First of all…good call! You’ve picked well.
New Zealand is an insanely beautiful corner of the world.
When I say ‘insanely beautiful’, I mean, like, this kind of beautiful…
I’ve spent the bets part of the last three years based on the countries lower South Island, in a little town called Wanaka.
With its diverse terrain and landscapes, it’s great people and the kind of views only usually reserved for postcards, you’re guaranteed to end your trip here even more excited than you were when you started. And with a longer to-do list, to boot.
So while you’re getting to grips with your guidebooks and reading up on the places you need to visit while you’re in New Zealand, here are my 9 top things to know before you get here. Enjoy! And as usual, if there’s anything you want to know, just leave me a comment below.
1 – Relax
The Kiwis have a saying.
“She’ll be right, mate”.
Once you get outside of the small handful of cities and into the real New Zealand – the bit you really came here to experience – you’ll hear that a lot.
They’re a pretty laid back and relaxed bunch of people on the whole, and you’re not going to find them stressing out too easily.
Take a leaf out of their book. Relax and go with it. She’ll be right, mate.
2 – Come Prepared
Don’t expect to pick up important bits of kit when you get here. Bring it with you.
The population here in NZ, and here on the South Island in particular, is small. And it’s very spread out.
Kiwis are often mocked as being a little behind the times. The truth is that their population just isn’t at the levels where they require nor can economically sustain the same volume of retailers and the choice and variety that comes with it.
The scale isn’t there. So you’re not going to find the same amount of shops, business and suppliers that you might be used to in other parts of the world. And if you want to buy something even remotely specialist, you can and should expect to travel far in NZ to find it. It’s far easier then, and often cheaper too, to bring as much of the stuff you’ll need with you as possible.
3 – Kiwi Engineering Is A Thing
And it’s often straddling the borderline of genius and mental.
Being the, urmm, ‘sparsely populated’ nation as they are here, means you have to adopt more of a ‘fix and make do’ attitude.
It was thanks to some good old fashioned kiwi engineering that I learnt that if you have two left handed gloves, you can turn one of them inside out to make a right. No need to bother buying another pair.
I know all you’re really wanting to do at this point is go try that out, so I’ll hang on here for a couple mins while you go give it a try…
See what I mean? You can thank me for that one later.
You’ll most likely come across a few great examples of good old kiwi engineering when you’re travelling around New Zealand.
Some of them are impossible, most are intriguing and absolutely all of them are ingenious.
4 – Health & Safety Is Really More Of A You Problem
For a developed, first world country, New Zealanders take a pretty laid back approach to health and safety.
Rather than legislate for it, the emphasis is still very much placed on the individual to use common sense and make a sensible call.
Very recently I’ve seen this start to change a little in workplace environments, but in general it still rings true.
Even the DOC walking tracks around the country are taken at the trampers own risk, and I’ve been on one or two that I know would never be allowed in the UK.
5 – Go Seasonal
Being a little more isolated means it’s harder to import stuff.
This is especially true with produce, where the costs of importing and the short lifecycle of the produce makes the import process difficult.
Fruit and vegetables sold here are almost always grown here. You’ll find a few exceptions, but for the most part, local is the way the kiwis prefer to go.
So when you’re in the supermarkets or local stores, do your bodies and your wallets both a favour. Shop local. And shop in season.
A good portion of kiwis I’ve met actually grow a lot of their own fruit and veg, so they’re really tuned into the seasons and eating what’s available at different times of the year. Take a leaf out of their book and do the same. It’s better for you, the food is fesher and tastier, and it’s cheaper.
6 – The Lonely Road
The road network here is fairly minimal. And there are virtually no motorways, aside from a couple in Auckland and one coming out of Dunedin.
The rest of the simple road network that snakes around (and occasionally over) the mountains, lakes, rivers and forests that dominate the land here is your humble old ‘one lane in each direction’ sort of setup.
That’s why a lot of people opt to travel around the country by car.
