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[Updated 7 Mar 2020]
Charming cities, twinkling lakes and mountainous landscapes – these are some of the amazing sights you’ll be greeted with, the moment you step off the plane. If you're planning your first trip, start off with these travel tips that are perfect for every first-timer in New Zealand!
While you’re dreaming of the natural wonders you’re planning to see, it can be challenging to start planning for your trip. Which island should I visit first? When is the best time to visit? How to get around? Thankfully, we’re here to make your travel plans easier with these handy tips!
1. How to get there
Given the rise of New Zealand as a popular tourist destination, there's no shortage of flights to this beautiful country. If you're travelling from the international airports in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Jakarta, you can conveniently book a flight to New Zealand with Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines.
Air New Zealand
During our last trip to New Zealand, we flew from Malaysia to New Zealand via Singapore and got to try the Economy Skycouch! Perfect for an extra room during our long-haul flight, we transformed a row of Economy seats into a comfortable bed, which is great for families with kids.
Besides the comfortable seats, we had the best time catching up on the latest movies on Air New Zealand's inflight entertainment system too. Even the inflight meals were yummy, and we recommend booking your Muslim Meal during reservation. If you're feeling thirsty in the middle of the night and meal service is over, you can order inflight bites such as coffee, tea or juice from the screen!
2. Must-see attractions
You might have heard of the stunning beaches and spectacular greenery in South Island, but North Island deserves a second look!
Credit: Tourism New Zealand
When summer comes around, the Kiwis (also what the locals are referred to!) flock to Maitai Bay to swim, snorkel, kayak, among many other water activities. If you prefer to relax by the sandy beaches, find a quiet spot underneath their Pohutukawa trees (the country’s famous Christmas tree) that are lined along the bay. The home of New Zealand’s only active marine volcano named Whakaari, the Bay of Plenty region is also famous for stunning beaches and golden coastlines. Alternatively, visit the beautiful Anchor Bay, which is situated at Tawharanui Regional Parkto explore the walking trails and rockpools on any clear day. Nature
More than just green spaces, North Island has captivating nature spots for everyone. For a casual day out, you can lay a picnic mat in Hamilton Gardens and take snapshots at their themed gardens (we love the Katherine Mansfield garden!). To level up your adventure meter, go to Waitomo Caves for the brightest and most magical glow worm display and the thermal valleys in Rotorua for their natural geothermal wonders.
#HHWT Tip: We recommend going with Spellbound Glowworm and Cave Tours if you would like to take photos and videos during the tour!
Embark on your own Middle-earth adventure at the Hobbiton Movie Set. Complete with the rolling pastures of the Shire, you can also visit Bilbo Baggin’s cosy home below the old oak tree.
Visit this side of New Zealand to admire the beauty of God’s creation. You’ve probably seen this in photos but trust us when we say it’s even more breath-taking in real life!
Well-known for its mountainous landscapes and outdoor activities, South Island is a destination that unites the best of nature and adventure. The Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is a playground for hikers and nature lovers. You can enjoy long walks along the Hooker Valley Track and marvel at the glaciers at the Tasman Lake. Then, soar the skies and appreciate a bird’s eye view of the Southern Alps like Fox Glacier, Hooker Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier from a ski plane. The South is also known for the sparkling blue Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, which are rewarding scenic stops after a long drive. As the sun sets, you’d want to stargaze at the famous Dark Sky Reserve at Lake Tekapo or The Church of the Good Shepherd.
Fresh from the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand is known for its amazing variety of fresh seafood. From oysters to salmon, you’re in for a treat!
Going out for a meal is the best way to know New Zealand better. When you’re on North Island, you’ll realise how much Kiwis love their fresh seafood. It’s everywhere! Fresh oysters? Slurp it down with a lemon squeeze or tabasco sauce at Mahurangi Oysters and Shuckleferry Oysters. Geothermal-farmed prawns? Deshell them beside the open fire at Huka Prawn Park. Manuka honey? There’s a huge variety at Honey Centre Warkworth from plain honey to flavoured ones like mochaccino and raspberry honey.
What to eat on North Island: Fresh oysters and geothermal-farmed prawns
P.S. Looking for other halal meals? Explore our ultimate guide to halal food in New Zealand!
