21 secrets nobody tells you about travelling in New Zealand

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New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful country, and we think that everyone who has been there can agree that travelling in New Zealand is absolutely worth it. A lot of things in New Zealand are however quite different from what you’re probably used to, and most travel guides won’t tell you about them.

Here are the things we wish we knew before we went to New Zealand.


1. New Zealand doesn’t mess around when it comes to conservation

New Zealand’s nature is pristine, and there is a lot of flora and fauna that is native only to New Zealand. So as you can probably understand, the country’s government is really serious about protecting it. This already starts with a rigorous customs screening as you enter the country where you’ll be asked to declare all food and all equipment that has come into contact with the outdoors.

Tom brought in a pair of hiking shoes that had only been worn once, but he still had to hand them in and only got them back after customs thoroughly cleaned them.

Then, when you’re in the country, you’ll find shoe cleaning stations at the entrance and exit to every national park to prevent the spreading of certain plant diseases, and the country has one of the most ambitious pest control programs in the world.

2. Always wear sun protection

You’re probably thinking that since New Zealand is not a tropical country, you’ll be fine if you forget to apply sun protection. While the temperature in New Zealand usually doesn’t go above 25-30°C in summer, the sun strength is very high.

This is because there is less ozone in New Zealand to block UV rays, there is less pollution in the southern hemisphere to weaken sun strength, and the earth’s orbit takes the southern hemisphere closer to the sun in summer than the northern hemisphere.

When Zi first came to New Zealand on a cold and gloomy November day (beginning of spring), she got sunburnt in a matter of hours. So make sure to always wear sun protection, even when it is cloudy.

Read Next: All about NZ – The good, the bad, and the ugly

3. New Zealand is windy

You might have heard of the roaring 40s, strong and cold winds that come from Antarctica and ‘roar’ across the 40 degrees latitude line. Since New Zealand lies smack on top of the 40 degrees latitude line, the roaring 40’s push over New Zealand, making it very windy.

These winds are further compressed through the Cook Strait, where the capital Wellington lies, giving it the nickname ‘Windy Welly’.

That, coupled with the fact that New Zealand is a small mass of land in a big ocean with no wind barriers means that there’s gonna be wind almost everywhere and almost all the time. So in short, bring a windbreaker 😉

4. You’ll get four seasons in one day

On top of the wind, and partially because of the wind, the weather can get really unpredictable. Especially in spring and autumn, you might be sitting outside looking at perfect blue skies, to then see the sky turn grey and get caught in a heavy shower not 5 minutes later. Make sure to pack for all sorts of weather, and we’ll just say it again; always bring a jacket!


5. Look up at night

No matter if you’re into stargazing or not, look up to the night sky whenever you venture out of the cities and you’ll be blown away. Because there is very little light pollution in New Zealand, it has one of the clearest night skies in the world. The milky way looks fabulous in New Zealand!

Take a trip to the Dark Sky Reserve near Mt. Cook and you might even see the Aurora Australis (Southern Light).


6. There are no dangerous animals on land

That’s right, you can go on any hike without having to worry about snakes, lethal spiders, bears or any other scary animals that could potentially eat you.

New Zealand has no native land mammals and no natural predators. The land mammals that you see, like cows and sheep, have been brought into the country from overseas.

And even in the water, there isn’t much to fear. While there are sharks and even great whites in the waters around New Zealand, shark attacks are very very rare.


7. Sandflies are a pain in the ass

Even though there are no dangerous animals in New Zealand, we still need to tell you that there is an animal that is not technically dangerous but is so pesky that you still don’t want it anywhere near you – the annoying sandfly.

When a sandfly bites you it hurts, the bite itches like no other itch you’ve ever felt before, and in some areas of New Zealand there seem to be even more sandflies than sheep (and that says something). They are slow, so killing them is easy, but in the time it takes you to slap one, three of its friends will leech onto your feet.

Every person you’ll meet in New Zealand will have his/her own method or self-proclaimed super elixir to keep these swarming little bloodsuckers away. We even met a girl in Fiordland National Park who just decided to wear a beekeepers mask whenever she went outside.

While some of these methods might help to keep them at bay for a little while, we find that wearing long sleeves and sticking your trousers into your socks helps best, even though it looks a bit funny.

