We've interviewed tourists from around the world, and compiled these top 7 things New Zealand tourists wish they'd known before visiting, to help you on your visit. Some things are exactly what you'd expect, while others might surprise you.
#1 - WEATHER
The term "four seasons in one day" is a line often used to describe the weather in New Zealand, and was even made into a popular song by local band Crowded House in the 90's.
The weather in New Zealand can change rapidly due to its maritime climate. At any time of year you need to be prepared for all weather conditions. It is not unusual for the weather to change throughout the day, all day, every day. New Zealand is located in the middle of what is known as "The Roaring Forties". The prevailing winds hit the country from a west-to-east direction year round and is usually the direction the weather comes from. There is a mild temperature nationwide throughout the year, with summer being warmer than winter.
Whatever the Mother Nature brings during your visit, never let it dampen your enthusiasm - some of the more spectacular locales in New Zealand are considered even more spectacular when waterfalls run thick with rain, and landscapes appear wonderfully mysterious when shrouded in mist or fog.
#2 - SIZE
Though it may seem dwarfed by Australia, don't be fooled. New Zealand has the 9th largest coastline in the world, and travellers can spend an age simply getting from one town to the next.
Tourists often struggle to see all the sights they wish to during their trip simply because the sights are spread out all across the country. Locations that appear close on the map can actually be quite far away due to extreme terrain and winding roads. Most of New Zealand is countryside, so be sure to fill up the petrol tank whenever you get a chance, and allow plenty of time between destinations - the scenery will demand you take a couple of stops along your road trip!
#3 - DRIVING
Driving in New Zealand is like anywhere. You must wear your seatbelt when you are driving and you need to hold a current, valid driver's licence. You may also need an international driving permit or a translation of your licence if it is not in English. Obviously, you are not allowed to drive while drunk, and the driver can't use their phone while driving.
New Zealand drives on the left side of the road. So if you're not from Australia, Japan, Ireland, the United Kingdom, South Africa, India, Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore this probably means everything is going to be reversed for you. To help you out, some intersections have signs pointing to which side of the road you should be on. A useful guide is that the driver should be closest to the centre line markings on the road. If there is a passenger seat between you and the centre of a two way street, pull over and reorient yourself.
#4 - UNUSUAL ROAD SIGNS
Most road signs are self explanatory but there are a few you may not have come across.
A one-lane bridge has a specific set of signs and rules in order to be crossed safely. If the large arrow points ahead, then you have the right of way, and as long as nobody is already on the bridge, then you may cross. Obviously, if someone is already crossing the bridge, then you've got to wait for them as they have nowhere else to go. If the small arrow points ahead, then you do NOT have the right of way, and it is your responsibility to wait until all oncoming cars have crossed. A couple of bridges in New Zealand also share the road with trains. As you can imagine, the train always has the right of way. Half of the 1,500 railway crossings in New Zealand have alarm bells. However, for the other half, you need to slow down and check it's clear before proceeding. There are around 24 collisions per year between trains and motor vehicles on public road crossings in New Zealand.
Roundabouts are a round intersection that works a bit like a flowing 4 way stop. Since all the traffic moves in a circle, you need to check to your right to determine when it is safe to proceed. When turning left, indicate left and turn as you would at a normal intersection. If you are turning right, indicate right as you ever the roundabout clockwise, then indicate left as you prepare to exit. If you are going straight, only indicate when you are about to exit. In the case of a two lane roundabout, both lanes can often go straight but you'll need to be in the right lane if you are turning right, or in the left lane if you are turning left.
#5 - MAKING PURCHASES
It's always a good idea to carry some local currency in cash when you travel, so you'll need to organise some New Zealand Dollars either before, or upon arrival. The value of the New Zealand Dollar fluctuates constantly against other currencies, so it's best to check the rate with your local bank or online at the time of conversion.
Obviously, Australian Dollars and US Dollars are not accepted at most locations so you'll need to exchange these in order to use them for every day pruchases.
Transactions involving cash are straight forward and as you'd expect. If a merchant asks you "will you be paying by Credit? or by EFTPOS?" the answer is a little bit trickier. EFTPOS is everywhere in New Zealand, but its incompatible with most overseas debit and credit card pin systems. You are welcome to try using your debit card or credit card pin number, but don't be too surprised if it doesn't work. The most reliable method is to use your credit card and when asked "pin or sign?", you should choose "sign" and press "enter" on the terminal, then simply sign your receipt. Many small cafes, takeaway shops, and small town shops only accept EFTPOS or cash. Your credit card will not work with them and you will need to carry some cash if you hope to buy anything off the beaten track, solved by a visit to the nearest ATM/Cash Machine/hole in the wall.
#6 - BUYING FOOD & TIPPING
New Zealand food is an essential ingredient in any New Zealand experience. As a nation surrounded by the sea, we're spoilt with fresh seafood year-round, and many essentialkiwi dishes make the most of this. We're also keen farmers well-known for our world-class lamb, beef and dairy.
Grocery stores in New Zealand are like those in most Western countries. They stock staple foods such as coffee, cereal, noodles, eggs, bread, beer and wine. Shopping at a supermarket can also be far less expensive than buying the same items at a dairy or a convenience store. When paying at a petrol station or grocery store, you may be asked if you have "a coupon" or "Flybuys". If you don't know what they are, you don't have them, so just say "no".
When eating out in New Zealand, note that tipping is not mandatory and it is not rude to simply pay the total amount stated on the bill. Tipping is not expected any where in New Zealand, but in some towns that thrive on tourism you may see a tip jar at the counter.
#7 - SPENDING MORE TIME
Obviously, the best way to see more of New Zealand is to stay longer! The number one wish for tourists is that they could have spent more time taking the country in.
Many visitors make the mistake of assuming they can see all New Zealand's best sites in a week. Without having a private jet, no spare time and a very good local expert, this is close to impossible. In reality, you'd be lucky to see all of New Zealand in 3 or 4 weeks. Many visitors return again and again, focusing on different parts of the country each time. Even many of us that have lived our entire lives here, still find pockets to discover in our own backyard and are surprised with what they find as the countryside is so diverse.
Instead of trying to squeeze in too much over a short time frame, we suggest focusing on fewer destinations and really getting under the skin of a place. One method that works quite well is to have an active day at a destination, then on alternate days travel to your next destination, stopping en route at various locations along the way. With a little local advice and insight you may be able to fit in a few more experiences than you realise, so when you're planning, make sure you come through to experts like the team at Time 2 Go! We are here to help, and will tailor-make each trip to specifically suit you.
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