New Zealand Travel Guide

Find inspiration and adventure in Northland.Welcome to Aotearoa, “land of the long white cloud.” Descend into a country where adventure abounds, shoes are optional, and sheep outnumber people. Only in New Zealand will you find such an accessible yet varied landscape where outdoor adventure is a countrywide obsession.

A few things you’ve got to try are jetboating in Queenstown, surfing in Mt Maunganui, hiking in Tongariro National Park, all things thermal in Rotorua, sailing America’s Cup boats in Auckland, sipping Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, watching penguins, whales and dolphins amongst the Hauruki Gulf Islands, caving in Waitomo, camping in Fiordland and exploring world-class galleries, museums, zoos, dining and shops throughout the North and South Islands.

Useful Information

Animal emblem
Kiwi bird

Area
270, 534 sq km

Banks
Banks are open from 9am to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday, and service all flights at international airports. Some are now also open on Saturdays.

Credit cards are widely accepted throughout New Zealand. ATMs, or automatic teller machines, are widespread, so you don't need to carry lots of cash. Travellers' cheques can be changed at all banks and major tourist facilities. There are no restrictions on the import or export of foreign currency.

Capital city
Wellington

Currency
New Zealand currency has 100 cents to the dollar. Coins come in 10, 20 and 50 cents, $1 and $2 denominations. Notes come in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.

Daylight saving
Clocks go forward one hour on the last weekend of September for summer. Daylight saving ends at the first weekend of April.

Emergencies
Phone 111 for fire, police and ambulance.

Floral emblem
Silver fern

GST
A Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 15 percent is applied to all goods and services. In most cases, this tax is included in the purchase price. Goods and souvenirs bought before leaving New Zealand are exempt if you show your travel ticket or buy from duty-free stores.

Languages
English and Maori

Location
New Zealand lies in the Pacific Ocean, 2250km east of Australia.

Population
4.406 million (as estimated at June 2011)

Postal services
New Zealand Post operates 316 Post Shops throughout the country, providing a full range of services from 8:30am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with some also opening on Saturday mornings. There are also 700+ post centres, which are scaled-down versions of a Post Shop and are part of an existing business, such as a dairy, chemist or bookshop.

Visitors can pick up mail at Poste Restante counters in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch Central Post Offices, and Post Shops will also hold mail if it is clearly marked. Local mail can be sent fast-post for a slightly higher postal fee. International mail should be posted in the red and white mail boxes.

Tips
Tips are accepted, but not expected, for good service, particularly in the hospitality industry. Many workers feel good service is part of their job and may decline tips if offered. Don't be offended. Hotels and restaurant bills do not include service charges.

Telephone services
There are 6,500 payphones throughout New Zealand. The blue and yellow Telecom payphones will take phonecards, credit cards, Telecom Calling cards, and some will accept coins too. Telecom payphone cards come in $5, $10, $20 and $50 denominations. Five hundred indoor payphones also offer modem access.

Local and toll calls made from payphones are charged at current rates. To direct dial a national (toll) call in New Zealand, dial the national access code, 0, then the area code, then the number. For instance, to call Auckland 123 4567, dial 0, then 9 (the area code), then 123 4567. Area codes are in telephone directories, or dial directory assistance on 018. To place a national call through an operator, dial 010.

To direct dial an international call, dial the international code, 00, then the country code, then the area code, then the number. Eg, to call Sydney, Australia, 123 4567, dial 00, then 61 (the country code), then 2 (the area code) then 123 4567. Country and area codes are in the telephone directory, or dial 0172. To place an international call through an operator, dial 0170.

Telecom accepts American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Diners credit card payments for national and international calls. To place a credit card or transfer charge call through an operator, dial 010 for national and 0170 for international. In emergencies, contact the police, fire department and/or ambulance on 111 from any phone. There is no charge.

