Frequently Asked Questions About New Zealand

What is the best time of year to visit New Zealand?

Almost any time of year as far as we’re concerned. There is a commonly held belief, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, that New Zealand is almost anchored off Antarctica. Therefore, northern seasonal rules can be applied to NZ meaning that December, January and February (northern June, July, August) must be the best months.

New Zealand is much further north than it looks on a map and the capital city Wellington, just about in the middle of the country, is actually on the same latitude as Barcelona.

The Pacific Ocean moderates the climate so it is quite temperate all year round without too many extremes, but there are obvious variations according to geography. 

The far north is basically subtropical and the far south is cooler. The prevailing winds come from the southwest, so the western side of the country gets more rainfall. But the weather is also unpredictable and moves across the islands quite quickly, so it is rare to have long, boring spells of any type of weather. Hang around for a while and it will change.

So, back to the question. The only months that we’d say aren’t ideal are June and July as this is the middle of winter and although it may not be all that cold, the days are shorter.

August and September are quiet, not that New Zealand is ever that busy, and great for skiing in the mountainous parts of the country. October, November and December are spring and this is a lovely time for wildlife and nature enthusiasts as the new growth emerges and the birds are breeding.

January and February are the height of summer although things can get a bit busier because of the Northern Hemisphere issue as mentioned above and the fact that is the summer school holidays.

And March, April and into May is a lovely time of year – this is late summer/early autumn, the weather is usually at its most settled and the light and colours are beautiful.

How strict are New Zealand customs?

New Zealand customs regulations are very strict in relation to items that may bring agricultural diseases and pests into the country. You should declare any food items and also any walking, camping, sporting (including golf) or fly fishing equipment.

It is particularly important that walking boots or shoes are declared and they should be very clean – an old toothbrush gets right into the tread. There are fines for non-compliance with these regulations.

What should I pack?

New Zealand has a variable and sometimes unpredictable climate all through the year so it is a good idea to be prepared for sun, wind and rain whatever the season! Wearing layers will help you to be prepared and for cold weather you will need thermals, mid layers, warm layers and a waterproof jacket. I find that woollen thermal wear is the most comfortable and effective and is widely available for purchase in NZ. You should also take sturdy walking shoes or hiking boots if you will be doing any tramping.

Some essential items to pack are a swimsuit, sunglasses, high factor sunscreen and insect repellent for the sandflies!

Of course it is important to have your passport, all medication, spare contact lenses or glasses, all forms of money and any important documents in your carry on baggage.

What is the dress code for restaurants?

Most restaurants do not have a dress code and dress is generally casual throughout the country.

What is the time zone of New Zealand?

New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). In summer, New Zealand time uses 'Daylight Saving', and clocks are put forward one hour to 13 hours ahead of GMT. Daylight saving begins on the last Sunday in September and ends on the first Sunday of the following April, when clocks are put back to 12 hours ahead of GMT.

What is New Zealand's international dialling code?

The international dialling code for New Zealand is +64 (0064) and the first 0 of the phone number should be omitted. You should use this dialling code if you are calling a New Zealand number from your non NZ mobile.

Can I use my driving licence to hire a car?

Yes, as long as your driving licence is current and is in fully written English. If your licence is not in fully written English, you must bring an English translation with you or obtain an IDP (International Driving Permit). If you have a photocard licence then you should also take the paper counterpart.

What do I need to take to hire a car?

You will need to take your full driving licence; if you have a photocard licence then you should also take the paper counterpart. You licence must be current and in fully written English. If your licence is not in fully written English, you must bring an English translation with you or obtain an IDP (International Driving Permit).

What validity does my passport need to have?

This varies depending on your country of residence but we would recommend having at least three months validity from the date of exit from New Zealand.

Do I need any vaccinations before travelling to New Zealand?

No. New Zealand is free of disease and there are strict regulations on bringing animals, plants and food into the country.

Do I need to bring anything along with my prescribed medication?

Visitors bringing in prescribed medication are advised to carry a doctor's certificate to avoid possible problems with New Zealand Customs. Doctor's prescriptions are needed to obtain certain drugs in New Zealand. If you are carrying prescription medicine on your person or in your luggage you must declare it on your passenger arrival card.

What is the currency of New Zealand?

The currency of New Zealand is the New Zealand Dollar (NZ$).

What is the exchange rate?

Approximate conversions are:

NZD 1 = USD 0.70
NZD 1 = EUR 0.60
NZD 1 = GBP 0.50

How much should I expect to pay for food and drink?

