11 Surprising Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling in New Zealand

11 Surprising Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling in New Zealand

You've gotten through the rigorous customs process, survived a long haul flight from the other side of the world, and finally crossed into one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Get ready! Some things might surprise you about traveling in New Zealand.

Kiwi’s are super friendly

But you won’t meet many! They are super friendly and are happy to talk to tourists, but most of the friendly people in New Zealand are other backpackers. I only met 3 Kiwis during my 6-week trip. Most of the 5 million Kiwis in New Zealand live in cities, and there are about the same number of people touring the country every year. So the ‘friendly’ people in New Zealand aren’t actually from here – they are the awesome travelers on working holiday visas working on boat cruises, at hostels, in restaurants, taking you dolphin swimming, and everything in between.

 The country is run by backpackers

Almost everywhere was staffed by 20-somethings from abroad. Many young Kiwis move to Australia for better pay, while travelers from around the globe flock to New Zealand for high minimum wage and lots of job opportunities. It’s pretty simple to arrange a 1- year work visa and bum around the country, picking up jobs like waitressing and fruit picking.

Camping isn’t free

orange tent in the middle of a field with mountains and a pink sunset in the distance

Whether you rented an RV, have a self-contained van, or are pitching a tent, camping is not free. You can’t just pull to the side of the highway and camp anywhere, and there are lots of signs to remind you of the fines. Department of Conservation operates most campsites, with fees ranging from 8-20$ per person. More upscale options have flush toilets, scenic views, laundry facilities, and garbage collection while standard sites are cheaper with fewer facillities. ‘Basic campsites’ are free but they are few and far between, equipped with basic toilets and a rainwater tank. 

Touristy isn’t so touristy 

As someone who spent time growing up in New York City the meaning of crowded touristy places to me means maneuvering the craziness of Times Square, Grand Central Station, Chelsea Market, etc. Kiwis told me that Milford Sound, while gorgeous, is seriously touristy. To me that means a million trinket shops, tourists with fancy cameras jostling for a perfect photo, a McDonald’s and overpriced ice cream parlors. Milford Sound, supposedly ‘full of tourists’, has two order-at-the-counter restaurants, two modest hotels and a small ferry terminal for cruises. So when a Kiwi says touristy, they’re not talking Miami Beach. And I love that these ‘touristy’ spots are still so calm and undeveloped, even though there have been record numbers of tourists in recent years. 

Searching for places you need to see? Check out 11 charming towns in New Zealand you have to visit!

Sandflies suck

As an upstate New Yorker and avid hiker, I am used to mosquitoes. Sandflies, however, are a whole different matter. They are tiny and relentless. And they itch like crazy. If you’re going to New Zealand do yourself a favor and bring natural insect repellent (some good ones really do work, friends) and Afterbite.

The flat white is king

two filter coffees, two people's hand's holding lattes, a cappuccino and a glass of milk

New Zealand has more roasters per capita than any other country in the world, and ranks as the 13th largest coffee consumer globally, ahead of the United States and Australia. The Flat White is the most popular espresso beverage by far. It has just a little bit less foam than a latte but is still creamy milk over the same amount of espresso. You won’t have to go far to find a great coffee, there are Cafés everywhere and almost all of them will offer WiFi. Spend the afternoon reading a good book or catching up with friends and family back home. 

Tipping is super optional 

New Zealand truly has no tipping culture – they are welcome, of course, but not expected. Unlike in the United States, the minimum wage is adequate enough to sustain a person and live comfortably. If the service is especially good, feel free to tip if you like – you certainly won’t be turned down!

Find out how much it actually cost me to travel in New Zealand for 6 weeks. 

Towns are hard to pronounce

OK maybe not all place names are hard to pronounce but there are a lot that are. Towns are named from Māori origins, while large cities like Wellington and Auckland are derived from British explorers and settlers. The biggest area of confusion is around names beginning with ‘Wh’ which is actually pronounced as an ‘F’. For example, Whakatane is actually pronounced Fah-kah-tah-nei.

Drinking isn’t cheap

two glasses of light amber beer on a bar with foam at the top

Why yes I would love a drink… $12 for a half pint?! Drinking in NZ is fairly expensive so don’t be alarmed if you feel like you need to take out a second mortgage to afford the next round. Local is cheaper – try a local Pinot Noir or craft breweries for a good time that won’t break the bank. don’t forget to bring your passport to buy booze.

Bus drivers care about you

Bus drivers in New Zealand truly care about passengers and they do their best to make sure everyones’ on board. To confirm your booking all you need is to tell them your name, no ticket necessary. It feels almost like a high school field trip – they count the attendance and sometimes they call out the names of people who have missed the bus.

Allow for extra ‘photo time’ when you drive somewhere

the top of the akaroa hills with a view of the blue sky and turquoise ocean in the harbor

The vast mountains, cascading coastal cliffs and extensive landscapes will take your breath away – you’re going to want to stop for photographs everywhere you go. Always allow an extra half hour during a road trip so you can stop and take in the glorious scenery.

You must be inspired to visit New Zealand by now! Start planning your trip – check out off-the-beaten-path things to do in New Zealand.

Keep exploring,

Jessie

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