Planning a trip to New Zealand can be daunting. I've been there.
Everybody who comes here on a two week holiday, seems to start a blog, call themselves an expert and tells people what they should and shouldn't do.
The internet is full of information about travelling in New Zealand. Some of which has simply gone out of date or was wrong to begin with.
Someone sad that writing a guide is like having a baby. You have to tend it it and nurture it all the time. I try to update my New Zealand Travel Guide as often as possible.
Hopefully this article gives you the answers you have been searching for and the photos will convince you to visit.
If there is a question I missed, make sure to ask it in the comments at the end of the post!
common questions coming from readers planning a trip to New Zealand
1. What's the best time to visit?
My favourite time is autumn and in this part of the world autumn is in March, April and May. The seasons in New Zealand aren’t too extreme if you compare them to somewhere like the Canadian Rockies, where winter lasts 6 months.
The fall foliage in New Zealand comes to life in an array of golden hues and oranges, mornings can be cold but days can still be as hot as 25C (77F). The first snow will fall in the mountains but won't linger for too long.
Winter in New Zealand is quite short and mild and it’s still certainly possible to do a road trip maybe just not in a campervan. The nights in the mountains can go below freezing but during the day the temperatures are bearable. June and July are the snowiest months which will please skiers, snowboarders and photographers.
Spring starts in September and lasts until November. This is a great time to road trip as the warm weather starts to come back and several different species of wildflowers start to bloom.
Lupin flowers are also seen in Late November/Early December. This time of the year you might get a late snow fall but it won’t last long once on the ground, the days can be as high as 25C. The only downside to travelling in spring is that it's also the rainiest time.
December, January and February is summer in New Zealand. It's hot and humid in the tropical north. The air is much crispier in the mountainous south island, especially when south easterlies blow in from Antarctica.
This is the ideal road trip time but be warned New Zealand isn’t exactly a well-kept secret anymore. Book your campervans and hotels months in advance, and avoid spending Christmas and New Years here as it gets insanely busy. Temperatures can soar into the 30s and even nights can be in the 20s.
2. Is freedom camping allowed?
In theory yes it is! People who tell you freedom camping is not allowed aren't right. The thing is you can’t do it wherever you please. For the most part, in national parks freedom camping is allowed as long as you’re over 200m away from any paths, trails, huts and water source and you should still inform the DOC of your intentions. Some exceptions apply, for example on the Milford Track, where your only choice is staying in the huts.
Restrictions regarding freedom camping in cities are now often in place as previous freedom campers abused the privileges they were once bestowed. Now, you’ll find it tough to find legal freedom camping spots in any touristy town or city.
If you have a self-contained campervan or motorhome (with a toilet) you have much more freedom about where you can stop and sleep but still can’t do it everywhere. There are parking lots designated for such vehicles and you can find them with the help of travel apps such as the Camper Mate.
Non self-contained campervans (without a toilet) will have to stay in designated paid campsites.
3. Can I fly my drone in New Zealand?
Since drones became popular in the recent years new sanctions have been imposed on the manning of such devices. Drones are now banned in all national parks unless the pilot has a permit to fly it. Permits are pretty much impossible to come by for recreational use.
Outside of national parks some local councils still prohibit flying drones. Places such as Queenstown are totally a “No Drone Zone”. By doing some research I’ve found the latest rules for drones under 25kg:
· No drones above 70m
· You can’t fly over people unless you have their permission
· You can’t fly over private land without the owners permission
· You can’t fly within 4km of restricted airspace (i.e next to an airfield, helipad, airport)
· You must remain in direct eye sight of your drone at all times
These are some, BUT NOT ALL, of the restrictions in place. For a full breakdown of regulations contact the CAA in NZ.
4. Where are the most photogenic places?
There are lots. Far too many to enlist here. If you want to know where the top photography spots are, my articles on photography on the North and the South Island will help you lots. See them all below.
5. What are the best hikes in New Zealand?
Again, there’s so many hikes here it’d be impossible for me to write them all down in one post. One could spend a lifetime hiking on these islands and still not see everything. If you’re a keen tramper, my articles on hiking in New Zealand will help you out a lot!
6. Is New Zealand expensive to travel?
Yes, there is no need to sugarcoat it. New Zealand is expensive. It's a small island nation with small population. A lot of the things need to be imported. A meal in a restaurant will easily set you back $20 NZD. A takeaway coffee costs 4.50 and a liter of gasoline costs more than 2 dollars.
Choose campsites over hotels. Cook for yourself instead of going out for meals. Go hiking instead of spending hundreds of dollars on activities. That's just few ways to save money. The cheapest way I’ve found it is to rent a normal car and then live out of a tent.