Roughly speaking, prices of meals and drinks are comparable to those in the UK, North America and mainland Europe. To give you an idea, here are some approximate conversions:

A hotel breakfast US$13-$35 €10-€25 £8-£20
Dinner (per main meal) US$20-$60 €15-€45 £12-£35
Lunch snack/sandwich US$5-$10 €3-€7 £2.50-£5
Cafe lunch US$10-$20 €7-€15 £5-£13
Big Mac Hamburger US$4.40 €13.20 £2.60
Cappuccino/Flat white US$3-$4 €2-€3 £1.80-£2.50

Are there any information centres in New Zealand?

New Zealand has an excellent network of more than 80 i-SITE information centres throughout the country. They are usually open every day and provide comprehensive local information. There are also numerous Department of Conservation visitor centres and these are an excellent source of information about the local wildlife and environment.

What is the emergency telephone number?

In the event of an emergency dial 111. It is free to call 111 from mobile phones, landlines and phone boxes.

Will my mobile phone work in New Zealand?

If roaming is enabled on your mobile then it will work in New Zealand. The signal is generally good although in remote areas it may be sporadic at best (Fiordland and the Catlins) or at worst non-existent (Stewart Island).

Vodafone is the main SIM mobile network in New Zealand. If you have a Vodafone mobile or an unlocked mobile then you may be able to buy an NZ Vodafone SIM card which would make calls and texts within New Zealand cheaper and you will not be charged for receiving incoming calls.

What do I do about tipping?

Tipping is becoming more widespread in New Zealand because of tourism but it is certainly not expected in any restaurant or café. Tipping is entirely at your discretion but I would say that 5% would be appropriate in a restaurant (not in a simple café) if you feel you have received exceptional service.

What are the banking hours?

Monday to Friday: 9.30am – 4.30pm.

What are the usual opening hours of shops?

Monday to Friday: 9.00am – 5.00pm. Most shops are open on Saturday mornings with some shops and markets remaining open all weekend. Some supermarkets are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Can I use my credit or debit card?

International credit and debit cards encoded with a PIN may be used to withdraw cash from ATMs which are widely available in the main shopping areas. Credit and debit cards can be used everywhere for most purchases including meals, fuel and sightseeing trips.

Where can I fly from to Stewart Island?

You can fly to Stewart Island from Invercargill and there are three flights a day. Flight time is approximately 20 minutes.

What is the baggage allowance on flights to Stewart Island?

Baggage allowance is 15kg per person. Any unnecessary baggage can be stored free of charge at Invercargill Airport.

What are the driving rules in New Zealand?

New Zealand drives on the left hand side of the road and distances and speed limits are in km and km/h. It is an offence to park on the side of the road in the opposite direction to the flow of traffic.

You may also have heard stories about the quirky rule regarding priority being given to the vehicle approaching from the opposite direction and turning right into the same road as you are turning left into. That rule is no longer in force but it is worth knowing about as some Kiwis may still follow or think about following it just out of habit.

What is the speed limit in New Zealand?

Unless otherwise stated, the speed limit on motorways and main rural roads is 100 Km/h while in residential areas it is usually 50 Km/h. In other areas, speed limits of 60 Km/h, 70 Km/h and 80 Km/h can also be found.

Speed cameras are used in New Zealand and fines are given to those driving above the designated speed limit. The amount of the fine increases with the amount the speed limit was broken by.

What is the voltage of the electricity supply in New Zealand?

Electricity is supplied throughout New Zealand at 230/240 volts (50 hertz), although most hotels and motels provide 110 volt AC sockets (rated at 20 watts) for electric razors only. Standard power sockets look like this but your travel adaptor will only have the two diagonal pins:

New Zealand Plug Socket

A handy tip is to take a 3 or 4 gang extension with you and you can then plug several devices in at once.

Do I need a visa?

If you are a resident of the UK or Australia or from a visa waiver country, you do not need a visa to visit New Zealand. You do however need hold a passport that is valid for at least three months beyond your intended departure date. You must also be able to provide evidence of onward travel arrangements.

Can I take walking or hiking boots into New Zealand?

Yes,but it is very important that walking boots or shoes are declared and they should be very clean – an old toothbrush gets right into the tread. There are fines for non-compliance.

Can I take fly fishing equipment into New Zealand?

Yes, but it must be declared at customs. There are fines for non-compliance.