The Do’s and Don’ts of New Zealand Travel
Do – pick the right camper or car
First things first, you have to pick the right car for your trip. Be prepared for an onslaught of green and purple – Jucy is a young hip company has taken NZ by storm with their catchy logos, budget options and active social media pages. They’ve got it all – vans, big and small, budget and fancy cars and SUVs. You don’t really need a SUV in New Zealand. The only time you might need one is if you are coming in winter and plan to do some serious off-roading or go up to some of the more remote club ski fields; some dirt roads might turn to a mud fest.
Don’t – abuse the camping system in New Zealand
It’s really important that you understand how the campervan and freedom camping system works in New Zealand and not abuse it. There are two types of campervans you can rent here – fully self-contained and non-self-contained (indicated by a sticker). The difference is pretty much a toilet. If you have a campervan that DOESN’T have a toilet, you can’t freedom camp. Freedom camping is allowed around most of New Zealand and means you can camp on public land for free as long as you have the right facilities (read – toilet). If you are caught freedom camping without the right van or in a restricted area, it’s a $200 instant fine by the poo police, seriously, it happens a lot.
Do – remember to drive on the left
Oh, and to make things more interesting, they drive on the left here. When people first arrive, they may be terrified to drive on the left, but it’s amazing how quickly you get used to it. You have to be pretty oblivious to forget it too. Frequently there are enormous arrow pointing you in the right direction on the roads, and in cities with intersections, there are also arrows on the medians pointing you in the right direction. All the roads here are well marked.
Do – get off the beaten path
Half of the beauty of New Zealand lies in getting lost and finding your own favorite little spots, and it’s one of the best reasons to get a car. Oh that road looks interesting, I wonder what’s down there? And 10 minutes later you’re at the most beautiful, remote beach bereft of life except for a couple of sea lions. Because New Zealand is so sparsely populated, you can get away with winging it and being spontaneous here. There is always a campsite and always somewhere to sleep.
Don’t – underestimate New Zealand roads
This should probably have been number 1, but seriously, don’t underestimate the roads here. All the roads are basically one lane in either direction. In the US, highways have big medians and dividers between you and oncoming traffic and big break down lanes on the side. Not in New Zealand. Here, it’s usually a dotted white line down the middle. Pay attention to the roads, especially around the South Island. Nothing is straight, so you always have to be paying attention all the time. When the road bends, there are massive yellow reflective signs warning you in advance. Be sure to lower your speed when you see these. New Zealand landscape frequently likes to add obstacles to the adventure like landslides, hitchhikers, and sheep, so be on your guard when you’re behind the wheel. The beauty of New Zealand roads are that they are really well labeled.
Do – let faster traffic pass you
It takes a while to get used to the roads in New Zealand. This means a lot of the time if you’re a tourist, you’ll be going slower. It’s much better to drive slower and be safe. Because the roads are generally one lane in either direction, for someone to pass you, they have to usually cross the dividing lane and pass you in oncoming traffic’s lane, which is allowed, but also, is more dangerous. On the busier roads, there will be passing lanes, but that’s not the case everywhere. There will be picnic spots, campsites, viewpoints and even worn out spots on the side where you can slow down (not stop) and pull off or half off the road to let faster traffic pass you. USE THEM. Don’t let a long line of faster cars build up behind you. Once someone has let you pass them, it’s also customary to give a “beep beep” with the horn and a wave to say thanks.
Don’t – crash into anything when you’re struck by New Zealand’s beauty
A given but bears repeating considering how beautiful New Zealand is. It blinds even the best of us. It still happens to me.
Don’t – pull over just anywhere to take a picture
New Zealand is really photogenic, and even now I fight the urge to pull over to take a photo on the side of the road. Would you pull over on the side of I-95 in New York for a quick selfie? Probably not. Yes, there is a lot less traffic than in other countries but it’s still there, and you put a whole lot of people at risk just for a photo. And the truth is, traveling New Zealand by car, 9 times out of 10 the best shots are not from the side of the road. They are either a designated outlooks or viewpoints, or down a trail somewhere. Otherwise, there are lookouts, picnic and campsites, farm roads and driveways, and dirt roads all along the highways in New Zealand, and it is safe to assume that as you drive further, you can find somewhere safe and pretty to pull over.
Do – bring accessories from home
I’m sure more well-researched travelers than myself already realize this, but if you are like me and have a lot of stuff to charge, make sure you bring along one of those USB cigarette charger adapters. They are much pricier here, and more likely than not you have one floating around at home. Also bring a cable to plug in your iPod or music to the stereo so you can jam out on the long road trips.
Do – pay attention to the weather
It’s important to check road conditions AND heed all warnings. The weather in New Zealand can be intense, and especially around the South Island, landslides are a common occurrence, especially in winter and after heavy rain. Once you see the roads here, especially the mountain passes, you’ll understand. There are 3 passes through the Southern Alps on the South Island to get between the east and west coasts – Lewis Pass, Arthur’s Pass, and Haast’s Pass.
Don’t – worry, you’re not alone; everyone falls in love with New Zealand
I think it’s scientifically impossible actually, for somebody to dislike New Zealand; someone should do a study on it. Many people absolutely fall head over heels for it, and they keep coming back for more or they never leave. I think that speaks volumes about a country. And keep in mind, any photo you see, pales in comparison to the real thing. New Zealand will blow you away every day, in the friendliness of the people and also in the scenery. So be prepared to fall in love too. Embrace it.