Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Fly. Drive. Climb. Be amazed. Breathe. Star gaze. Repeat.
New Zealand is one of the best countries we`ve been to in terms of living. Meaning... we would try to move there, if we could! But, unfortunately, they do not accept foreigners too easily and for most of the jobs you need NZ citizenship. So, a big " keep dreaming " to us! However, if we have to describe it in just a few words, we have to say that we both had the feeling that we were in a "perfect Romania" over there. A lot of things were very similar to our country but much nicer. People were fewer and very friendly. There were no crowds and everyone focused on outdoors. One downside could be the fact that one could feel there is no big history there, being such a new discovered country. But, on the other hand, why would you need history when you have so much nature?
New Zealand is pretty much far away from everything, apart from Australia and some of the Pacific islands. Therefore, expect a veeery long journey to get there.
From Romania, it took us approximately 22 hrs to get there, and this is just the flying time, excluding layovers. Coming back, we had 2 connections and it took slightly more, about 27 hrs flying time.Anyway, we recommend to take into consideration 2 days.
The best and cheapest option we found ( in terms of flight tickets ) was Emirates for us, but there are some other airlines that fly there. However, try to avoid Chinese airlines, especially China Southern, as we had some major issues with them. ( Basically we tried to book a ticket with them the first time and they took our money and didn`t send us the tickets. Moreover, we only recovered our money after 2 weeks minus the bank fees, with no other re-booking option.)
Anyway, just for you to have an idea, a good ticket price from Europe is considered to be around 1000 € per person.
Do you need visa?
Obviously, depends on the nationality. However, starting from autumn 2019, most of the countries apart from Australia, need to obtain a NZ ETA in order to be able to board a plane to final destination New Zealand.
This NZ ETA is mostly for airlines and without it, they will not allow you to board because they could be fined.
NZ ETA can be obtained from www.immigration.govt.nz , costs 12 $ ( or 9$ through the their App ) and it usually takes few minutes ( for us was 4-5 minutes including the time to fill in the form ) but they tell you to allow up to 72 hrs just to be sure.
More info on the travel requirements can be found on IATA Travel Centre, which is an official source.
Because this is a fairly new procedure and we had already checked the visa requirements in the past, we were stupid enough not to double check it before departure, therefore we ended up at the boarding gate without NZETAs and we ended up being offloaded and paying re-booking fees to get on the next flight. So, please don`t be like us and check the links posted above!
North Island or South Island?
Based on what other people say, photographs that we`ve seen and travel forums, we chose to allocate most of our time to South Island. However, we got to spend almost 5 days on the north Island as well and we loved them both.
North Island has the greatest amount of people, has a milder climate ( it is more tropical in the north ) and feels closer to what you need to live there. Apart from that, it has great beaches, volcanoes, glow worms caves, amazing forests, including the giant forest near Rotorua and Auckland, the biggest city. Not to mention Hobbiton and many other "The Lord of the Rings" filming locations!
On the other hand, South Island is more remote and has far less people, the climate is colder but still nice. It is definitely more spectacular because it has the Southern Alps and all those fjords and nature miracles. Here, you could see Albatross birds, penguins, Orca whales, better views of the stars due to darker skies, amazingly blue rivers and lakes and glaciers.
Therefore, it is hard to tell if one island is better than the other because they are so different. However, South island tends to be more popular. If you have enough time, try to get to see both.
When to go?
The most popular time of the year over there is during southern hemisphere summer, that is, between December and February. The weather is still warm in November and March and gets colder as you get closer to winter.
On the other hand, if you are into stargazing and astro - photography, the skies are darker and the center of Milky Way galaxy is only visible in winter. So is the Aurora Australis, or the southern lights. But you must be really lucky to see it.
How much time do you need?
Well, ideally, the more, the better. But we know most of us cannot afford that.
We had a total of 19 days but we spent 4 of them traveling to and from NZ. We were happy with all this time and we feel that we managed to cover most of the things.
We divided them into almost 5 days on North Island and 10 days on South Island.
So, we would say that 2 weeks just in NZ ( excluding flights ) would be enough to have a glimpse of both islands.
