New Zealand travel guide: what you need to know
Best time to go
There really is no wrong time to visit New Zealand. Despite what we thin-skinned Aussies consider 'cold', New Zealand's climate is for the most part quite
mild. Check the average temperature and rainfall for the
region you're travelling to.
The weather varies throughout the country. The North Island has a sub-tropical climate with similar temperatures to southern areas of Australia, while
the South Island can be much colder.
Summer is the peak tourist season when temperatures are warm enough for beach days but not as uncomfortably hot as in many parts of Australia.
New Zealand doesn't experience the summer downpours that we're used to in Australia. They get most of their rain during winter and spring.
Central Otago, on the south island, experiences the greatest temperature extremes, ranging from -10°C in winter to 40°C in summer.
It's possible to hike (or tramp, as the Kiwis call it) all year round in most areas, but you should always check the weather and advice for the specific
region you're travelling to.
The winter ski season runs from June to October.
Outside of the ski resorts, winter is the low season, when you may find a cosy getaway for a good price.
Roads can sometimes be icy or even blocked by snow during winter, particularly in mountainous regions.
Australian and New Zealand school holidays fall at similar times, but the exact dates differ so it's worth comparing calendars. If you need to travel
during the Australian school holidays, it can still be possible to (narrowly) avoid the NZ holiday crowds by choosing your dates well.
New Zealand and Australia share many of the same public holidays (Christmas, New Year, Easter, ANZAC Day) but some dates differ. Waitangi Day is a
national holiday on February 6. The Queen's Birthday holiday falls on the first Monday in June (in most Australian states and territories it falls on the
second Monday in June). Labour Day falls on the fourth Monday in October (in Australia it's either the first Monday in October, or various dates in March
and May, depending on the state or territory).
Other than the 'fish and chips' vs 'fush and chups' debate, it would be easy to assume that New Zealand's culture is pretty much the same as Australia's,
however there are a few differences worth noting.
Maori culture is integral to New Zealand's culture. Close to 15% of the population is Maori, and their customs and language are taught in schools and
practised in parliament, business and day-to-day life.
Many Maori words have integrated with the New Zealand English language. For example, 'kia ora' is a standard way of saying hello. If you're interested in
learning more, see this list of "100 Maori words every New Zealander should know".
Pronunciation of the Maori language, particularly place names, can be tricky. If you're asking for directions to
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauaotamateaurehaeaturipukapihimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuaakitanarahu (yes, that really is a place!), follow this advice from tourism.net.nz: "Maori consists of five vowel sounds: a e i o u
('a' as in 'car', 'e' as in 'egg', 'i' like the 'ee' in 'tee', 'u' like an 'o' in 'to'). There are eight consonants in Maori similar to those in English -
'h', 'k', 'm', 'n', 'p', 'r', 't', and 'w'. There are also two different consonants - 'wh' and 'ng'. Many Maori pronounce the 'wh' sound similar to our
'f'. The 'ng' is similar to our own 'ng' sound in a word like 'sing', except that in Maori, words can start with 'ng'."
There are a few expressions that differ between Australia and New Zealand, and although it's very unlikely you'll have trouble making yourself
understood, it's worth knowing that a jandal is a thong, a chilly bin is an esky, and a dairy is a corner store.
Puns about sheep might not go down as well as you'd expect. Most New Zealanders are not amused by the age-old Aussie joke.
Tipping isn't expected, but it is appreciated. Tip at the same rate as you would in Australia.
Health and safety
New Zealand and Australia have a reciprocal health care agreement, meaning that
Australian travellers can access New Zealand's public health service in an emergency, and vice versa. You'll still have to pay some fees for treatment and
medication (you'll be charged the same amount as a New Zealand resident) and it's important to remember the agreement isn't a replacement for travel insurance – which is always a necessity. Remember to take your Medicare card with you – you'll need it, along with your passport, to prove that you're
Tap water is safe to drink in New Zealand and the standard of hygiene and food safety is high.
If you're hiking or travelling to remote areas, make sure authorities and friends/relatives know of your plans. Be prepared for bad weather and make sure
you have the appropriate equipment and knowledge of first aid.
New Zealand has a higher road death toll than Australia. Certain roads can be particularly treacherous in wet or icy weather, and in mountainous areas.
More about driving in New Zealand.
New Zealand sometimes experiences severe seismic activity. The 2011 Christchurch earthquake claimed 185 lives and levelled much of the city centre.
Safety campaigns in New Zealand advise you to 'drop, cover and hold' - drop to the ground, take cover and hold on - in the event of an earthquake. See getthru.govt.nz for more specific advice on what to do if you are indoors, outdoors, driving
a car etc.
For the latest advice on risks including adverse weather, natural disasters and potential outbreaks of disease visit smartraveller.gov.au.
Do I need vaccinations to travel to New Zealand?
Laws and watchouts
18 is the minimum drinking age in New Zealand.
Drugs, including marijuana, are illegal. The punishment for importing drugs is up to 8 to 12 years in prison.
Using physical force to discipline children, including smacking, is illegal.
There are no laws against homosexuality. Same sex marriage was legalised in 2013.
The blood alcohol limit for drivers under the age of 20 is zero. For drivers over the age of 20 it's 0.05%.
Accident victims cannot sue a third party for compensation. Instead, the Accident Compensation Commission (ACC) covers the cost of medical care within
New Zealand. This means it is essential that visitors to New Zealand are covered by travel insurance for the cost of ongoing treatment in their home
country as well as loss of income and disruptions to travel plans.
Motor vehicle insurance is not compulsory in New Zealand, because of the ACC compensation fund.
For road rules, see Driving in New Zealand.
New Zealand's crime rate is similar to Australia's, so you should exercise the same degree of caution as you would at home when it comes to protecting
your belongings and your personal safety.
Certain areas of cities may be best avoided at night. Ask a local for advice.
Bank card skimming and credit card fraud is a problem in New Zealand, as it is in Australia. Keep an eye on your statement and let the bank know if you
see any unexplained transactions.
Be careful using free Wi-Fi hotspots. Follow these tips to keep your device safe from
hackers, and avoid doing internet banking on untrusted connections.
See our article about tourist traps for more advice on avoiding common scams while on holiday.
Making a complaint
New Zealand has consumer laws which protect foreign visitors, as well as citizens, from unfair treatment.
If you have a dispute with an accommodation provider, travel agent or tour operator, and you're unable to come to an agreement, raise the issue with
Tourism New Zealand at newzealand.com.
If your gripe is with any other New Zealand business, product or service, seek advice from the government's Consumer Affairs department at consumeraffairs.govt.nz (eg. see their tips on resolving disputes with car hire companies).
You can also seek advice from CHOICE's sister organisation, consumer.org.nz.
If your gripe is with an Australian or international tour operator, airline, or booking site, follow the usual procedures for making a complaint or
New Zealand dialling code: +64
(medical emergency advice): 0800 611 116
09 489 1510
Australian High Commission (embassy) – Wellington
72 Hobson Street, Thorndon, Wellington
+64 (0)4 473 6411
Facebook: Australia in New Zealand
Australian Consulate-General – Auckland
Level 7, Price Waterhouse Coopers Tower, 186–194 Quay St, Auckland
Phone (64 9) 921 8800
24-hour Australian Consular Emergency Centre:
+61 (0)2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 or SMS +61 421 269 080