When it comes to international tourism, New Zealand has become one of the most popular destinations in the world. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a sunny beach, visit a volcano, or even take a glacier tour, our country has a lot to offer. But international tourism can be confusing, especially when it comes to navigating local customs, rules, and regulations. We’ve put together a handy guide to help you plan your trip. We’ve provided advice on the local culture, must-see attractions, and a guide to obtaining your New Zealand tourist visa. Let’s get started!
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New Zealand Travel Tips
Just like visiting any other country, there are some things you should keep in mind when you’re planning your New Zealand vacation. Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your visit:
New Zealand seasons are different
Keep in mind that New Zealand is located in the Southern Hemisphere. For visitors from Europe or North America, this means that our seasons are the opposite of yours. When it’s winter for you, it’s summer for us. So if you’re planning on a sunny, warm vacation, visit in January, not in July.
Consider booking an off-season visit
New Zealand’s peak tourist season, called “high season”, lasts from December to February. This may be the best time to plan a beach vacation, but it’s also the time when there are the most tourists. To make matters worse, Kiwis also tend to take their own vacations over the summer months, which means hotels and tourist attractions charge higher fees.
If you’re not looking for a beach vacation, consider visiting in the spring or the fall. Off-season prices on hotels and car rentals are cheaper, and tourist attractions are less crowded.
Prepare for jet lag and long travel times
Unless you’re coming from Australia or Southeast Asia, you’re going to be traversing several time zones. Not only does this mean you’re looking at a long flight, but it also means you’ll need to adjust to the time difference. Plan to spend your first day in your hotel, either sleeping or recovering by the pool. You’ll be much better acclimated on day two.
Also, avoid the temptation to drink alcohol before your flight. Yes, it will help you sleep, but it will also dehydrate you. Combine that with dry airplane air, and it’s a recipe for being cranky and uncomfortable when you arrive.
Don’t plan too much
We’re not saying you should “wing it” and arrive without a hotel reservation. But it can be tempting to try and see all the sights. New Zealand offers many attractions, and if you try to see all of them, you’ll end up being a slave to your schedule. Remember, you’re taking a vacation. Leave yourself time to wander around a city or enjoy a restaurant dinner without constantly looking at your watch. If you really want to see everything remember: you can always plan a second trip.
Kiwis, by nature, are a friendly lot, but can sometimes seem shy to strangers. That said, it’s common to wave to total strangers, or to chat up a store clerk. You can also feel free to ask for directions, or for advice on local sights. In general, New Zealanders will be happy to tell you about their favorite hiking trail or the best local pub.
Get out of the major tourist attractions
There are plenty of great tourist spots in New Zealand, and we’ll get to those in a minute. But if you spend all of your time on glacier tours or shopping in Auckland, you’ll miss out on the local culture. Rent a car and visit some outlying towns and villages. There’s no better way to see the side of New Zealand that the locals know and love.
Visit a Pacific island
If you’re visiting from Europe or North America, a visit to Fiji, Samoa, or the Cook Islands can be exorbitantly expensive. But once you’re in New Zealand, these locations are just a hop, skip, and a jump away. As a result, flights for a side trip to nearby Pacific islands are comparatively cheap. Book a ticket on a local airline, and you’ll save even more money. Just make sure that you have a visa for wherever you’re planning to visit.
Bring your own wine to dinner
Most restaurants in New Zealand offer a bring your own wine service. This offers two benefits. First, you won’t be limited to the restaurant’s wine list. Second, you can buy your wine for significantly cheaper, and only pay a small de-corking fee in the restaurant itself.
Tourist attractions in New Zealand
Visitors to New Zealand are often attracted by the beautiful scenery from the Lord of the Rings movies. There are plenty of tours designed to take you to all of those locations. But movie tourism aside, there are several other gorgeous locations you should consider adding to your itinerary. Just remember not to make too many plans, or you’ll be too busy to relax and enjoy these sights.
Located on New Zealand’s North Island, Auckland is the most populous city in Polynesia, with over 1.6 million residents. It’s located in a bustling bay, surrounded by islands, rainforests, and even volcanoes. You can peruse the waterfront district’s shops and restaurants, and take a stroll – or a swim – on the city’s well-kept beaches. You can also take in the view from the Sky Tower, the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. From 328 meters up, you get a 360-degree view of the city and the countryside. Outside the city, you’ll find hiking trails and wilderness tours.
The jewel of New Zealand’s South Island, Queenstown is perfectly located between Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables, a snowy mountain range that hosts New Zealand’s best ski resorts. In addition to skiing, you can also enjoy jet boating on the lake, white water rafting on the rivers, and rock climbing or mountain biking in the mountains. Queenstown is also renowned for its hotels, restaurants, spas, and its shopping district. It’s also the heart of Middle Earth, located within a short drive of many popular Lord of the Rings locations.
