a road next to a body of water

If you’re going all that way…

New Zealand is the big one.

First you try the Caribbean, then Europe, maybe Asia, and then come the spreadsheets, globes and everything else necessary to plan a perfect New Zealand trip. New Zealand may be far away, but it’s worth it.

The scenery is other worldly, the culture is unique, the wine is magnificent and there really is something for everyone. If you want to make your New Zealand trip a success, here are a few tips and pieces of knowledge to get you to the South Pacific like a pro…

a city skyline with a body of water

20 Hours Away – Further Than Australia

Wrong. New Zealand is quite a bit closer to the USA from virtually any vantage point. In fact, almost 1,000 miles closer.

Air New Zealand has launched a number of direct US to Auckland flights and Christchurch is even an option now, all of which makes it an even more accessible destination

Coincidentally, Air New Zealand’s CEO was in the hot seat for saying that Americans think New Zealand is 20 hours away. And yes, Qantas did find a way to fly from New York to Australia, but it’s via Auckland. Los Angeles to Auckland is 12 hours, whereas Los Angeles to Sydney is around 15.

One Island

For most travelers, you say New Zealand – they say Auckland. The truth is that Auckland is a wonderful city, but not in fact New Zealand’s main attraction. I’ll take a controversial view that it’s actually kind of sleepy.

New Zealand is defined by two incredible islands, commonly referred to as North and South. The North Island offers wonderful side trips, like Waiheke Island, Waitomo Caves, Matauri Bay and Lake Taupo.

The South Island is incredibly rugged, with iconic landmarks such as Mt. Cook and the truly idyllic, jaw dropping, outdoor adventure areas of Queenstown, Milford Sound and Dunedin.

Driving the South Island alone can take over 18 hours, so don’t underestimate the sheer size. Flying often works best and the views on approach are wildly fun.

a road with trees and mountains in the background

Rental Cars

New Zealand is a place where booking your rental car months in advance can work against you. Scenic drives in New Zealand are almost unparalleled and many travelers rent cars on a one way basis, which creates an amazing opportunity for savvy travelers.

It’s not at all uncommon to lock in $1 a day rental for one way journeys, and many even throw in a free tank of gas. You’re moving the car where it needs to go, so you lock in the incredible price of $1. Here’s proof.

Long story short: if you’re renting a car, consider picking up and dropping off between popular locations, like Queenstown to Christchurch, or vice versa. Taxis are crazy expensive, and Airbnb is not present in some areas.

Close To Australia

Are New York and Phoenix close? People assume that Australia and New Zealand are a short stroll away from each other, but you’re looking at flights easily over 3 hours in either direction.

They’re closer together than many places, but it’s important to factor this into any trip planning from the beginning.

Also – side tip – you must have a return ticket departing New Zealand before you’ll be allowed to board a flight to New Zealand, so don’t rely on last minute one way tickets, otherwise you’ll be forced to purchase a last minute ticket out of the country. I

f you’re starting in Australia, work your way East first, because flights from Perth to Auckland are over 7 hours, whereas Sydney is roughly 3h45m.

a landscape of a valley with mountains and a citySeasonality

Winter in America means summer in New Zealand. Winter in New Zealand means summer in America. Weather is warmest in December, January and February, and the South Island particular endures the coldest temperatures in June, July and August.

Before planning any major trip, be sure to consider the inverse seasonality, and plan your activities accordingly. If you want peak skiing season on the South Island, you’ll want to utilize summer in the USA.

If you want to see the country not covered in snow, when you can hike, kayak and do everything else, November thru February is your best bet.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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1 Comment

  1. I live in Auckland and would suggest all travelers spend a few days there. Go out to the gulf islands (Rangitoto, Waiheke) , travel Tamaki drive to the various beaches just a few KM away and see how relatively cheap the houses in such a fantastic place can be. Alas to us they are expensive.

    Of course the south island is where everything that travellers love to come to NZ for. Big space, no people.

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