bill. For example a
restaurant bill of $57.40 could be rounded up to $58, or in rare
unusual circumstances, $60.
In the past, New Zealanders would
refuse to accept a tip. Many still will. But some
will now take your money, although they don't expect it, and
rather than gratitude, they are quietly thinking to themselves
'stupid American giving me money for no reason'.
And, at the same time, other New
Zealanders will be looking at you hatefully, because your
tipping practices are threatening to enjoy NZ's 'no tipping'
Read my lips : Don't tip.
Electronic Issues :
Phones, Video and Power
NZ has two main cell phone
companies. Vodafone offers regular GSM service on the 900
MHz band (coverage
map here) and you can use a pre-paid account with your GSM
phone. The other service uses non-standard technology.
Regular phones use a British
rather than American wall plug connector, so if you plan to plug
your laptop into a phone outlet, be sure to have a NZ/UK
adapter. These are readily available in 'Dick Smith'
electronic stores in NZ (a bit like Radio Shack in the US).
NZ uses the PAL system for
its television and video, and is in a different DVD region.
If you are buying blank video-tape, you will have no problem
using video tape purchased in NZ, but if you are buying a
pre-recorded video, make certain, if it is a VHS tape, that it
is in your home country's format (ie NTSC for North America),
and if a DVD, make sure it is either coded for all regions or
for your region (region 1 for the US) and also make sure it is
compatible with your format (eg NTSC).
New Zealand uses 230V and
50Hz power, with a three point plug. This is the same type
of plug as used by Australia, but is different to the US, UK,
and Europe. You'll need to make sure your power supplies
can manage 230V 50Hz power, and get plug adapters.
For more information
Click the links in the top
right of this page for additional helpful information about
travel to and in New Zealand.
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22 Jul 2005, last update
26 Aug 2018