Phone Calls - Quick Reference
National directory 018
National tolls 010 
International directory 0172
International tolls 0170

Health Insurance
You will need full health insurance when travelling to New Zealand, unless you come from the United Kingdom or Australia, who have cover for emergency medical treatment under reciprocal health agreements (this does not include non-urgent medical attention). Visitors who have student, visitor or work permit visas issued by the Department of Immigration for two years or more are eligible to access publicly funded health services. All other visitors are liable for the full cost of medical treatment.

ACC Coverage
If you have an accident in New Zealand, you may be eligible for assistance under the ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation), New Zealand's insurance scheme for people who are injured outside the workplace (it does not cover illnesses). It only covers injuries that happen in New Zealand, and treatment you get here. Your claim will be initiated through a treatment provider (dentist, doctor, etc).

Doctors and Chemists
If you become sick within three weeks of arrival in New Zealand, advise a doctor of the countries you have visited recently. Doctors are listed under "Registered Medical Practitioners" at the front of the telephone directory. Chemists (pharmacists) are open normal shopping hours. Most cities have "urgent dispensaries" which are open outside those hours, listed under "Hospitals" at the front of the telephone directory. Smaller towns have chemists rostered for after-hours.

Water Safety
New Zealand's water supply is generally excellent. Water from the tap (faucet) is always safe to drink. Most supplies are chlorinated. Water from streams and lakes should be boiled, filtered or chemically treated before drinking. New Zealand's thermal pools may contain minuscule amounts of a type of amoeba that causes amoebic meningitis. However, it can only enter through the ears and nose, so keep your head above the water and don't jump or dive into thermal pools.

Sun Safety
Just 15 minutes in the New Zealand summer sun can cook you. Temperatures can be low but the ultra-violet rays are vicious. Wear a hat, sunglasses and a high SPF sunscreen. Try to sit in the shade during the hottest hours from 12-4pm.

Geography & Climate

Rugged mountain ranges and rolling hill country dominate New Zealand's spectacular landscape, along with lakes, wild rivers and a coastline studded with stunning beaches, coves and bays. The two main islands, the North and the South, are separated by the 20km Cook Strait – one of the world's most scenic ferry crossings but one that can be a little rough! At the tip of the South Island, Stewart Island is our "third" island, and one of the country's best kept secrets, with its beautiful bush, hiking trails and native bird and wildlife.

In the North Island, the unique volcanic interior has given rise to our world famous thermal areas – you'll see active volcanoes, steaming geysers, bubbling mud pools and hot springs in the areas surrounding Rotorua and Taupo. In the South Island, the magnificent alpine scenery offers a host of outdoor adventure with its rugged mountains, tranquil lakes and mighty glaciers, lakes and rivers.

New Zealand also embraces several smaller island groups including the Chatham, Mana and Subantarctic islands. Over 75% of New Zealand is at least 200m above sea level, and the towering Mount Cook/Aoraki, at 3754m, is the nation’s highest peak. Mount Hikurangi, on the North Island’s dramatic East Cape, is famous as the first place on the mainland to see the new dawn, while the remote Chatham Islands, 800km east of Christchurch, is the first inhabited land on earth to see the sun.

Vital Statistics
Highest mountain: Aoraki/Mt Cook (3,754m)
Deepest lake: Lake Hauroko (462m)
Largest lake: Lake Taupo (606 sq km)
Longest river: Waikato River (425km)
Longest glacier: Tasman Glacier (28.5km long)

Climate
New Zealand's maritime climate is temperate with an average of 2000 sunshine hours a year. January and February are the warmest months, with July/August usually the coldest. Average temperatures range from 7ºC in winter to 16ºC in summer, although in some places, summer temperatures can hit the 30s, and winter temperatures can drop as low as -10ºC. The Far North of the North Island is more sub-tropical, and areas such as Nelson/Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Eastland and the Bay of Plenty enjoy higher than average sunshine hours. Milford Sound, famous for its spectacular scenery, is one of the country's wettest areas, with up to 7m of rain falling a year.

