New Zealand is one of the most storybook, naturally stunning places on earth. The diversity of climates and geological wonders make it a feast for the eyes. Here are my top tips:
1. Get Out of Auckland
While Auckland is a nice, functional city… it is not unique. The true gems of New Zealand are in the mountains, coast, and lakes. If you are flying through Auckland though, a trip worth doing before or after your flight is a ferry to Waiheke Island. Waiheke Island is like the Napa Valley of New Zealand with stunning views of dormant volcanos. Don’t spend too much time in Auckland, but if you find yourself there, use your time to visit Waiheke Island wineries.
2. The South Island Is The Most Iconic
That quintessential shot of snow-capped mountains, grazing sheep and fjords? That was shot on the South Island. If you’re short on time, do the South Island and do it well. The North Island is amazing in a different way, more with rolling green hills, beaches and volcanic activity.
3. It’s Not A “Beach Destination”
Sure, there are beaches on the North Island… but much in the same way San Francisco or Seattle has beaches. The water is cold so if you snorkel or scuba, wet suits are recommended. We went scuba diving and snorkeling in thick wet suits and had a great time, just be aware it is technically a “sub-tropical” environment.
4. Kiwi Pride!
Contrary to my initial suspicion, “Kiwi” is not a derogatory word. New Zealanders are proud to call themselves “Kiwis” after this rare, endangered bird. You’ll meet plenty of human “kiwis” when you’re there, just less birds. They are nocturnal, endangered and actually hard to see.
5. Rotorua Smells
… like rotten eggs (sulphur). Since most of the sights are outside of the city anyway, I’d actually recommend staying in Lake Taupo (which is a prettier lakeside town) and visiting sites like Wai-O-Tapu and Hobbiton based out of Taupo. That being said, Rotorua is the only place you can go zorbing so if you’d like to roll down a hill in a plastic ball, be sure to plan at least a day-trip to Rotorua.
6. Hobbiton is Worth It
I know… I was skeptical too. It costs $80, is an hour drive from Taupo or Rotorua and you can only enter with a guided tour… Considering I’m not an uber-fan I thought about skipping it. I’m SO GLAD I went anyway. The attention to detail is incredible and it’s huge (44 hobbit holes). There is even a bar called the Green Dragon where they brew special ciders and beers, and a drink is included in your ticket. Yes it’s touristy and nerdy. Do it anyway!
7. They Drive on the Left Side of the Road
Most driving is on easy 2-lane highways so we didn’t have a much of a problem… apart from mentally freaking out that we were on the left side of the road! It takes longer than you might expect to travel around the country though since there are no big interstates, just small highways that meander and curve.
If you’d rather not drive, your options are taxi, uber (only in Auckland), shuttles or InterCity or NakedBus which offer bus service to most locations. Worth noting, uber is much cheaper to the airport in Auckland ($40 versus $70-90 NZ). I recommend flying with Air New Zealand or JetStar to/from the South Island, as it takes over 26 hours to drive.
8. "Sweet As"
This expression means “good” or “cool”… and comes from “As Sweet As”. You’ll see signs, t-shirts and hear locals use this expression.You'll also hear “Be Right”, “That’s So Yum” and “Good On You”. When referring to all relationships, Kiwis say "partner" instead of "boyfriend" or "girlfriend".
9. The Days Are Long
The sun sets at 8:45 - 9:00 in Spring and Summer months... "sunset dinners" occur much later.
10. Kiwis are Risk Takers
New Zealand does not have a litigious culture… which explains why it’s the adventure capital of the world! It’s difficult to sue people, even for accidents. As such, they tend to take more risks and invent things like Jet Boating, Zorbing and Bungy Jumping. Rest assured though, no one has died yet at the Kawaru bridge!
1. Wear Sunscreen. The sun down there is intense. Even at the lower latitude those UV rays go through the long white clouds. 2. Check the Weather. Part of what makes the country so lush and green is the rain. Pack your umbrella and windbreaker, in places like Milford Sound it rains 200 days out of the year. Make plans but be flexible enough to deviate and allow for rain to change your plans. Perhaps that rainy day becomes a “spa day” and you save Milford kayaking for a day with good weather.