Seafood in the south is just as great up north. Close to the Pacific Ocean, Kiwis know various ways to enjoy fresh seafood. For lobsters and crayfish, you can savour it with melted butter and garlic at the seafood restaurants along Kaikoura Peninsula. At High Country Salmon , you can enjoy fresh salmon poke bowls, burgers and sashimi where ingredients are fished straight from the glacial waters at Wairepo Arm. Kiwis say that bluff oysters are juicier than Pacific oysters and dining at Bluff’s Oyster Cove Café or Barnes Wild Bluff Oysters factory shop will have you nodding in delight.
To seal your cultural experience, gather your friends for a Hangi dinner, a traditional Maori dinner where meats and vegetables are cooked underground in a pit, at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. While the kitchen prepares and serves pork, the halal meats are wrapped and prepared separately to prevent cross-contamination. We advise you to dine at your own discretion.
What to eat in South Island: Lobsters, crayfish, salmon and bluff oysters
P.S. Whether you're craving for fish and chips or fresh salmon, check out 10 halal food stops (near top attractions) In New Zealand’s South Island!
4. How to get around
Wherever you’re from, you’ll be welcomed by a friendly Kia Ora (Maori greeting) at the international airports. Here’s how you can move about in New Zealand!
If you prefer not to drive, New Zealand’s public transportation is efficient. You can hop on its national bus network InterCityor hop-on-hop-off buses that will take you to various tourist attractions on the island. Uber is widely available to take you around as well. Self-drive
Self-driving is a popular way to explore the island at your own pace, and you can rent a vehicle at the airport itself. Depending on the size of your group, you can choose a small car, four-wheel drive, motor home, budget van and luxury self-contained campervan. There are many major car rental companies, but you can get the best deals from local firms. Just pick-up and drop-off conveniently at any major airport.
Estimated rental rates (per day)
Depending on the vehicle model, drop-off location, rental season, insurance, ferry costs and other additional charges, you can rent your vehicle at these rates.
Car: NZ$34 to NZ$150
Campervan: NZ$130 to NZ$250
Motorhome: NZ$90 to NZ$350
Credit: Tourism New Zealand
You can also travel between North and South Island via the Interislander Ferry or Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferries. Make your way to Wellington (North) or Picton(South) and be mesmerised by scenic stretches while crossing the Cook Strait. There are three ferries available - the Arahura, Kaitaki and Aratere. Apart from soaring birds, you might be lucky enough to see dolphins and black-browed albatross too. Estimated ferry rates (one-way)
Without vehicle: NZ$55 - NZ$75 (per adult) and NZ$28 - NZ$38 (per child)
With vehicle (varies according to vehicle type): NZ$173 -NZ$408 (per vehicle including driver only)
Whether you’re in North or South Island, there are a variety of accommodations that suit your budget and group size.
Perfect for solo travellers and couples, you can check into mid-range, business and luxury hotels. Depending on your proximity to the city and seasonal rates, a night’s stay is between NZ$135 and NZ$258. Since most hotel rooms provide single and twin beds, you may need to book separate rooms to accommodate a large group.
Where we stayed in both the North and South Islands:
Credit: Bachcare Holiday Homes on Facebook
Perfect for large families or friends, holiday homes(or Airbnb) are great if you need a fully-equipped kitchen, a few bedrooms and a spacious living space for your group. Since New Zealand is known for its gorgeous sceneries, you can choose a cosy home that overlooks the city, harbour or ocean. Priced between NZ$100 and NZ$280 per night, it’s such a great way to wake up in the morning! Best websites for holiday homes:Airbnb and BachcareCampgrounds and holiday parks
Credit: TOP 10 Holiday Parks on Facebook
If you want a unique experience, drive a campervan or mobile home, there are many scenic camping sites and family parks where you can pull the brakes at. With facilities such as toilets, rubbish bins, dump stations and outdoor cooking spots, you’ll feel right at home with the other campers.
Alternatively, large groups will enjoy the facilities at TOP 10 Holiday Parks, which are spacious parks that come with camping grounds, motorhome or caravan sites and cabin units. Spot them in places like Queenstown, Kaikoura, Rotorua and more. You can look forward to the playground, barbecue area, TV room, swimming pools and free Wi-Fi in every unit.
