Traveling to New Zealand? Things you should know.
A couple walking in the South Island of New Zealand

When’s the best time to visit New Zealand?

If you’re traveling to New Zealand there are certain things you need to know. Such as visa information and especially the newly implemented NZeTA. What’s the best time of year to travel to New Zealand? How about driving in New Zealand? What will you get for your budget? What destinations in New Zealand should you choose to visit? Which activities and experiences can you enjoy in New Zealand and where? Read on for detailed information about traveling to New Zealand.

The best time to visit New Zealand can depend on what your purpose is? However New Zealand is a beautiful place to visit at any time! The warmer months are September through to April, with the warmest time being December through March. So if its beach you are looking for this then is the time to visit. The summer period is also the busiest time with higher tariffs in the lodges and hotels, and availability at a premium. Also the key destinations of Queenstown, Bay of Islands, Nelson, Rotorua and Wanaka are more difficult to book unless planned well in advance.

Traveling to New Zealand in the shoulder season?

It is worth considering a visit to New Zealand in the shoulder season. September/October or April/May are generally quieter and less expensive. If a NZ skiing holiday is what you’re looking for then the winter months of June/July/August/September are best. The ski fields are open during this time in the Central North Island, Queenstown, Christchurch and Wanaka. The average temperatures during summer range from approximately 20 – 30ºc, and in winter 10 – 15ºc. Whatever the weather there is always something to do in New Zealand. From hiking, wine tasting, scenic heli flights and jet boats to mountain biking, horse riding, golf and much more! If your interests are more specialized such as hunting, fishing, climbing etc. then it’s best to talk to us about options.

Flying to and around New Zealand

Getting to New Zealand is easy and many major airlines offer flights to New Zealand. Direct flights are available from USA, China, Australia, Dubai, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Chile. Most international flights arrive in Auckland, on the North Island. Christchurch & Queenstown also receive a smaller number of international flights. Flight times from North America are around 12-13 hours, Europe 24 hours and South East Asia 11 hours. It’s easy to book your international flights online using a major carrier such as Air New Zealand. Once in New Zealand the Luxury Adventures team will take care of your land arrangements, accommodation, activities, hire car or transfers and domestic flights.

Domestic flight times in New Zealand

Flying internally (also known as domestically) in New Zealand is much easier than in a lot of other countries because the flying distances are short. For example Auckland to wellington is 1 hour. Auckland to Christchurch 1 hour 20, and the longest flight in New Zealand is Queenstown to Auckland at 1 hour 50 minutes. The airports are small and friendly with simple check in procedures, and rental car desks or transfers are available close by. The current luggage allowance on domestic flights is 23 kg for checked baggage and 7 kg for hand luggage. You might want to check your international flight allowances to see if it differs. This will potentially avoid paying for extra baggage allowances.

Are you including Fiji or Tahiti in your New Zealand itinerary?

Many people visiting New Zealand tag on a pacific island such as Tahiti or Fiji. Something to bear in mind is that traveling from New Zealand to Tahiti for example, takes around 5 hours. You will also cross the international date line in doing so and loose a day. Flights tend to leave Auckland around 9 – 11:00am and arrive in Papeete in the afternoon or evening before you leave. Almost always resulting in requiring a night in Auckland before traveling onto Bora Bora, Moorea or one of the other Islands. Auckland to Fiji is a shorter 3 hour flight, and we are on the same time zone.

Air NZ 787 Dreamliner
Air New Zealand 787 Dreamliner

New Zealand Visa requirements

Many visitors do not require a visa for the purpose of a vacation. If your home country is on the visa waiver list then you can stay for a period of 3 months. The full visa waiver list can be found on the New Zealand immigration website. Along with more detailed information on how to obtain a visa should your home country not be on the list. You will also find information below on the newly implemented NZeTA as of 1 October 2019.

New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority or NZeTA

From 1 October 2019, you will not be allowed to travel to New Zealand if you do not have a visa or an NZeTA. If you are from a visa waiver country you must hold an NZeTA before you travel. You may also have to pay an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL). The IVL costs NZD $35 and is paid at the same time as the NZeTA. At the time of writing an NZeTA request costs NZD $9 on the free app, or NZD $12 if completed online. Full information and NZeTA registration details can be found on the Immigration New Zealand website.

Driving around New Zealand

To drive in New Zealand you’ll need to hold a current driver licence, and carry this with you at all times. The licence must be written in English, or have an approved translation or international driving permit. We drive on the left hand side of the road, and most rental cars will be automatic. Outside of the major cities the roads are relatively quiet, but can be windy and narrow. You should always drive to the conditions, and allow plenty of time to reach your destination. 

Driving regulations in New Zealand

The rules and regulations of New Zealand roads can be found on the New Zealand Transport Agency website here – Driving in New Zealand. Some people prefer to utilise private transfers. More information on self driving vs transfers, can be found on our earlier Self drive or transfers blog. Navigating around the country is relatively easy, and we can arrange a GPS unit with your hire car. Often the newer vehicles will already have GPS mapping included. Outside of the major cities, such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch the roads are relatively quiet. Luxury Adventures always provide directions in our itineraries between airports and accommodation, to and from meeting points for your activities etc.

