New Zealand: What to Know Before You Go

It’s best to think of New Zealand as a mini-continent. In just a couple islands, the country squeezes together grand landscapes that elsewhere are usually hundreds of miles apart. The rainforest brushes up against glaciers, desert, mountains, and the beach. Most visitors here see many regions and many types of activities in one trip. It is possible to kayak through placid sounds in the morning, for example, and taste fine wines in a vineyard after lunch.

Locals are quite friendly. Even in the “big” cities, people greet you with a small town charm. And though their country is beautiful beyond compare, they are often delighted and curious as to why you decided to visit.

Getting Here

New Zealand is far from home, so getting here involves an overnight flight (13.5+ hours) direct from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, or Chicago, usually on Air New Zealand or Qantas. It is possible to arrange a stopover in Fiji or Tahiti to break up your flights with a bit of tropical island relaxation; on Air New Zealand, you can add a stopover in the Cook Islands at no additional cost. You can also reach New Zealand via cruise ships from Sydney, Australia.

Getting Around

Driving is the most popular and recommended way of seeing New Zealand. Many of the best places are out of the way and inaccessible without a car.

But road trips here have little in common with those in the United States. There are no super highways. Roads are narrow and lined with epic views of mountains, sea, and forest. There are endless opportunities to stop for waterfall swims, scenic views, and lunches in quiet towns. Many DUE clients say that driving was their favorite and most surprising part of their trip.

New Zealand has many small airports on a hub and spoke system with Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. It is common to drive from one part of the country to another and then fly back. There are also many opportunities for scenic flights and helicopter rides.

The country boasts a selection of train routes, mostly along scenic thoroughfares. Most notably, the TranzAlpine scenic train travels from Christchurch to the rugged West Coast and back, passing through the beautiful Arthur’s Pass.

Popular Activities

  • Hiking: Nearly everything awesome about New Zealand happens outdoors. Hiking is the best way to see the country. There are simply amazing walks for all fitness levels. From day trips to multi-night with luxury lodges.
  • Scenic Flights: New Zealand boasts more helicopters per capita than any other country on earth. Chopper and airplane flights are available over glaciers, mountains, and rainforests. The experience is simply unforgettable.
  • Wine: If you haven’t had a New Zealand sauvignon blanc or pinot noir, stop reading right now and go pencil them onto your grocery list. We’ll wait. You don’t have to be an oenophile to savor the famous flavors of the country’s notable wines. The country’s wine regions of Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and Otago (near Queenstown) offer tastings, vineyard tours, fine dining and more.
  • Adrenaline Sports: Bungy jumping, skydiving, jet boating, mountain biking, zorbing, abseiling (canyon repelling): New Zealand boasts the best of a million kinds of adrenaline activities.
  • Maori Cultural Activities: Experience the rich and inviting Maori heritage. Join in a performance and hangi (feast), visit a Maori art gallery, or stay overnight in a Maori village.
  • Golf: Play top challenging links courses at Cape Kidnappers, Kauri Cliffs and more.
  • Rafting and Kayaking: Dart down white water rivers in rugged mountains, plunge into black water in caves lit by fluorescent glow worms, paddle with wildlife like seals, dolphins, and whales, or cruise through fiords, sounds, streams and more.
  • Horseback Riding: Ride beaches and hilltops including the track Fodor’s rated the most scenic horseback path in the world.
  • Bird Watching: New Zealand is a bird wonderland. Spot kiwi in the dark, visit the royal albatross colony, watch little blue penguins waddle in from the sea, view rare yellow eyed penguins in their natural habitat, or voyage to an isolated bird sanctuary island.


New Zealand is most famous for its luxury lodges in the breathtaking countryside with full cooked breakfasts and multi-course gourmet dinners. The country also boasts unique destination lodges tucked into some of its most beautiful corners. Rounding out the high-end selection is a wide range of B&Bs, inns, and luxury hotels. For those with more moderate budgets, there are small-chain hotels with simple international standards.


New Zealand is a western country with numerous dining options for every budget. Choices span the range from multi-course gourmet meals 3 times a day to cook-your-own with local ingredients. There is also plenty of Polynesian and European fusion cuisine using local vegetables such as kumara (like a sweet potato). There are 4 times more sheep than humans in the country, so lamb is on nearly every menu. And as an island nation, seafood is plentiful and delicious.

What to Wear

Casual and comfortable are the rules here. Leave your suits, ties and heels at home. Few restaurants require a jacket. Light layers work well no matter the season including t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, fleece jackets and rain gear. And whenever you go, bring a swimsuit. Who knows what waterfalls or pools might beckon.

Christmas and Holiday Travel

New Zealand is a small country and a very popular holiday destination, which means accommodation books out fast over the Christmas to New Year’s Eve period. We recommend booking your holiday travel to New Zealand at least 4 months in advance (6-8 months if you want a wider range of options). Please note hotel prices are higher than average during the festive season.

