New Zealand

New Zealand travel tips: 10 tips for first timers

If this is not your first time on We12travel, you may have noticed that I have a deep crush on New Zealand. I could easily live there, though we’ve decided not to (long story) but just go back every once in a while. After spending more than five months on the road there during three trips over the past ten years, I think I can give you quite a good idea of what to travel in New Zealand is like. Here are my 10 tips for your first time in New Zealand. Just some things to consider when considering or planning a trip down there.
Note: this blog with my New Zealand travel tips was first published in August 2016 and has been updated during my most recent trip in 2023.

Cape Reinga 2023
A beautiful day at Cape Reinga

The Southern Island is the pretty place to be

For nature that is. Most of us come to New Zealand because of the amazing landscapes and I will never forget what was written in the guestbook of the hostel I stayed in Auckland after arrival in my first trip. It said ‘please go to the South Island as soon as you can!’. Of course, we had unfortunately booked a return trip from AKL meaning we had to return up north and leave the South Island behind at some point, which made me ache to go back. The second time I went to New Zealand, I flew out of Christchurch, so your trip definitely ends with a bang of truly stunning nature.

People often ask me about the ratio of their trip, I think spending one third of your time on the North Island and two thirds of your time on the South Island will be a great option.

New Zealand travel tips
Driving my car on the South Island

You better bring your hiking boots

During my first New Zealand trip I didn’t hike much, the main reason for me to come back to New Zealand a second time was to go hiking. In those six weeks I hiked five of their insanely popular Great Walks and did various amazing day hikes. If you are not into hiking or any outdoor activities, then New Zealand may not be the place for you.

Wet shoes at Mid Caples Hut in 2023
Wet shoes at Mid Caples Hut in 2023

They have sandflies

Argh, those friggin’ sandflies. They nearly killed me when I was out hiking and took some of the fun away when staying at the most scenic camping places, unable to leave your tent because otherwise you’d be stung like crazy. They are most common on the South Island and then usually up in the mountains or at mountain lakes. I never really used any bug dope as I found that it didn’t work anyway. Better be prepared for those little buggers!

Tip: buy the Bite Away, a heat pen that will make your bites a lot less itchy. This was definitely a life saver for me during my recent trip. You can easily order one at Amazon.

The north beaches at Abel Tasman National Park
The north beaches at Abel Tasman National Park

Bring $$$

If you want to travel in New Zealand, realize it’s super expensive! Although I was camping and cooking most meals myself, I still got a scare each time I was at the checkout of a supermarket for example. But it’s not just that, accommodation tends to be rather expensive (and sometimes very poor) as well as fuel and basically anything you can think of.

For groceries Pak N Save will be your best bet for cheap groceries but stock up once there because they are only found in few bigger towns. For a really good budget breakdown, visit this post by fellow blogger Lotte who tells you how to travel in NZ as a couple for less than NZD 160/day. Also make sure to book accommodation well ahead as during my last trip I found that everything was booked up most of the time, especially in Queenstown and around it was nearly impossible to find some place affordable to stay.

mount ngauruhoe
Just another hike

See Lord of the Rings

I’m not a fan of fantasy movies but I felt that I really needed to see the Lord of the Rings movies before going to travel in New Zealand. You will find references to LOTR all over when you travel in New Zealand, for example in Mata Mata where Hobbiton is and all the way over the South Island. After seeing the movies, I still am not a fan of fantasy yet each time I see them, I am being swept back to those most amazing trips I have made and they keep the memories alive.

In Hobiton with my New Zealand travel tips
In Hobiton

6. Rent or buy a vehicle

If you want to see the unknown, then better rent a vehicle. Many travel around with a campervan, I just rent or even buy a simple car. I’ve seen many backpackers being unable to move around to the scenic places just because they were on a bus. The most scenic places are generally far away from everything else so a van or car is definitely your best option!

travel in new zealand in nelson lakes national park

The wifi is poor

This is not a happy one, but the wifi in New Zealand really could be better. In general accommodation or campsites will only give you a few MB’s that are generally just about enough to update your Facebook page. If it’s available for free at all it’s pretty slow and I sometimes got ultra frustrated about being unable to upload pics to my Facebook page. If you want to unplug for a while, New Zealand is definitely your place! Alternatively, buy a local simcard for your data, Spark got me covered almost everywhere in the country.

Simcard from Spark New Zealand
Simcard from Spark New Zealand

They drive on the left

But you know what? When participating in the traffic, you will get used to this within a short time. If you’re driving a vehicle, try to get a automatic which makes it much easier and you won’t have to think about the stick. Crossing the street, well, it’s generally quiet on New Zealand roads so that shouldn’t be much of a problem.

keep left while driving in new zealand
Keep left while driving in New Zealand

Some towns are just plain boring

Come to New Zealand for its stunning nature and friendly people, not if you want to be jetsetting in the hippest place on the Southern Hemisphere. Although the major tourist cities such as Auckland, Christchurch and Queenstown for example have ample hipster places, you will find the majority of New Zealand towns fairly dull. Nothing wrong with that really as I tend to enjoy quiet places, but if you’ve come to party, you might end up disappointed other than in the big cities.

new zealand travel tips
The Remarkables in Queenstown

You should do at least one thing that scares the shit out of you

You have come to the world’s most adventurous country so you’d better be adventurous. While there, I went bungy jumping, sky diving, jet boating, kayaking between icebergs, downhill mountain biking and I took a walk on the Skytower in Auckland. And yes, those kind of things still scare me. The adrenaline kick makes it well worth though!

