New Zealand Guide For Mountain And Photography Lovers
When I first set my foot in New Zealand back in 2014 after many months of planning, visa applications, and working two jobs to be able to save enough money for my journey, little did I know that New Zealand will change my life forever.
Not only did I start this website which eventually developed into a career, but I also discovered a country at the end of the World, which seemed to have it all: nice people, temperate climate, and most of all landscapes that would take my breath away every single day.
After 15 months spent in New Zealand and a few trips back it still remains one of my favorite places in the World! Today I will be sharing a piece of this World with you so you too can live and breath it through my photos and with the help of my articles plan the perfect New Zealand holiday for yourself!
15 Frequently Asked Questions About Travel In New Zealand
The official hiking season stretches between November and April and if you chose New Zealand as your next holiday destination. you probably did so because of its access to the outdoors.
My favourite time is autumn and in this part of the world autumn is in March, April and May. It’s also somewhat quieter in comparison to the busy summer season. Extrapolating from what I said earlier it’s best if you aim for March and April when planning a New Zealand road trip.
The fall foliage in New Zealand comes to life in April in an array of golden hues and oranges. Mornings can be cold but days can still be as hot as 20C (68F). The first snow will fall in the mountains but won’t linger for too long.
Winter in New Zealand is quite short and mild, it lasts from June until August. It’s still certainly possible to do a road trip maybe just not in a campervan. The nights in the mountains can go below freezing but during the day the temperatures are bearable. June and July are the snowiest months which will please skiers, snowboarders and photographers.
Spring begins in September and lasts until November. This is a great time to road trip as the warm weather starts to come back and several different species of wildflowers start to bloom. Again though if you plan on hiking then hold your horses until at least November! Another downside to travelling in spring is that it also tends to be the wettest season.
Lupin flowers, for which New Zealand is photographically famous for, start to bloom in early December reaching peak around Christmas time. That’s also when the summer really kicks in. The days are long and the temperatures can be as high as 25C (77F).
December, January and February is summer in New Zealand. It’s hot and humid in the tropical north. The air is much crispier in the mountainous south island, especially when south easterlies blow in from Antarctica.
This is the ideal road trip time, especially if you plan to do it in a campervan. Be warned though, New Zealand isn’t exactly a well-kept secret anymore. Book your campervans and hotels months in advance, and avoid spending Christmas and New Years here as it gets insanely busy.
We all hate bureaucracy but before you board your flight (or cruise) to New Zealand you will need to do two things:
1. Apply for the NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority)
2. Pay the IVL (International Visitor Tourism and Conservation Levy)
Don’t panic if you didn’t know about it and there are only a few days left before your trip begins! The processing time can take as little as 10 minutes and can be done online or through an app, with the latter being a slightly cheaper option ($9NZD vs. $12NZD). To be on the safe side however allow at least 72 hours for processing.
The IVL currently costs $35NZD and is paid when you apply for the NZeTA. There are also a lot of rules and exemptions to who actually has to apply and it’s specific to your home country. It’s best if you check directly with the NZ Immigration website.
When you start planning your New Zealand road trip stand in front of the mirror first and repeat this to yourself a few times:
“I won’t be able to see everything”
It’s a sad truth. Even after 15 months spent in New Zealand I still have a long list of things I would like to see there, so if you are coming for 1-2 weeks or even 2 months trying to see everything will leave you stressed, tired and even frustrated!
Don’t fall into a trap of seeing the country from the window of a rental car. Make sure to plan enough time to be able to explore on foot, do a few hikes, hang out by the lake or on the beach, rent a kayak or do a cruise.
I designed 5 different itineraries which you can find in the road trip section of my New Zealand Guide, from one to eight weeks long. I am sure you will find one suiting your interests best!
If I was to pick my favourite out of the 5 it would be this 2 week loop around the South Island aimed at photographer’s and hikers, both activities I’ve grown to love over the years.
This is probably one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you: plan your road trip first book your flights after!
From the many comments I receive, quite often my readers get stuck with planning.
For example they only have two weeks, but they already booked the in and outgoing flights from Auckland and now want to see both islands. It means they will either have to book more internal flights or spend many hours driving back and forth.