For anything less than 10 -11 days, forget both islands and focus on only one of them. Although it seems manageable and the distances seem short, it actually takes ages to get from one point to another and you will spend a lot of time just driving.
However, a lot of blogs and forums advise to have at least 3 weeks just in NZ, but we think that for most people tit is impossible to take so much time off.
The best way to see NZ is definitely self driving, regardless what type of vehicle you are driving. The best and quickest way to travel between the islands is by plane, Air New Zealand and Jet Star being the main airlines.
Public transportation is not very well developed outside the main cities and we haven`t seen trains, apart from cargo trains.
There are few day trips which can be organized from main cities and which provide transportation, but that is definitely not the way to see this beautiful country.
Therefore, to save time and make the most of it, travel between the islands by plane and rent cars for the rest.
Campervan, motorhome or just a normal car?
We think this is the question most people have when it comes to make a road trip in New Zealand. To be honest, we`ve been dreaming for a long time to rent a motorhome there but we soon realized that it`s too expensive.
Anyway, after days of research, we came to this conclusion:
Motorhomes are the most expensive way to see NZ but also the nicest way as you have full flexibility. Prices in high season start from around 2000 - 2500 € for 10 days but can be more.
Renting a normal car and booking accommodation along the way is the cheapest way but it cuts most of your flexibility. Prices are really good and even in high season you can rent a decent car for 300 - 400 € for 10 days.
Renting a campervan is kind of in between the two, but it`s still too expensive for what they offer and, due to the nature protection laws in NZ, if they are not self contained, you are not able to camp anywhere and still have to pay for campsites ( holiday parks ). In our opinion, prices are too high, considering that they do not have heating ( and temperature really drops a lot at night ) and most of them don`t have toilet or shower. Range price between 1400 - 2000 € for 10 days.
Regardless of which one you opt for, bear in mind that freedom camping is not allowed anywhere and even if it`s allowed your vehicle will need to be self contained. The alternative is to pay for holiday parks ( which are campsites with toilets and shared facilities ) and they are pretty expensive, 10 - 20 € per person, if not more.
However, motorhomes offer more freedom, as they are self contained. In case you were wondering what "self contained" means, please read this.
Car rental companies
For motorhomes, there are some major reliable companies:
Wilderness is the most expensive but the best; Maui, Britz and Mighty belong to the same company but the vehicles differ by age, Mighty being their value option.
We have also seen a lot of Star RV vehicles around NZ, you might give it a try: www.starrv.com
For campervans, there are more options but bear in mind, most of them are pretty basic:
3. Mad Campers
Jucy and Travellers Autobarn are considered mid range options, while Mad Campers and Escape are considered budget options.
However, we`ve heard that Jucy is also pretty basic but they are one of the most popular companies in NZ and have really good prices, not to mention that they have also hotels and discounts to different trips and gas stations.
Regarding normal car rental, there are of course the most popular ones such as Hertz, Avis, Budget and so on but we found those too expensive.
We opted for Jucy instead and we were super happy with them. They had great customer service, quick replies, reliable cars and very good prices. On top of that, please check their relocation deals because sometimes they really have some good offers, such as 1$ rental and free tank of fuel.
Where to go
Uhm.. everywhere?!? But we know that`s not possible, unless you move there for a while, therefore we picked some places that we wanted to see and which we will share with you. We will also share the places that we didn`t get to see but that would be nice.
1. Coromandel Peninsula - where you can find nice beaches and beautiful houses and a lot of hills and green forest. Important beaches are Cathedral Cove and New Chums beach. We spent the night in Whitianga, which is one of the biggest towns over there.
2. Tauranga - another small but vibrant city along the east coast. Might worth few hours there.
3. Hobbiton - one of the most popular places in New Zealand.
Although we weren`t so sure if we should visit it or not, as we are not big fans of crowds, we decided to do it in the end. And we are now glad we took this decision! The place is absolutely gorgeous and you feel that you`ve just stepped into a fairy tale once you get there. Bear in mind that a guided tour is mandatory over there and it must be booked before hand ( they won`t allow you on your own ) and less crowded times are usually in the afternoon. More about it here.