You’ll struggle to get lost here. Believe me, I’ve tried. Even with my legendarily poor navigational skills.
It’s simple, easy and absolutely beautiful driving.
If you’re renting a car then something that can handle a little bit of dirt/gravel roading would be a better bet. You’ll be suprised how often you’ll find yourself on unsealed roads – particularly down on the South Island.
If you decide to get involved and travel around the country by road (it really is the only way to see it properly) then you should check out my guide to freedom camping. It’s extremely popular in New Zealand and could save you a good few bucks on accommodation if you’re up for a bit of adventure. And who doesn’t love adventure, right?!
7 – Declare Everything!
New Zealand has possibly the strictest bio-security measures I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
They take this stuff incredibly seriously.
As you’ll no doubt see for yourself when you try to stroll on past customs at the airport.
And fair enough too. They’ve got a lot to protect.
Take my advice and declare absolutely everything. Even if you don’t think it’s even a thing, just declare it.
I’ve heard plenty of stories about people who have forgotten to declare an apple in their bag or a packet of sweets in their pocket and started their trips with big fines and a slap on the wrist as a result.
As long as you declare what you’re bringing in, you’ll have no troubles at all.
One time when I was coming into New Zealand, I was bringing with me some life jackets which had been used abroad. We’d scrubbed and cleaned them meticulously in the days before the flight, but I was still 50/50 about whether they were going to be allowed through or not. Luckily, because I’d declared the jackets, we were able to talk to the bio-security officers and the life vests were allowed through. But not before a thorough inspection to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently bringing in any bugs or nasty bacteria that could damage NZ’s waterways.
8 – Watch Out For Sandflies
If you haven’t encountered sandflies yet, I envy your innocence!
These tiny, evil, blood sucking critters have driven me close to the edge on more than one occasion.
I even had to abandon a 4 day hike once after just 1 night, largely because of these things.
I’m convinced they’re the only thing spoiling New Zealand.
In parts of the South Island, particularly over on the West Coast, they’re gathered in insane numbers. And any exposed patch of skin is an all you can eat buffet in their eyes.
The bites themselves don’t hurt too much. But the itching afterwards is what gets you. By around day 3 or 4, you’re pretty much ready to chop off the effected limb, and you’re mind will convince you that’s a pretty solid idea.
Now I know what you’re thinking.
‘Oh they can’t be that bad! I’ll just bring some really strong deet.’
Good luck. It doesn’t work.
The best defence you’ve got is making sure you cover up as much exposed skin as possible.
Long sleeve pants and top are a must. Ideally a hooded top to cover your head and neck. You’ll also want to bring gloves. I know all of that’s not ideal in summer, but it’s better than the alternative. Trust me.
The good news is, they only get you when you’re not moving. So while you’re hiking, you’re all good. When you stop to make camp or eat or just to take some rest, throw those layers on quickly.
9 – Sunscreen
UV levels in the suns rays here in New Zealand are the highest in the world.
This is due to a number of very sciencey reasons that I wont go into now. This article is a good place to start if you want to understand more about why this is.
For the rest of us, just trust me. It’s brutal.
20 mins out there in the summer will be enough to burn most people. Longer than that and you’re in real trouble.
Even outside of the summer season, it’s still advisable to “slip, slop and slap” as the kiwis say.
While temperatures might not necessarily sound that high compared to other places you might have been to, it’s a much more intense heat down here and it will burn you.
Don’t risk ruining the rest of your trip.
Wrapping It Up
Here’s a special bonus tip for those of you who have come this far. Beware of the beef sausage!
I grew up in the UK, where sausages are virtually always, Pork.
It’s like an unwritten rule. If you order a sausage sandwich or a breakfast in a cafe, you’re getting pork. Good old, tastey, delicious pork. I’m drooling just thinking about it.
In New Zealand, that’s not the case. Here, beef is the norm.
Don’t get caught out. It’s not the same and it’s nowhere near as good!
You’ve been warned.
What are your tips for planning a trip to New Zealand?
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