Seasons
New Zealand's seasons are the reverse of the northern hemisphere, so Europe and America's summer corresponds with our winter. Spring is from September to November; summer is from December to March; winter is from June to August; and autumn from April to June.

For further weather information see the NZ MetService.

What to Wear
In summer, a light jersey and trousers are handy for cooler evenings. Shorts/skirts and T-shirts/polo shirts, sandals and a pair of the classic Kiwi "jandals" are great for warmer weather. In winter, pack and wear several light layers, and bring a thick coat if you are travelling to the snow. A must for all seasons is a shower-proof jacket, and the more adventurous should bring a good, waterproof raincoat and rain-trousers. If you are planning day walks or longer hikes into the bush or mountains take supportive, waterproof footwear, woollen socks and warm jerseys, hats and gloves.

Driving in NZ

For detailed information on the New Zealand road code, the official guidebook is available at most bookstores and petrol stations. You must be 21 to hire a rental car or mobile home, and show a current driving licence and/or an international licence.

Rural driving
There are some unsealed or gravel roads, but these are well maintained and all roads are signposted. Remember, your insurance does not cover you if you drive your rented campervan or vehicle on Ninety Mile Beach (Northland), roads north of Colville (Coromandel), Skippers Road (Queenstown), or Ball Hutt Road (Mt Cook). Drivers may find open stream crossings on remote roads and 4WD tracks. Gently test the brakes immediately after water crossings to dry them. Take extra care on gravel verges and roads, especially on corners. Drive slowly and keep your tyres in the tracks where possible. If you are staying or camping in remote rural areas, make sure your gas canister and petrol tank are full.

Road Rules

  • New Zealand drives on the left so keep left at all times.
  • When turning right, you must give way to a vehicle coming from the opposite direction and turning left. This applies at cross roads, T-intersections and driveways where both vehicles are facing each other with no signs or signals, or the same signs or signals.
  • North American drivers should note that you cannot turn left on a red traffic light. A red light means stop. 
  • New Zealand law requires all the occupants of a car to wear a seatbelt at all times while mobile. 
  • At roundabouts, always keep left and give way to all traffic on your right. 
  • The speed limit on the open road is 100km/h and 50km/h in residential areas unless otherwise marked. Speed cameras are in use on New Zealand roads – take care not to exceed the speed limits as fines can be heavy.
  • The New Zealand Police enforce all traffic laws, including the speed limit and dealing with accidents. All accidents must be reported to the police within 24 hours. Dial *555 on cell phones for non-emergency accidents. If you are involved in an accident, you must obtain the driver's name and address and the registration number of all other vehicles involved.

Tips for Safe Driving 

  • Speed cameras are in use on New Zealand roads - take care not to exceed the signed speed limits as fines can be heavy, not forgetting the safety factor.
  • Take care when cornering, especially if you are in a campervan or towing behind a car. 
  • If you notice traffic building up behind you, pull over at a rest area to let it pass.
  • If you are tired, pull into a rest area and take a break. Be extra careful when rejoining traffic, and be sure to keep to the left.
  • Winding roads, difficult terrain and adverse weather conditions will slow you down, so allow plenty of time to reach your destination. Comfortable driving distances in a day are 200-300km, but less if you want to stop and enjoy attractions. 
  • Follow the two-second rule: ensure you are at least two seconds behind the vehicle in front. In wet weather or on icy roads, maintain even more distance. 
  • Ringing bells and flashing red lights at a railway crossing signal that a train is coming. Many railway crossings are not controlled by barrier arms. Look out for the distinctive X-shaped railway crossing signs, and take extra care.

Bus Tours:- Kiwi Experience Bus NZ

Culture

Delve into Aotearoa's cultural heritage – and you won’t be disappointed.Maori, Pacific, European and Asian cultures have each added their own special flavour to New Zealand’s (Aotearoa’s) rich cultural blend.You'll find many cultural activities to enjoy throughout the country, from art and heritage trails to historic goldmining and Maori sites. 