4. Rotorua - which has the amazing Red Wood forest ( Whakarewarewa ) and the geothermal reserve Wai - o - tapu.
Try the Red Wood tree walk!
We didn`t have time for both, so we only chose the forest and we must say is a perfect place for photography.
5. Waitomo and the Glow Worms Caves - we had this in plan but we changed our mind when we found out that photography is not allowed in the cave we were interested ( the one where you go by boat ); however, we read amazing reviews about this.
6. Auckland area including Rangitoto and Waiheke islands - we have only been to Auckland and we really enjoyed it; must do in Auckland: climb Mt. Eden for amazing views of the city;
( we would have loved to get to at least one of those islands but we simply didn`t have enough time; from what we`ve read, Waiheke is famous for its beaches and wineries while Rangitoto is more quiet )
7. Piha beach - initially we didn`t know if we`ll have enough time for the West coast but we managed to allocate an afternoon for this, since it`s only 40 km out of Auckland; the black Piha beach itself is more majestic in reality than in the pictures and the road is delightful.
8. Kitekite falls - just 5 minutes by car from Piha you can find the 20 min track to Kitekite falls which is a real breath of nature; we discovered it by chance just by scrolling on Google Maps but we highly recommend doing it!
9. Cape Reinga - the northernmost point in NZ; we haven`t got the time to visit it but we`ve seen some gorgeous images.
1. Milford Sound - the fourth wettest place in the world, which is more majestic in reality than in the pictures; while a cruise here is a must, what really impressed us was the scenic road to reach the fjord. Beware though, due to the heavy rains here, it may happen that the road is closed sometimes or it can only be accessed by bus, so double check before!
Tip: if you`re renting a car through Jucy, the driver gets 50% off for the cruise.
2. Queenstown - this was by far our favorite city in the whole NZ; although a bit too touristic and crowded, this town has it all: turquoise lakes, design houses, outdoor tracks, mountains, fancy bars and restaurants and of course, plenty of nature.
Some stuff to do here:
- walk the short Bob`s Cove track ( allow 2 hrs including the drive from the town )
- climb Ben Lommond summit ( allow 1 day - about 9 hrs including breaks )
- consider driving to Glenorchy along Wakatipu lake ( 46 km , aprox 45 min one way )
- try a spa experience at the Onsen hot pools - more info on their website
More hiking ideas from Queenstown can be found here.
3. Wanaka - a smaller town compared to Queenstown but with the same nice vibe;
Stuff to do here:
- visit the town including #thatwanakatree
- hike Roys peak - probably the most photographed mountain spot ( allow 1 day )
- visit the Blue pools ( 70 km drive one way )
- visit Glendhu Bay lookout
4. Aoraki Mount cook National park - this is by far the most stunning national park if the weather is good enough 😊.
Things to do here:
- stop at Peter`s lookout for a picturesque view of the road curving next to the turquoise Lake Pukaki
- walk Hooker valley track ( very crowded and fairly easy walk - allow 2-3hours )
- hike Red tarns track ( allow 4-5hours maximum ) - be prepared for hundreds of steps!
- short climb up to the Tasman Glacier View ( 20 mins 🤔 )
5. Tekapo - a small town next to the turquoise Tekapo lake; famous for being in the Dark sky reserve;
Things to do:
- hike up Mt. John hill to the Observatory
- photograph the Church of Good Shepherd ( which was too crowded in our opinion )
6. Dunedin - where you can visit the Royal Albatross centre and see the steepest street in the world;
At Royal Albatross Centre you can visit the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world.
7. Visit Abel Tasman National park - although we haven`t got the time to go there, we saw a lot of good feedback from people; it is famous for its tracks and its beaches;
8. Go whale watching - a list of places can be found here
9. Visit Franz Josef and fox Glaciers + detour to Hokitika Gorge
10. Check out Arthur`s Pass
This list is not exhaustive but it`s impossible for us to cover everything.
You can find more itineraries for the South Island on www.inafarawayland.com, which we found to be the most complete guide.
