If you’re planning to visit the magical and mystical country that’s home to the Hobbits, you’ve probably read up on plenty of stuff – just like me. I had read through so many travel guides, travel blogs and magazines, that I felt like I knew everything there was to know about New Zealand. Well, rather sooner than later I had to find out that that was not really the case.
So here are seven things that I wish I had known before boarding my flight, things that might seem totally obvious to you, or things you have never thought about – or maybe not thought about enough.
1. Insider tip: Have something to declare
Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you a little story. After a 37h long journey from my home country to New Zealand, I just wanted to go to my hostel and get some sleep, but apparently that was too much to ask. In the airplane they hand out a little form you have to fill out, asking questions about your whereabouts and whether or not you have something to “declare”, like fruit or mud on your shoes.
Smart me thought that if I had nothing to declare, I would probably be able to skip the line, apart from the fact that I really didn’t have anything to declare.
So, after arriving in Auckland and finally getting of that tiny metal tube I was strapped in for the last 12 hours, I handed the little form to the man at the airport, who looked at it, and immediately pushed me towards a little but completely empty tunnel. Naive as I was, I thought that it was great because I was probably skipping the line.
Long story short: At the end of the tunnel was a little police station with metal tables and chairs on which I had to place my bags, and then spend a whole two hours watching a police woman with black gloves pull every single item out of my bag, open it, and even take X-rays of it.
Because I had had nothing to declare, they thought I was a drug mule. So, make sure to put a little mark where it says that you walked through muddy areas in the last couple of weeks and save yourself 2 hours at the police station.
2. How much time will you need?
This might be something you have probably already thought about, but of course it’s always difficult to assess how much time you will need to travel a country, based solely on strangers’ recommendations. I do know that I too am one of those strangers, but let me give you my advice anyway.
I spent six weeks in New Zealand, and even though it was enough time, I could have spent more. Depending on your preferred type of transport (see #4), you might need more than that, or even less. I would say that New Zealand is doable in 4 weeks, however prepare yourself to miss some amazing spots.
If you decide to travel both main islands and if you want to spend at least 3 days in each major spots (obviously without working), I’d say two months are about the perfect time.
3. Where do you actually want to go?
This might seem like a dumb question, but figuring out an itinerary is not always easy.
Click here to view my New Zealand itinerary.
You might want to start by asking yourself whether you want to travel both main islands. Both islands are very different but just as beautiful. Whilst in the north you have a lot of green, some caves and beautiful hikes, the south island offers mountains, glaciers, but also beautiful beaches.
I personally preferred the south island, simply because I felt that the nature there had more to offer. I saw penguins, sea lions, dolphins, but I also hiked up some mountains, enjoyed incredible views and got soaked more than once.
My tip: Visit both.
4. Should I hitchhike, take the bus, or rent a car?
Definitely one of the most important questions you’ll ask yourself along the way. I would say that each three options have their perks, but it all depends on the kind of traveler you want to be.
Hitchhiking: Hitchhiking is perfect for you if you have plenty of time, if you are in no rush at all and really want to be one with the country and its people. If you love meeting new people but are not the type of person that needs a “long-term friend”, if you enjoy ending up in places you had never planned to visit, and if you are an open-minded, outgoing and patient person, hitchhiking might be your way to go.
Bus: New Zealand has great public transport and even offers bus services like Stray or Kiwi Experience. These are among the most popular bus lines that take you across all of New Zealand. They both have similar routes with a few exceptions, but have a very different reputation. Kiwi Experience is known to be more of a “party bus” for young, outgoing people (keep in mind that the busses are always packed), whereas Stray tends to be booked my more introverted people – at least in my experience. Finding friends on Kiwi is extremely easy, and Kiwi also books your hostels for you if you want them to, so you always have guaranteed accommodation.
No matter which bus line you go for, both stand for quick transport with little self organization and will enable you to see as much of New Zealand as possible in a very limited time frame.
Rent a car/camper van: This too is for the more adventurous. Whilst personally I don’t see a big benefit in renting a car (too expensive), a camper van definitely has some charm. You are as free as possible and as independent as possible, but renting a van on your own is very expensive, so many people team up. If you are not the type of person that enjoys spending two months with the same person, you should maybe consider going by bus. One upside however is that you won’t have to pay for accommodation as you’ll be able to sleep in the van. On the other hand though, it can be really difficult to meet new people and make friends if you don’t stay in hostels.
Personally, I enjoyed going by bus the most. I tried both Kiwi Experience and a camper van, but what I really liked about going by bus was that I met so many new and amazing people, which I probably wouldn’t have if I had only traveled around in a van. However, sometimes I definitely did miss my freedom a little, because I simply wasn’t able to visit all the spots I wanted to.
5. Remember: New Zealand has it all
Yes, I mean it. New Zealand has the most beautiful beaches, the prettiest and deepest lakes, the snowiest glaciers, and the most famous volcanos (aka Mt. Doom). Knowing that, packing accordingly can prove to be quite difficult.
For example, I was under the impression that it was mostly going to be hot and sunny, so I didn’t even bring a jacket – I really should’ve. New Zealand is a little like Scotland – you never know what the next hour will bring. It might be rain, it might be sun, it might be hail, so definitely bring a jumper and a rain jacket.
If you think that you might be into the hikes and the walks, think ahead and buy yourself a pair of really comfortable and high-quality shoes that will last for your entire trip, rather than bringing a pair of gigantic and extremely heavy hiking boots which, in the end, you’ll only wear once anyway.
Also, you might want to invest in some snorkeling gear, especially if you’re also planning to head to Australia. I just bought myself a snorkel and a mask, because I literally spent every single day by the beach and just found myself watching the fish for hours.
Last but not least, remember that after your trip you will never be the same. You will miss that freedom, those clumps of salt in your hair, the feeling of really bad sunburn on your scalp, and most of all the carefree feeling of simply being happy.