It is easy to see why New Zealand always features on the lists of must-see travel destinations year-in, year-out with travel publications. There are a range of activities to suit every taste, the people are friendly and helpful, the scenery is stunning, the food and drink is sublime – the list goes on. However, New Zealand is also a remote destination and can easily take over 24 hours to reach by plane for many. In addition to this, its lack of extensive public transport and relative expense for some products can make it an expensive country to travel around.
These obstacles needn’t get in the way of your dream trip to New Zealand however; with some careful planning and realistic understanding of your budget, you can easily create a dream New Zealand itinerary!
Research, Research, Research
This is the time to go crazy and plot all the destinations you want to visit or activities you wish to try. Delve into guidebooks, blogs, Instagram, and more – you might be surprised to find some interesting attractions off the beaten track! We discovered this ourselves when searching for good rest stops; it ended up with us visiting the Omarama Cliffs, one of the most intriguing geologic formations you will ever see! Atlas Obscura was a good reference tool for us, and the NZ Department of Conservation was filled to bursting with lots of scenic spot recommendations.
Plot all your favourite activities onto Google Maps. After you have finished, take a look and see if you can find a pattern, or if a driving route will materialise between the different points you have plotted.
Consider How Much Time You Have
New Zealand is a mountainous country, particularly in the South Island, and as a result, people commonly misjudge how long it will take to drive to destinations. Often, you can easily add an hour onto most driving times, particularly during the high season when traffic clogs the mountain passes and windy roads. While it can be tempting to squeeze in as much as possible, have a long, hard think about it; would you really want to spend 4-5 hours each day driving and only taking brief stops to explore the country? Or, would it be better to cut out part of your itinerary and instead explore one small part of New Zealand in greater detail?
We found ourselves in this situation when drafting the final itinerary for the South Island. We were desperate to visit the penguin colonies of Omaru and Westport, but it would have meant potentially sacrificing visiting some of the beautiful Lakes on the island, not to mention additional pressure of driving longer hours. Eventually we decided to cut the penguin colonies out of this trip, with plans to visit Westport, as well as Mount Cook and Abel Tasman national parks in greater detail on our next visit to New Zealand.
Which Season Will it Be?
Surprisingly, people often forget that New Zealand’s seasons are the opposite to Europe and North America. December will be the height of summer, and it’s not uncommon to have temperatures climb over 30 degrees during this time. Conversely, July and August is the height of ski season. Seasonality can greatly affect some destinations, which we found in Tongariro, while some destinations, such as Queenstown, remain popular year-round.
Prices are generally more expensive in the high season, particularly accommodation, but on the other hand more places are open during this time.
What’s Your Budget?
Nothing is more depressing than planning an epic trip, and then having to gradually hack activities or attractions out of your calendar upon realising your budget can’t stretch. Or worse, getting there and blowing your budget within the first few days and living on rice or noodles for the rest of the travels.
When drafting your itinerary, create a provisional list of costs for activities, etc., as well as how much you wish to spend each day on food; this will depend partly on what accommodation and transport options you choose. Then add an additional thousand pounds, dollars, euro…(you get the picture) to the total amount – emergencies or amazing experiences are bound to crop up that you wouldn’t have accounted for, and you will enjoy your trip much more if you don’t have the anxiety of an expensive bill on your mind, or regret at not being able to enjoy an activity with the rest of your friends.
Fear not however, as New Zealand is one of those special countries where you can travel on a shoestring or blow your budget, and with some careful planning, level-headedness and common sense, still have an unforgettable time.