Sorry to interrupt your day there, friend, but there’s something you need to know! New Zealand is incredibly beautiful and it should definitely be on every travel-lovers bucket list. It’s a place that’s rich with stunning sights, delicious food and lovely people. If you’ve ever thought of visiting this amazing place or if you’re already planning a trip to New Zealand, here are 34 things you should definitely know before you go.
1. It’s ridiculously beautiful
No, really though… it’s beautiful. When you get down south to areas like Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanaka you’ll be blown away by just how beautiful this part of the world is. There’s something earthy, magical and divine about it. It will take your breath away. Be sure to pack spare batteries and memory cards for your camera if you’re into photography, you’re going to need them.
2. You need to allow ‘photo time’ when you drive somewhere
Because of all this beauty, you’re going to want to stop to take photographs everywhere you go. If you’ve got places you need to be on time, always allow an extra 10 minutes to get there so you can stop at those picture-perfect spots you come across and take some photos.
3. The only thing that can kill you, is you
A very Australian thing to do in New Zealand is to constantly ask people what life-threatening creatures await you at your next destination. Example: “Are there sharks in Lake Wanaka? What about sea snakes? Crocodiles? Very small jellyfish that are almost invisible to the human eye and only show up in your most beautiful waterways at the very hottest times of the year? No? What about electric eels?” Ahhhh yea, they don’t have those things guys. You can ask people day in and day out but they don’t have snakes, spiders, bears, wild mountain lions, crocodiles, sharks or even irukandji jellyfish. The only things that can kill you are naturally occurring weather dangers like an avalanche and black ice or things you might cause like driving drunk or tired.
4. Don’t leave glass bottles full of water in your car overnight
“Woah, that’s really specific Phoebe, why’d you put that in this guide?” Because I’m an idiot and completely underestimated the cold. I left a glass bottle full of water in the hire-Yaris overnight and it got so cold that mofo froze and the water expanded and the glass bottle EXPLODED and then the glass and ice froze together in the centre console of the car with my USB stuck inside it. It was pretty much holding my USB captive in an icy, glassy prison. It was a rough morning for everyone.
5. Black ice is real and it’s terrifying
If you’re visiting in colder months and intend on hiring a car, you need to be aware that black ice is real and it is dangerous. What is it? It’s a thin layer of glazed ice on a surface, like a road, and it’s pretty much transparent which makes it difficult to spot. I recommend you do some reading on how to drive to black ice conditions before you go, like this helpful WikiHow guide here which also comes with some great images.
6. Giving way on single-lane bridges is a thing
Another important road-rule has to do with bridges. There are a large number of single lane bridges in New Zealand, so don’t just go barrelling up to any old bridge in your Yaris, expecting there to be enough room for you. There’s a sign in front of every bridge with a big black arrow and a small red arrow on it. Big black arrow has right of way, little red arrow must wait. You can read more about how to cross a one-lane bridge in New Zealand here.
7. You need to know how to put on snow chains and when
If you’re visiting in winter there’s a good chance you’re going to need to hire snow chains, especially if you plan on going to the ski fields or driving through some mountainous terrain. This means you also need to know how to put on snow chains and when. The good news is there will be a big sign along the road that will tell you when it’s time to put them on, the bad news is this particular spot is the #1 spot for fights between couples. It’s pretty funny. You can find out how to put on snow chains by watching this awesome video by the guys from Jucy Rentals:
8. You need your passport as proof to buy booze
Look, you should be okay if you go to a restaurant for lunch or dinner and order a pint of beer or a glass of wine, but if you’re going out and plan on getting into a bar or just want to buy a sixer at the supermarket, you’ll need your passport as a driver’s license won’t cut it.
9. Woolworths is called Countdown and they sell booze there
Don’t freak out but they sell booze at the supermarket and it’s some kind of wonderful. “Ahhhh, yea, just a loaf of bread, milk, eggs and ummm… I’ll take these 12 bottles of red wine too, thanks.” What a time to be alive! Coincidentally, if you’re from Australia you might get a bit weirded out when you see that Woolworths looks like Woolworths, but is actually called Countdown. Try to remain calm. Everything will be okay.
