New Zealand is an incredible destination to discover. In terms of natural scenery, it is definitely one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With its English-speaking residents and laid back culture, it has long been a popular destination for travellers. In 2019, 3,8 million tourists and other travellers visited New Zealand.
For such a small country it has an amazing range of landscapes – mountains, beaches, rainforests, deserts and glaciers.
So, if you have decided to travel long hours from the other side of the world to get here, congratulations!
If you are visiting New Zealand as a backpacker, it can be difficult to settle in at first.
In this guide, we will outline some of the things we wish we knew before visiting New Zealand. A backpacker, or just visiting on a holiday? We have some useful tips for you.
1. The border control and the customs are very rigorous
New Zealand has very strict customs rules in order to protect the country’s biodiversity.
Been on a farm in recent months? Be sure to clean your shoes! Border agents are extremely careful to not allow any contaminants into their country.
Before you travel, be sure to check thoroughly what you need to declare and what you can and cannot bring in here.
2. Hiking can be unsafe
Hiking the picturesque landscape is usually high up on every traveller’s New Zealand wish list.
However, hiking alone or while unprepared can be dangerous. New Zealand is a very wild country in a lot of places and some of the paths may not be perfectly maintained. You would not believe how regularly tourists get lost here.
3. Speed limits
Not a lot of tourists know that there are a lot of hidden speed cameras in New Zealand. The speed limit is typically 100 km per hour on open roads and 50 km per hour in smaller towns. Keep this in mind and don’t exceed them if you don’t want to be hit by serious penalties.
4. Living with roommates
The housing market in New Zealand is crazy and renting a property is very expensive. If you want to find affordable housing, you need to be comfortable with sharing it with roommates. The closer you get to Auckland, housing is getting ridiculously expensive.
5. English and Te Reo Maori
Yes, they speak English but if you come here you will need to get used to words like proper, heaps and sweet as! They use them a lot. “Sweet as bro” means ‘thanks’ or ‘cool’ and you will hear it quite often.
Te Reo Maori is the indigenous language of New Zealand. The Māori language is considered a national treasure and is undergoing a revival. Start with simple phrases like “Kia ora” which means hello.
There is a hole in the ozone layer above New Zealand, so when the sun strikes, it strikes hard. You can feel its strength and you can get sunburnt very quickly.
If you are out all day, even on a cloudy day, your skin could turn red. If you come here, you will have to start wearing 50+ factor sunscreen, even in wintertime.
7. Protect yourself from sandflies
Another thing to keep in mind on the beach is that they have heaps of sandflies and this is a little secret no one will tell you about before coming here.
They are smaller than mosquitoes but they are much more vicious. These insects can give you itchy bites and that could be very painful and annoying for about 2-3 weeks. So, bring sprays and creams to protect yourself and literally cover yourself from head to toe.
8. Watch out for the Kea bird
This bird may look innocent, but it’s actually a very intelligent bird and a pretty good thief. They might steal food, even money (It’s true! I wonder where they spend it!!), your keys and anything shiny.
If you want to get a bank account, you will have to get proof of address. You will need a signed document from your landlord/ hostel/ hotel provider.
10. Left-hand traffic
In New Zealand, you will drive on the left-hand side of the road. So, if you are not used to that in your home country, be sure to be extra careful if you are crossing the road.
11. No shoes? No problem!
New Zealand is a very casual country, and if you prefer sophistication and formality you may need to consider Auckland as a place to live here.
If you want to go outside for a walk during the summer or even go to the shop or the gas station, you can definitely go barefoot and kiwis are totally fine with this.
Well, you will need shoes at restaurants, work and more formal places. If you prefer a laid back style, this country is definitely the place to come.
12. Tips are not necessary
Even though this is a custom in so many countries around the world, here you don’t need to tip the staff.
Don’t feel bad about it because usually workers here get paid a pretty decent minimum wage. It’s also funny that in New Zealand they usually don’t bring your bill to the table, so you will have to stand up and ask the waiter.
New Zealand actually has 15,000 earthquakes per year. That sounds insane but don’t let it put you off coming here.
Most of these earthquakes are so far underground that they can’t be felt. Even though earthquakes are part of daily life, don’t worry because it’s pretty safe and serious earthquakes are a rare event.
14. It’s windy
In New Zealand, you will learn a lot about the wind, especially if you decide to live in Wellington because it’s bloody freezing here!
15. Getting things done
Things in New Zealand happen on a slightly more casual timeline than in Europe, for example. If you want things done quickly, you might be a little disappointed. So, be patient!
16. Plan for four seasons in one day
Just because the weather forecast says it’s going to be sunny, that does not mean that there might not also be a one-hour “shower” in the afternoon. Be prepared for a lot of rain!
17. Public wifi? Well, not exactly
When you go to almost any place, you will have a limit, like 30 minutes. However, if you have 12 hours of work to do, the libraries are the best place to go.
18. Outlet switch
There is a switch for the outlet. So, when you go to plug something in, you have to turn the outlet on. This is because they have a higher voltage here and it’s more dangerous, so it needs to be off if it’s not used.
19. New Zealand is an expensive place
Because of New Zealand’s location, overseas goods have to travel a long way to get here. And let’s face it, the distance usually equals a higher cost when you’re trying to make an in-store purchase.
20. Limited public transport
There is a limited train service here. In some parts, if you don’t have a car, you might get stuck. So, your car, your bicycle, your feet or nothing.
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