Welcome to New Zealand’s South Island


As the planet heats up environmentally and politically, it’s good to know that New Zealand exists. This uncrowded, green, peaceful and accepting country is the ultimate escape.

How Long Should I Stay?

When you’re traveling to a long-haul destination, you want it to be worth your while. But it’s often impractical to wait until you can take a month or more, which is ideal. So my advice is this. Come for as long as you can and don’t try to split your holiday between New Zealand and Australia unless you have months to spend. Pick a few areas to visit and get to know them well – the biggest mistake most people make is trying to fit too many places and things into a short time. Find some activities you want to do, or sights you want to see, and then design your trip around them.

Give yourself some days off and don’t be set on a strict schedule, because something will come up that you hadn’t heard about before! Still, the temptation to fit as much in as possible is strong and many people stay for two or three weeks on their first trip to get an overview, and then plan a return trip to see the places they missed or to better experience the ones they loved.

Driving: New Zealand is small. But driving is not like getting on the Autobahn or Interstate 80. Most of the roads, except for a few around major cities, are two lanes, often curvy and hilly and, especially on the South Island, linked by one-lane bridges. You won’t get in the car and drive 70 miles an hour for days on end!

How Much Should I Pack?

As little as possible. New Zealand have a very laid-back, casual lifestyle and as far as dress goes, basically, anything is fine. You’ll 22 The Basics want to pack appropriately for activities (i.e., warm clothes for tramping) and be sure to bring a waterproof jacket or raincoat. I usually use a three-season sleeping bag, because even in the summer, it can be chilly in the mountains. And I always take plenty of merino wool layers to keep me warm, regardless of the season.

In the cities, you may feel compelled to dress up a bit, but it’s not imperative and Kiwis are very forgiving of anyone who might be underdressed. Let’s face it, most of us own a pair of gumboots and you’ll see plenty of locals walking around barefoot – it’s still a Pacific island and that’s the attitude. We have some wonderful outdoor stores, so if you’re in the market for new gear, you could plan a little extra in the budget and shop while you’re here.

Tip: If you’ll be camping or tramping and staying in huts, make sure your gear is clean when you arrive at the airport. When you claim it, MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) will inspect your things, and may even disinfect them.

As far as personal stuff goes, you can buy things like shampoo and all manner of personal hygiene products if you run out, so no need to panic. And there’s really no reason to bring your own coffee or teabags or the like we really do eat here and have a fairly reasonable selection of foods.

Film: If you’re coming from North America and using a traditional camera, bring a film. Buying at the large warehouse-type stores in the thesis much cheaper than in New Zealand. The same goes for the contact lens solution.

The Details Visitors to New Zealand need to have a current passport that will be valid for at least three months beyond the time you intend to stay. You also need an onward or return ticket to a country that you have permission to enter and sufficient money to support yourself during your stay (approximately $1,000 per month per person).

Do I Need a Visa? You do not need a visa to visit New Zealand if you are a New Zealand citizen or resident permit holder, an Australian resident with a current Australian resident return visa, or a citizen of a country that has a visa waiver agreement with New Zealand. These countries include most European, North American and Southeast Asian countries and Japan. Australian passport holders and permanent residents can stay in New Zealand indefinitely. If you have questions about visas and regulations, the New Zealand Immigration Service has a very informative website, www.immigration. govt.nz, and has an embassy and consulate in many countries.

Foreign Consulates in New Zealand (all in Wellington except as noted)

Australia, 72 Hobson Street,  04-473-6411
 Canada, 61 Molesworth Street,  04-473-9577
 France, 34 Manners Street,  04-384-2555
 Germany, 90 Hobson Street,  04-473-6063
 Japan, Level 12, ASB Bank Centre, 135 Albert Street, Auckland,
 Netherlands, corner Featherston and Balance Streets,04-473-
 UK, 44 Hill Street, Thorndon,  04-472-6049
 USA, 29 Fitzherbert Terrace, Thorndon,  04-472-2068

Customs In addition to personal effects, visitors to New Zealand are allowed the following duty-free allowances:  200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco.  Six liters of wine or beer and one 1,125 ml bottle of spirits or liqueur. Excess quantities are liable for customs charges.  In addition, each traveler may import (duty-free) other accompanied goods that have a total combined value of $700.

