New Zealand - Aotearoa
Having come from New Zealand, you would expect I would know a bit about the place,
but shamefully I don't know as much as I should. It's that age old problem really,
you live in a place, and take it for granted that you can see and do what you want,
whenever you want. But it is only when you leave you begin to realise you saw very
little of what that place had to offer.
So is my relationship with New Zealand, and it is only now I live overseas I can truely appreciate what I missed out on, and now I have returned to play tourist.
On past visits, it has been only about seeing the family, but I still have taken a few photos of what I see as home - Dunedin. Regrettably I have not spent time in the North Island since I was young, so I can't offer any info there, but in the next few months I hope to have covered here most of what the South Island has to offer.
In January I returned, and went on a road trip around the lower/central South Island, with video and still cameras in hand. At last I was able to see more of what I took for granted all this time. And it is these experiences I will share with you here ...
Areas of interest
General Info about visiting New Zealand
A number of airlines fly to and from NZ on a regular basis, depending where you are flying from. Mostly they fly into Auckland and Christchurch, although some also fly into Wellington. Additionally the budget carrier Freedom Air flies from Australia's east coast cities into smaller airports like Dunedin and Hamilton.
The national carrier is Air New Zealand (budget carrier Freedom Air is a subsidary), and Air NZ is currently a member of the Star Alliance. Unfortunately this may soon cease as Qantas is set to take up a shareholding in the company, and the are part of the One World scheme. Qantas also fly into NZ from Australia on a regular basis.
Singapore Airlines flies regularly from Singapore into both Christchurch and Auckland, making a connection from almost anywhere in the world to NZ an easy possibility. Check with other airlines as to whether or when they fly into NZ.
Check out our airline ratings page for more info on who is good to fly with.
There are four main options for getting around New Zealand. They are plane, train, bus, and rental car. For land operated services, don't be worried about getting between the South and North Islands, as there are regular ferry services connecting Picton and Wellington (they take vehicles). During summer there is also a high speed service operating.
Plane: Air New Zealand and Origin Pacific are the two main domestic carriers within New Zealand, with other smaller regional carriers here and there. Virgin Blue suggest they are exploring the possibility of starting up.
Bus: There are regular coach services between all the major centres, and of course making stops where needed along the way. The good news is that buses still go to the destinations the trains don't. On many routes you also have a choice of providers and service styles (from a proper coach down to a minibus).
There are also plenty of tour packages available around the country, for those who wish to be guided by people who know the places you see.
Rental Car: There is a large number of rental car companies to choose from, and their names don't always mean what they say (a name suggesting low prices may in fact be one of the most expensive, and a name suggesting old uncared for cars may have a reasonably modern fleet). It definitely pays to shop around when looking for a rental car, but the variety is good with everything from small around town cars up to fully equipped campervans.
Given the size of New Zealand, and the amount of things to stop any see between most destinations, I highly recommend a rental car as the way to go if you are in a position to do so as it just gives you so much more freedom to explore. Pricing options include per kilometre and unlimited kilometer plans.
If you are driving in New Zealand there are a couple of things you need to know.
Despite the roads being in reasonable condition around the main tourist areas, many are a full of unexpected tight corners. Whilst the main roads (State Highway 1) is fairly good in respect to warning signs and recommended speeds for corners, many of the roads frequented by tourists can be found lacking in such signs - a classic example is the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound, where a couple of minutes drive after the Homer Tunnel the warning signs disappear completely - this road is almost exclusively used by tourists and tour buses. Also, as most rental cars are a bit lacking in the handling department, take the recommended maximum speeds on corners at their word - or sometimes even 5kmh slower.
The other warning sounds so simple and obvious, but it is apparantly a major cause of tourist's accidents in NZ. If you are used to driving on the right hand side of the road (ie a left-hand drive), don't forget when taking off after stopping somewhere that in New Zealand we drive on the left!!! To help remind you arrows are now appearing on the road near many rest areas.
Also remember if you are driving long distances to take a break regularly - you don't want to lose concentration while at the wheel (again simple and obvious).
Train: In the South Island, train services have been cut back dramatically over the last few years. About all that is left now is a few scenic services here and there. The recent demise of the Southerner brings to an end the ability to travel the full length of the country by train. It is a shame to me because you always get a different view from a train than you do from the road.
The good news about the closure of the other services is that some of the areas the tracks have been removed from have been converted into cycleways for mountain bikes, offering more gentle climbs than on the road, and of course you don't have to worry about the traffic.
Services offered in the North Island are said to be fairly regular, and I think are largely unaffected by closures of whole lines.
Prices vary throughout the country depnding on what you are buying.
Accommodation: Reasonably priced with a full range from backpackers (hostels) to top of the line hotels in most popular areas.
Food: I would say moderately priced - much in line with Australia after you take the exchange rate into account. The main problem with eating out in the main centres is simply choosing where to go for your meal. Really popular tourist areas can bump up the price though, even at supermarkets.
Travel: A little overpriced, both for metro and country services.
The population of New Zealand is made up largely of pakeha - that is people of european (mostly british) descent. The native people of New Zealand are the Maori, who named the country Aotearoa meaning "the land of the long white cloud". Pacific Islanders also have a strong presence here. There are also people of all cultures from all around the world, as New Zealand generally tries to be a welcoming nation.
I strongly suggest trying to learn at least a little about Maori culture whilst you are there, as it is little understood by the majority of people, but from what I have seen is very interesting. Unfortunately when I went through school we weren't taught a great deal about Maori culture (it was introduced more to the curriculam after I finished school), and I now regret not trying to learn more independantly.
The primary language of NZ is english.
Water: Tap Water throughout the country is generally safe to drink, although in my home town of Dunedin, and some areas of the other main centres, I would recommend getting bottled water for now (to be on the safe side). An alternative in Dunedin is filling up bottles yourself for free at the Speights Brewery, as it comes straight from a fresh underground spring.
For more information, go to:100% Pure New Zealand
NZ AA Tourism Page
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NZ Youth Hostel Association