Auckland is not the only international airport in New Zealand. There is also Christchurch, Wellington, Queenstown just to name a few. You can for example fly into North Island and exit the country on the South Island.
If you choose one of my itineraries it will tell you exactly which airport is best to fly into and fly out of!
In theory yes it is! People who tell you freedom camping is not allowed aren’t right. The thing is you can’t do it wherever you please.
For the most part, in national parks freedom camping is allowed as long as you are over 200 meters away from any paths, trails, huts and water sources and you should still inform the DOC (New Zealand Department of Conservation) of your intentions.
Some exceptions apply, for example on the Milford Track, where your only choice is staying in the huts.
Restrictions regarding freedom camping in cities are now often in place as previous freedom campers abused the privileges they were once bestowed. Now, you’ll find it tough to find legal freedom camping spots in any touristy town or city.
If you have a self-contained campervan or motorhome (with a toilet) you have much more freedom about where you can stop and sleep but still can’t do it everywhere. There are parking lots designated for such vehicles and you can find them with the help of travel apps such as the Camper Mate or Park4Night.
Non self-contained campervans (without a toilet) will have to stay in designated (normally paid) campsites.
There are lots. Far too many to enlist here. If you want to know where the top photography spots are, my articles on photography on the North and the South Island will help you lots. See them all below.
- Photography Spots on the North Islands
- Photography Spots on the South Islands
- Top Photo Spots in Queenstown
- Top Photo Spots in Wanaka
Again, there’s so many hikes here it’d be impossible for me to write them all down on this page. You could spend a lifetime hiking on these islands and still not see everything. If you’re a keen tramper, my articles on hiking in New Zealand will help you out a lot!
- Top Hikes On The South Islands
- Top Hikes On The North Island
- Best Hikes in Queenstown
- Best Hikes in Wanaka
- Hiking in Mount Cook National Park
Yes, there is no need to sugarcoat it. New Zealand is expensive. However it’s not any more expensive than travel around North America or Europe.
After all it’s a small island nation with small population. A lot of the things need to be imported. A meal in a restaurant will easily set you back $20 NZD. A takeaway coffee costs $5NZD and a liter of gasoline costs more than $2NZD.
If your budget is limited then choose campsites over hotels. Cook for yourself instead of going out for meals. Go hiking instead of spending hundreds of dollars on activities. That’s just a few ways to save money. The most inexpensive way to travel around NZ is to rent a compact car and live out of a tent.
However don’t be scared to occasionally splurge on something. Go on that scenic flight or do that bungy jump, especially if it’s been on your NZ bucket list for a long time!
A seasoned traveller like myself always has a few favourite booking sites making my life easier:
- For renting a compact car I always recommend Discover Cars. It’s a price comparison website with access to hundreds of different rental companies across New Zealand.
- The most thorough and competitive motorhome comparison site is Motorhome Republic. Save time from browsing individual companies and use this search engine for small campervans and big RV’s.
- Booking.com – My no.1 accommodation booking page. Lots of hotels in New Zealand have self contained apartments on offer and that’s the choice I often recommend to my readers.
- Get Your Guide – A very convenient website, where you can book all your tours, activities and attractions. No more searching for confirmations through your emails. Now you can keep them all in one place and pay in any currency you want!
Now comes the moment when I ask for your support! If you found my New Zealand guide in any way useful and would like to show some love for it, you can! By using the links above for every booking you make I receive a small commission which costs you absolutely nothing! In fact it will save you time and money in the long run so it’s a win win for all of us!
That’s completely up to you. You have to ask yourself, what do you want to do in New Zealand?
If you want to experience the outdoors as much as possible then rent a car, bring your tent or try to stay in as many backcountry huts as possible!
If you like the comfort of having a ‘real’ bed but still want to be outside, then get a decent campervan.
If you’re not a camping enthusiast, rent a car and book hotels.
Don’t force yourself into doing something you know you won’t enjoy! Is your mind set on travelling in a campervan? Here is everything you should know about motorhome travel in New Zealand.