Bungy jumping in Queenstown
Bungy jumping in Queenstown

Booking your trip

If you’ve found this article useful, I hope you make use of the following links to book your trip to New Zealand:


Those were my trips for your first time travel in New Zealand. I’ve probably forgotten to mention quite a few things but there are plenty of other cool blogs out there to check out. Want to read more? Then also make sure to check out my complete and free online New Zealand Travel guide here or simply go to my New Zealand homepage to find more than 50 articles that will help you plan your New Zealand trip.

Also make sure to check out this guide to 56 typical New Zealand slang words.

This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase and/or reservation via such a link, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for considering!


  • jen

    Had not heard about the sand fleas! Yipes. I had heard about the internet though – so sad that many of us might avoid such a stunning place for that reason. Looks like you had a great trip!

    • anto

      I wouldn’t suggest not going because of the sandflies, but I never really thought of it before going. If I’d have known, I’d just have planned it a bit different. Or I’d have brought my 95% DEET from Alaska that kills anything 😉

    • anto

      Yeah three weeks is the minimum I’d say … I hope you can make it there! We were in Tasmania there and they aren’t too good on wifi either. Must be something from Down Under in general I’d say…

  • Sia

    Thank you for all those useful tips! It’s a dream to go there, but apart from the fact that it is super expensive it is also on the other side of the world for me. Hopefully one day! I am sure that it will bring a lot of LOTR references.

    • anto

      Yeah, it’s far away for us too, we’d love to go back but it’s too far to spend such an expensive planeticket on …

  • Lori

    I admit I smiled when I read that “some towns are just plain boring”. I think that’s valid for almost any country out there 😉 But it is good not to get your hopes up! Great info – on places to go and on the hiking boots 😉

    • anto

      Yeah so true. However, we sometimes ended up in a place thinking ‘OK, what are we doing here?’ – just because it looked great on the map haha.

  • Global Brunch

    New Zealand has a special place in my heart. I went there on my first solo backpacking trip and have been wanting to go back ever since. Your tips are great, especially knowing about sand flies and how expensive it can be is crucial for any first timer!

  • Nigel & Jane

    We will be there next month as part of our round the world trip. Can’t wait and we’re fully expecting it to be a highlight. I’m surprised to hear you say that you think it’s expensive. Maybe it’s the exchange rate, but we’ve put together a bespoke package with a NZ travel agent and we couldn’t have done the same thing in the UK for the price.

    • anto

      Ah yes, I can totally see your point of view. It may also have had to do with the fact that we are were there before and that the prices seemed to have gone up. Also, many go backpacking here and for people on a budget, I found it fairly expensive. I hope you will have fun on your trip, I’m sure you will love it a lot. How much time are you spending?

  • Waterboy

    My wife and I went for our honeymoon and it was the trip of a lifetime. We are already planning our trip back but as you said it is expensive. We are from Ohio USA so the price of the plane tickets hurt as much as the funds needed for the stay. We went during NZ autumn or March/April and the weather couldnt have been more suited for hiking and adventure seeking and best part no sandflies. We spent 3 weeks and wish we had more time on the south island. We rented a car, hopped on the ferry, TranzAlpine train, and hotel/motel hopped. Definitely suggest renting a car. Dont be afraid to get off the map and talk to the kiwis. We found very exciting places to go, food to try, amazing local wines, and have several new friends we talk to often. Dont let the price scare you off it is worth the trip. We budgeted 200 US$ per day and actually come home with a few bucks. Wifi is awful but using road maps and asking locals proved a better game plan. Truely spectacular mountain views, coastal views, waterfalls, glaciers, sheep, sheep, sheep. Oh and sheep. Great blog really brought back memories. Hope you get to go back again.

    • anto

      Thanks for sharing your memories with us Waterboy, happy that our blog made your memories come back alive. Sounds like you’ve had an awesome trip! I’m going back in April and I can’t wait to hopefully see some fall colors hit the landscape. And yes, the sheep are amazing, I loved the presence of them everywhere. They seem so carefree and cuddly. Plus the locals are super nice. It’s expensive but in my opinion very worth every penny, just because it’s such a stunning country!

  • Hayley Lovell

    The top photo with the kayak.. Where are you and what are those glorious looking things sitting on the kayak, crystals?

    • anto

      It was taken on a lake in Mt Cook / Aoraki NP, you can go kayaking there (with a group) near Tasman Glacier … it’s amazing!!

  • çiçek market

    Had not heard about the sand fleas! Yipes. I had heard about the internet though – so sad that many of us might avoid such a stunning place for that reason. Looks like you had a great trip!

  • Amelia

    Had a plan to NZ this june with my family and really helped with your tips to travelling there. Cant wait to read lot more from your blog. Greetings from Indonesia. Salam.

  • Gemma | mum off the map

    I totally agree! New Zealand is amazing to travel, I’m lucky and spent several months traveling and working before sewing and working near Wellington… Long story short I now live here with my Kiwi partner and our2 young boys, and I can’t wait to show them New Zealand!

  • Elaine

    As a New Zealander I would have to agree with these points, especially wifi! McDonalds wifi can’t load anything but my dad recently told me the wifi at BP (petrol/gas station) is fast enough to Skype from. They do a pretty good hot chocolate there too! Food and eating out can be pricey, we often buy a hot chicken, salad and bread at the local supermarket (we’re a family if 4) and any leftovers make good sandwiches the next day.