8. The wildlife is incredible

To make up for the relentless amounts of sandflies there is heaps of incredible wildlife in New Zealand that you do actually want to see. We have been in the water dolphins and stingrays, seen whales, sharks, and you can even see orcas depending on the season.

If you know where to look you can find the smallest and cutest penguin in the world; the little blue penguin. Or what about the yellow-eyed penguin, which is the rarest penguin in the world.

New Zealand is home to many other exotic and endangered birds like the royal albatross, the biggest flight-able bird in the world (and it’s massive!). The weka, which tries to eat almost everything and will probably go extinct just because it is so stupid. The pukeko that looks a bit like a small ostrich. The kea; the only alpine parrot in the world, they are loud and WILL try to steal your food. And of course the elusive kiwi bird. They do exist, we’ve seen them!



9. New Zealand roads are different

Even though distances often might not look that far on the map, always account for extra travel time. The roads in New Zealand are steep, windy, and often narrow. Main highways are hardly ever more than 2 lanes; one lane each way, and don’t be surprised if the road you’re on suddenly turns into a dirt road. Oh, and then there are the countless unscheduled stops to take pictures of the scenery.

Then there will be times when you’ll be stuck behind a slow driver going uphill. Since these roads are almost exclusively 2-lane roads, you won’t be able to pass. Luckily on roads like these, there will be slow vehicle bays. By law, slow drivers are required to go into the slow vehicle bay and let traffic pass if there is other traffic behind them. Make sure to do so yourself if you happen to be the slow driver keeping other people up.



10. Always take the scenic route

In New Zealand the best route is the long way around and often you’ll find the most breath taking views at the end of a windy gravel road. We made it a game of turning into this kind of streets, not knowing where we’d end up. Sometimes it was a dead end but more often than not we ended up in a beautiful corner of the country.

After exploring every nook and cranny we’ve prepared these North Island and South Island road trip itineraries. They’ll take you to the hotspots that are actually worth your time (some are not!) and you’ll also explore some of the hidden gems too.


11. One lane bridges are a thing

The country is full of one-lane bridges, which if you encounter them for the first them can be a bit confusing. There will always be a sign next to the bridge indicating which side has right of way, but even if you do have right of way, don’t drive onto the bridge if someone is already coming from the other side.


12. Campervan rental prices are insane

Exploring the country in a campervan is the way to go in New Zealand, and the number of rental campervans you’ll see on the road will astonish you (we counted campervans from 37 different rental companies during the drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound alone). But don’t let this fool you, renting a campervan is one of the most expensive ways to travel around.

If you’re planning on travelling around New Zealand for 3 months or longer, the price for renting a campervan will roughly be the same as just buying a second-hand campervan. And that’s not even counting the money you’ll get back when you sell the campervan again at the end of your trip.

Even if you’re staying a shorter time, renting a small car and staying in hostels/hotels will most likely still be cheaper. We’d still suggest a campervan though, as with a self-contained campervan you’ll be able to stay in most campsites for free, saving even more money.



13. The internet is slow

If you’re coming from Europe or the USA, you won’t believe how slow the internet here is. Because New Zealand is right at the end of the communication cables that go through the pacific, and there are only two of these cables going to New Zealand, the data speeds are very limited.

On top of that, the reception in the rural areas (which is basically the whole country) is very weak, so there will be plenty of times when you don’t have any reception at all.


14. The local lingo is funny

Even though English is the official language in New Zealand, there are a lot of words that are different and are only used here. If you don’t know some of the local lingo, there will be a lot of confusing conversations. These are the most common ones and their meaning.

  • Jandals – flipflops
  • A dairy – convenience store
  • Chilly bin – cool box
  • Togs – Swimshorts
  • Bach or crib – small holiday home or beach house (pronounced “batch”)
  • Tramping – hiking
  • Piss – often means alcohol, but sometimes it just means piss
  • Sweet as – can mean anything that resembles ‘thanks’, ‘you’re welcome’, ‘no worries’ and ‘awesome’
  • Kia ora – Maori for hello, welcome


15. Kiwis are friendly and sincerely interested

New Zealanders refer to themselves as Kiwis, and they are a really friendly bunch. They will greet you on the street and stop for a chat. When they ask you how you´re doing, they are usually sincerely interested in the answer. They love to hear about your plans in New Zealand and are always happy to give you recommendations on places to go to and things to see.