The colourful and rich history of the indigenous Maori people is beautifully preserved in historic sites, museums and traditional artsand crafts. You'll be dazzled by the vibrancy of contemporary Maori culture, from hip hop and art to film and design. Visit the remote East Cape to experience authentic Maori culture, partake in Maori arts and crafts, visit a marae (tribal home), enjoy a cultural concert, or fill your puku (tummy) on a hangi (traditional feast) or the array of indigenous foods experiencing a resurgence. As you travel, be aware that some places are of special spiritual or historical significance to Maori, so please be respectful.

Here are just some of the ways you can experience the uniqueness of the Maori culture for yourself:

Marae Visits
Marae are the heart of the local Maori community, and at their centre is the meeting house. Often ornately carved, each carving and wall panel tells a story of the history and ancestors (whakapapa) of the tribe. Always ask for permission before you go onto a marae - access is usually happily granted. Enquire at the local visitor information centre about who to ask. Organised tours are often a good way to experience Maori traditions, such as a powhiri (traditional welcome), a hangi (Maori feast) and cultural song and dance performances (kapa haka). They are also a great opportunity to learn about cultural treasures (taonga) such as carvings.

Te Papa
For an inspiring and interactive look at New Zealand’s history and culture all in the one place, you can’t go past Te Papa – The Museum of New Zealand in Wellington. As well as a huge Maori taonga collection, you’ll also find a marae – so put aside plenty of time to explore this gem.

Kapa Haka 
Marvel at the power and grace of kapa haka (traditional Maori song and dance) at Marae and community venues around the country.

Arts and Crafts 
Indulge in the beauty and history of Maori art and crafts by giving it a go yourself. Sign up for a workshop in harakeke (flax) basket weaving, bone or greenstone carving, or learn the history, stances and facial expressions of the formidable Maori Haka (war dance).

Contemporary Maori Art
New Zealand has a flamboyant contemporary Maori art scene to explore – so head to an art gallery, fashion show, or music store andsee why Maori artists are making a mark on the international stage.

Marae Stay 
The marae (tribal home) lies at the heart of Maori culture and community, so discover the essence of the culture with an overnight Marae visit. This experience is on offer in many of the main visitor centres.

Hangi
You haven't tasted New Zealand until you’ve indulged in the smoky sweetness of a Maori hangi – a traditional feast cooked underground. So work up an appetite, and gorge yourself on this delicac, laid down in many tourist locations.

Maori Food Tours
Seek out an indigenous food tour, where you'll discover cutting-edge New Zealand cuisine is far more than Chardonnay and crayfish.You'll learn the medicinal properties of native plants, and get inspired with knowledge about indigenous foods and their uses.


Language

English and Maori are the official languages of New Zealand (Aotearoa), and Maori is recognised as a legally protected treasure. Te Reo Maori (spoken Maori) is enjoying a resurgence and some schools have a Te Reo programme for students. In areas where there is a rich Maori heritage, such as Gisborne, you may hear Maori being spoken on the streets.

Common Maori words and expressions include "kia ora," meaning hello, thanks or good health. "Haere mai" means come here or welcome. "Kai" means food or to eat, and a "hangi" is an earth oven and the food prepared in it. "Mana" means integrity and prestige, and if something is "tapu," it is taboo or forbidden. A "moko" is a facial tattoo, and a"pakeha" is a European person.

Maori language
So many of our place names are in Maori that visitors find it a challenge saying where they are going next, although Japanese speakers will find it easier than most. Getting the vowel sounds sorted out is a major advantage. 

  • a is pronounced as in far
  • e is pronounced like the 'ea' in leather.
  • i is pronounced as is in me or he.
  • o is pronounced as the word awe.
  • u is pronounced like the double 'oo' in moon.

