Quick Notes about New Zealand
- Drive on the left side of the road.
- For light switches, up is off and down is on.
- Power plugs are the same as Australian.
- Use the “Credit” option when you pay for things with American cards.
- Speed is km/h, not MPH; Liquid is ml, not ounces; Weight is kilograms, not pounds.
- New Zealand McDonalds sucks as much as American McDonalds.
- Free public WiFi doesn’t exist; it always costs a few bucks.
- Seasons are opposite the U.S. (Winter is Summer, Fall is Spring, etc)
Top 10 Things to Do in New Zealand
- Bay of Islands
- Cathedral Cove / Hot Beach
- The Hobbiton
- Lake Taupo and the Alpine Crossing
- North-South Island Ferry (Wellington/Picton)
- Abel Tasman National Park
- Franz Josef Glacier Hike and Helicopter Tour
- Queenstown Skydiving / Bungee Jumping
- Milford Sound Drive and Boat Cruise
- Lake Tekapo and Mt. John Observatory
These numbers are local New Zealand phone numbers. If you’re using a SIM card from another country, you may need to use a dialing prefix, like New Zealand’s country code +64. Assuming you have a local phone number, just dial these as written straight away.
Emergency Services : 111
(ask for police, fire, or EMS)
NZ Directory Assist : 018
Local Operator : 010
Airlines Operating In/Out of New Zealand
Air New Zealand : 0800 737 000
Jetstar Airways : 0800 800 995
Aerolineas Argentinas : 09 379 3675
Aircalin : 09 977 2238
Air China : 09 379 7696
Air Pacific : 0800 800 178
Air Tahiti Nui : 09 308 3360
Air Vanuatu : 09 373 3435
American Airlines: 09 912 8814
Asiana Airlines : 09 308 3359
British Airways : 09 966 9777
Cathay Pacific : 09 379 0861
Emirates : 0508 364 728
Japan Airlines : 0800 800 039
Korean Air : 09 914 2000
LAN Airlines : 0800 451 373
Lufthansa German Airlines : 0800 945 220
Malaysia Airlines : 09 379 3743
Qantas Airways : 0800 808 767
Royal Brunei Airlines : 09 977 2209
Singapore Airlines : 0800 808 909
Thai Airways Int’l : 09 377 3886
Virgin Australia Airlines : 0800 670 000
New Zealand SIM Cards and Mobile Service
While I was in New Zealand, I used Telecom NZ with my U.S. iPhone 5s and had great service. 4G LTE only works in major cities like Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown, and Christchurch, but the 3G service you get in most other places works well. In fact, nearly everything on this blog, as well as my photo uploads has been via tethering my laptop to my iPhone with Telecom.
While I was here, they had a prepaid plan that cost $29 NZD and included activation, the SIM card starter kit, and 3 GB of data. They also included 60 minutes of talk time for local calls in/around New Zealand. For the equivalent of $25 USD, this is impossible to beat. There’s no need to worry about this before you travel; they have kiosks in all the international airports where you can purchase a SIM card on arrival. I found that Telecom NZ also has the best rural coverage in New Zealand.
Depending on where you’ll be in New Zealand, you should check the Telecom NZ Coverage Map to see if they’ll suit your needs.
Several hostels will give you a free 2 Degrees SIM card when you stay with them, and you can always pick up a SIM card at an airport kiosk or in various shops once you get into the cities. Their data plan wasn’t as competitively priced as Telecom NZ, as a 3 GB plan is $50 NZD and doesn’t include any minutes of local calls.
Depending on where you plan to be in New Zealand, you should check the 2 Degrees Coverage Map to see if they’ll suit your needs.
You’ll pay the most and get the least with Vodafone in New Zealand. $29 NZD will only get you 500 MB of data, but will give you unlimited texts (local) and 150 minutes of local talk time. Additional 500 MB bundles can be added for $10 bucks. Vodafone does have the most amount of 4G LTE coverage. Don’t let that trick you though; the faster the speeds, the faster you’ll go through the data they give you.
Depending on where you plan to be in New Zealand, you should check the Vodafone Coverage Map to see if they’ll suit your needs.
Travel Services in New Zealand
Cars for Hire
Renting a car in New Zealand is much like renting a car in the U.S. Expect a daily rate, most of them including unlimited milage, and fees for one-way trips (where your drop off destination is different than where you picked up the car). Some of them include insurance in the quoted daily rate, but others charge extra.
Watch for “Relocation Deals” — car rental companies will give you a cheaper rate when they need to move part of their fleet to a different location. It might be that the previous driver made a one-way trip from Auckland to Queenstown, but that car is needed in Christchurch. The company will offer a relocation deal (super cheap) to get that car to Christchurch for the next person.
The three most reputable car rental companies in New Zealand are:
- Omega Rental Cars (Phone : 0800 001 055) – Cars starting at $39/day.
- Apex Rentals (Phone : 0800 939 597) – Relocation deals from $9/ day.
- Ace Rental Cars (Phone : 0800 502 277) – Insurance & tax included in rates.
If you’ve never been to New Zealand and you’re coming without much of a plan (like I did), hopping on a backpacker bus will be your best option. In several cases, booking a tour on one of these is around the same price (if not cheaper) than hiring a car. It often gets even cheaper when you factor in the price of petrol for your rental car (not cheap in NZ), insurance, and parking.
Another advantage to taking a backpacker bus: hop on / hop off service. You can decide how long you stay in each place, as most of them give you a full year to travel. More than likely, that’s even longer than your New Zealand tourist visa is valid!