16. Brunch culture is big & the coffee is great

New Zealand has some seriously delicious breakfast food, and you can get it everywhere! Smashed avo on toast, eggs benedict, french toast, banana pancake stacks and much much more. Going out for brunch is possibly even bigger than going out for dinner. On top of that, the coffee is rated as some of the best in the world, and you´ll find hip & quirky coffee shops in literally every town.

17. You have to get up and pay

In most countries, when you’ve finished eating and are ready to go, you ask for the bill, the waiter brings it to your table and you pay. In New Zealand, the waiter will probably look at you all confused and a cartoonish question mark might appear above his/her head if you ask for the bill.

In New Zealand you have to go up to the till to get your bill and pay, so don’t wait around for the bill at your table, because it will never come. The same goes for tap water. There will always be a tap water station to fill your glass or bottles with tap water for your table, but you’ll have to get up and get it yourself.

18. No tips necessary

In New Zealand, wages for people working in hospitality are pretty decent compared to other countries, which makes that tipping is not a custom here. Don’t worry about a service charge or adding a little bit extra to your taxi fare because no one will expect it. In fact, if you leave money on your table when you leave, the waiter will most likely run after you to give it back, thinking you accidentally left it behind.


19. Gas, food, and drinks are expensive

In general New Zealand is quite an expensive country, but prices for gas, food and alcohol take the crown. If you’re thinking about buying a vehicle, have a good look at how fuel economical it as, as fuelling up tends to rip right through your wallet. The same goes for eating out with a few drinks. If you’re travelling on a budget, stick to cooking your own meals as much as you can.

20. “Wh” is pronounced “f”

This is a weird thing to mention is what you’re probably thinking. But have a look at the map and see how many places have ‘wh’ in their name. Those are all pronounced with an ‘f’ instead of ‘wh’. When we first got to New Zealand and people were talking to us about places like Whitianga (pronounced “fitianga”) or Whangarei (pronounced “fangarey”), we had no idea what they were talking. Confusing right?!

21. Shoes are optional

That’s right, people will go barefoot everywhere. Supermarkets, the pub, people even go hiking (tramping, remember?) barefoot! It looks a bit weird the first few times you see it and takes some getting used to, but eventually, you’ll embrace it.

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So there you have it. The things you can expect when you go to New Zealand. Just drink loads of coffee, wear a jacket, ditch the jandals and you’ll fit right it!


Keep it handy and pin this to your New Zealand travel board


Anything you think we’ve missed?
Let us know in the comments!



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Tom & Zi

Tom and Zi are the creatives behind Craving Adventure. In 2018 they chose to wander, to explore and to show others how to follow their path. That’s how Craving Adventure, a travel blog with a strong focus on adventure, offbeat travel and authentic experiences, was born. Through their in depth and easy to follow travel guides & itineraries they help you travel more, travel better and always encourage you to take the path less travelled.


  1. Wow! I’m heading to NZ in 2 weeks and find your post very helpfull!! ??? and right on time ? Thanks a lot for it! ?? I’ll kip in mind all the tips you’ve given! ?

    • Glad our post helped! And so awesome that you’re going to New Zealand, how long are you planning on staying? 🙂

      • With what’s happened over the last couple of months, and the lockdown, it’s possible she’s still here :-/
        There are worse places to be stuck, though

  2. Having moved here 16y ago, I can say that you’re pretty much right on all of these. Coming from the UK, though, I found the petrol cheap, and I’m used to having no tipping culture. The ones about the sunburn, and driving distances are spot on.
    You might also like to note that, in NZ, if you are asked to "bring a plate" when you visit, that means a potluck supper – IE you should bring some food to share. And a "koha" means a voluntary entry fee, usually NZ$2.
    Another point is the the NZ Police are much more friendly and approachable (and generally respected) than e.g. their colleagues in the US or UK, but are very strict on speeding and drink-driving.
    Hope you can all come and visit our country next summer after the Covid clears up.

    • Hi Steve, thanks so much for your comment and your additions. We love the police in New Zealand! Unlike in many other countries, the police in NZ often just walk up to you for a chat and are usually up for a bit of joking around. A much better attitude than the strict authoritarian figures we’re used to in Europe. Definitely looking forward to visiting New Zealand again!

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