Traveling Around New Zealand: 5 Practical Tips
Traveling around New Zealand is actually pretty simple, but if you want to make sure to plan your trip in the best way possible these tips will help you out.
Before traveling around New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV), I had a lot of doubts about the country. Being my first long trip I just wanted to be prepared on what to expect, but while looking for information on the web I couldn’t find anything truly helpful and this let me confused until I physically got there and figured it all out myself. Traveling around New Zealand is actually very simple and it shouldn’t worry you at all, but if you have the same doubts I had these tips will help you out.
TRAVELING AROUND NEW ZEALAND: 5 PRACTICAL TIPS
1| i-SITES AND DOC-SITES
We all want to be sure we don’t miss the highlights of a place when visiting it, don’t we? And what’s better than equipped centers with local people ready to give us suggestions and ideas? These places are the i-SITES and DOC sites and are the best information points I’ve ever been to.
What is an i-SITE?
It’s a visitor center that helps you planning what you can or must do in a specific area of New Zealand. I highly recommend you to stop in these centers and always ask for a free map of the city/park you’re currently visiting. They’ll show you where you are and where you should go to enjoy 100% of that place. You can also buy maps, books, souvenirs and lots of other stuff. If you need to book something like tours, boats, ferries, huts, you can ask them and they’ll be more than pleased to help you. Here’s a list that shows where these sites are located.
What is a Doc-SITE?
Doc means Department of Conservation. Doc sites give you information about the protection of New Zealand’s historic and natural heritages. These sites are similar to the i-SITES, but they’re much more experienced and focused on parks, outdoor and conservation. You want to hike but need some tips? You want to have specific information about the weather, what to bring and what to wear? They are your best friends. In these offices you can find free brochures (such as lists of DOC campsites and tips about the Great Walks) and buy detailed maps, hiking gears, hut passes. Here’s a list of their locations.
2| MOVING AROUND
My advice is to travel around the country by van or by campervan (RV).
- It’s easier to reach non-turistic places with your own transport
- You’ll be more flexible about time and itinerary
- In both the islands it’s possible to camp almost everywhere, in stunning places into the wild, at a very low price (sometimes even for free!)
- Roads are breathtaking, you’ll want to stop and take pictures along the way
But… What is a van?
A van is the most common vehicle to travel around the country. A van is half-way between a big car and a campervan, it usually has 2 seats and a double bed in the back. But of course, you can easily customize your vehicle… And that’s exactly what we did! Marco made some adjustments to our van: it had 5 seats instead of 2 and a double bed that could be flipped over. This allowed us to travel with another girl and share with her part of this experience (and fuel!). We just had to close the bed during the day and open it during the night (see below).
However, if your budget is higher or if you simply find a good deal, get yourself a self-contained vehicle instead. Yes, it costs more at the time of purchasing, but it’s the best way to save big on accommodation. There are hundreds of self-contained spots around the country which are totally free! You can’t camp in those places with your van/car/tent… Or well, you can, but the fine starts at NZ $200 and many woke up with this bitter surprise.
However, if you can’t afford to buy or hire a van or a campervan, you can either choose to hitchhike or join some of the bus companies that operate around the country. We’ve met many travelers who chose to hitchhike and from their experiences it seems to be a very safe (and quite common) way to visit New Zealand. You can then decide to sleep in your tent or in a hostel. It all depends on your travel style and on your budget.
Buses, where you can engage with many other travelers, are a great option too. Most of the companies stop at the popular viewpoints along the road and allow you to take wonderful pictures of your journey. Some of the trusted bus companies for traveling around New Zealand are:
- Why Not Wander? – This is a NakedBus service, not always live, that displays last minute deals with cheap prices. Worth to check before purchasing with another company.
3| BUYING A VEHICLE
Before buying a vehicle, you need to check on several things. You need to choose between petrol or diesel, check when the Rego and WoF expire and of course, drive it. Never buy a vehicle you haven’t tried! But let’s go in order.
How does the fuel work in New Zealand? Diesel is cheaper than petrol at the pump, anyway, for diesel you have to pay a tax called RUC (Road User Charge) every 1,000 kilometres. If you decide to buy a diesel vehicle, you can calculate how much would cost your RUC. For further information please refer to the websites below:
Once you’ve made you’re decision, I recommend you to take vision of when both the WoF and the Rego expire.
What is a vehicle license (Rego) and how much does it cost?
It’s the regular process through which you pay a fee (see prices here) to use your vehicle on public roads. You have to license your vehicle regularly, at least annually, and display the license label on your windscreen. How to get/renew it? You can do it online or at the nearest post office.
