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I visited New Zealand for 8 days in April 2016. Despite the short trip, I had a full schedule and packed in tons of activities to make the most of my experience.
In this “Ultimate Travel Guide to New Zealand,” I am going to give you an overview of the city, and provide travel tips and recommendations for things like culture, attractions, food, nightlife and more. Everything you read is based off my own experiences.
General Thoughts on New Zealand
If I had one word to describe New Zealand, it would be “perfect.”
Everything I had heard about New Zealand prior to my trip – from the surreal landscape to the friendliest people on earth — is 100% accurate.
Because of New Zealand’s remote location, it was the last land settled by humans. The country consists of 14 total islands, although the two main islands are the North and the South island. The country is about the size of California, but only has a population of 4 million people. It is geographically located deep in the Southern Hemisphere – there are only 2 countries that extend further south than New Zealand (Chile and Argentina). New Zealand’s varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, are due to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. Additionally, there are 14 natural parks that cover more than 1/3 of all the land.
My trip to NZ began in Wellington, and then I ventured South to visit Queenstown and Fiordland National Park, before heading back up North to Auckland and The Hobbiton Movie Set.
Here’s a map of my travels around NZ:
My first impressions after arriving in Wellington (the capital city) were:
– shockingly clean
– laid back & relaxed
– breathtakingly beautiful.
It’s hard to argue against New Zealand having the most astounding natural beauty of any country on earth. I would put Switzerland and Norway up there at the top of the list, but I think New Zealand takes the cake.
It’s kind of like being in a dream. You really can’t go anywhere in NZ without being awe struck and questioning if this is actually real life. I’m talking about green farmland, high mountains, pine trees and some of the freshest air I’ve ever smelt.
For brief history lesson – Around the year 1300, Polynesians settled in the islands and developed a distinctive Māori culture. In the year 1642, a Dutch explorer named Abel Tasman, became the first European to sight New Zealand. About 200 years later, in 1830, representatives of the British Crown and Māori Chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi, making New Zealand an official British colony. Today, the majority of NZ’s population is of European descent — the largest minorities are tha Māori followed by Asian (mostly Chinese & Indian) and Pacific Islanders.
New Zealand is a developed economy that is dominated by exporting dairy products, meat, wine and the inflow of tourism. In fact, farming and agriculture is a huge part of Kiwi culture. Sheep are the largest number of livestock — with about 30 million of them scattered around the farmland.
New Zealand is NOT cheap.
It’s one of the most expensive countries I’ve ever visited (along with Norway, Switzerland and Australia). Try $15 for a hamburger, $4 for a bottle of water and $35 for a 10 minute taxi ride.
That being said, you can travel cheaply if you are a wise money spender. There are plenty of hostels available in all of the cities, and you can go to the supermarket to buy and cook your own meals… But that is up to you.
If you like outdoor activities and sports, then New Zealand is a place for you. Some fun things you can do are bungee jumping, Parasailing, skydiving, and cruising around Fiordland National Park in the South. However, expect to pay about $250 for each activity.
A few more random things to take note of – New Zealand people and culture is referred to as “kiwis” — not because of the fruit, but rather a “kiwi” is their national bird. You can refer to anything “New Zealand-esque” as Kiwi.
Given that NZ is in the Southern Hemisphere, all of the seasons are reversed. Christmas is in the hottest part of summer! Also, cars drive on the left side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right side.
Public transport isn’t very common (there is no metro), so you have to go by bus or plane. I would recommend flying domestically between the big cities (Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch, Queenstown) as the flights are cheap and short. Check out Jetstar and Air New Zealand for the best rates.
The wifi connection around NZ is surprisingly poor, and I was frequently struggling to get online. Most of the time, I had to pay for it ($10 per day) and the connection was still bad. Even in the Auckland airport, they don’t offer free wifi! Wtf!
Alright, now it’s time to dive into some quick facts:
Quick Facts about New Zealand:
– Population: 4.5 million
– Language: English & Māori
– Currency: New Zealand Dollar (NZD)
– Wellington is the southernmost capital city in the world
– Only 5% of NZ’s population is human- the rest are animals
– New Zealand was the last habitable land mass to be populated.
– No part of the country more than 128km (79 miles) from the sea
– NZ is tied with Denmark for the least corrupt country in the world
– NZ is the sailing capital of the world — and Auckland is called “The City of Sails”
– The filming of Lord of the Rings & Hobbiton pumped around $200 million into the country’s economy.
People and Culture
Almost all Kiwis I met were friendly, laid back and funny. They wanted to get to know me, and they went out of their way to show me a fun time.
As descendants from Europeans, you can expect a thick (but awesome) accent. It is somewhat similar to Australian accents, but with their own twist. I enjoyed listening to the people talk.
When compared to their neighboring Aussie friends, I found Kiwis to be a bit more reserved, down to earth and less sarcastic. Maybe it was just from my experience and the people I met, but I got a sense that Kiwis are more laid back.
