There are few countries in the world like New Zealand. New Zealand is ranked as the 75th largest country in the world, but in terms of its beauty, it should be among the top 10.
Many people intends to visit New Zealand someday. But most of them don’t even know how to start planning this trip. And New Zealand is a country with many places worth visiting. We spent 18 days there and couldn’t do everything we wanted.
So, how to choose the ideal destinations? What to prioritize?
This is a difficult decision, but it must also be made considering the logistics of each route. To travel to different destinations in New Zealand, the traveler can go either by plane, car, bus or even by train.
- By plane: There are 7 international airports in New Zealand:
– North Island: Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington (capital) and Rotorua
– South Island: Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin.
- By bus: it’s the main mean of transport between cities for those who don’t drive. The main bus company is InterCity and tickets can be purchased through their website.
- By train: there are 3 main train lines operating in New Zealand:
– Northern Explorer – operates in North Island
– Coastal Pacific – connects Christchurch to Picton, on the east coast of the South Island
– TranzAlpine – goes by the scenic path that crosses the South Island from east to west, passing through Arthur’s Pass.
You can get more information about the lines on their website.
- By car: this is the most convenient (and cheapest – for 2 or more people) way to travel in New Zealand. Besides, it allows road trip lovers (like ourselves) to stop whenever we want and spend more time appreciating the scenic roads.
- By plane: There are 7 international airports in New Zealand:
Our itinerary: We arrived in Auckland, rented a car, and used the cities of Rotorua and Taupo as a base to explore the North Island. We returned to Auckland to catch a flight to Christchurch, where we rented another car and started the tour around South Island. Our South Island tour – where New Zealand’s most incredible landscapes are located – passed through Akaroa peninsula, the west coast, the big lakes as Tekapo,Pukaki and Wanaka, Milford Sound and ended in Queenstown.
For those interested in visiting Wellington, it’s worth taking the ferry to Picton and continuing driving in South Island. We chose to return to Auckland and go to Christchurch by plane because: (1) the ferry price was too high; and (2) because Wellington and the southern part of the North Island were not our priority.
About driving in New Zealand:
- It’s important to remember that New Zealand is a LHT (left-hand traffic) country – which means that everything is reversed for those who live in RHT (right-hand traffic) countries. In that case, all you have to do is combat all your natural instincts and everything will be fine! Jokes aside, we got used to it very quickly, but each person can adapt differently.
- To drive in New Zealand, you must have an International Driving Permit or a translation of your driver’s license made by one of the official accepted agencies in your country. Find out more here.
- Driving on New Zealand’s roads is a delight! The roads are very smooth, clean and well maintained. However, it’s important to always be very attentive to the flow of vehicles and traffic signs. The New Zealand Transport Agency has created a quick guide for tourists that you can access here.
Driving between mountains on New Zealand’s South Island – an amazing experience!
Depending on how many days you have, you can choose to make a tour only in North Island, only in South Island or a combination of both.
Check our itinerary on each island here and find out what best fits your travel style:
South Island: Christchurch / Akaroa / Great Alpine Highway / Arthur’s Pass / Castle Hill / Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers / Wanaka, Tekapo and Pukaki Lakes / Queenstown / Glenorchy / Arrowtown / Milford Sound
Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area, Castle Hill – Part of our South Island road trip
In addition to all the places we visited, we also would have loved to go to:
• Bay of Islands: far north of New Zealand, 3 hours from Auckland;
• Nelson: coastal city in the north of South Island;
• Kaikoura: a South Island peninsula, an excellent place to observe marine life.
For big fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the main places to visit and immerse yourself in the story are:
• Hobbiton – scenery created by Peter Jackson for The Hobbit sequel (a must-see).
• Wellington and surroundings – where the studio is located, among other places where specific scenes were shot;
• Tongariro National Park (Mordor)
Scenery from the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies – for the fans of this saga, Hobbiton is a must-see!
There are also some other very characteristic places in South Island, such as Mount Sunday, Twizel and Paradise. You can find more details about each place on the Discover New Zealand and 100% Pure New Zealand websites.
What else you need to know about New Zealand
How to get there
The amazing colors of Lake Takapo, New Zealand
The main international airport in New Zealand is AKL (Auckland International Airport). International flights to Auckland usually are cheaper than to other destinations in NZ. It is also a great place to start your trip because it is on the far north of New Zealand, so you can plan the rest of the trip just travelling south.
Keep in mind that, depending on where you are departing from, you may not have direct flights to New Zealand. Also, that New Zealand is far. From everything. Except from Australia. You may have a good 12-hour flight or more. But it’s definetly worth it.
Many countries are considered as New Zealand’s visa waiver country. If that’s your case, you don’t need a visa to visit New Zealand as a tourist. All you need to do is to apply for a NZeTA (Eletronic Travel Authority). Find out more in NZ’s official immigration website.
Costs and currency
The currency used in New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar. Although it is usually cheaper than US dollars, prepare your pockets! New Zealand is not a cheap country. Just the fact that they are far from practically everything, makes the cost of all products that arrive from abroad higher than usual.
One of the things we did to save money was to try to make many tours on our own, with the car we rented. Of course, with some activities we had no way of escaping paying the price, such as boat trips, the entry ticket to Hobbiton, or the countless adventure activities in Queenstown.
Another thing that helped us saving money was using more AirBnb and less hotels. AirBnb is widely used in New Zealand, and in almost every city we visited there were good options, for different tastes (and pockets). The AirBnb’s cost-effectiveness was usually better than the hotels.
Besides, New Zealand has several national parks, each more beautiful than the other, all with free entrance. They are great options of free activities. Learn more about national parks here.
Matheson Lake – The lake that works perfectly as a mirror of the landscape that, in itself, is already beautiful.
It never hurts to remember that New Zealand is a COLD country. It is one of the southernmost nations in the world. The best time to visit depends a lot on what the traveler intends to do there.
Winter, for example, is a great option for those who want to play snow sports. South Island is filled with snow and the ski resorts start operating. However, for other activities, it is not the best time to travel. It gets very cold and North Island goes through a rainy season.
We travelled to New Zealand in autumn, which was great. We got to see trees in different shades of yellow, red and green. The landscapes are so beautiful! But you still have to be prepared for the cold weather. Either way, it’s worth checking the weather forecast before you go.
Lake Pearson, in fall.