New Zealand: Where to Go

Queenstown and Fiordland – Mountain scenery, nature, and outdoor adventures

Rotorua and Taupo – Geothermal attractions, Maori culture, and Hobbiton Movie Set

Rugged West Coast – Heli-hiking on glaciers, scenic drives, and small local gems

Auckland and Surrounds – City living, black sand beaches, and Waiheke Island wineries

Coromandel Peninsula – Beaches, sea kayaking, and Cathedral Cove

Nelson and Surrounds – Abel Tasman National Park, beaches, and wildlife

Wellington and Surrounds – Lord of the Rings workshop, quirky bars, arts, and local culture

Hawke’s Bay – Wine and food, Art Deco architecture, and golf

Marlborough – Wine, Queen Charlotte Track, and cruising Marlborough Sound

Mount Cook – Beautiful mountain scenery and hiking

Northland – Hidden beaches, Maori history, and golf

Christchurch and Surrounds – Local history, city attractions, and swimming with dolphins

Dunedin and Southland – Local bars, rare birds, and Scottish architecture

Starting at $5,199

New Zealand Birthday Vacation: Penguins, Fiordlands, and Wilderness

This New Zealand Birthday Vacation package was planned for a young couple from Milwaukee. They were fascinated with wildlife and beautiful scenery, so we created this New Zealand Adventure package to take them to some of New Zealand’s most scenic areas. They started their adventure in pristine Arthur’s Pass for a private nature hike and beautiful mountain views. Read More…

Trip Type: Wildlife & Wilderness, Highlights, Outdoor Adventure, Family Travel, Romantic Getaways

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Romantic Luxury Private Vacation: Fly, Sail, and Savor New Zealand

Discover New Zealand’s pristine wilderness with the utmost luxury and exclusivity. Enjoy private boat charters and helicopter excursions to explore some of New Zealand’s most dazzling scenery, from active volcanoes to icy blue glaciers to golden beaches.

Trip Type: Highlights, Romantic Getaways, Outdoor Adventure, Wildlife & Wilderness, Spa & Relaxation, Food and Wine

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This New Zealand Highlights Tour of the South Island was planned for a couple from Michigan celebrating their 20th anniversary. For this special trip, they wanted to experience New Zealand’s famously beautiful scenery and go on unique outdoor adventures. They began their New Zealand Highlights Tour in Dunedin, a town with a Scottish feel that’s home to New Read More…

Trip Type: Highlights, Outdoor Adventure, Family Travel

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New Zealand Vacation: Off the Beaten Track Adventure

This New Zealand Vacation: Off the Beaten Track Adventure was designed for a honeymoon couple from Los Angeles. They were avid hikers, and they wanted to experience beautiful wilderness and outdoor adventures away from the usual tourist areas. We sent them on a road trip to some of the most breathtaking parts of the South Island Read More…

Trip Type: Wildlife & Wilderness, Outdoor Adventure, Family Travel, Romantic Getaways

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New Zealand Fiji Package: New Zealand and Fijian Ancient Cultures

For this New Zealand Fiji Package, we had a very intellectual couple from Washington DC that wanted to get to know the history and culture of 2 of the South Pacific’s most storied peoples, the Fijians and the Kiwis/Maori. We started their New Zealand Fiji Package with some time at Likuliku Lagoon Resort, where they were hosted Read More…

Trip Type: Heritage and Culture

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Active Nature Retreat: New Zealand and Fiji Explorer Package

This active nature retreat brings you to some of the most picturesque, remote regions of New Zealand and Fiji, where the natural beauty that surrounds you will rejuvenate body and soul. In New Zealand, explore the Hollyford Track by foot, jetboat, and helicopter; cycle along tranquil Lake Wakatipu; and hike the dramatic Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Finish with a week in beautiful Fiji, where you can relax or explore endless island adventures at your own pace.

Trip Type: Outdoor Adventure, Islands, Beaches & Reefs, Spa & Relaxation, Wildlife & Wilderness, Romantic Getaways

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Luxurious New Zealand and Private Island Fiji

This package was planned for two Florida ladies wanting to celebrate 20 years of friendship. They both had a passion for travel and New Zealand was on their bucket list. After a long time traveling, the duo hopped in their rental car where they drove to Fiordland Lodge. Here, they were welcomed with amazing staff Read More…

Trip Type: Escorted Journeys, Food and Wine, Highlights, Romantic Getaways

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South Pacific Vacation Packages: Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti

This lucky honeymoon couple from Canada had a full month for their Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti journey. So we selected one of our favorite South Pacific Vacation Packages. We sent them on an epic month-long journey guiding them through the highlights of the South Pacific experiencing the culture and landscape of New Zealand, Australia, Read More…

Trip Type: Heritage and Culture, Romantic Getaways