New Zealand is a country that is filled to the brim with stunning views, breathtaking landscapes, lush greenery, and charming wildlife. The country consists of two Islands that rest in the Oceania region, which are respectively called the North Island and South Island.
The North Island is where you will find the majority of the friendly population, with just under 4 million people calling it home. The South Island is home to just over 1 million people and is ideal for nature lovers or adventure enthusiasts.
What To Do in New Zealand
Kia Ora – Welcome to New Zealand!
Wellington is the capital of the country and it rests at the very bottom of the North Island. With its central location in the country, Wellington is a great place to visit and then jump to other exciting destinations within New Zealand. Wellington is also home to Sir Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop, which put New Zealand on the map with his award-winning Lord of the Rings Film Trilogy and subsequent films of The Hobbit.
Culture and Language
New Zealand sits in the South Pacific and has strong ties to the Eastern Polynesian culture. The indigenous people of New Zealand are called The Māori. With strong ties to nature ingrained in their beliefs and honor for their ancestors, the Māori are eager to display their culture and beautiful home to visitors.
Alongside the Māori culture, New Zealand is also influenced by British culture with the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840. The treaty declared New Zealand as part of the British Empire, which means The Queen’s Birthday and ANZAC Day are celebrated alongside traditional Māori customs. With both Māori and British culture influencing the country, New Zealand is entirely unique. Tourists will find that both British English and te reo, or Māori, are spoken throughout the country and are the official languages.
While British and Māori culture dominate the country, New Zealand is incredibly diverse too. The thriving country is very popular with migrants from Asia. There are many different Asian people and their culture who call New Zealand home.
Before you can enjoy your time in the country, you’ll have to obtain your tourist visa. New Zealand requires that you have a valid passport for a trouble-free entry. Your passport should also be valid for 3 months after your date of departure.
As of October 1, 2019, New Zealand passed a new requirement for their tourist visa. If you are traveling from a visa-waiver country like the United States, you will have to request an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) prior to traveling to New Zealand. The ETA can be requested through the New Zealand government’s immigration website or by downloading the NZeTA mobile app. The ETA costs $6 US dollars on the app and $8 US dollars online.
Tourist should also be aware that New Zealand is extremely strict with their biosecurity laws. Upon your arrival in the airport, you will have to complete their biosecurity screening and answer any questions asked about you or your belongings. You can check a full list of the biosecurity requirements on the NZ government website.
While many are eager to explore the organic nature of New Zealand, it is important to consider your spending budget when you begin to plan your trip. With the country consisting of multiple islands, with the North and South Islands receiving the majority of the tourism, the cost of visiting New Zealand is not the most budget friendly. The prices of food, accommodation, and transportation are as expensive as some cities in the United States or Europe. But don’t let higher prices fool you. New Zealand can be traveled on a budget if you know how to cut costs.
The two most expensive accommodations that you are faced with is purchasing the plane ticket and finding a place to stay. If you are traveling from the United States and looking to depart from a West Coast location like Los Angeles, you should except a plane ticket to cost you close to $2,000 US dollars if you go at the peak of the tourist season. The price of your plane ticket will range depending on when you travel, what day you travel, and how far in advance you purchase your ticket. But you can still fine some budget deals and a few airlines will have specials that can drop the cost of a ticket to $850 US dollars.
Once you have made the journey, accommodation can also be quite expensive, but there are plenty of options from affordable to luxury. The most affordable accommodation option in New Zealand would to stay in a hostel. Most New Zealand hostels have an average cost of $20 US dollars to $45 US dollar, per night and per person. If you choose to stay in a hotel that is private or part of an international chain, you can expect the prices to range from $120 US dollars to $200 US dollars. Luxury accommodation can skyrocket the prices to thousands of dollars per night.
Another affordable option that is becoming popular worldwide is Airbnb. There are plenty of Airbnb listings around New Zealand and the average cost per night is about $40 US dollars. But like hotels and hostels, the size of the Airbnb and whether it is a luxury location can cause significant changes in the price per night. Other affordable housing options include camping, couch surfing, and house sitting. Campsites cost about $25 US dollars per night, whereas couch surfing and house sitting can be free.
But airfare and housing aren’t the only parts of your spending budget. You’ll have to consider food, drink, and other entertainment. New Zealand has a diverse food culture thanks to the diversity of the people living in the country. There are many excellent Asian, Latin, and American cuisines. The local cuisine is known for producing lamb and Pavlova, a meringue-based dessert. Lamb is abundant in New Zealand will millions of the animals farmed in the country. While the history of Pavlova is a heated rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, Kiwis like to claim it as their own.