Scenic roads in New Zealand
1.Te Anau to Milford Sound - 120 km one way ( South Island )
2. Mount Cook road along Lake Pukaki - 60 km one way ( South Island )
3. Crown Range Road - from Wanaka to Queenstown - 67 km one way ( South Island )
4. The Great Coast Road - Greymouth to Westport - 100 km one way ( South Island )
5. The forgotten highway 43 - Taumarunui to Stratford - 150 km one way ( North Island )
6. New Plymouth to Hawera - via the coast - 105 km ( North Island )
As mentioned before, we had 15 full days which were divided into 5 days on North Island and 10 days on South Island. We rented cars on both islands and we traveled from Auckland to Christchurch by plane ( Jet Star airline ).
However, Auckland to Tekapo was pretty boring and time consuming and we think is better to fly to Queenstown if you`re short of time.
Our 4 day itinerary in the North Island looked like this and included: 2 nights* on Coromandel peninsula ( Whitianga ), one night* in Matamata ( to do the Hobbiton tour ) and 3 nights* night in Auckland .
* accommodations in the links attached
Our 10 days itinerary in the South Island started and ended in Christchurch and looked like this and included pretty much 2 nights in each of the following: Wanaka*, Queenstown*, Te Anau, Tekapo and Twizel*. Unfortunately we didn`t have time for more locations as we wanted to do a bit of everything and a lot of photography.
* accommodations in the links attached and we only posted the ones that we can recommend
Accommodation - we noticed that AirBnb works way better than Booking.com in New Zealand! All AirBnb properties were sparkling clean and really good value, so have this in mind!
Local sim and internet plan - we advise purchasing a local sim as it`s extremely useful for GPS and communicating with accommodations; we purchased a Vodafone prepaid sim card of 2 GB and costed us around 30 NZ$ , which was more than enough; P.S: there is a Vodafone shop right in Auckland airport arrivals area
Travel distances - are something that we underestimated! Google works pretty well in terms of time estimation but bear in mind that all the roads only have a single lane and most of the roads are winding roads so take extra time!
The road to Milford Sound - one of the most beautiful roads in the whole country is the one that probably poses most problems to traffic authority; due to the extreme wet conditions over there, this road is often broken by rainfall and closed, therefore always check the road condition before your trip;
in our case the road was only open to bus convoys and we could reach Milford but we couldn`t drive ourselves;
Expenses / unexpected expenses - New Zealand was definitely more expensive than we expected it;
--> accommodation is pretty expensive mostly in high season, so bear in mind that a decent double room will cost at least 80 € per night, but take into consideration 90 - 100 €
--> most accommodations do not have breakfast included and even if they do, the breakfast is pretty basic - continental breakfast - which is basically bread and jam and cereals
--> most AirBnB units have basic cutlery, plates, wine glasses and coffee making facilities/ fridge -- it`s always handy to grab some extra things from the supermarket
--> restaurants and bars are really nice but pretty expensive - a decent breakfast would be around 20 € per person ( if not more ) and lunch/ dinner could be as much as 30 € per person; of course there are always cheaper and more expensive options but this is an average price
--> most of the activities and tours are really expensive!! E.g : Rotorua Wai - o - tapu , Red wood tree walk, Waitomo glow worms , Hobbiton, Milford Sound cruise etc.
Jucy offers - as mentioned before, we used Jucy as our car rental company and we were happy with it; although it didn`t suit our travel dates Jucy have many relocation deals ( for both campervans and normal cars ) which might save you loads of money
Useful information - can be found on a blog that we really like and which helped us to plan our journey - www.inafarawayland.com
A nice experience - although was too expensive for us and they were anyway fully booked, we found this little pods ( houses ) that might interest you! Basically, these are some houses made entirely from windows, located around the south island, in the middle of nature, which allow you to have a unique experience of stargazing and being away from everything; check them out here
Experience some New Zealand wine/ visit a wineyard - we haven`t got time to visit many, but we discovered this winery close to Wanaka which we highly reccommend - Maori Point - which offer both tours and wine selling. Must try their Riesling!
Next, feel inspired by our photo gallery which was taken mostly with our Sony A7III camera and the 3 lenses that we have now: Sony 135 mm, Zeiss 55 mm and Tamron 28 - 75 mm. Few of them were made by our DJI Mavic Air drone.