However don't be scared to occasionally splurge on something. Go on that scenic flight or do that bungy jump, especially if it's been on your NZ bucket list for a long time!
7. Is travelling in New Zealand safe?
Definitely. It’s voted one of the safest countries in the world. Serious crime is pretty much non existant here and the majority that does take place, takes place in and around Auckland. A city I recommend you leave as soon as you arrive.
In every house I lived in here I never even owned a house key, we just left the door unlocked. Whenever I tell that to my friends back home they just can't believe it!
The only crime that happen are car break ins on the trailheads. Just use common sense. Leave your valuables in a hotel or lock them away in the trunk of your car and out of sight.
Don't become paranoid though! They don't occur on a daily basis. I've left my car parked on trailheads more times then I can count, often overnight and never encountered any problems.
8. How much does it cost to rent a car or a campervan in New Zealand?
Rental cars vary depending on the make, model, size and time of year. The smallest car in the peak summer months will be around 30/40NZD a day.
The smallest camper in the winter season could be as low as 20NZD a day.
A small campervan in the summer will cost roughly 100NZD a day and a big 4 berth self-contained motorhome can cost as little as 250NZD daily (which isn’t bad considering it’s transport and accommodation for 4 people).
A brand new, top of the range, 6 sleeper motorhomes with all the mod-cons can be up to 600$ a day.
9. What budget should I prepare for a road trip?
I like to break down my budgets into 3 groups: budget, midrange and luxury. These prices do not include costs encountered before arriving in New Zealand such as flights, insurance or applicable visas. It also aims at short term travellers.
Budget – 100 - 150NZD$ per person per day
This includes a spot in a rental car shared between a group or couple, split petrol costs, food and mainly campsite accommodation or hostel dorms. Activities include awesome free stuff like hiking and photography and one or two paid activities.
Midrange – 150 - 250NZD$ per person per day
This includes a decent campervan, a mix of restaurants and self made meals, petrol, main powered campsites with the occasional hotel. Activities include cheaper adrenaline sports such a jet boating, scenic cruises (i.e Milford Sound), Hiking, Photography, Hobbiton, OGO, wildlife cruises.
Luxury – 500 - 1000NZD$+ per person per day
This includes a decent rental car with decent hotel accommodation. All your meals in restaurants and world class adventure activities including bungy jumping, sky diving, the occasional overnight cruise, scenic cruises, and scenic flights. Plus all the awesome free stuff such as hiking and photography ;)
Basically there is no upper limit. There are endless activities you can partake in. You can probably travel on less than 20NZD if you hitchhike everywhere, freedom camp and eat noodle soups for breakfast lunch and dinner, but I’m just being realistic.
10. What are New Zealand's 'Great Walks'?
The Greats Walks are 9 backpacking excursions (soon to be 10 with the arrival of the Paparoa Track in 2019/20) on New Zealand’s North, South and Stewart Island.
In alphabetical order they are The Abel Tasman Coast Track, The Heaphy Track, The Kepler, Lake Waikaremoana, The Milford Track, The Paparoa Track, The Raikoura Track, The Routeburn, The Tongariro Northern Circuit and The Whanganui River Journey.
They have been designated as having outstanding beauty and/or of special importance. If you want to book one, make sure you do so far in advance.
When bookings open for Milford track, the most popular hike, most of the spots for the entire season are gone within the first few hours. Cancellations are still common though so checking daily with the online reservation system can be advantageous.
Prices for these great walks are also considerably more expensive than normal backcountry campsites or huts. A regular serviced DOC hut can cost as low as 5$ whereas an overnight stay in a hut on the Milford Track is now 140$ for international visitors!
11. Which island is better?
Well you probably won’t be surprised when I say both are awesome!!!! But again it depends what you like. For beaches, the sun, surfing, tropical rainforests and Maori culture visit the North Island.
For mountains, adventure activities, fjords and scenic roads visit the South Island.
Both Islands are awesome for road trips and are famed for their friendly locals. Whichever you decide to choose, you’ll have a great time.
If you’re unsure and have to pick only one I personally prefer the South Island and this one week itinerary packs one heck of a punch! Make sure to check it out.
12. Should I rent a car or a camper?
That’s completely up to you. You have to ask yourself, what do you want to do in New Zealand? If you want to experience the outdoors as much as possible. Then rent a car, bring your tent or try to stay in as many backcountry huts as possible!
If you like the comfort of having a ‘real’ bed but still want to be outside, then get a decent campervan.
If you’re not a camping enthusiast, rent a car and book hotels.
Don't force yourself into doing something you know you won't enjoy! Is your mind set on travelling in a campervan? Here is everything you should know about motorhome travel in New Zealand.
Is there a question you haven't found here? Post it in the comments below and I will answer it!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.