Planning the Perfect New Zealand Tour

Planning your New Zealand Tour

We've put together some information you should know that will help with your planning and ensure your visit to New Zealand is everything you expect it to be.

The important factors to consider when organising your visit to New Zealand will vary depending on your personal circumstances, however, we’ve answered the most common questions here and included some useful tips to help get you started.

When is the best time to visit New Zealand?

The easy and short answer is anytime! New Zealand enjoys a temperate climate, meaning we don’t usually experience the weather extremes found in some continental countries, nor do we have a rainy season as they do in the tropics – our rainfall days are generally consistent throughout the year. This means that at any time throughout the year you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful scenery, visit iconic attractions and experience a range of activities.

Additional factors to consider when deciding what time of year to travel:

  • The weather or season you would prefer to travel
  • Availability of specific activities in specific seasons
  • Driving conditions during different times of year
  • Cost and availability of flights to New Zealand
  • Cost of accommodations and activities in specific seasons

The weather and our seasons:

New Zealand does experience 4 distinctive seasons. Officially these are

Summer: December, January, and February
Autumn: March, April, and May
Winter: June, July, and August
Spring: September, October, and November

What sort of temperatures and conditions does each season produce?

Summer: Expect an average high of 25 C (76 F) in the north to around 22 C (72 F) in the south. Average lows (evening time) are 13 C (55 F) in the north to 12 C (54 F) in the south.

Autumn: Expect an average high of 20 C (68 F) in the north to around 17 C (63 F) in the south. Average lows (evening time) are 11 C (52 F) in the north to 7 C (45 F) in the south.

Winter: Expect an average high of 15 C (59 F) in the north to around 10 C (50 F) in the south. Average lows (evening time) are 6 C (43 F) in the north to 2 C (35 F) in the south.

Spring: Expect an average high of 18 C (65 F) in the north to around 16 C (61 F) in the south. Average lows (evening time) are 9 C (48 F) in the north to 7 C (45 F) in the south.

See here for a seasonal high/low chart.

Chart showing weather data for New Zealand

Rainfall: Generally speaking rainfall days are consistent throughout the year at between 7 and 11 days per month.  Some regions experience much higher rainfall, in particular the West Coast and Fiordland, but this high rainfall contributes to the outstanding natural beauty these areas are renowned for. 

Snow: The North Island only gets snow on the high central plateau around Tongariro National Park (the Whakapapa and Turoa Ski fields) and on a few other high peaks such as Mt Egmont/Taranaki. In the South Island almost everywhere can experience snow occasionally during winter.  You’ll also see snow-capped mountains as you travel the length of the island, as the high mountains of the Southern Alps span almost the entire length of the South Island. Stewart Island will occasionally get a light dusting of snow as well. Canterbury, Otago and Southland generally get the most snow and this is why the majority of the ski resorts are based here.  Snow very rarely affects driving conditions in New Zealand, except for some of the mountain passes where you will need to carry snow chains.

Winter Driving conditions:

New Zealand roads are very well maintained and well signposted and the local service crews respond quickly to keep roads clear and safe.  During winter months some of the high road passes such as Arthur's Pass, Lindis Pass and Lewis Pass (effectively the roads that join the East Coast of the South Island to the West Coast) might be closed following a heavy snowfall however road crews generally open these within a few hours of the storm passing.  Train services such as the Tranz Alpine are rarely affected. During winter roads can become slippery due to ice or rain and sections of road that are particularly prone to this are well signposted. Rental car companies do prohibit driving their vehicles on certain roads in winter during certain hours (usually 11pm-6am). The Milford Road can be quite a hazardous section in the winter months so if you are not familiar with winter driving our advice would be to take one of the coach trips into Milford instead. The drivers have special training and the specially equipped vehicles ensure a relaxed and informative day trip.

Our tip - always drive to the conditions.

Availability of activities during different seasons.

Almost every activity is available all year round in some form or another. The exception might be access to some of the multi day walking tracks such as the Milford Track and Routeburn Tracks. These close from mid-April to late October for guided walks. Other popular trips to close briefly during winter are the Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound overnight cruises, though the day cruises are available all year. Some restaurants and accommodation options may also close during winter in more remote locations.  Our Travel Consultants will always be able to advise you on seasonal closures and the best time to visit if you have a specific activity on your travel wish list.
The ski fields are open for skiing and snowboarding from approximately mid June until late September (weather dependent).