10. You may need to defrost your windscreen
If you’re there in winter and realise your windscreen is covered in frost and you need to get it off, ASAP, you can:
- Use a credit card (or less important card, like a library card) to scrape off the frost, then put the heater on at MAX everything and wait, or
- Heat up some water inside your hotel room, run outside and put the warm (not boiling) water on the windscreen.
11. Customs are tough, like Australia
If you’re an Aussie you won’t notice that customs in NZ is pretty tough, but if you’re from elsewhere it may seem a bit over the top. Here’s the deal with that, in Australia and New Zealand we’re really proud of our natural flora and fauna and have an awesome team of border control officers who work really, really hard to preserve the natural, historical beauty of our countries. If these guys seem a bit tough and confiscate your dirty shoes, just remember it’s for a good reason.
12. You don’t need a GPS
No GPS, no worries mate! We didn’t hire one and we drove from Christchurch to Queenstown on the verbal directions of a friendly local. It’s really easy to find things in New Zealand and if you do get lost, you can ask a local for help and they’ll point you in the right direction. We also pre-loaded google maps on our phones each day before we left the hotel as a back-up because google maps still works without wifi as long as it has been loaded.
Watch: our ‘Ridiculous Winter Fun in New Zealand’ video
13. Everyone is super friendly and helpful
If you get horribly lost, can’t put on your snow chains or fall over in the snow and hurt your butt, you’ll have no trouble getting help or sympathy from a local. The people are incredibly kind and friendly, provided you are too, of course.
14. Weather can change on a dime
You’re going to need to pack a range of clothes because it can be beautiful and warm in the sun then freezing cold on the mountain. It can also rain outta nowhere, so when you’re packing be sure to keep this in mind.
15. The internet isn’t the best
If New Zealand has one downfall it’s that its internet is pretty crappy, but I feel like that’s because the scenery is so beautiful… instead of checking your Facebook or looking at emails, you should be outside enjoying the beauty of this place.
16. Kiwi’s are proud of their New Zealandness and they’ll let you know!
When you go to a restaurant, corner store or supermarket one thing you’ll notice is Kiwi’s love to use as much local produce as possible. On a lot of packaging, you’ll find words like ‘100% New Zealand fruit used’ or ‘water bottled at the source here in New Zealand’. It’s pretty cool to know that what you’re eating and drinking comes from New Zealand and you can literally taste the difference.
17. There really is a LOT of livestock getting around
Sheep. Lots of sheep. Everywhere.
18. You don’t need to tip
Tipping in restaurants or at bars isn’t necessary, but if you think a server has done an amazing job be sure to tell their manager. Pay it forward!
19. Fuel is expensive
If you’re coming from Australia you might notice the price of fuel is quite high, just be sure to account for that in your pre-travel budget planning (i.e. less post-breakfast bagels equals more regular unleaded at the pump. Yay.)
20. Kiwi’s are environmentally conscious and you should be too
You’ll see lots of advertising around being environmentally friendly so make sure you do your part and recycle, reduce and re-use!
21. Burgers are all the rage
There’s no lack of great burger places around the place, with the iconic Fergburger in Queenstown being just one of them. The locals also recommend Red Star as a good one, so be sure to try as many delicious Kiwi burgers as possible.
22. There’s no shortage of great coffee
If you’re a coffee addict (me), don’t worry, your friendly NZ baristas have you covered with some seriously great coffee.
23. You definitely need thermal underwear. Good ones.
Do not underestimate the importance of great thermal underwear. Yes, I’m talking to you. If you don’t own some and you’re visiting New Zealand in the cooler/freezing cold months, then you absolutely need to get some. They are the foundation of any and every warm outfit you intend to conceive. I got some really good quality ones from Kathmandu and loved them. I wore them every. single. day.
24. Buy or borrow great snow gear
If you live in a warm climate like I do here in Brisbane, there’s a really good chance you don’t have any snow gear. If you’re visiting NZ in winter, you’ll need it. There’s no way around it, you’re going to need at least one really, really warm coat that’s waterproof on the outside and toasty warm on the inside. If you can afford to, buy a coat, ski pants and at least one very warm wool beanie, gloves and a scarf. If budget is a factor, ask around and see if you can borrow some gear off a friend or family member for your trip.