What is the WoF?
It’s a warrant of fitness, an annual regular check that your vehicle meets required safety standards. If something’s wrong with your vehicle you need to repair it, otherwise you can’t drive your car (we spent NZ $700,00 to repair everything and get the WoF for our old van! Such a bad surprise). Make sure you display your WoF label on your windscreen! Have a look here for more information about what it covers.
You’ll see how easy is to find campsites while traveling around New Zealand. I’m not just talking about the “expensive” serviced campsites, but also about very cheap and basic ones. We camped for free several times… No kidding! We slept for NZ $0,00 in AMAZING places and of course, legally. Otherwise we used to pay between NZ $6,00 – $20,00 per person. Keep in mind that New Zealand’s roads are full of camping signals, but the following websites may help you planning the trip in advance:
We used those websites a lot before and during our travel. When I had some free time, I noted the names of the free and cheapest campsites on my diary with their coordinates. So, months ahead the trip, we already knew where to sleep and how much it would cost. Once the trip started, I realized that all my researches were yes very helpful, but not necessary because all those campsites were well indicated with specific road signals.
If you want, you can even download the apps of the websites I listed above. Be careful and always read the conditions: if the campsites are just for self-contained (campervan with toilet), if they’re just for vehicle or for tents, if booking is required, if there’s a limit of nights you can stay there. I personally used and recommend Rankers app. I also suggest you to head to one of the many DOC offices and grab their brochures with a list of all the DOC campsites around the country.
What do you need to know about DOC Campsites?
There are 6 categories of DOC Campsites, which differ depending on their facilities: some might have hot showers, picnic tables and cooking facilities while others might only have basic facilities such as toilets and water from a stream.
Backcountry Campsites – $ The price may vary. They have toilets and a water supply which may be from a stream (remember to boil it first). They may also have tables and cooking shelters
Basic Campsites – $ Free. They have basic toilets and water from a tank, stream or lake.
Standard Campsites – $ Adult NZ $6,00 Child NZ $3,00. They have toilets (usually composting), water supply (tap, stream, lake), barbeques and fireplaces, cold showers, picnic tables, a cooking shelter and rubbish bins may be provided.
Scenic Campsites – $ Adult NZ $10,00 Child NZ $5,00. They are in very scenic locations, usually near the treks and have toilets, tap water supply, barbeques, fireplaces, cold showers, picnic tables, a cooking shelter and rubbish bins may be provided. Serviced Campsites – $ Adult NZ $15,00 Child NZ $7,50. They have flush toilets, tap water, kitchen/cooking bench, hot showers, rubbish collection and road access for all types of vehicles. Laundry facilities, barbeques, fireplaces, cookers and picnic tables may be available. Great Walk Campsites – $ Adult NZ $6,00-18,00 Child Free. These have toilets, sinks and a water supply. Some have picnic tables and cooking shelters. They are situated along treks and walks and allow you to rest during your trekking, but remember to bring your sleeping bag and other personal stuff.
How to pay for these campsites?
You have to pay your fees at the self-registration stand at the campsite (or to the camp warden if present). Deposit the fee in the envelope provided and place the receipt section of the envelope in your vehicle or tent. DOC rangers will check if that fees have been paid.
For the huts situated along the walks, you have to visit a DOC site before starting the hike, buy there your ticket and bring it with you in your walk.
5| WI-FI AND SIM CARD
Let’s be honest, New Zealand’s wi-fi is the worse (and most expensive!) ever. Yes, somewhere it doesn’t work at all. However they have provided libraries where the wi-fi is totally free and sometimes incredibly fast. So don’t worry, you’ll always have the chance to get some free wi-fi, just throw yourself in a library as soon as you see one and enjoy your internet. If you haven’t got personal devices no problem, most of the libraries have new and fast computers as well. They’ll give you an ID and a code. The only limitation is that after a while you have to leave the computer to the other people waiting for it, but you can still wait and start a new session with another computer.
What about your telephone SIM card? On our first trip around New Zealand we bought a vodafone one and we were not happy with that. The second time, we got a Spark SIM card and had a much better experience. What’s awesome about Spark is that, if you have a plan with them, they have 1000+ pink phone boxes all around the country which enable you to use 2GB free wifi per day! We found those very useful, especially to check our email and social accounts. Just get in a Spark store and choose a plan that suits you.
Hopefully these tips give you an idea of what to expect and how to plan your trip around the country. However, if you have other doubts about New Zealand, please leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help you with that!
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Thank you for reading.