While food is important, tourists also like to have fun and New Zealand has a thriving nightlife full of fun bars. Auckland has a fun and spunky little bar called Cassette Nine and in Wellington the nightlife thrives on Cuba Street and Courtenay Place. Some of the best places on Courtenay Place that have the most unique settings are Motel and The Library.
With all the discussion of food, drink, and fun you might be curious to know the cost. For a budget friendly tourist, you should expect to spend about $70 US dollars per day on food, drink, entertainment, and transportation (which we’ll discuss below). If you want to reduce the budget further, shopping at a local grocery store and cooking your food can help you save money. Two of the most common grocery store chains are New World and Countdown, which have a wide selection of products. But if you choose to visit Wellington, the most affordable fruits and vegetables are available for purchase from the weekly Waterfront Market.
How to Get Around
The method of transportation you choose will also affect your budget. Most cities in New Zealand are easy to navigate and have reliable public transportation systems. But, other ways to travel include renting a car and by train, plane, or walking.
If you are staying within a specific city like Wellington or Auckland, the best ways to get around would be to hail an Uber or walk. Uber is legal in New Zealand and affordable, compared to US prices. The same application that you use in the US works in New Zealand and there is free city Wi-Fi in the Central Business District. But walking is a great way to explore any city and all of its nooks and crannies. Big cities like Wellington and Auckland will also have public buses that you can quickly pay a fare and be on your way. Wellington also has a cable car that can take you up the steep city hills to the Wellington Botanic Gardens or drop you off at Victoria University.
If you are looking to go the distance, it’s better to look at renting a car, flying, or going by train. Car rentals can be affordable with a small sized car costing $6 USD per day, but larger cars will cost more, and the price may change depending on the level of insurance you choose. Insurance is highly recommended. If you are traveling from the United States, when you drive in New Zealand everything is opposite. You sit on the opposite side of the car and drive on the opposite side of the road, so insurance can be incredibly useful to avoid the cost of an accident or damage.
A rental car is also the best way to see the South Island. While traveling in the city is easy without renting a car, the South Island is a little more spread out. There are huge distances to cover between the most famous destinations and a rental car is the most affordable and time saving way to travel.
But if you are traveling between the islands, you should look at catching a flight with Air New Zealand. The company that is famous for their fun safety videos often have very affordable flights between New Zealand cities. The distance from Auckland to Dunedin is large, but few hours on a plane can save you travel time. Plus, Air Zealand frequently has domestic flight deals, which lower the cost. A domestic flight can cost as little as $50 US dollars. However, if you want to hop from the North to the South Island, the Interislander ferry leaves from Wellington and Picton daily, with prices ranging from $32-$46 US dollars.
However, if you are staying on the North Island, you may want to take a train. From Wellington, you can easily travel further north, into the island, on a train. The trains are affordable and eliminate the need to experience stressful city driving. A train ticket can cost anywhere from $13 US dollars to $250 US dollars, depending on your travel destinations and how early you book your ticket.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
While New Zealand is a smaller country, there are still plenty of cities that you can visit. Here, we will give a brief overview to some of the most popular destinations throughout the country.
With the nickname, “Windy Wellington”, Wellington is the capital of the country and it rests at the very bottom of the North Island. The compact urban landscape is distributed amongst green hills and is located along the waterfront. The location within the Cook Strait means that strong gusts of wind will often pass through the bustling city. But don’t let the wind stop you from visiting all the tourist attractions. The Te Papa Museum, Wellington Zoo, Zealandia, and Wellington Botanic Gardens are the most popular attractions in the city. But the most popular tourist destinations in the city include Lambton Quay, Cuba Street, Courtenay Place, and the Waterfront.
Auckland is a harbor city located in the north of the North Island of New Zealand. With two large harbors serving for business and tourism. The city is also the most populated in New Zealand and famous for being the influence of U2’s song, “One Tree Hill”, which is a popular tourist destination. Other attractions in the city include the Auckland Harbor Bridge, Queen Street, Sky Tower, Viaduct Harbor, Wintergardens, and Mission Bay Beach. If you want to get out of the city, Waiheke and Rangitoto Islands are close by and offer a bunch of fun activities.
Dunedin is located on the South Island and is also a harbor town. The city is part of the Otago Peninsula which has dramatic coastal views. With stunning Edwardian and Victorian architecture brought by the Scottish settlers in the 1800’s, Dunedin is entirely unique. The stunning architecture is surrounded by tranquil nature. Dunedin is also popular for university as it has New Zealand’s oldest university, but modern-day students likely attend the University of Otago. With its southern location on the South Island, Dunedin is also connecting point to other South Island destinations.
