Travel New Zealand

How to Plan the Ultimate Vacation to New Zealand

When it comes to traveling the world and experiencing different cultures, there’s no shortage of beautiful and diverse countries to visit. One of the most naturally lush and culturally rich, though, is New Zealand. With misty mountains, dense rain forests, blue oceans, plus a thriving Māori population, New Zealand offers engaging experiences for both seasoned travelers and new adventurers.

Despite being most famous for its natural resources and role as the film backdrop for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, New Zealand also offers a collection of bustling cities and luxury resorts. Whether you choose to rough it in a tent or spend your days by the poolside, you’ll find the vacation of your dreams on one of the islands.

All About New Zealand and What to Expect

New Zealand is a set of islands located just over 2,500 miles (4,155 km) from the southwest coast of Australia. While most of the country is made up of two main islands, North Island and South Island, New Zealand also contains a vast collection of smaller islands.

Tourism is a major driving force for the New Zealand economy. After launching their official tourism organization in 1901 with just 5,000 visitors, the country now welcomes over 2.8 million international visitors each year. While over half of these tourists come from Australia, these figures are still extremely impressive.

The growth in New Zealand tourism is, in part, due to the beauty and popularity of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations. However, the islands offer so much more than movie sets and sightseeing. On top of learning about the native Māori culture, visitors can also surf, sail, ski, scuba dive, hike, whitewater raft, and much more.

In New Zealand, English and Māori are the nation’s official languages. But with over 96% of citizens speaking English you won’t need to worry about a translator. However, you will find the Māori language in the named lakes, mountains, and other natural landmarks across the islands.

Like any international travel, travelers need to convert their native currency to that of the country they’re visiting. In New Zealand, this is the New Zealand Dollar (NZD). Since exchange rates are constantly fluctuating, we always recommend checking the current conversion rates before making any large purchase.

How do you get to and from the islands?

Flying from Australia to New Zealand can take anywhere from 3 to over 4.5 hours. There are two major airports on the islands: Auckland Airport on North Island and Christchurch Airport on South Island.

Since the islands are not connected in any way, going between the two major islands also requires a bit of air or water travel.

If you catch a plane between North Island and South Island, it will just be a quick flight of 25 or 35 minutes. If you choose to ride the ferry between Wellington to Picton, you can expect the trip to take about 3 hours.

How expensive is a trip to New Zealand?

Traveling abroad is never cheap, regardless of where you go. But just how expensive is a trip to New Zealand?

Ultimately, the final cost of a vacation to New Zealand will vary greatly depending on where you stay, what you eat, and how you travel. The one thing you have very little control over, though, is the cost to fly to New Zealand in the first place.

Here are the current average flight prices departing from popular locations around the globe:

Departing CountryAverage Flight LengthAverage Price Range
Australia4.5 hours$250 to $500
England24 hours$900 to $1,500
Los Angeles, U.S.16 hours$800 to $1,400
New York City, U.S.23 hours$1,400 to $1,800
Vancouver, Canada20 hours$1,000 to $1,400
Toronto, Canada23 hours$1,300 to $1,800

Keep in mind: these prices can and will vary greatly depending on the departing airport, flight stops, chosen airline, and time of year.

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to New Zealand

If New Zealand and all of its natural beauty sound like the perfect vacation, here are some tips to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.

Start planning early

For the best and most stress-free trip to New Zealand, travelers should consider starting their planning up to a year in advance.

As your vacation to New Zealand approaches, here’s what should be on your to-do list:

One year before vacation

  • Make a list of must-do activities and attractions
  • Determine how long the trip will take
  • Select a range of travel dates to choose from

Six months before vacation

  • Confirm travel dates
  • Book flights
  • Research hotels or other accommodations

Three months before vacation

  • Book all hotels or other accommodations
  • Book rental car if needed

One month before vacation

  • Book flights or ferry between islands
  • Reserve space on tours and other activities

Avoid busy seasons

To avoid large crowds and higher travel rates, the best time of year to visit New Zealand is in the spring or fall. While the weather is still mild and temperate, popular activities like surfing and skiing are out-of-season.

Travelers from the Northern Hemisphere — Remember that seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are flipped. What is spring in the North is fall in the South, and vice-versa. The same is true for summer and winter.

Give yourself enough time

Many travelers think that a week is plenty of time to take in all that New Zealand has to offer. But this just isn’t the case.

To experience most (but not all) of the major attractions on North Island and South Island, travelers will need at least two weeks. However, three weeks is generally considered ideal.

Although New Zealand is just a couple of islands, attractions and activities are more spread out than they might seem. Driving from the northernmost and southernmost tips of North Island can take over 12 hours. For the South Island, driving from one end to the other also takes about 12 hours.

When planning out activities and destinations, use the travel time calculator from New Zealand Tourism to determine how long driving from place-to-place will actually take.

Pack for the weather (and then some)

New Zealand is known for its temperate climate. However, it’s also known for its constantly and rapidly changing weather conditions. Planning for these changes will ensure the most comfortable and stress-free vacation possible.

Travelers should pack a light coat, even when vacationing during New Zealand’s summer. Temperatures can drop suddenly at nightfall, even when the days have been extremely mild.

If traveling in the spring or fall, don’t be afraid to overpack a bit. Since the temperature can lean cold or hot, it’s better to be prepared than to suffer.

In winter, pack several base layers as well as a good quality outer jacket. With a range of fabrics and layers to choose from, dressing for changing temperatures will be much easier.

Things To Do While in New Zealand

New Zealand is a treasure trove of natural resources and cultural hubs. But with so much to offer, it can be difficult to experience everything in one trip.

For first-timers, here are some of the must-see activities on North Island and South Island:

Check Out the Hobbiton Movie Set

The Hobbiton Movie Set is is located in Matamata on the North Island of New Zealand. With guided tours, hobbit-inspired meals, and more, visitors can step into Middle Earth for the day and live out their Tolkien fantasies.

Book tours and more at the Hobbiton Movie Set website.

Trek the Franz Josef Glacier

On South Island’s West Coast, just outside the small town of Waiau, is a glacier called Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere. More commonly called the Franz Josef Glacier, this 7.5-mile sheet of ice represents millennia of natural history.

Available tours include walking the valley, hiking the glacier, and ice climbing.

Explore Wellington

New Zealand isn’t all Middle Earth and natural beauty. In Wellington, New Zealand, tourists can explore the islands’ modern culture with local dining, art, museums, and more.

Nestled right on the North Island’s southern coast, visitors can also enjoy the beach and experience native wildlife on the city’s edge.

Surf in Raglan

The islands are famous for their surfing, but not spot is quite as renowned as the little town of Raglan. Located on the Northwest coast of the North Island, this coastal town is home to its black sand beaches and long surf breaks.

Stargaze in the Dark Sky Reserve

The South Island hosts one of only eight dark sky reserves in the entire world and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. In this area, light pollution is strictly controlled to provide a glimpse at what the true night sky really looks like.

Visitors are free to camp overnight in the reserve or just stop for a short stargazing session. Either way, the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

These are just a few of the incredible attractions New Zealand has to offer. But however you choose to spend your time on the islands of New Zealand, we’re sure you’ll be planning your next trip before your flight home even lands.

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