Our tip - if there are specific activities or interests you might have check with us to ensure availability and suitability for the season you intend to visit.


Flying to New Zealand

Cost and availability of flights to New Zealand.

New Zealand is well serviced by many international airlines with a variety of routes offering you the chance to stop over in other interesting locations on your way here. The largest international airport is Auckland with Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown also receiving direct international flights.

Almost every city and region in New Zealand has a domestic airport so connecting to another New Zealand destination is quite straightforward and inexpensive. All air traffic arriving directly from or via North American ports such as Los Angeles, San Francisco or Vancouver will arrive into Auckland with a connection to the South Island if required. Most airlines or travel agents should be able to add the domestic sector you need onto the international ticket. Alternatively we can organise your domestic airline travel. Flights to NZ fluctuate in price depending on the season. Our summer (Dec- Feb) is peak visitor time and so costs are a little higher. Christmas and New Year periods can see increased demand which leads to increased flight costs at this time of year. Flights into the South Island airports of Christchurch and Queenstown can also increase in price during winter as demand for the Southern Hemispheres best skiing increases.

Airlines are now seeing more competition on certain routes and so shopping around for the best deal should produce some good savings. Airlines generally also offer special low fares for booking in advance. So start to shop around as soon as you can to take advantage of savings to be had by booking early. Flight bookings are usually available around 11 months in advance.

Be prepared to be a little flexible on dates - moving a few days either way or travelling on a specific day of the week might also produce some savings. Securing your dates and airfares would usually be the first step in making your plans to visit New Zealand - remember that the land or tour arrangements such as one of our self drive tours can be adapted to suit any date or length of stay.

Our tip - shop around, maybe use an airfare agent or expert to help you, be flexible with the route, airline and dates, book early.

Airport taxes

All taxes for New Zealand airports should now be included in your air ticket cost.


Lots of visitors to New Zealand do not require a visa to visit as a tourist. However from 01 October 2019 you will need to obtain an NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Tourist Authority) before travelling to New Zealand. The application can be found online and only takes 10 minutes to complete. To check if you also need a visa to visit check out this website: Visa Free Countries. Depending on the route you fly you may need a visa to transit or stopover in other countries. It pays to check this out with the airfare expert or the airline you are travelling with.

Our tip - check regarding visas if you are in any doubt.

Does it cost more to travel around New Zealand in certain seasons?

As with any destination visiting in the high season or peak visitor season when demand is high means that hotels, motels, car rental companies and activity suppliers can charge their standard rate for their services. Low season rates are generally discounted to encourage or entice more customers during that period. The difference isn't that much - for example a 4 star hotel might cost around NZ$20 a night more in peak season.  Costs such as eating out, fuel, drinks etc. don't vary from season to season.


One thing to consider is choice - some destinations such as the West Coast Glacier towns, Te Anau, Queenstown, Wanaka, Bay of Islands etc do get booked out during busy seasons. Making a booking as early as possible means you get the best choice of accommodations, room types and in turn, value and quality.

Our tip - book early to get the best choices.

What do things cost such as fuel and dining out?

New Zealand has a great range of cafes, restaurants and other dining options. Like anywhere else in the world restaurant prices can vary immensely depending on the style and location of the restaurant. Budget between NZ$25 and NZ$35 per main course for most establishments. A pub meal might cost a little less. There is an abundance of take-away available from Indian to Vietnamese to good old fish and chips. A take-away meal for 2 might cost around NZ$20.
Breakfast at a local café will cost between NZ$15 and NZ$25 depending on the style and location (bigger cities tend to cost a little more). Taking a tour which is inclusive of breakfast can sometimes be a good value option.

Fuel costs: This of course will depend on how far you drive and for how long you tour around New Zealand. The following common tour lengths and routes will give you an idea of what to expect

10 day South Island tour in mid size car - expect to spend around NZ$385 on fuel
14 day tour of both islands in mid size car - expect to spend around NZ$530 on fuel
23 day tour of both islands in mid size car - expect to spend around NZ$870 on fuel

Deciding how long to visit for and where to go.