25. Don’t worry about how crappy you look on the snow field
You can try your best to channel snow-bunny chic but I’m telling you now you’ll come down off that mountain with chapped lips, a mix of white and red flushed skin, you’ll be sweaty and smelly and your hair will be wet and ratty. Pfft, who cares! It’s a lot of fun up there and you’ll have the time of your life. So try to avoid looking directly at all the really beautiful Scandinavian ski goddesses up there and focus, instead, on how much fun you’re having.
26. You don’t need to be a professional snow person to go to the snow fields
I didn’t know how to ski and didn’t have any gear but still rocked up to Treble Cone ready to shred. That’s right. Don’t think you have to know what you’re doing to go up there, just head up with your warm gear on, hire some ski equipment, get a lesson and spend the day on the learner hill. It’s so much fun and, honestly, the views are out of this world.
27. You can’t take a bad photo
You just can’t. Unless, of course, it’s one of those accidental photos you take with your front camera where you look like a wrinkly thumb and immediately begin scrolling through your photos to check you do not, in fact, look like that all the time.
28. Kiwi’s are considerate drivers and you should be too
If you’re driving along in a sardine tin on wheels (me) then it’s polite to pull over to the left when it’s safe and let the line of 4WD’s behind you to pass. Kiwi’s, in general, are considerate drivers, everyone gives way, nobody road rages you and it’s all pretty chilled out. Make sure you fit into this vibe
29. Small business is King
I found there were a lot more small businesses with lots of people tending to go for the entrepreneurial option by starting their own business. That ranges to everything from small, boutique hotels and shops to restaurants, sightseeing tours, farms and vineyards. You’ll find no shortage of hard-working Kiwi’s who are just trying to follow their passion and do something they love.
30. There isn’t too much fast food
I noticed a distinct lack of fast food in areas like Wanaka and Queenstown, there seemed to be a lot more gourmet burger shops and restaurants instead. It’s really refreshing and nice to see the focus is on local, fresh produce, rather than mass produced ‘beef’ patties that don’t go off. ever. That’s just weird.
31. Pinot Noir is all the rage
You should sample as many different kinds of wine as possible in New Zealand because it is seriously amazing. In the south, around Queenstown and Wanaka, you’ll find Pinot Noir is everywhere and it’s very high quality and very enjoyable. If you can, definitely do a winery tour whether it be self-guided or with a group. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow, so it pays to do a bit of research before you visit the region so you can appreciate how cool it is that there’s so much great Pinot Noir available in NZ, so read this.
32. The flights in and out can be terrifying due to turbulence
If you’re flying in or out of Christchurch or Queenstown there’s a pretty good chance you’ll experience turbulence. It’s just one of those parts of the world that has a bumpy ride, so prepare yourself accordingly if you’re a nervous flyer.
Watch: our ‘Is this the best way to see New Zealand’ video
33. Tourist traps? What tourist traps?
I asked the locals what the main tourist traps to watch out for in New Zealand are. They couldn’t give me an answer! This tells you something, guys, the Kiwi’s just want you to come and stay, have a great time and then go and tell your friends about it so they can enjoy it too. You won’t find scammers or pickpockets trying to get at you, you won’t find any dodgy tourist attractions just there to fleece you… in fact, the best sights in NZ are free!
34. You won’t do it all
If you visit in winter you’ll want to come back in summer. If you visit in summer you’ll want to come back in winter. Unless you stay for a good few months there’s no way you’ll see and do all the things you want to, especially when you keep getting great tips from the locals. Just do what you can and plan to come back again.
Other resources I love
- This Touring Map of New Zealand, from the official Tourism Board, is absolutely awesome
- Lisa of the Wandering Lens has some great resources on where and how to photograph New Zealand
- Mindy of Wings of a Feather lived in Queenstown for quite a while and her Instagram is littered with NZ inspiration
- Jaharn of Mister Weekender has amazing photographs and general NZ inspiration on her blog
- Liz of Young Adventuress went to New Zealand and never left, her blog is jam packed with things to inspire
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.