You can probably travel on less than 20NZD a day if you hitchhike everywhere, freedom camp and eat noodle soups for breakfast lunch and dinner, but let’s be realistic.
I like to break down my budgets into 3 groups: budget, midrange and luxury. These prices do not include costs encountered before arriving to New Zealand such as flights, insurance or applicable visas. It’s also aimed at short term travellers.
- Budget – 100 – 150NZD$ per person per day
This includes a spot in a rental car shared between a group or couple, split petrol costs, food and mainly campsite accommodation or hostel dorms. Activities include awesome free stuff like hiking and photography and a couple of paid activities.
- Midrange – 150 – 250NZD$ per person per day
This includes a decent campervan with powered campsites, or a low budget hotel stays, a mix of restaurants and self made meals and petrol. Activities include cheaper adrenaline sports such a jet boating, scenic cruises (i.e Milford Sound), hiking, photography, wildlife cruises etc.
- Luxury – $500NZD + per person per day
Basically there is no upper limit! The luxury type traveller can afford a luxury rental car with 4+ star hotel accommodation, meals in restaurants and world class adventure activities including bungy jumping, sky diving, the occasional overnight cruise, scenic day cruises and flights. Of course you can still do all the awesome free stuff!
FYI There are a lot more islands in New Zealand than two, but most travellers stand between one choice: should I go North or focus on the South Island?
Well you probably won’t be surprised when I say both are awesome!!!! But again it depends what you like. For beaches, the sun, surfing, tropical rainforests and Maori culture visit the North Island.
For mountains, adventure activities, fjords and scenic roads visit the South Island.
Both Islands are awesome for road trips and are famed for their friendly locals. Whichever you decide to choose, you’ll have a great time.
If you’re unsure and have to pick only one I personally prefer the South Island and this one week itinerary packs one heck of a punch! Make sure to check it out.
The Greats Walks are 10 backpacking excursions on New Zealand’s North, South and Stewart Island.
In alphabetical order they are The Abel Tasman Coast Track, The Heaphy Track, The Kepler, Lake Waikaremoana, The Milford Track, The Paparoa Track, The Raikoura Track, The Routeburn, The Tongariro Northern Circuit and The Whanganui River Journey.
They have been designated as having outstanding beauty and/or of special importance. If you want to book one, make sure you do so far in advance.
When bookings open for Milford track, the most popular hike, most of the spots for the entire season are gone within the first few hours. Cancellations are still common though so checking daily with the online reservation system can be advantageous.
Prices for these great walks are also considerably more expensive than normal backcountry campsites or huts. A regular serviced DOC hut can cost as low as 5$ whereas an overnight stay in a hut on the Milford Track is now 140$ for international visitors!
Definitely. It’s voted one of the safest countries in the world. Serious crime is pretty much non existent here and the majority that does take place, takes place in and around Auckland. A city I recommend you leave as soon as you arrive.
In every house I lived here I never even owned a house key, we just left the door unlocked. Whenever I tell that to my friends back home they just can’t believe it!
The only crime that happens are car break ins on the trailheads. Just use common sense. Leave your valuables in a hotel or lock them away in the trunk of your car and out of sight.
Don’t become paranoid though! They don’t occur on a daily basis. I’ve left my car parked on trailheads more times than I can count, often overnight and never encountered any problems.
Since drones became popular in the recent years new sanctions have been imposed on the manning of such devices. Drones are now banned in all national parks unless the pilot has a permit to fly it. Permits are pretty much impossible to come by for recreational use.
Outside of national parks some local councils still prohibit flying drones. Places such as Queenstown are totally a “No Drone Zone”. By doing some research I’ve found the latest rules for drones under 25kg:
- No drones above 70m
- You can’t fly over people unless you have their permission
- You can’t fly over private land without the owners permission
- You can’t fly within 4km of restricted airspace (i.e next to an airfield, helipad, airport)
- You must remain in direct eye sight of your drone at all times
These are some, BUT NOT ALL, of the restrictions in place. For a full breakdown of regulations contact the CAA in NZ.
I tried to cover as much as possible but I understand you still may have some questions when planning your trip. If you do have questions post them in the comment section under any of my articles about New Zealand. I answer each comment personally!