New Zealand is much larger than many first time visitors realise, so to comfortably visit both the North and South Islands by road you will need at least 14 days. It can be done in fewer days if you include some longer drives or if you decide to skip some sections or fly between destinations for example flying from Rotorua to Christchurch.

As a general guideline and using our experience of what visitors actually do the following is a good starting point.

3-5 days will allow you to do a short circular trip from one of the main centers, either, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or Queenstown which are the most popular starting and finishing points.

5-10 days will mean you can take a tour of either the South or North Island with more time to explore and more 2 nights stops.

10-14 days will allow you to visit both the North and South Island starting in one and finishing in the other. Flying back to your start/departure point is simple and cost effective.

14-21 days allows for a more extensive trip with many 2 night stops and time to include locations such as Milford Sound and Kaikoura or the Coromandel and Bay of Islands which might not be possible on shorter time frames.

Anything over 21 days means you can start to tailor an itinerary to suit your interests rather than letting the time frame dictate what is possible. For lots of great suggestions just take a look at our comprehensive tour list to see what is possible. Each of our tour suggestions shows the driving distance and time for each major leg so you can easily gauge the pace.

Travelling around New Zealand

New Zealand is much larger than many first time visitors realise. It's a little larger than the UK, and around the same size as California or Germany. On top of this is the fact that the country is split into 2 main islands and only has approximately 100km of motorway road sections (or at least roads that could be compared with multi-lane highways in other countries). It has very few train services with the most frequented being the very popular Tranz Alpine and Coastal Pacific journeys on the South Island. So for most visitors getting around is by road, coach, flying or a combination of the three. This shouldn't put you off instead it should be anticipated eagerly.

The roads are well maintained, well signposted and spectacularly scenic with a surprise around every bend. They have much less traffic than most visitors will be used to. But getting around takes a little longer than you might expect. Be prepared that your average speed over the course of your holiday may only be 80kph (or 50mph). Add to that stops for photos, interesting turn offs and coffee stops and you can see that planning a tour to fit your location and activity wish list without over doing the driving is important. This of course is where our expert advice comes in but you should also be aware of and consider how much time in the car you would be happy with.

Our tip - although the driving is great and the scenery spectacular don't try and fit too much in. Each region and destination has lots to see, explore and experience.

Where to stay

New Zealand has a wide range of accommodation styles to suit every taste, budgets and requirements from simple motels to luxurious lodges, from apartments to 4 star hotels and even the occasional hobbit house! We carefully select the properties we use and recommend to ensure they meet our quality standards and we monitor these standards by actively visiting properties and following up on the feedback we receive from guests. Location is an important factor when choosing somewhere to stay. A great example of this is Auckland or Wellington properties. Many of our competitors itineraries and tours use motels or hotels in the suburbs such as Epsom in Auckland or Lower Hutt in Wellington. While strictly speaking they are in the cities they pertain to be in, the locations are far from convenient (Epsom is 10km from Auckland City center and Lower Hutt is 16 km from Wellington City center. Staying in these locations might save a small amount of money but this is quickly swallowed up by the extra driving and inconvenience of travelling and parking in the city - after all its the city you want to experience, not the suburbs. Our suggestions, itineraries and tours use properties which are in great locations.

Value for money should also be a key consideration. The relative price of a property shouldn't be confused with the quality. For example a 4 star city center hotel in a large city might cost the same as a 3 star hotel in a smaller town or even a good motel. The city will have lots of competition to contend with, good occupancy rates and so those elements dictate the price to some extent. A small town with just the one hotel can charge a little more.

The below explanations of accommodation styles will give you an indication of what to expect. Remember we can mix and match any style of accommodations to an itinerary or tour for example a tour staying in motels with a couple of nights enjoying a more luxurious lodge is quite a popular way to experience some variety.

