Everything you need to know about New Zealand in general terms…
There are two excellent independent sources for information about New Zealand –
the official site of the New Zealand Tourism Board, and
the site of the Department of Conservation, the government department responsible for the protection of New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage.
The Tourism New Zealand & Department of Conservation sites have a lot of content to read through and with so much for the reader to absorb they can also be a little overwhelming so we have made this summary to provide a brief overview –
New Zealand is consistently ranked as one of the top 3 places that people in the UK want to visit, their ‘dream of a lifetime’ destination and movies like ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Last Samurai’, ‘Whale Rider’ and more recently ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ have brought the natural beauty of the country to the attention of a whole new audience.
For the food lover New Zealand is a food and wine paradise. New Zealand wines, in particular, the Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay and Pinot Noir from Otago, have achieved worldwide reputations for their excellence. New Zealand has also developed an international reputation for ‘Pacific Rim’ cuisine, incorporating influences from Europe, Asia and Polynesia. When combined with fresh local produce – lamb, venison, salmon, crayfish (lobster), oysters, mussels, scallops, kumara (sweet potato), and kiwifruit the result is a blend of mouth-watering and irresistible flavors.
Then there is the dramatic scenery and a fascinating Maori culture. There are extensive accommodation choices. New Zealand has some of the finest boutique-style retreats, lodges and charming B&B’s to be found anywhere in the world.
New Zealand has two main islands – the North and the South Islands (separated by Cook Strait, a 3 hour ferry ride) and a third, less well known island, Stewart Island located to the south. The three main gateway cities are Auckland and Wellington in the North Island and Christchurch in the South Island.
The South Island is dominated by the dramatic Southern Alps with many glaciers, fiords, and beautiful national parks to be enjoyed.
The North Island is better known for the geothermal city of Rotorua, the Waitangi Treaty House, the original capital Russell in the Bay of Islands, the present day capital Wellington – and of course, Auckland, the ‘City of Sails’ which has never looked back since twice hosting the prestigious ‘America’s Cup’.
We suggest you try to experience both islands. Distances in New Zealand are relatively small, so unless your time is really limited, it is a great country to self-drive around (Kiwis also drive on the left!) The ever-changing landscapes – the beaches, lakes, rivers, volcanoes, mountains, glaciers and geo-thermal regions – are all easily accessible by car.
When to Visit – The seasons are opposite to ours – summer is from December to March, autumn from April to May, winter from June to August and spring from September to December – and whilst summer tends to promise the hottest weather, both spring and autumn can also be wonderfully warm times to visit.
Health Requirements – no vaccinations are required
Passport & Visa Requirements – no visa is required for UK passport holders for a stay of up to 3 months. Your passport must be valid for at least three months beyond the date you intend to leave New Zealand.
In addition you will need an onward or return ticket to a country that you have permission to enter and sufficient money to support yourself during your stay – approximately NZ$1000 per month per person although this is never actually checked, especially when a credit card is being used.
Travel Times – are a little longer than it takes to fly from Los Angeles to Europe, 11:00 hours to London, 12:45 hours to Auckland
Holiday Duration – a 5 week vacation in New Zealand is an ideal duration and 28 days allows most of the highlights to be enjoyed. 21 days allows a good impression of the country to be gained and anything shorter than 21 days will make it difficult to see both North & South Islands. To visit New Zealand and not experience both islands would be a pity and if a choice had to be made and only one island visited then this should be the South Island.
Driving in New Zealand – a valid UK driver’s license is acceptable. The maximum speed limit in cities and towns is 50 km/h (30 mph) and on country roads and highways, 100 km/h (62mph) unless signs indicate otherwise. Strict drink-driving laws apply. Drivers and passengers must wear seat belts at all times.
Currency & Banking – the New Zealand’s currency is the New Zealand dollar (NZ$). All major credit cards can be used in New Zealand. Travelers Checks are accepted at hotels, banks and some stores. ATM machines are found throughout the country in both small towns and cities. International credit cards and ATM cards with a four-digit PIN encoded are widely accepted but please check with your bank before leaving home to make sure your card has been unlocked for use outside of the UK.
Tipping – in restaurants and bars, in fact in most places tips are not expected for normal service. However, tipping for extra special service or kindness is at the discretion of the visitor. Hotels and restaurants in New Zealand do not add service charges to their bills.
Electricity – New Zealand uses 3 pin plugs, 230/240 volts, 50 Hz – the power supply is 220/240 volts AC so an adaptor has to be used that accepts a 3-pin plug if you want to use US 110v appliances.
Taxes – a 15.0% GST tax is added to all goods and services – this cannot be reclaimed, however if you ship a large item to your home address the GST is not charged.
Insurance – Personal medical and travel insurance should be purchased before you depart. We recommend True Traveller Insurance. Accidents (but not illnesses) are covered by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), which ensures that residents and tourists alike are not charged for any medical treatment required as a consequence of an accident suffered in New Zealand. In cases of minor injuries you may have to contribute to the cost of the initial doctor’s visit. The ACC scheme means you can’t sue anybody for damages.
The Outdoors – New Zealand’s clear, unpolluted atmosphere and relatively low latitudes produce sunlight stronger than that found in Europe or North America, so sun blocks and hats should be worn if you plan to be out in the sun for more than 15-20 minutes.
Weather conditions in New Zealand alpine areas can change rapidly. No matter what time of year, if you are out walking have wet weather and warm clothing supplies with you.
Beaches with potential hazards are often patrolled by lifeguards. They use yellow and red flags to indicate the safest place to swim.
Water Supplies – tap water is perfectly safe to drink, however water from rivers and lakes should be boiled, chemically treated or filtered before drinking to avoid stomach upsets.
The International Dateline – New Zealand flights mostly depart Los Angeles at night and after an overnight flight arrive in Auckland early the next morning. On the calendar however the date moves 2 days forward because of the international dateline. On the return flight the date will remain the same as the day you departed Auckland, depart Sunday-arrive Sunday in other words that day you ‘lost’ on the way to New Zealand is now reclaimed.
Kiwi – the word Kiwi is used in several different ways and can therefore cause some confusion to first time visitors. Most importantly the Kiwi bird is the national symbol of New Zealand. This flightless long billed bird only comes out at night looking for insects and the opportunity to see a Kiwi in its natural habitat is a rare and wonderful experience. New Zealanders often proudly refer to themselves as Kiwis. Interestingly, American soldiers on leave in New Zealand during the last war had a variation of their own – they called the locals K1W1’s. New Zealand is the largest grower of kiwifruit in the world and the fruit is often referred to as ‘a kiwi’ and finally, on the stock exchange, the New Zealand Dollar is also referred to as ‘the kiwi’.