Christchurch is a tranquil New Zealand city located on the East Coast of the South Island in the Canterbury Region. The city is mostly flat and rests along the Avon River. With greenery incorporated throughout the city, Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens are popular destinations. The City Center is a historic district that is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake in 2011. While still in reconstruction, Christchurch is still a beautiful place to visit where you can experience the harmony of urbanization and heritage.
Nelson is one of the most beautiful city destinations in New Zealand because of its location on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay. A heavy influence in the arts has influenced this city, so a variety of artists in different mediums call this place home. One of the most famous international museums that regularly draws tourists is the World of Wearable Art. But perhaps the most famous destination in Nelson is the gorgeous Abel Tasman National Park, which is home to one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. The Abel Tasman Coast Track will take you along the beaches so that you can see cute wildlife and blindingly blue water.
Resting on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is known as the “Adventure Capital of the World”. This relatively small city is set against the dramatic Southern Alps and is world renowned for the adrenaline pumping sports. In Queenstown, tourists can experience a quaint city for shopping, dining, and relaxing or hit the road and venture just out the city to a thrilling adventure. The Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge started the world’s first commercial bungee jumping and multiple rivers are home to jet-boating experiences. Skydiving is another thrilling activity for adventure enthusiasts that gets the heart pumping. In winter, the nearby Remarkables mountain range and Coronet Peak provide powder filled slopes for a day of fun.
Points of Interest
While cities are always fun to explore, you may find there is a specific attraction or point of interest that you want to see.
Hawke’s Bay is located on the North Island and is known for its relaxing beaches and wineries. The dry and temperate climate is perfect for growing grapes and makes this point of interest the second largest wine region in the country. The first is Marlborough, which is located on the South Island. Aside from the drinks, Hawke’s Bay is also naturally stunning with plenty of lush greenery and soft sand beaches.
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is infamous for its underdeveloped beaches, which makes for a perfect getaway. The subtropical region is extremely popular for water sports and spectacular ocean views. New Zealand’s famous Ninety Mile Beach is located in the Bay of Islands and is certainly popular amongst the tourists.
Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
If you are in the Waitomo region of the North Island, the most popular attraction is the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves. The caves are home to a population of Arachnocampa luminosa, which is a glowworm species native and unique to New Zealand. The caves offer guided tours so that you can see the bioluminescent glow of these small animals.
Hobbiton was first built for The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, directed by Sir Peter Jackson, where it was destroyed after filming. When the popularity of the movies hit and the opportunity to turn J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit into a film series, the filmmakers decided to rebuild the set and make it permanent. Now, Hobbiton sits in Matamata, New Zealand and offers daily tours for all the film lovers looking see the real-life beauty of the Shire.
While the stunning filming locations of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit are located in New Zealand, you won’t be able to see the elves, dwarves, and hobbits like that in the film. For behind the scenes information on the film trilogy that put New Zealand on the map, you’ll have to visit Sir Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop in Miramar, New Zealand. Luckily, for those visiting Wellington, Miramar is just a short car ride away. Weta Workshop is still very much ingrained in its past with The Lord of the Rings, but the daily tours offered by the company also highlight their other work in film and current projects.
Milford Sound is probably one of the most famous locations on the South Island and is located in the Fjordlands. The diverse location is home to Mitre Peak and boasts multiple rainforests and waterfalls. Tourists can visit the Underwater Discovery Center and Observatory after a short boat ride or set out on foot into the mountains with an invigorating hike. Milford Track is also through Milford Sound and is one of the country’s Great Walks. With colonies of seals, penguins, and dolphins, you might even see a few aquatic creatures on your journey.
Aoraki in the Māori language, Mount Cook is New Zealand’s tallest mountain and lies in the Southern Alps. The Mount Cook National Park built around the peak and includes a few shorter, but absolutely stunning hiking tracks. However, Mount Cook is a more remote location and the best option is to stay in the village at the base of the peak.
Franz Josef Glacier
One of the most accessible glaciers in the world, the Franz Josef Glacier is located in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park on the South Island. The glacier is unique receives its ice flow from the tallest Southern Alps but has a coastal climate. Visitors can easily hike the glacier and explore the various ice caves. Hiking and aerial tours are available of the glacier.
Get Out and Go
In all truth be told, you can’t choose a bad destination or attraction in New Zealand because everything in the country is fascinating, beautiful, and picturesque. The diversity of the country makes it great for any type of traveler, whether you want to experience a new urban culture or escape into nature. New Zealand is a country that will take your breath away, in a good way, and have you wanting to return for more adventures.