10 Mistakes to Avoid on Your Trip to New Zealand, According to a Local

From logistics to local etiquette, these are the most common mistakes to avoid on your trip to New Zealand.

The writer, Amy Louise Bailey, in her home country of New Zealand
Photo: Courtesy of Amy Louise Bailey

If you've been dreaming of doing something totally different somewhere spectacularly beautiful, New Zealand is an excellent destination to consider. And as of May 1, vaccinated travelers from visa waiver countries will finally be able to visit. But making the trip "down under" requires quite a lot of effort and planning (not to mention time spent on the long-haul flight), so you want to ensure that you're doing it properly and not missing anything while you're there. From logistics to local etiquette, these are the most common mistakes to avoid on your trip to New Zealand.

Only Visiting During Winter

Sure, New Zealand has some great ski slopes, but if you're making the journey to this far-flung corner of the world, you want to be able to enjoy the great outdoors in all its glory, and the best time to do that is summer. You can swim at the beautiful beaches, waterski on the lakes, dine al fresco at world-class wineries, and explore some of the stunning scenic walkways under the South Pacific sun. Don't forget: The seasons are the exact opposite of the Northern Hemisphere, so ideally book between November and March for the best weather conditions.

Not Renting a Car

The best and most efficient way to see New Zealand is definitely by car. Even when you've arrived at your destination, there are always more things to do and places to see, and they are often quite spread out with no direct public transport option. Plus, there are so many fantastic road trips that are much better experienced in your own private vehicle than on a tour bus. Keep in mind that the terrain can be rough in New Zealand and there are a lot of mountains, so when renting a car, opt for something with a bit of power. The weather can also be quite temperamental, so avoid booking a convertible (as fun as it may be for traveling along the coast in the summer). Lastly, like most Commonwealth countries, people drive on the left-hand side in New Zealand, so familiarize yourself before hitting the road.

Empty road by sea against sky as bird flies over,Lake Hawea, Otago, New Zealand
Stewart Watson/500px/Getty Images

Overlooking the North Island

Many travelers default to designing their itinerary around the South Island, only spending a few days in Auckland on arrival. But any trip to New Zealand is incomplete without properly exploring the North Island; it is just as naturally beautiful as the south and is home to four out of seven of Relais & Chateaux's New Zealand properties. There are stunning black- and white-sand beaches, sprawling islands, and waterfalls, whereas the south is defined by dramatic mountains and alpine scenery – both spectacular and both worth experiencing. Spend a few nights in the country's largest city, Auckland, known as The City of Sails, and explore the world-class restaurants, shopping, and art galleries; take a boat over to Waiheke for a long lunch at one of its elegant vineyards; head up north to The Bay of Islands and experience the maritime activities; and check out some of the cultural attractions in the nation's capital, Wellington.

Auckland city line as seen from Devonport, North Head Historic Reserve.
Anna Jackowska/Getty Images

Packing Mainly Casual Clothes

New Zealand is indeed a place to embrace the great outdoors and explore the natural splendor on foot. But hiking through the mountains isn't the only thing you'll be doing (or it shouldn't be), so your packing list should look as though you're heading to Europe. New Zealand has a vibrant local fashion scene, and while you won't find any black-tie establishments, there are many sophisticated bars and restaurants that warrant a more formal dress code. Might we suggest packing espadrilles that won't get stuck in the grass if you're day-tripping to a winery? And a large bag to carry everything that you will need for a day out, with sunscreen and swimwear should the opportunity to swim arise. Also, remember to pack a jacket, even if you're traveling in the summer, as it can get chilly in the evenings.

Staying Within Your Comfort Zone

Where else would you take a hot air balloon with Champagne to start the day; jet boat through canyons at 50 mph; or helicopter over to an island for a long lunch? New Zealand offers a multitude of activities that cater to different tastes, ranging from adventure sports to incredible hiking trails and unique luxury excursions. It's a good place to tick off an invigorating once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Not Planning Your Itinerary in Advance

Whether you need to reserve a car for certain dates or you've decided to embark on an adventure activity, it's always best to book in advance to avoid disappointment. Restaurants are also worth looking up and reserving ahead of time as they can book out, especially on the weekends (and the restaurants in New Zealand are not something you want to miss). Museums and galleries are generally fine to visit without an advance reservation, but certain exhibitions can have allocated time windows, and there may be some lingering capacity restrictions due to COVID.

Not Buying a Local Sim Card

Roaming rates can be extortionate in this corner of the world. Purchasing a Vodafone sim card at Auckland Airport (where the majority of international arrivals land) is the way to go — just remember to tape the original to the inside of your phone case so it doesn't get lost.

Condensing Your Trip Into Less Than Two Weeks

You could easily spend longer than two weeks in New Zealand, but that is the minimum amount of time you'll need to explore the country properly. Divide your time evenly between the North and South Island and take into account the days that will be lost to travel. Every road is the scenic road in New Zealand, and there are some fantastic lookouts and lovely townships to stop in, so be sure to allow extra time to wander if you're driving. And if Oceania is a one-off trip that you're unlikely to repeat, consider stopping in Sydney on the way back — it's an incredible city and is a great way to break up the long-haul flight.

Forgetting Your Motion Sickness Pills

The waters can be rocky and the roads can be windy. Get ahead of it by packing the appropriate pills before you take off. Another thing to do if you're subject to motion sickness or encounter any precarious travel conditions? Keep your eyes up and off your phone, and don't sit backwards if you can avoid it (this applies everywhere, really).

Not Speaking to the Locals

New Zealanders are down to earth and friendly, and a smile goes a long way. Don't be afraid to ask for directions and recommendations – people will be happy to set you on the right track and provide recommendations, whether it's where to get a decent latte or suggesting somewhere with a good atmosphere for dinner. Also keep in mind that New Zealand uses the metric system, so distances will be given in kilometers rather than miles (likewise, the weather is measured in degrees Celsius instead of Fahrenheit).

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