Franz Josef and Fox glaciers
Also located on the South Island, the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are located at the south end of the Southern Alps. Nearshore, the climate is still relatively balmy, so you can get a close-up view without bundling up for winter. You can take advantage of guided hikes, or even enjoy a helicopter tour. In addition, the glaciers are located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, which boasts a series of mesmerizing hot springs.
Rotorua is an active geothermal region, located on the North Island. It features geysers, volcanoes, and bubbling, boiling pools of mud. You can hike through the wilderness, enjoy the beautiful sights, and relax in the natural hot mineral springs to work the stress out of your muscles. The area is also rich with Maori culture, providing a glimpse into the lives of New Zealand’s first inhabitants.
Fiordland National Park
Located on the South Island, Fiordland National Park is one of New Zealand’s World Heritage Sites. The fjords were carved out by glaciers in the last ice age, and provide a varied terrain with a plethora of tiny islands. The local climate ranges from rain forests near the shore to snowy peaks further inland. Hiking, kayaking, and seaplane tours are some of the park’s most popular attractions.
Tongariro National Park
Tongariro National Park is located in the center of the North Island, mere kilometers from Lake Taupo. Another World Heritage Site, the park boasts a series of volcanic peaks, as well as plateaus, volcanic lakes, and hot springs. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of New Zealand’s most popular day hikes, but the park also offers campgrounds for longer visits. Tongariro is one of the world’s oldest national parks, gifted to the People of New Zealand in 1887 by Maori chief Te Heuheu Tukino IV. Not surprisingly, it’s a hotbed of Maori culture.
The Bay of Islands
Just a three-hour drive from Auckland, the Bay of Islands consists of over 144 islands. Due to its location and natural beauty, it’s one of New Zealand’s most popular vacation spots. Hiking is a popular activity, as is sailing through the bay. You can also spot a wide variety of wildlife, including whales, marlins, penguins, and dolphins.
Do I Need a New Zealand Tourist Visa?
Yes. Visitors to New Zealand require an NZ tourist visa. However, there are some exceptions, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
New Zealand Tourist Visa Requirements
To issue a tourist visa, New Zealand has the following requirements.
- A New Zealand tourist visa requires proof of identity. A passport issued by your home country is sufficient for this purpose.
- New Zealand visa applicants must be of good health. In some cases, a chest X-ray or other medical records may be required.
- Visa applicants must be of good character. A letter from your local police department will suffice. If you’ve been convicted of certain crimes, particularly immigration-related crimes or violent crimes, you may be denied entry.
- Visa applicants must have genuine intentions. For tourist visa applicants, this means that you must actually be visiting for purposes of tourism. There are other visa types available for other purposes. For example, New Zealand offers work visas, business visitors visas, and special visitor visas, just to name a few.
- If you’re traveling with your family, all family members require their own visa.
- You must have enough money to support yourself and not become a public charge while you’re in the country. If you don’t have the money, you can still get a visa if you’re able to find a local sponsor.
- You must agree to pay for your own healthcare costs.
- You must have already obtained a return ticket to your home country, or a ticket to your final destination if you’re just passing through.
Do I need a Visa for New Zealand from USA?
Visitors from the US, EU, and 32 other countries do not require a New Zealand tourism visa. Instead, visitors from these countries require an NZ eTA. The only exception is visitors from Australia, who can enter without a visa, and receive automatic residency upon arrival.
What is a New Zealand eTA?
The eTA, meaning “Electronic Travel Authority”, is an electronic visa replacement that functions as a visa waiver. The NZeTA program went into effect in August of 2019, and has been mandatory for all visa waiver countries since October 1st, 2019. In addition to residents of these countries, airline and cruise line crew are also required to hold an eTA, although these are processed under the separate Crew eTA program.
The primary advantage of a New Zealand eTA is that all the processing is done online. This allows for less paperwork, and also means you won’t have to make a trip to an embassy or consulate. As a result, eTA requirements are generally easy to meet than US passport requirements, for example. The application form requires your full name, address, date of birth, and details from your national passport. It also asks for your specific travel plans, as well as some questions related to health and national security.
The application requires a minimal processing fee, as well as the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL). The IVL is spent directly to improve New Zealand tourism infrastructure, as well as to protect the environment. This ensures that future generations will also be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of our beautiful country.
Processing time can be as little as one business day. That said, it’s recommended to allow at least 72 business hours for processing, just to be safe. Once your eTA is approved, you will receive it electronically, so you won’t have to worry about a physical visa getting lost.
Another advantage of the NZ eTA is that it’s valid for 2 years, and it can be used repeatedly. As a result, you won’t have to apply for a new visa every time you visit the country.