New Zealand’s isolated location has resulted in a unique environment that is relatively pest- and disease-free. Consequently, arriving passengers and their baggage are scrutinized rather closely. MAF 24 The Basics (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) will inquire as to your belongings and may inspect them. Most items are not disallowed but must be claimed – if you are carrying any food, plant or animal products be sure to list these on your arrival card. Certain foodstuffs are not allowed, for instance, honey and other bee products.

There are other prohibited items, such as products made from endangered animals. Certain animals are not allowed and others must go through a quarantine procedure; if you are considering bringing a living animal into the country, be sure to contact MAF before your trip. If you have an item that you are not sure of, contact the New Zealand embassy in your home country, customs or MAF before beginning your journey, www.customs.govt.nz, www.maf.govt.nz.

Opening Hours

New Zealand is still small-town when it comes to business hours. Things are changing and there is a trend toward shops being open on Sundays in the major cities, but out in the sticks, shop hours are very conservative and everything tends to close mid-day on Saturday and remain so until Monday. (Supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations are the exception.) Generally, most shops open from 9 am to 5:30 pm, Monday to Friday, with either Thursday or Friday being late-night shopping – usually until 9 pm. In tourist areas, shops tend to stay open later every night. Businesses are typically open weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm, and government offices from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

New Zealand Post

New Zealand is still small-town when it comes to business hours. Things are changing and there is a trend toward shops being open on Sundays in the major cities, but out in the sticks, shop hours are very conservative and everything tends to close mid-day on Saturday and remain so until Monday. (Supermarkets, dairies and petrol stations are the exception.) Generally, most shops open from 9 am to 5:30 pm, Monday to Friday, with either Thursday or Friday being late-night shopping – usually until 9 pm. In tourist areas, shops tend to stay open later every night. Businesses are typically open weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm, and government offices from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

New Zealand Post

Most New Zealand Post shops are open Monday to Friday only, but it all depends on the post shop. In some towns where there is no separate post shop, the post is handled by a stationery/book store. The cost to send a postcard internationally is $1.50. Postal services in New Zealand were deregulated in 1998, but NZ Post still has 97% of the domestic market share.


What was once the land of lamb and potatoes has developed into a culture of fresh, Pacific Rim-inspired fare. Similar in many ways to California cuisine, the modern Kiwi menu includes flavors of the Mediterranean and Asia. In addition to lamb, we have high quality, grass-fed beef, wild and farmed pork, and venison. Poultry is also popular, as is seafood. Fish varieties on many menus and in shops include tarakihi, blue cod, snapper tuna, John Dory, grouper and orange roughy.

Special starts from- the-sea are whitebait and shellfish, including green-lipped mus- Food 31 Travel Information sells, Bluff oysters, paua (abalone) and crayfish (rock lobster). A huge range of fresh produce, including kiwifruit, many varieties of apples (my favorite is Braeburn), stone and berry fruit, kumara (sweet potato), capsicum (bell peppers) and asparagus, are grown and served. Dairy products reign supreme in New Zealand, with fabulous cheeses and a plenitude of ice cream.

You’ll still find plenty of options for fish and chips, and meat pies are a popular fast-food item. The Sunday-evening roast is not a thing of the past and while larger towns and cities have fast-food chains, independent takeout places are very popular. You will see marmite and vegemite – brown spreads high in Vitamin B that is made out of brewer’s yeast. It’s definitely an acquired taste and Kiwi kids (like their Australian counterparts) grow up with the stuff.


New Zealand has embraced the café culture and in all but the smallest of towns, you’ll find at least one café with an espresso machine (though some are driven better than others). We have the full menu of espresso drinks – latte, cappuccino, mocha – and also some different ones. A short black is an espresso; a long black is a short black but weaker and larger, and a flat white is a long black with milk (and sometimes a bit of froth). An Americano is a long black served with a pot of hot water or diluted.

BYO means “bring your own” and usually refers to wine only at a restaurant.

There is plenty of beer to be drunk around the place and much of it produced by New Zealand Breweries and DB. Beer has as much of a local backing as sports teams – Speights is Pride of the South, for example. Microbreweries exist in pockets – like Nelson and the West Coast of the South Island.

New Zealand is in the NewWorld as far as wine is concerned. There are wine-producing regions from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South, including Auckland, Waiheke Island, Northland, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough, Nelson, Canterbury, Waipara, and Central Otago.

