A Survival Guide to New Zealand

New Zealand is Middle-earth. Obviously.
New Zealand is Middle-earth. Obviously.

I’ve only been in Wellington for a little over four months, but I thought it would be handy to post a condensed guide to the country (whether you visit long or short-term). Here are some pointers I can give based on my time here:

  • Check out the i-Site, which is an info/visitor’s center at the majority of NZ’s more populated areas. Maps, pamphlets, flyers, guidebooks, walking tracks, activity guides, just about anything can be found in these, and the staff are friendly Kiwis who know the area inside and out.
  • Use social media to your advantage before you arrive. It helps. A lot. As much as I’m anti-Facebook for personal reasons, there are multiple ways to stay informed and organized with planning and networking via the web. LinkedIn, Twitter, and even WordPress did wonders for me before I even moved. Do all this before you get here, because free (and decent) WiFi is insanely hard to come by.
  • Get a Snapper pass if you plan on using the bus quite often. It’s extremely convenient, bus drivers appreciate it (rather than dig out change from your pockets), and it also saves you a lot of money over time. Even if you only visit for a week, the $10 card fee will be worth it in the long run (unless you have a car, in which you can get everywhere on your own… but beware of ridiculous petrol prices). CON: Buses aren’t very efficient here; some are late by about 10+ minutes every time, or don’t even show up at all for some reason. If you have time, learn your way around first by walking everywhere. It sometimes ends up being faster, more comfortable and cheaper. 
  • Take the Metlink and KiwiRail trains! There is so much beauty the country has to offer via train… and with a country this big, any train ride is bound to be a great one.
  • The Naked Bus is a great way to travel long-distance for really cheap rates; I believe it only cost me around $35-40 for a bus from Auckland to Bay of Islands.
  • For the backpackers: Stray bus tours are great, as recommended through friends, and I believe there’s a free tour in Auckland. KiwiExperience, G Adventures, and Topdeck are also cheap bus tours to consider if you plan on going the hostel/hop on-hop off type trip.
  • Haka Tours is the #1 ranked independent tour operator group in New Zealand, and for good reason. Other than being raved about by Young Adventuress, it has phenomenal guest service (as I’ve experienced with the wonderful Nicola, our Tourism Advisor), and I cannot wait to see South Island through their perspectives. Plus, what better way to see the country than through Kiwis themselves?
  • Driving: You can drive for up to a year with your driver’s license from another country. Otherwise, you can always look into a learner license here.
  • Cheap clothing stores for girls: Pagani, Cotton On, Factorie. Stay away from Glassons: It’s cool to check out (similar to Forever 21), but extremely expensive (would you pay $68 for a t-shirt? Probably not). If you REALLY need clothes, go to The Warehouse– they’re cheap enough to toss after your trip. I picked up some cheap $20 black flats here for work; otherwise, these probably would average $75+ in another store. Crazy, ay?
  • Bank of choice: ANZ. This is the largest bank in NZ and is also used in Australia. ANZ ATMs are everywhere throughout the country. The EFTPOS and debit cards are widely used here and very easy for even tourists to sign up for if necessary.
  • Cheapest phone carrier: 2Degrees. I rarely call or text, so it actually works just fine for me. If you’re constantly calling people, using apps, and absolutely-positively need service everywhere, then you might be better off with Vodafone. Otherwise, I’ve had no complaints about 2Degrees. To save even more money, get the cheapest data bundle (500MB, $29/month) and don’t burn your data; save it for emergencies when you really do get lost or need to look something up. I usually wait until I have WiFi back at my place to use the internet; nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait a couple hours.
  • For those working: Get your tax IRD number as soon as possible. You need to print out the forms (there might be a way to submit them online, but I wasn’t successful at trying this) and drop them off at a post shop/bank to get them processed, then wait a few business days to receive your official IRD number in the mail.