The last thing I’d say is an advantage to a backpacker bus over hiring a car is the general experience. You can get a car and set your own pace, stopping when and where you like, but with all the hidden gems New Zealand has to offer, you’ll likely miss a lot going it on your own. The backpacker bus drivers are insanely knowledgeable and make sure you get to see these things. So, it’s a double edged sword. If you want freedom and flexibility, the car rental might seem best. If you want a little more structure and direction so as not to miss things, the backpacker bus might seem best.
There are three main backpacker bus lines. They are:
- Kiwi Experience (Phone : 09 336 4286)
- InterCity Coaches (Phone : 0800 339 966)
- Stray Travel (Phone : 09 526 2140)
While I was in New Zealand, I traveled both the North and South Island with Kiwi Experience. I hadn’t arranged anything prior to coming, and only found out about them from an information brochure in the lobby of my first hostel in Auckland. It just so happened they had a special rate on one of the tour packages that fit my schedule and travel goals, and a bus coming through the next morning.
While I don’t have any first hand experience with InterCity or Stray, I can’t say enough good about Kiwi Experience. Their drivers are all required to be native Kiwis, and they know their stuff. From the free activities, hikes, and little-known stops, to the paid adventures, it’s a great experience. You can read my full review about Kiwi Experience here.
This would be a great option if there are two or more people in your traveling group. Camper vans are motorhomes / RVs that you can live out of. They have sinks, a hot plate / stove, and the larger models have toilets. A lot of areas in New Zealand prohibit free range camping, so you can’t just pop up a tent on an open spot of grass.
Because I travel alone, I didn’t look into the camper van option, so the only knowledge I’d have to offer you would be the same as what you could find on Google, since that’s all I’d be doing. There’s no shortage of camper van rental companies on both North and South Islands, so you’re sure to find something that fits the bill.
To point you in the right direction and get you started, here are three companies:
- Apollo Campers – http://www.apollocamper.co.nz/campervan-hire-vehicles.aspx
- Wilderness Motorhomes – http://wilderness.co.nz/
- Spaceships Rentals – http://www.spaceshipsrentals.co.nz/vehicles/compare-campervan-hire-nz/
Super Markets and Groceries
Whether you’re hopping on a backpacker bus, hiring a car, hitchhiking, or cycling around New Zealand, you’re surely not going to want to eat out all the time, as it gets a bit pricey. They average deli sandwich is about $9 NZD, while a burger and fries (called ‘chips’) will set you back around $14 NZD. It’s much more cost effective to hit a super market every couple days.
If you’re on one of the backpacker buses, your driver will likely be making daily super market stops, so you don’t need to worry about planning these. If you’re going it alone, whether by car, camper van, bike, or by foot, you’ll find it helpful to know where the grocery chains are. The three most common chains are:
- PAK’nSAVE – NZ’s lowest food prices. Bag your own groceries. Kiwi owned.
- Countdown – Shop online; pick up in store.
- New World – Higher-end, whole and organic foods.
One bit of advice on food shopping: avoid buying food or drinks in the petrol stations or convenience stores. A 750 ml bottle of PUMP water will cost you $1.50 NZD at PAK’nSAVE, but the same bottle will set you back $4 NZD at a petrol station.
New Zealand Hostels
I could write 1,000 words about New Zealand hostels and it still not be enough to cover everything. Instead, I’ll give you the basics and let you live and learn a little on your own. After all, that’s part of the fun of backpacking!
Part of how you’ll use hostels will depend on how you travel. If you’re renting a camper van, you’re most likely not going to be staying in a hostel. However, if you’re renting a car or hopping on a backpacker bus, hostels will soon seem like your home away from home. At least, the good ones will. You’ll get used to sharing power outlets, used to waking up to other backpackers alarm clocks, used to sharing the limited refrigerator space in the kitchens, and used to that annoying $20 key deposit.
No doubt, some hostels are nicer and more inviting than others. One of the more popular hostels is Base Backpackers Hostel, which has locations in Auckland, Wellington, Bay of Islands, Rotorua, Taupo, Christchurch, Wanaka, Queenstown, Dunedin, and Nelson. As with all hostels, rates will vary depending on the time of year you visit. Expect to pay between $24 and $30 a night for a 4-6 person dorm-style room. Double rooms (two twin beds) can be had for around $35 per person, per night. If you’re traveling solo, you still have to pay for two people.
I’ve found Base (as it’s called for short) to be hit and miss. The Base I stayed at in Rotorua was nice. The Base I stayed at in Lake Taupo was decent. The Base I stayed at in Wellington was awful. (Base Backpackers Hostel website)
Nomads is another popular hostel. They have Work / Play packages that let you stay for a longer period of time (3-7 days in one location) for a cheaper rate than the retail price, with the agreement that you spend time working for the hostel while you’re there. Many hostels and lodges do this around New Zealand, actually. Nomads has locations all over the world, but in New Zealand specifically, you’ll find them in Auckland, Abel Tasman National Park, Paihia, Queenstown, Rotorua, Taupo, Waitomo, and Wellington.
BBH Backpackers Network of Hostels
If you’re spending more than three weeks in New Zealand, it’d be a good idea to consider one of the many backpackers membership cards to help reduce the price of hostel stays. BBH is the most comprehensive network of hostels in New Zealand, even though their member hostels are independently owned and operated. They currently have more than 275 locations as part of their network.
The BBH Club card is $45 NZD and you can get one at any of their network hostels in person, or order online before you travel (add +$5 NZD fee for online orders). It gives you a guaranteed minimum $3 off every night’s stay, plus discounts on transportation and activities. As an added bonus, the Club Card is also a $20 phone card, which lets you make prepaid calls to any of 32 countries.