The Yellow Underpants of NZ Travel

The weather in the Southern Hemisphere is beginning to warm up, and that means it’ll be tourist season in New Zealand soon! Thousands more will be heading this way for bucket list experiences and gorgeous landscapes.

It may seem like paradise on Earth, but there are a few things one needs to be prepared for. Besides sandflies and right-hand drive, here are a few rarely encountered tips that are rooted in my own experiences. Read on, and don’t let any of the warnings put you off visiting a spectacular country!

(The title is a reference to one of my favourite novels, not a dig at a cultural practice in Spanish-speaking countries)

Mt Tasman and Mt Cook
Mt Tasman and Mt Cook

Touristy stuff is expensive

Sky dives, swimming with dolphins, hangi meals, glacier flights, Waitomo cave rafting and bungy jumping in Queenstown are just some of the most popular activities among visitors and the fees reflect this. Prepare to weep when the 3-digit prices for these YOLO activities add up. Even going to a wildlife park that houses kiwis (the birds, not the people) costs $40 without a discount.

Apparently, it didn’t use to be like this, and some activities can be done in other countries for less. That’s worth considering if you plan to travel for a while. Perhaps the same activity carries more cachet in NZ. I can understand that for bungy jumping, but not anything else. The damage to the wallet can be reduced though, by checking deal websites such as GrabOneGroupon NZ and especially Bookme.

Experiences like this can often be had for less.
Experiences like this can often be had for less

Wifi is rarely free

This applies mostly to budget travellers: Internet access in many hostels isn’t free, and when it is, it’s sluggish at peak hours and on rainy days. This might come as a shock to those who are used to free wifi in hostels elsewhere in the world, but we’re in Middle Earth after all. Jokes aside, it is expensive to get connected to the rest of the world over here. I’ve seen prices ranging from NZ$4 for a day pass to 10 cents per megabyte. It depends on who the internet service provider is, so it’s useful to check the reviews before you book.

Some cafes, fast food outlets and malls have free wifi, and mobile devices will come in handy at these places.

Transport connections could be better

Getting around on your own can be a breeze or really frustrating, depending on your plans. Coach services ply the routes between cities and major towns regularly, and the bus networks within city centres are pretty comprehensive. There is no way to beat the road traffic though without flying. Only Auckland has some semblance of a metro network. Long distance commuter trains don’t exist except on the TranzAlpine and Coastal Pacific lines on the South Island, and they aren’t much faster than driving.

However if you want to head to a nearby suburb or visit a less-than-central attraction, the options are limited. There might be a single daily bus that takes residents into the city and back on weekdays. Driving is the best way to get around and see some out-of-the-way sights for free. Sometimes it’s the only option, for instance when you need to get to Tutukaka marina from Whangarei for a dive trip. Unfortunately, the rental companies know this too. They still get fully booked weeks ahead in the high season.

P.S. I’ve added more tips on driving independently in this post.

I snapped this just for the meme-worthy license plate.
I snapped this just for the meme-worthy license plate

The weather can be extreme

If the intense, unfiltered sunshine doesn’t give you melanoma, the constant wind may make your teeth chatter when the sun goes down or gets obscured. Have a jacket handy whenever possible, even in the height of summer – the locals don’t go without one at night. Otherwise the weather is usually really good (except on the west coast), with just a few surprise spells of heavy rain that may lead to landslides and flash floods.

Milford Sound, New Zealand
It isn’t often like this in Milford Sound

Business hours may surprise you

If you’re not in Auckland or Queenstown, almost everything’s shut after 10pm. Forget about partying in Christchurch if it isn’t Friday or Saturday, even if it’s your last night in the country. Pubs will close early and cut their losses if there are too few patrons. It’s nice from an employee’s perspective, but not so fine if you need a chemist, proper food or a room late at night.

Speaking of a room…

Accommodation woes

Don’t fly into Auckland, Wellington or (particularly) Christchurch late at night and expect a bed waiting for you without a prior reservation. You’ll most probably reach a few answering machines before you get a human on the line, and his/her voice will likely tell you that there’s no more vacancy. Trust me, I’ve been the human on the other side.

Jailhouse
Lunch outside the old Addington jail in Christchurch. It’s now a hostel.

It’s not crime-free

Who knew that a bunch of islands inhabited by just 4.4 million people isn’t 100% safe? The hint is in the word ‘people’; like any other place, it’s home to some of the kindest souls and others with selfish intentions. Robberies still happen, but the risk of getting unlucky can be reduced by avoiding these things:

  • Leaving the room and car doors unlocked
  • Exposing valuables
  • Camping in non-designated areas
  • Spending more time than necessary in a bus station
  • Ignoring that gut feeling

Don’t be afraid to file a report with the police if you’re attacked (or with the Department of Labour in the case of withheld wages). In this part of the world, they can be trusted.

It’s the best place to practise Deutsch

Her Majesty may be the head of state here but the young Germans run the show. They spend their working holidays in households, in most of the hostels and in orchards and vineyards. They often congregate and speak in their native tongue, and it can be unnerving if one is far outnumbered in the room. Do them a favour and start a conversation – a few of them are probably there to practise English in the first place. I’ve met some wonderful people this way.

Just a few of the visitors I spent time with.
Just a few of the visitors I spent time with.

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