You can see what I’m talking about if you walk into any pub in New Zealand, and then walk into a pub in Australia…
I also found the people in New Zealand to be surprisingly diverse. There are a lot people from Asian descent that I noticed who either grew up there (and have thick kiwi accents) or came there and never left (which I don’t blame them).
In addition to the locals, I met a lot of foreigners who are on a one or two year working visas. French, Brazilian, German, American and loads more. Apparently, it’s really easy to get a NZ visa if you want to work or study here, so I’d check it out if you are interested!
Regardless of race, gender and ethnicity — every single person that I came across in New Zealand was extremely kind and welcoming, and it really made want to come back for another visit.
With only 4 million people and so much land, there is no hustle and bustle anywhere (except for maybe Auckland). Everything is chilled out and peaceful! It’s like a get away retreat if you’re feeling stressed out. All of the cities are more like towns, with a strong community feeling.
New Zealand is clean — both the streets and the natural environment. No pollution, no smog, no trash on the ground.
Sports are popular in NZ – with the most popular being Rugby and Cricket. The All Blacks are a famous rugby team and they have won many world champion matches. Check out a game If you get a chance!
Things to do in New Zealand
I don’t even know where to start with this section! New Zealand is known as the outdoor sports capital of the world, and is home to many extreme sports and activities – especially for you adrenaline junkies!
Here are some of the top things to do in NZ:
Bungee jumping: New Zealand is home to the “original bungee jump” in Queenstown, and there are over a dozen jumps that you can do around the country. I bungee jumped in Queenstown (for the 5th time in my life) with a company called AJ Hackett and it was a wonderful experience! They are very professional, safe, and they take good care of their guests. I recommend checking them out for the best jumping experience in NZ (especially if you are a first timer).
Trekking: New Zealand is a country made for trekking. You can pretty much go anywhere you choose, as there are trekking paths that cover most regions of the country. The best trekking I’ve heard about in the South Island, around Queenstown. I met some people who trekked the entire country (north to south) and it convinced me to do it next time!
Hobbiton: Given the gorgeous landscape of New Zealand, the film sets for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were both shot around the country. I took a guided tour with Great Sights to explore “Hobbiton” which is exactly the place where Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit) lived. You can freely walk around the area and go inside the hobbit holes, drink a beer inside the actually bar they used in the movie, and learn some insider information about how they filmed the movies.
Waitomo Caves: The Waitomo Caves, or Glow Worm Caves, are another popular attraction in New Zealand, and you can visit on the same tour with Great Sights. The tour is about 1 hour, with a guide, and he will take you deep down underground to experience bright neon-colored worms lighting up the ceiling. It’s bizarre.
Fiords: The entire South Western part of New Zealand is known as “Fiordland National Park” – AKA the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen. A Fiord is a narrow, steep cliff formed by glaciers on sea level. I took an all-day tour with Jucy Cruise Tours, and it was the highlight of my trip!
Jucy Tours picks you up in Queenstown at about 7AM in the morning, and they drive you for about 4 hours through beautiful farmland until you reach the Milford Sound fiord. Then, you go on a 2 hour boat ride around the fiords (lunch included) before heading back to Queenstown at around 7:30PM. I highly recommend it, you cannot miss out on the Fiords of New Zealand!
Skydiving: If you want to go skydiving, then New Zealand is a great place to test your limits! There are places to jump all over the country, with the most popular being in Queenstown and Auckland. There are many good and reputable skydiving companies to go through in New Zealand.
City Sightseeing: The biggest cities in New Zealand are Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. There are loads of things to do in all cities, and I would give them each a full-day to explore around.
Food in New Zealand
Kiwi food is similar to Australian, British and American food. You can expect to see a lot of meat, burgers, salads, soups — and did I say meat? Lamb, beef, chicken, sheep, veal and more area always on the menu.
Fish and chips is a must-eat (just as you would in the UK or Australia) – and you have to get your hands on a meat pie! These are famous pastries cooked with meat and vegetables or cheese in the middle. They are native to Australia and NZ and they are so damn good.
With the exception of meat pies, I didn’t find a meal at a restaurant in New Zealand for under $20. It’s just how it is. But the quality is great!
Nightlife in New Zealand
New Zealand isn’t known to be much of a party destination, but Kiwis do enjoy drinking and having a good time. Local Kiwi beer is really tasty — my favorite was Badger Beer!
The extent of the nightlife takes place in pubs and bars scattered around the major cities. Kiwis can get quite rowdy for a sporting event (rugby game) so that might be a good way to experience local culture and have some fun.
You won’t find any big nightclubs and music festivals — but that’s alright, because you shouldn’t go to New Zealand just to party!
Where to Stay in New Zealand?
New Zealand has a variety of accommodations that can suit your budget needs. I stayed some Air Bnbs and in some hotels. For the most comprehensive list of top hotles in New Zealand, click this link!
Thanks for reading my post about New Zealand, and I hope you get the chance to visit this amazing country! Please comment below with any questions and I’ll answer you 🙂