8 Top Tips for Planning a New Zealand Trip

Updated August 12, 2019
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The following is a guest post by Danny Newman. He is currently writing and travelling his way around the world in a bid to figure out exactly what he’s doing with his life. He’d love you to follow along with his journey over at What’s Danny Doing.

I could talk about New Zealand all day long.

This stunning country on the other side of the world will forever hold a special place in my heart. I’ve travelled there a couple of times now, totalling around a year and a half in the country so planning a New Zealand trip is something I know how to do. In that time I got to know it fairly well! Honestly, it’s hard not to fall in love with.

There’s beauty everywhere you look. The culture is relaxed, welcoming, friendly and down to earth. It’s full of fun-loving people, and host to some unforgettable things to see and do. If you’re at all interested in going, then I can’t recommend it enough.

That said, there are a few things I recommend keeping in mind to ensure you have the time of your life. Want to learn more?

Read on for 8 of my top tips for planning a trip to New Zealand.

Top Tips for Planning a New Zealand Trip - Mount Cook National Park

Save up!

My first couple of New Zealand planning tips are money-related. Why? Because New Zealand isn’t cheap! It’s arguably the only downside to travelling there. Peak season, in particular, can sting the pockets of budget backpackers.

In my experience, the costs are comparable to travelling in Europe. Food, accommodation, and transport expenses can mount at an alarming rate! It pays (literally) to go there with a reasonable nest egg behind you. Expecting to pay more, and budgeting accordingly, is a sensible approach. It’s better to be prepared than end up in a financial spot of bother.

Start saving in advance. Set a reasonable budget. If money’s an issue, then look into money-saving opportunities in the country. Nicely, NZ is good for this. There are a host of ways to travel on a budget there from your type of accommodation to choosing to shop at the supermarket rather than always eating out, or being careful about what activities you decide to do. 

Planning a New Zealand Trip - View from Mount Victoria Wellington on a windy day

Purchase flights in advance

Here’s my second New Zealand budgeting tip: Buy your flights in advance.

Go figure, right!? It’s hardly mind-blowing advice! However, it genuinely makes an enormous difference. In essence, my recommendation is to plan your New Zealand trip far in advance.

For most people, Aotearoa is almost literally on the other side of the world. Flight tickets are expensive as a result. Knowing that you want to travel to New Zealand earlier gives you time to buy the flights far in advance. 

This is the best way I’ve found to save money on them. It also helps you commit to the trip ahead and start saving, plus you can take advantage of booking accommodation ahead and keeping an eye out for deals for activities or any other aspects of your trip! With flights booked, the adventure is set in stone. It’s a lovely event on the horizon to look forward to.

Wooden fence with brown hills and sea

Plan your route

This is another general travel tip that always comes in handy but is especially important in New Zealand. Essentially, a bit of preparation in advance goes a long way.

I try not to plan my route around any country too excessively. After all, leaving room for maneuver is how you welcome adventure into the experience! There’s real value in going with the flow. However, it’s also easy to miss out on incredible sights and activities because you simply didn’t know about them.

This is particularly true in New Zealand, where there’s epic stuff to see and do around every corner. From hikes (be sure to take a quality hiking backpack with you) to extreme sports, and everything in between. Anyone with limited time in the country should take the time to identify the activities and locations they cannot miss. Even a loose idea of a route can make a difference.

There are some truly amazing parts of Aotearoa. Be sure to work out your bucket list beforehand.

Milford Sound: Planning a New Zealand Trip

Apply for a working holiday visa

If you’re between 18 and 30 years old and from particular countries, then a working holiday visa (WHV) may be a good option for you.

Most people need a visa to get into the country anyway. Anyone planning an extended trip will benefit from the opportunity to work there too. With a New Zealand WHV you can stay for 12 months (and if you’re from certain places you can extend for another 11 months after that)!

Remember the high cost of living I mentioned? Well, working in the country is, of course, an effective way of mitigating the issue. Masses of people do this every year for that exact reason. Nicely, finding a job isn’t too hard either if you’re not too picky (though it can take a bit of effort in peak season so start planning early).

Working and earning on the road means you can stay and explore for longer, without your finances running out entirely. It also means you don’t need to save as much money in advance. And that means you can get to the adventure earlier!

Planning a New Zealand trip: Rangitoto Island from Mount Eden

Learn about the history

I always enjoy reading up on a country before I go there. It sets everything in context when you arrive. Think about meeting a person for the first time. Sure, you may get on well, have a top conversation, and so on. But you don’t really know them. It’s only when you start finding out about their past that you begin to understand what they’re about.

For me, it’s the same thing with traveling in a new place. Knowing a bit about its history will help you understand the culture. It provides a frame of reference to your trip.

The same goes for learning about New Zealand history.

