New Zealand (NZ) is one of those places we always knew we would get to at some point in our lives. Auckland was about three hours away from Melbourne by plane and it just seemed natural to visit our neighbour to the east. When we decided to include South America on our itinerary this year, including NZ was a no-brainer. We didn’t have too much in mind in terms of attractions or cities when we booked our flight, we just knew there would be gorgeous scenery, great wine and some friendly people waiting for us there.
The tourism industry in NZ is a major part of the economy. The network of information centres (known as i-Site) is vast and all a traveller has to do is arrive in town and visit one of these outlets to be overwhelmed with options. From daredevil activities like bungy jumping and skydiving to relaxing multi-day hikes, NZ has something for every type of traveller. Service standards on tours and in restaurants are pretty high and most people working in the tourism industry are knowledgeable, professional and helpful.
We visited NZ in high season, though this season was lighter than normal. Speaking to hostel owners and locals revealed a reduced number of bookings and sales, though our research was by no means scientific. Perhaps everyone is waiting to visit New Zealand during the Rugby World Cup in September…bookings have already been made, which is unusual for those months. We never felt the chaotic busyness that often accompanies peak summer season. Of course, the population in NZ isn’t comparable to Europe or the US, but we still expected more crowding.
We also had the opportunity to meet up with some friends while we travelled around the country. Thanks so much to our mates, Amar and Dee, Kerry-Ann (who writes Audacious Freedom), Jim (who writes Holes in my Soles) and Jen for catching up with us in Wellington and Auckland, and to all of our readers who sent us tips and comments on Twitter, Facebook and our blog.
As bad as it sounds, one of the funny things about our two months in NZ has been our slick ability to dodge natural disasters…by days. It actually started when we left Australia and the flooding that followed. Then we had a lovely time in the Bay of Islands only to hear of further cyclonic activity there. We even survived the ‘cyclone’ that wasn’t on our first visit to Wellington. And finally, we missed the devastating earthquake in Christchurch by only a week. Being ahead of these unfortunate events has certainly added drama to our adventure.
To summarize our experience, we’ve put together a few lists:
- Scenery: New Zealand is as beautiful as we expected. Everywhere we looked we saw stunning mountains, lakes, coastline, glaciers, forests, waterfalls and cloud formations. This is a place where people come to experience nature and photogenic landscapes. We were not disappointed one bit.
- Locals: We spent more time chatting to the local people than we did other travellers. New Zealanders really are as friendly within NZ as they are overseas. Having never (okay, very rarely) met a Kiwi we didn’t like outside NZ, we wondered if they would be as nice in their own country. Most people were very helpful, even stopping in the street to help us with directions.
- Activities: From hikes to tours to adventure experiences, NZ caters to travellers looking to keep busy. We booked into several guided activities on our travels and found all of them to be worth the money. Tour guides are very professional and have a lot of information.
The Not So Good
- Internet services: We’ve had some hair-pulling incidents with internet here. It’s expensive, not universal, slow and unreliable. Most hostels and internet cafes charge you by the hour (NZ$3-6) or by the amount of data you used (NZ$5 for 50MB but varies). Data limits on time based services are the most frustrating. We have an iPad and bought a 3G micro-SIM card, which provided us with 3GB of data for $50 a month. The problem is, most towns aren’t on 3G and it was so slow. Internet is available for free at some libraries, but the number of people going there to download movies and use Skype means that it is frustratingly slow.
- Prices: NZ is expensive. Activities, beer, food, goods and services come at a premium. The strength of the Aussie dollar has helped us, but with the weaker US dollar and the general economic picture, this could be a likely reason why fewer people are travelling here this year.
- Public Transport: Many people advised us to hire a car and we would agree that you need one if you plan to do a lot of activities that are outside the town centre. Shuttle services exist but can be unreliable, local buses aren’t universal and many attractions lie on the outskirts of towns. Taxis are expensive. We are fit and walk most places, but NZ towns are also not always pedestrian friendly. Crosswalks and sidewalks aren't always existent when you need them. Everyone in NZ has a car and like a little America (or a little Australia), cars rule the roost.
Our most popular posts from New Zealand
- The Most Beautiful Public Toilets in the World - Kawakawa's public toilets
- Franz Josef vs. Fox Glacier: Which Glacier Hike Should I Choose - a comparison of the West Coast's two main glacier experiences
- Bungas's Beer of the Week: West Coast - a visit to the Monteith's Brewery in Greymouth
- Hostel Jerks: Reasonable or Reason for Revenge? - stories of hostel rudeness
- Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Photos from our walk among the volcanoes
(popularity according to Google Analytics numbers from Dec. to present)
Best town: Queenstown
Worst town: Whangarei
Best hostel: The Albatross Backpacker Inn, Kaikoura
Worst hostel: Te Anau Lakefront Backpackers, Te Anau
Best meal: Sidart, Auckland
Worst meal: Dickens Inn, Whangarei
Best tour guide: Kyle from Bay Tours Nelson (post on Nelson wine)
Worst tour guide: (didn’t catch his name) Monteith’s Brewery, Greymouth
Our favourite thing we saw that we didn’t know about when planning: Art Deco Weekend, Napier
Most over-hyped attraction: Milford Sound
Fun factor: 7/10
Check out our recommendations page for more specific hostels and businesses we loved on our travels.
Looks interesting, though I wonder if I will ever reach there. The Moori carvings are amazing…that’s what drew me to the post 🙂
They were really something…the work was commissioned and they just tower over the lake where they sit. Definitely worth a look…Taupo in general is one of our favourite places in New Zealand.
This is a great round-up, very useful for someone considering a similar trip. Sounds like you had a great experience overall. Looking forward to seeing what you find in South America!
Overall it was really good, thanks, Annie! =)
Totally agree with you on the Internet. It has been more frustrating here in New Zealand than it was even in China! We just bought a prepay Interent stick so hopefully it will help out a bit, we’ll let you know.
I thought about doing that, but we had already bought a micro-SIM for the iPad so decided to wing it with the laptop. Would love to know how you went with the stick! We have now moved into internet heaven here in Chile, where it is about 100x faster and free everywhere. Good luck! =)
Great round up guys. Sounds like you have had an amazing time. Can’t wait to explore New Zealand myself. Is the internet worse than Australia? Because I have been tearing my hair out for months with it here.
Yes, sad to say. I didn’t think that was possible 😉 I’m writing this reply from Santiago where we have just checked into our hostel and the net is SO fast…and free. There is no such thing as good free in NZ. Obviously that’s not a reason not to visit the country, but you probably depend on connectivity even more than we do and we really struggled and spent a lot of money on it there. Maybe it is better if you are a subscriber living there?
But you are lucky by missing all natural disasters on your way.
What was wrong with hostel in Te Anau?
Thanks for your comments – we do feel lucky! =)
The hostel there was just really run down and not well equipped. Our room was also basically a big window box with a draft and thin curtains and we didn’t feel warm enough.