Best websites for campgrounds and holiday parks: Top 10 Holiday Parks and Family Parks
6. An adventure for every traveller
Whether you are a nature lover or an adventure seeker, there’s something for every traveller on both North Island and South Island!
If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture, participate in a Maori cultural experience and savour a traditional Hangi dinner . Craving for a relaxing day? Hit the beach to surf, swim and scuba dive to your heart’s content.
Besides that, North Island is also blessed with many picturesque landscapes to entice a nature lover. A foodie will also have the best time savouring fresh oysters, fish and chips, and dining at the many halal eateries in cities like Auckland and Waitomo.
P.S. For Auckland's best food adventure, check out 8 Muslim-friendly eateries for your Auckland vacation!
For those who crave for an adrenaline rush, South Island is a magnet for adventure seekers who have bungy jumping, skydiving and dirt biking on their bucket list. Then again, this side of New Zealand is well-known for mountainous retreats, which is perfect for travellers with older parents. Since it has one of the best stargazing sites in the world, it’d be romantic for leisure honeymooners to cosy up under a starry night too.
7. Must-buy souvenirs
To bring a piece of New Zealand home with you, count on uniquely Kiwi souvenirs to relive your favourite travel memories.
Surprise your loved ones and colleagues with New Zealand’s famous souvenirs! Highly-recommended by Kiwis, Whittaker’s chocolatecome in a variety of flavours such as Almond Gold, Hokey Pokey and Creamy Milk. Good news! All their chocolate products (except Jelly Tip Block, Toffee Milk Block and Chunks, and Rum and Raisin Block) have been Halal accredited by FIANZ (The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand). Aside from that, save some space in your luggage for other local delights like Pineapple Lumps (chocolate-coated pineapple marshmallows). They use halal-certified beef gelatine, so it’s all good!
The little ones would enjoy snuggling up to this soft Kiwi plush toy. For the man in your life, you can pack up an All-Blacks t-shirt (the country’s national rugby team) and silver fern keychain (a significant symbol of New Zealand).
Take a look at New Zealand’s calendar of events, and you’ll be enticed to visit New Zealand all year round!
Credit: Tourism New Zealand
Spending time by the coastline will reward you with memorable dolphin sightings. Drop by the Bay of Plenty which is known for plenty of sunshine and surfing retreats! You can also experience dolphin sightings at Auckland Whale & Dolphin Safari.
When to go: All year around
Maori New Year
Mark your calendar for the Maori New Year happening in June. It’s widely celebrated across New Zealand, but you’d want to be at Mitai Maori Village in Rotorua for the cultural performances, kite flying, and fireworks display.
When to go: June
The South provides many chances to appreciate their natural landscapes, and nature lovers will have a field day at these seasonal events.
Credit: Queenstown Winter Festival on Facebook
With snowflakes on your noses and hot chocolates in hand, Queenstown Winter Festival is where the party’s at! Perfect for your mid-year holiday, this annual festival is brimming with live music, fireworks display, comedy nights, snow tubing and even, mountain bikes racing down the snow.
When to go: June
Orca (killer whale) watching
Spot the orcas while in New Zealand for a glimpse of their distinctive black and white appearance. Wild and free, you can witness their high-speed chase in Kaikoura, a coastal town known for dolphin and albatross watching too.
When to go: All year around
9. Best times to visit
Choosing the perfect season to explore New Zealand is challenging because nature and mountainous landscapes look amazing all year round! Take it as a chance to appreciate New Zealand in four different ways: spring, summer, autumn and winter.
Seasonal temperature (in Celsius)
Spring (Sep to Nov): 4.5 – 18 degrees
Summer (Dec to Feb): 21 – 32 degrees
Autumn (Mar to May): 7 – 21 degrees
Winter (June to Aug): 1.5 – 15.5 degrees
If you’re conquering both islands on the same holiday, remember that the average temperature decreases as you make your way south. During these times, your windbreaker and jacket are your best friends. The trick is to wear warm layers, so you can switch up your outfit when the temperature changes.
With stunning landscapes and plenty of activities to try, New Zealand is certainly a destination that unites the best of both worlds! With this first-timer’s guide as your companion, it’s time to book a ticket to New Zealand right now! Check out more about what you can do in NZ here.
This article is brought to you by Tourism New Zealand