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Exploring New Zealand


From one traveller to another: practical advice and experience gained from our travels around New Zealand...

General Tips

  • Take the immigration procedures very seriously. There are several different stages of checking, and you will likely be subject to a manual search and X-ray of all incoming luggage, including your hand luggage. Heed all customs warnings and notifications.
  • Do not underestimate the strength of the sun, and take all warnings very seriously as you will burn if you fail to protect yourself or dress appropriately. Cloud cover or relatively low temperatures are no guarantee of safety.
  • Don't feed any kea you encounter, as it affects their natural diet
  • There is almost no litter to be seen anywhere. There are also few litter bins. This says everything you need to know about the Kiwi attitude to littering, so please act accordingly.
  • A common question when you're checking in to a hotel is "What kind of milk would you like?" or even just "Skimmed or unskimmed?". Many hotels provide a fresh carton of milk for your tea and coffee, and the question tends to crop up early in the discussion, sometimes without warning, e.g. "Have you come far today? Skimmed or unskimmed?" so don't be alarmed by it.
  • Possums are seen strictly as vermin, or occasionally an alternate source of food. Animal-lovers should not be surprised at the hostile attitude towards these pesky critters.
  • Most towns of any size seem to offer both internet facilities and digital photo handling, including photo-to-CD conversion services.
  • If you're normally a TV addict, plan for other forms of entertainment in the evenings, as smaller towns may only have a handful of TV channels.
  • The use of flash photography to take pictures of glowworms is a complete waste of time since all that will do is force everyone around you to have to wait to adjust to the dark again. Oh, and the New Zealand glowworm is not the same as the European glowworm (firefly).

Shopping Tips

  • Always check the "use by" dates on food and medicines in smaller towns
  • Check whether the jade being offered for sale originated in New Zealand, as cheaper pieces may have been made using imported jade
  • Many shops sell prepaid phonecards that offer cheap international phone calls. These can usually be used from any phone, even card-only phones.
  • You may find that even relatively mid-class and high-end hotels do not have air conditioning
  • On public holidays, such as Waitangi Day, you may find that many shops are shut.
  • Outside the major cities, most shops seem to close around 5pm or 5:30pm, though you may find convenience stores attached to garages that stay open later.

Posting Tips

  • When sending international airmail using New Zealand post, remember to include an airmail sticker, which are available free from post offices.
  • There are 3 main companies serving the international postage market: NZ Post (the post office), Universal Mail and DX Mail. Universal Mail and DX Mail specialise in commemorative and local stamp designs. All 3 companies sell their stamps at the same price, but they don't share postboxes, so you have to find a postbox matching the type of stamp you bought. For parcels and heavier items, visit a post office.
  • When you ask for international stamps in shops, you will generally get given stamps from whichever company they happen to stock -- often Universal Mail or DX Mail stamps in the case of souvenir shops. So be sure to buy stamps you know you'll be able to post.
  • There are not that many post offices around outside the largest cities, but if you do come across one they carry a wide range of packing materials, including envelopes and boxes, Styrofoam peanuts, packing tape etc. You can help yourself to the packing materials, then pay for what you've used at the counter, at the same time as you pay for the postage. If you aren't sure how to pack or post something, the staff seem very ready to advise on the best way to send things. Internationally, you have the choice of Economy and Air Mail - the difference in pricing seems to be about 15-20%.

Eating and Drinking Tips

  • Water is frequently served automatically at no cost, so you might not need to order drinks. If it isn't served, just ask and they should be happy to bring you some.
  • Many restaurants and cafes impose a blanket surcharge on public holidays.
  • Even relatively cheap restaurants and cafes seem almost universally good.
  • The fillings in pies and sandwiches tends to be generous, so they make excellent snacks.
  • Food portions appear large by European standards, so if you're accustomed to ordering starters along with main dishes, you may want to think again
  • Most traditional menus tend to be meat-dominant
  • If you worry about that kind of thing, seafood may have previously been frozen, unless it explicitly says "fresh" on the menu.
  • If you're looking for fish and chips, it's probably on the menu in most restaurants, but it may be "disguised" under a fancier name.
  • Fruit and vegetables generally have seasons here

Driving Observations

  • There are no traffic lights in many parts of the South Island, and traffic is extremely light.
  • The speed limit is 100 km/h on open roads, and usually drops to 50km/h (or less where signposted) in towns and villages
  • A mobile phone may be a good idea for longer journeys, especially in the South Island, as there are large distances between towns and in some places traffic is very light
  • Stay alert for one lane bridges, since their priority often varies
  • Be careful that you don't get lulled into a semi-stupor by the extremely long lengths of flat, empty road, as a sharp bend or a flock of sheep could be just moments away further down the road.
  • Some of the roads can be very tiring since they involve long sections of hairpin curves winding around mountain passes
  • Don't be tempted to look around at the (frequently glorious) scenery, especially on the one lane bridges, since the clearances to either side are very narrow for larger vehicles.
  • Parking is readily available, and generally free outside larger cities. Most scenic points, no matter how minor, have at the minimum a few spaces off the road for cars to pull over, and many have real carparks.
  • Don't automatically expect roadside cafes, or indeed much of anything other than vegetation, between larger towns
  • Don't be phased by the lack of signposts - keep an eye on the distance you've traveled with half an eye on the speedometer and clock as you're not going to get much external feedback on how far you've travelled.
  • The roads are not actively lit at night down most of the West Coast, though there are reflective posts every few meters.
  • During the busy season, a large proportion of the traffic takes the form of larger motorhomes and caravans, so be on the lookout for slower moving vehicles, especially on blind corners.
  • Smaller level crossings may have no barriers, and sometimes the road and railway track may even merge for short periods.
  • Big-city dwellers unused to that sort of thing will be startled by the level of roadkill.
  • Because of the terrain, you can literally go from blinding sunshine to thick fog (and back again) in a matter of minutes.
  • Out of town hamlets "share" the address of larger towns, so be sure to check exactly where a given destination is before you set off, as it may be many kilometres from where you expect.