NZ, as we know it today, is incredibly young. European settlers only set up shop there in the 19th century. The struggles between them and the native Maori people continue to have implications. Learn about the Maori people. Read up on the culture. Understand the hardships they endured at the hands of European settlers. It’s all worthy knowledge to walk into the country with.

Planning a New Zealand Trip - Rotorua Thermal Pool

Expect alternating weather (& pack accordingly)

Packing for New Zealand can be a challenge.

The weather can be unpredictable! The morning might have bright blue skies and glorious sun. The afternoon can see gale force winds and rain buffeting down.

In summer (roughly November through February) the weather can still be changeable, although January and February are usually considered the better months. Be sure to pack your sun cream anyway! There’s no ozone layer over New Zealand, and rates of skin cancer are sky-high. Cream up to protect yourself. Just remember a waterproof coat too!

Yet you still have to cover all the bases in your backpack. It can still get cold in the summer, especially if you’re hiking, and definitely in the winter. Pack a thermal layer or two. They’ll come in handy when you’re in a hut at the top of a mountain somewhere. Similarly, good hiking boots and a quality waterproof jacket are essential for when the weather turns. Here’s a full list of ultralight hiking gear that could be helpful. 

Planning a New Zealand Trip - Glacier Hiking

Decide how you’ll get around

New Zealand is a well-travelled place. Millions of people flock there every year to explore it…because it’s so darn awesome! A happy bonus of that fact is that the travel infrastructure there is second to none. There are all sorts of ways to get around.

Have a think about how you might do it. Here are a few options:

Bus/Coach Tour

For instance, many people opt for a flexible coach tour. There are two main providers: the Kiwi Experience, and Stray Travel.

Both operate in a similar way. Basically, you purchase a ticket for a particular route around the islands. You can hop on and hop off at any time. Stay for as long as you like at a given destination, then book the next bus that’s coming through when you’re ready to move on. You’ll meet some awesome people, and it doesn’t get much easier. But it’s also fairly pricey.

Public Transport

You could also opt for the public buses that run around the country. This is actually one form of transport in NZ I have very little experience with! However, it’s relatively common. That said, I thought the ticket prices between destinations were quite high but this does depend on how far in advance you book a ticket so you may need to plan ahead more. If you’re not on a strict budget, then this won’t be a problem.

But I like travelling cheaply, and I couldn’t justify paying $80 for a bus ticket when I knew I could hitch for free (more on hitching next).

Generally, you can get to anywhere you want to go on an Intercity Bus. The off-peak season sees fewer buses running though. Be sure to book ahead.

Campervan

Another common transport option is to hire a campervan. Again, this isn’t cheap. However, it does save on accommodation. The price is likely to compare to what you’d pay for a hostel every night. The main benefit is total freedom! It’ll be one long, epic road trip.

Buy a vehicle

Others buy a campervan or a car, and then sell it before they leave (I can recommend this approach!). There are always people looking to sell their vehicle. It might sound exorbitant, but it’s probably one of the cheapest ways to do it in the long run. As long as the vehicle is still in decent condition when your trip is over, you should get your money back. Make sure you have a current Warrant of Fitness and Registration (that means the vehicle is roadworthy). 

Hitchhiking

Then, of course, you can hitch hike. I hitched all over NZ on my most recent trip. It worked great, I met some awesome people, and it was totally free. I know it can be a daunting prospect. I remember being nervous when I first started. It’s normal! Anyone who still has their hitching v-plates tends to balk at the idea of getting into a stranger’s car. However, New Zealand is considered to be one of the safer countries to hitchhike in and it is fairly normal to see backpackers trying to get to their next destination, especially in summer. 

Of course, you should always exercise caution and I can’t say it’s 100% safe. It may be best not to do this alone, and to always let someone know where you are, and if you have any doubts then don’t go ahead with the ride.

Planning a New Zealand Trip - Arthur's Pass Mountains and Road View 

Sign up to Facebook Groups

Anyone planning a trip to New Zealand should definitely sign themselves up to relevant Facebook groups too. They’re genuine treasure troves of information. Just search ‘backpacking New Zealand’ directly and you’ll get a bunch of top options.

Any questions you have before your adventure can be answered there. The groups are full of people passionate about NZ travel. Similarly, there will be masses of people in your position. You can find like-minded individuals to travel with, seek answers to your questions (visas, flights, best locations, etc); search for cars to buy, accommodation to stay in…and much much more.

Planning a New Zealand Trip - Wanaka tree

There you have it: my 8 top tips for planning a trip to New Zealand.

This beautiful country on the other side of the world is worthy of anyone’s time. There’s so much going for it! The locals are lovely, the travel culture is booming, the beauty on offer is second to none, and there are masses of things to see and do.

Go to New Zealand and you’re sure to fall in love with it. Hopefully, this post will help you successfully plan the trip of a lifetime!

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