The only consonants to watch are: 

  • r, pronounced close to the 'l' in English. Don't roll it.
  • p is softer than in English and not at all explosive.
  • wh is mostly pronounced like an 'f'.
  • ng is pronounced as in singing.

Handy Maori Words

  • Kia Ora – Hello
  • Haeri Mai – Welcome
  • Tena koe – Formal greeting (to a person)
  • Tena koutou katoa – Formal greeting (to a group)
  • Ae – yes
  • Kao – no
  • Kei te pehea koe – How are you? (to a single person)
  • Kei te tineo pai – Very well
  • Kei te pai – That's fine
  • Kai – food
  • Pounamu – Maori greenstone
  • Tapu – Sacred
  • Hangi – feast of food cooked in an underground oven

Food & Wine

New Zealand has long been famous for its stunning scenery, and now its award-winning wine industry has earned it a place as one of the world’s leading wine and food destinations. Whether you’re driving yourself on a gourmet adventure or joining a guided wine and food tour, there are plenty of options to tempt your tastebuds. Sample the local gourmet treats, dine alfresco among the vines, and take time to enjoy the culture and hospitality of the Kiwis you meet along the way.

Adventure

Jump off a bridge or out of a plane, swim with dolphins, mountain bike, hike, ski, snowboard or surf – all in the same day! With a landscape as varied as New Zealand's, it's no surprise there's an equally varied landscape of adventure and outdoor activities on offer.

Wildlife Encounters
When we say you can get "close to nature" in New Zealand, we're talking real close – like getting wet and swimming with dolphins, or watching a magnificent whale breach the surface just a few metres away. There are even whale-watching flights if you fancy an aerial view!

New Zealand's coastline and forests also play host to some incredible bird and wildlife - you're never far away from the melodic song of the tui in native forest, or the cheeky cackle of the Kea (mountain parrot) in the alpine regions. Precious wilderness areas like the Catlins Coast, Stewart Island and Otago Peninsula offer nature tours, guided walks and cruises for a close-up encounter with a huge range of wildlife including kiwi, native yellow-eyed penguins, seals and the rare Hector's dolphin. For a slightly tamer experience, there are wildlife parks and zoos throughout the country, from trout hatcheries and island bird sanctuaries to kiwi houses and farm parks.

Water Activities
New Zealand is completely surrounded by water and inundated with lakes and rivers – so, take your pick of the ways to explore the country's aqua playgrounds. Check your pulse before and after an exhilarating jet boat ride where you'll swear your nose nearly touched rock on that last sharp turn, go white or black water rafting, cave tubing, white water sledging or canyoning, or sail an America's Cup yacht.

Take things a bit more quietly casting a line, sailing, cruising or kayaking. Beneath the water there's another world to discover with marine reserves and fantastic snorkelling and diving around the coastline.

Land Activities
You don't have to hit the water for adventure – landlubbers will find plenty of opportunities to set their pulses racing. We're famous for our bungy jumping, but there's no need to stop there – abseil into the dark depths on a caving tour or get into the great oudoors on a mountain bike, four-wheel drive or quad bike. Saddle up for a scenic horse trek or take to the slopes for skiing, snowboarding and heli-skiing. For something a bit different, there is even zorbing – rolling down a hill, at speeds of up to 50km per hour, inside a giant inflatable sphere. Or go exploring the old fashioned way, lace up your boots and tackle a hiking trail, rock face, glacier walk or volcano trek. You'll find an equally impressive range of indoor sports from world-class climbing walls to curling and ice skating rinks.

Air Activities
What goes up must come down – and Kiwis have come up with every imaginable way to see the country from the air, before hurtling back down to earth. Decide on your level of bravado and head to the heavens aboard a hot air balloon, scenic flight or helicopter, or experience the adrenalin rush of a parapent or skydive.