Did you know? Central Otago, famous for Pinot Noir, is the southernmost wine-growing region in the world.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc put New Zealand on the wine map and, while the whites have garnered the most attention, Pinot Noir is the red (especially from Central Otago and Wairarapa) that may end up meaning more to New Zealand than Sauvignon Blanc.

Other varieties grown include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, as well as many other varieties in smaller quantities. Given all the Chardonnay and Pinot Gris (and Pinot Meunier) it should not be a surprise that New Zealand also makes a lot of sparkling wine.

Money Matters

I am often asked if New Zealand is an expensive place to visit and, in all truth, it can be as expensive as you want it to be. Clearly, there are luxury resorts, pricey wine and fancy adventure trips around each corner, but you can also get away with not spending much at all. Depending on where you want to stay, an average motel will run about $80-$100 a night for two people. A café-type dinner will be about $30 and a glass of wine starts at about $7. Depending on your appetite, breakfast and lunch can run about $10 a day and car rentals vary, but you can typically get a small car for less than $50 a day (sometimes, quite a bit less), and long-term rentals are cheaper.

About Money

New Zealand currency is based on the New Zealand dollar. There are $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes (all different colors, and size increases with value), $0.10, $0.20, and $0.50 silver coins, and $1 and $2 gold coins (coins also get larger with more value). Banks are usually open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday (some in the larger centers are open on Saturday mornings). All banks except the Kiwi Bank (owned by New Zealand Post) are foreign-owned.

You will need to use New Zealand money for transactions, and most businesses will not take foreign currency of any kind. Traveler’s checks can be exchanged for cash at most banks and any bureaux de change (typically found in tourist areas and major airports), which tend to stay open later than banks, usually until 9 pm.

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are generically referred to as Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFTPOS). Most retailers (except very small ones) accept EFTPOS for purchase. However, I have found it difficult to use my US-based ATM cards at shops – though I have no problem getting cash from them at the bank ATM. MasterCard and VISA are widely accepted and there are increasing numbers of businesses that accept American Express and Diners Club. I would not, however, have American Express or Diners Club as my sole credit card.


It’s what you might also call backpacking, hiking, or bushwalking. Tramping is a hugely popular activity in New Zealand – and the best way to discover the country. I don’t think a visit to New Zealand is complete unless you spend at least one (preferably three or more) days walking. There are thousands of kilometers of tracks around the country, most of them managed by the Department of Conservation (DoC), and many of them serviced by a system of backcountry huts.

Huts range from the most simple (four walls, a ceiling and a couple of bunks) to very fancy (gas cookers, heaters, flush toilets). Prices for staying in the huts vary depending on the level of accommodation and services offered. In addition to the public tracks managed by DoC, there are a few very nice private tramping tracks managed by landowners. I have included some of the more popular tracks below, as well as some of those less publicized. I honestly can’t pick a favorite tramp – there are too many that I love.


With so many rivers around the country, it’s no wonder New Zealand is a rafter’s paradise. While the thrill for some is the rapids, for others, it’s being treated to a day on the river in the middle of pristine, sky-scraping gorges. You can find a rafting trip in just about any corner of the country, but the most popular tourist destinations are Rotorua on the North Island and Queenstown on the South.

If you’re looking for a rafting experience that removes you from the main tourist centers, consider heli-rafting on theWest Coast of the South Island or a multiday rafting trip. Typically, you’ll be outfitted in a wetsuit, helmet, and personal flotation device and then you’ll be instructed in paddling and safety techniques. A group of about six will be in each raft (along with a guide) and by the end of the trip, you will have formed into one cohesive team. It’s a blast and a thrill and even if you end up on crutches, you won’t regret it. But don’t think you have to be a thrillseeker to enjoy it – consider, for instance, a family raft trip down the Clarence.

My choice for guided rafting trips with a difference is Hidden Valleys, www.hiddenvalleys.co.NZ, Peel Forest. Rivers and rapids are graded on a six-level system – the highest grade being assigned to the most demanding rapid. When you’re booking a trip, consider if the river is a “continuous grade IV” or just has one grade IV rapid; perhaps the best runs have a few grade II and III for a warm-up, a long string of grade IV and one or two grade V thrown in for thrills. Ask the operator, if you are unsure, and be forewarned, it all changes with river flow and rain.

Kayaking & Canoeing

New Zealand is the best place I’ve found to kayak. I’m a sea kayaker and have never run out of places to paddle. If you are not experienced, go on a guided trip; if you are experienced, my advice is to hire a kayak and gear and head out for a few days. The Marlborough Sounds are my top choice for kayaking are in Fiordlands, Milford and Doubtful Sounds.