  • Understand that NZ will be far more expensive than any other country (sans the UK) you’re used to, even with conversion rates. However, you’ll get used to it. And if not, don’t pinch your pennies too much. Ya gotta eat, ya gotta experience stuff. Would you rather come back broke and rich with experience or rich and broke with experience? DO IT ALL. NO REGRETS.
  • Book your accommodation in advance. Saves you time and stress once you get here. YHA and BBH hostels are the most common (and trustworthy) if you’re backpacking it.
  • Calling: I learned rather quickly that it’s more common to call an employer to inquire about a job rather than submit your CV via e-mail (usually). And if you need anything changed for an account, chances are you’ll need to call or visit a branch in person to straighten it out… very rarely can you change things online in seconds, but that’s just something to get used to.
  • Clothing: Check out the breakdown of NZ’s seasons here. The basics to remember include bringing a proper sun hat and SUNSCREEN (the UV rays are crazy) for the summer, and a thick winter coat/gloves/rainjacket for the winter.
  • Cheapest market: Pak N’ Save. Second would be Countdown, but I frequent New World the most due to the fact that these tend to be everywhere and most accessible. Dairies (the NZ version of an American 7-11) sell groceries in extremely limited quantities as well, but everything tends to be hiked up in prices, so try to avoid these if possible.
  • Typical Kiwi food: Sausage rolls (not a fan), roast (leg of lamb or chicken), pavlova (a meringue dessert), meat/mince/Georgie pies (like the American chicken pot pies, but not as creamy), scones (pronounced “skahnes” here), flat white (coffee), eggs bennie, lollies (Kiwi way of saying “candy”), marmite (everyone has to taste this… just because. Your eyes may spin) and anything else influenced by the British. The food is sadly my least favorite part about the country (except for the fish and chips). There are decent takeaway places if you search long enough, though! Don’t despair.
  • Shoes: You only need one pair of AMAZING hiking/running/walking shoes, since New Zealand is an outdoorsy country. But make sure that one pair is sturdy, water-resistant, and reliable when it comes to going up and down rocky cliffs, glaciers, etc.!
  • Beauty: No one cares about how you look here. Seriously. It’s fantastic. After all, people walk around stores barefoot. But for girls who do want to wear lots of makeup, just know that mascara runs around $25-30 NZD. Pack stuff from home, don’t buy out here.
  • Bring bug spray with deet. I’ve had one too many sandfly bites since I arrived, and they don’t go away overnight…
  • According to online sources, less than 5% of New Zealand’s population is human. The rest are animals – one of the highest ratios of animals to humans in the world. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll love NZ.
  • Remember that communication isn’t the #1 priority of Kiwis. And that’s okay. You learn to adapt and go with the flow. This is a country where billboards and ads are left up months after a release date (i.e. Hobbit 2 bus decor still in place three months after the film’s release), or even seven months after a show has already taken place (true story). Think of New Zealand as being even more laid-back than Hawaii. This is why it’s such a beautiful place to chill out and vacation in.
  • Bookworms rejoice: New Zealand has more bookshops per capita than any other country – one for every 7,500 people. LOVE.
  • The location names here seem really tough to pronounce. NZ boasts the world’s longest place name: Taumatawhakatangi- hangakoauauotamatea- turipukakapikimaunga- horonukupokaiwhenuaki- tanatahu. My eyes hurt just looking at that. Oh yeah, and Kiwi slang is English, but still quite complex.
  • Bring a hefty external harddrive. They cost twice the price (obviously) here, and you’ll count your blessings for them after all the thousands of photos you accumulate over time. And honestly, I don’t see how anyone would visit New Zealand without wanting to snap any photos. This country is THAT beautiful.

For comprehensive tips and activity/location recommendations, check out Nomadic Matt’s bit on New Zealand and Lonely Planet’s guide to the best nighttime experiences.A more detailed checklist on things to pack can be found here.

What are you waiting for? Travel to one of the most beautiful countries in the world- New Zealand isn’t as far as you think! If my photos (and I’m not even a professional- the landscapes are that stunning on their own) don’t convince you, I don’t know what will… 


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