Scenic Drives
New Zealand may be an adrenalin junkie's paradise, but it's just as easy to enjoy the scenic splendour from the comfort of your car. In the North Island, check out the magical far north on the Twin Coast Discovery Touring Route, the geothermal wonders on The Thermal Explorer Touring Route around Rotorua and Taupo or the East Coast delights of the Pacific Coast Touring Route. In the South Island, take in North Canterbury's treasures on the Alpine Pacific Triangle, head to the deep south on The Southern Scenic Touring Route or check out the breathtaking Southern Alps along Arthur's Pass, SH8 through Tekapo or the Crown Range Road. The hardest part will be keeping your eyes on the road.

For more informnation and to book activities see Jasons' activities & attractions listings.

More information

    Filming Locations

    New Zealand's unique and stunning natural landscape has set the scene for numerous blockbuster films.

    Whale Rider featured the windswept beaches of Eastland's tiny Whangara township.

    Peter Jackson transformed New Zealand into Middle Earth for the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    Jackson’s King Kong, turned the spotlight on New Zealand’s special effects industry and turned Auckland’s beautiful Civic Theatre, one of the few remaining atmospheric theatres in the world, into New York where Kong broke free of his chains. Wellington’s Kapiti Coast, along with the dramatic Cook Strait, was also used to film the Venture steamship on its way to Skull Island.

    Anthony Hopkins The World’s Fastest Indian made use of locations around the city of Invercargill. Beautiful Oreti Beach was used for Munro’s beach racing scenes, and you can also visit the local hardware store where many of Burt Munro’s tools and props from his toolshed are still on display.

    River Queen brought to the screen the hauntingly beautiful scenery of the Whanganui River – one of New Zealand’s most pristine wildnerness areas. Known for its rich Maori history and lush native bush, a section of the Whanganui River is classified as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, and can be explored on a canoe or kayak safari.

    Studio filming for The Narnia Chronicles took place at Auckland’s old Hobsonville airbase, but if you’re in Christchurch, catch the TranzAlpine Scenic Express through the majestic scenery of Arthur's Pass National Park. Flock Station, a high country station deep within this rugged alpine park, formed the backdrop for the film’s spectacular final battle. The second film in the series, Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, featured New Zealand’s rugged West Coast, and the bush-clad Coromandel Peninsula.

    More Information

    New Zealand Region Guides

     North Island
        South Island
     Auckland     Canterbury
     Bay of Plenty     Marlborough
     Coromandel     Nelson
     Central North Island     Otago
     Eastland     Southland and Fiordland
     Hawkes Bay     West Coast
     Manawatu and Wanganui  
     Northland  
     Taranaki  
     Waikato  
     Wairarapa  
     Wellington  

    Do more! Search through regions using the map and read more travel articles below.

    When you’ve finished researching your trip, use the icons on the right to book accommodation, find activities and order free guides.

    Discover New Zealand

    Swim with dolphins in the Bay of Islands.

    Explore geysers, mud pools and fumaroles in Rotorua.

    Enjoy Napier’s fruits, Art Deco, wines and heroic history.

    Indulge in Wellington’s theatres, galleries and museums.

    Be inspired by the spirit of resilience and innovation in Christchurch.

    Immerse yourself in Hamilton’s cuisine scene, nightlife and culture.

    Enjoy the architecture and Scottish heritage of Dunedin.

    Visit friendly folks and fill up on oysters in Invercargill.

    Get your thrills in Queenstown where adventure activities abound.

    Try your hand panning for gold at Greymouth’s Shantytown.

    Unwind with an award-winning wine in sunny Nelson.

    Hang ten or stop and smell the flowers in New Plymouth.

    Don’t miss Auckland’s volcanoes, harbours, and metropolitan lifestyle.

    New Zealand Map
    Bay of Islands Rotorua Napier Auckland Hamilton Wellington New Plymouth Nelson Christchurch Greymouth Dunedin Queenstown Invervcargill