It was a Canterbury farmer, William Hamilton, who developed the jetboat. Based on water-jet propulsion, Hamilton figured out a way to get low draft boats up the very shallow braided rivers of the South Island. Now, just about every river in New Zealand has a jet-boat running on it. Rides are thrilling, there’s no doubt about it, and most involve at least one 360° spin. You’ll have to hold on and there’s little doubt that you’ll get wet – most operators supply you with a raincoat. My choice for jet-boat is the tried and true Shotover Jet through the Shotover Canyon in Queenstown. I think this is the most fun ride, by far. Www.shotoverjet.co.nz.


Having sailed to New Zealand from North America, I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t done a heck of a lot of sailing since I’ve been here. There are boats for charter all around and I think the one place that I would be inclined to sail in the Bay of Islands. If you happen to be in Wellington on a race day, pop into one of the yacht clubs and see if you can crew. Likewise in Picton – sailors are always happy to have along a keen and interested newcomer. You can go on scenic sails in the Abel Tasman, the Bay of Islands and around Auckland.

North Island Auckland

Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and the main port of entry for international visitors. It’s 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) are home to 1¼ million people – one third of New Zealand’s population. Known as The City of Sails, it is built on a narrow isthmus that separates two harbors – the Manukau and Waitemata – and claims to have more boats per capita than any other city in the world.

Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world. In addition to nearly 20% of the population being of Maori descent, many islanders from the Cooks, Tonga, Niue, and Samoa immigrated here during the 1960s and 1970s, and there is a very strong Asian community. Unlike the rest of New Zealand, walking around Auckland you are sure to hear more than one accent and language; the diversity of the population gives a much more global feel to the city than is present in the more white-bread cities of the rest of the country. Tamaki, the Maori name for the area, means battle and is probably a good description of what happened around the place.

The fertile, low-slung land was no doubt a draw for early settlers, who fiercely battled from their pas (fortified villages). Forty-eight extinct volcanoes – like Mount Eden and One Tree Hill – ring Auckland, and these were natural settlements for the Maori. A walk or cycle up either is a good way to get your bearings and see the pa. When the Europeans arrived, the Maori were still engaged in intertribal warfare and presented no organized resistance to the intruders.

By the 1840s, the British had acquired most of the land of the Ngati Whatua tribe and settlement began in earnest. Captain William Hobson was New Zealand’s first governor and chose Auckland to be the capital, a title it lost to wellington in 1865. WhileWellington is the political heart, Auckland is the center of commerce and business and is (whether the rest of the country wants to admit it or not) the most powerful city. Some of the popular tourist attractions in the city include the Auckland Museum, the Maritime Museum, Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World Aquarium, the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, the Museum of Transport and Technology, and the Sky Tower. The islands of the Hauraki Gulf would be the perfect place to spend some time at the beginning or end of your travels.

South Island Marlborough

Wine, water and wilderness. Those are the buzzwords in Marlborough, one of the sunniest regions in New Zealand. At the top of the South Island, Marlborough is the place where most tourists are introduced to the less-populated, slower going “mainland” as they cross the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton. Captain James Cook first arrived in 1769 and, on his three journeys around the world, chose the Queen Charlotte Sound (which he named after the wife of King George III) to visit five times – coming here more than any other place on the planet. Geographically, Marlborough encompasses the intricate Marlborough Sounds, the long flat Wairau plains and the hilly high country valleys of Awatere and Wanhope. Three major rivers carve the bottomland of Marlborough:

the Taylor, Opawa, and Wairau, all beginning in the mountains and terminating in the Pacific Ocean. Like most of the South Island, Marlborough doesn’t have as strong a Maori influence as the North Island, but the Maori are believed to have inhabited the region for nearly 1,000 years. The biggest skirmish between Europeans and Maori is called the Wairau Incident. There is a monument to it on SH1 near Koromiko/Spring Creek. European settlement brought farming and whaling.

Gold and antimony were mined sporadically and many of the walking tracks are leftovers from the mining era. Tourism and agriculture (including wine) are the main activities and sources of revenue. The overseas popularity of New Zealand Greenshell mussels has given rise to a burgeoning aquaculture and processing industry, a wealthy addition to commercial fishing and salmon farming.

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