Driving in New Zealand
Driving in New Zealand

Driving distances between some of the key destinations

North Island

  • Auckland to Rotorua 3.5 hours
  • Taupo to Hawkes Bay 2 hours
  • Taupo to Auckland 4 hours
  • Auckland to Waitomo 3 hours
  • Wellington to Auckland 8.5 hours
  • Auckland to Paihia (Bay of Islands) 3 hours 45 mins

South Island

  • Christchurch to Franz Josef glacier 5.5 hours
  • Kaikoura to Christchurch 2 hours 15 mins
  • Nelson to Christchurch 5 hours 15 mins
  • Franz Josef to Wanaka 3.5 hours
  • Franz Josef to Queenstown 5 hours
  • Queenstown to Milford Sound 4 hours 25 mins
  • Christchurch to Queenstown 6 hours 15 mins
Self driving through the South Island
Self driving through the South Island in New Zealand

Driving the West Coast glacier highway route

One of the most requested self drive routes is the West Coast glacier route on the South Island, or the Glacier Highway as it’s known. The closest airports to this region are Hokitika, Queenstown or Wanaka. The total distance between Queenstown and Hokitika via vehicle is 543 km or around a 7 hour drive. We recommend doing this drive over a period of 2-3 days with stops at either Hokitika, Franz Josef or Fox Glacier and Wanaka. It’s a beautiful drive along state highway 6, with views of mountains and oceans.

For most people the main purpose of the drive is to visit the glaciers. However, currently the glaciers are not accessible from the townships of Franz or Fox by foot. The only way to currently access and hike the glaciers is on a guided trip. This includes a short helicopter ride onto the glacier and a 2 hour guided walk. These trips are weather dependent and the weather on the West Coast can be extremely changeable. For that reason we recommend a minimum of 1-2 nights in the area.

Deciding on your New Zealand budget

There is not one simple answer to this as there are so many factors to take into consideration. Luxury Adventures work in the luxury end of the market with handpicked accommodation ranging from $350 – to over $3,000 per night. Other factors to consider are if you want to self drive or have private transfers. The level and type of experiences you desire, private tours, small groups or self-guided. It’s best to discuss your personal requirements with one of the team to ensure we tailor make an itinerary that ideally suits your needs and budget. We written extensively about South Pacific travel budgets in a previous post. Here you’ll be able to understand costs in detail.

Thermal activity in Rotorua
Checking out the thermal activity in Rotorua New Zealand

It pays to plan

Most visitors have a limited time to visit New Zealand, often 2 – 3 weeks to try and see and do as much as is possible. This is where planning an itinerary is extremely important as there are many considerations to take into account. Such as time of year, budget, time constraints, logistics, type of trip – Honeymoon, Family vacation, getaway etc. Some people have definite ideas on what they want to include. Be it a destination or an experience, whilst others need more guidance.

In all events having an agent on the ground is a definite advantage. Local up to date knowledge on accommodation, logistics and must do New Zealand experiences is key to making sure your trip is successful and runs without hitches. Usually you’ll only a couple of weeks to see and do as much as is possible. We usually recommend the key destinations such as Queenstown, Rotorua, Taupo, Bay of Islands, Abel Tasman, Fiordland and Hawkes Bay to name the most popular ones. If you have a specific interest, or location in mind then we can advise on that.

Off the beaten track in New Zealand

There are many hidden gems in New Zealand that don’t get as much attention as their more well known siblings like Queesntown and Rotorua for example. Stewart Island at the very bottom of the South Island has great bush and beach walks. It also offers a slower pace of life and is a “A real Kiwi” experience. The Coromandel Peninsula is a favourite destination for Kiwis to holiday with fantastic beaches and hidden coves. When on the Coromandel Peninsula make sure you visit Cathedral Cove, film location for Narnia. New Chums is a hidden away and rarely explored beach, which has also been voted one of the world best beaches.

A scenic drive around the Karikari peninsula, Northland is a true paradise with white sand and clear blue waters. Within a 45 drive from Auckland there are the stunning remote west coast beaches with black sand and rolling surf. Karekare beach of The Piano film fame, Piha home to surfers and Muriwai with its gannet colony. This is also home to fantastic walks, for example The Hillary Trail with 77 km of trails in native forest. Or Great Barrier Island, a paradise just 30 mins from downtown auckland via helicopter. Rarely frequented by international visitors and a trip back in time, literally.

Hiking in New Zealand's great outdoors
Hiking in New Zealand’s great outdoors

Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, golf and whatever else you can think of!

Apart from the well known New Zealand great walks, there are other excellent lesser known walks all over New Zealand. Many are easily explored and hiked, and just about all are doscoveral on the Department of Conservation website. The same applies to mountain bike tracks, with some of the best around Rotorua and Nelson. There are also world class mountain bike tracks in close proximity to Auckland, Queenstown and Christchurch. New Zealand is a great destination for cyclists, with trails accessible from most major cities. Trails of interest are, the Otago Rail Trail, Nelsons Great Taste Trail, Queen Charlotte Track, Mountains to see and many more. For the keen fishermen New Zealand offers world class freshwater fishing in both the North and South Islands. There is game fishing in the warmer northern waters and tremendous saltwater sport fishing all around the country.

For the more adventurous the adventure tourism in New Zealand is second to none, bungy jumping, shark cage dives, zip lining, jet boats and more… To summarise New Zealand has something to offer everyone, at any time of the year. The key is to plan your time wisely to ensure you get the best out of your trip.  Contact one of our team today to make a start.

Luxury Adventures – Tailoring luxury travel in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific Islands since 1999.

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