The motels we recommend in New Zealand are of a very high standard. Services and facilities on offer can in most cases be comparable to hotels. Costs can also be comparable with hotels, particularly in the small popular locations such as Kaikoura and the West Coast Glaciers where accommodation options and types are limited. One of the most useful features of motel accommodation is the self-contained facilities. At a minimum studio units will have cooking utensils, a hot plate and or microwave, toaster, kettle, crockery and cutlery. Other room types will have more comprehensive facilities such as a full kitchen. This is great if you prefer to prepare your own meals. Other facilities can include saunas, spas and swimming pools and some also offer a full breakfast service. Motels also have a good choice of room types such as 2 bedroom or family units, making them a very economical choice for a family or larger group. The motels we offer are generally owned and operated by locals who have a genuine interest in their region and are keen to share it with you. 

3 Star Hotel
The star rating for hotels only generally applies to the facilities and services a hotel may have at your disposal and not necessarily the quality or value of those services. This is where our local knowledge makes your selection easier. Throughout New Zealand there are some fantastic 3 star hotels that offer great service in great locations. Even within the same hotel some room types and hotel wings vary enormously and so our tours only use and recommend the type that we know to be the best to suit your requirements. All our 3 star hotels have restaurant facilities and we can include meals in our tour costs if you prefer. Note that for smaller destinations such as Coromandel, Kaikoura, Akaroa etc. there may not be any hotel style accommodation, therefore an alternative style will be suggested.

4 Star Hotel
Our 4 star hotel range is immense and each one is selected and recommended for its location and room types. Many of the hotels in this category have a range of room styles such as standard/deluxe/superior, lake view, mountain view, suites etc. Many also have 2 and 3 bedroom suites which can offer great value for a larger family or group travelling together. 4 star hotels generally have swimming pools, gyms, a choice of restaurants and in most cases are a little closer to town centers or occupy premium positions over a 3 star property.

Like motels, our apartments are self-contained accommodation, but they generally have full kitchen facilities, larger living areas and access to laundry facilities.  These are perfect for people wanting to prepare their own meals and the range of apartment size from 1 bedroom up to 3 bedrooms, makes them ideal for families and large groups.

Luxury Apartments
Luxury apartments offer the same range of facilities as apartments, but with that extra level of luxury and often in premier locations.  Extra facilities might also include a swimming pool, restaurant or even a golf course.

Boutique Lodges and Hotels
Boutique Lodges and Hotels in New Zealand are often quoted by our guests as some of the best they have experienced. You might find yourself in a unique purpose built property, or an historic home that has been thoughtfully converted to accommodate discerning guests in quality surroundings. These premier properties provide intimate accommodation including a delightful breakfast as part of their Bed and Breakfast service.  All the properties we recommend have en suite bathrooms and very comfortable and private bedrooms. Occupying enviable positions or situated in a great suburb close to the action these properties are often owned and hosted by enthusiastic kiwi ambassadors and will definitely be a highlight of your New Zealand experience.

Luxury Lodges and Hotels
New Zealand is world famous for its luxury and exclusive lodges and hotels. Ranging from some of the finest city center cosmopolitan properties to purpose built lodges occupying prime locations in fantastic positions. Luxury Lodges in New Zealand afford guests every comfort and service. Often inclusive of dinner their in house chefs prepare some of the finest cuisine in the country and you dine amongst some of the finest settings. Lodges also provide services such as local fishing and hunting guides, walking guides, helicopter tours, in house massage and treatment facilities plus much more. Our luxury and 5 star hotels are globally recognised as some of the best.

Our tip - look for overall value and location.  Remember a saving of NZ$20 a night can soon be swallowed up in parking and extra fuel charges.

Car Rental

What type of car should you drive?

We use a variety of rental vehicles for our tours from small economy cars to large 4WD and 8 seat people movers. The following factors and information will help you decide what's best for you.

Size: To determine the style of car to drive, first consider how many people are travelling in your group and how many suitcases you will have.  For example a large saloon will comfortably seat 4 adults but it won't fit 4 large suitcases and hand luggage into the boot.  In this situation we would recommend a larger vehicle like 4WD to accommodate all passengers and luggage comfortably.

Fuel efficiency: The smaller the car the more fuel efficient is the general rule. Some of the larger 4WD vehicles and people movers have diesel engines and these can be quite efficient. Diesel is also significantly cheaper than petrol in New Zealand. While a specific engine type can’t be guaranteed we can place a request or preference for this on your behalf.

Manual or automatic: There isn't a lot of choice here as the majority of rental car fleets are automatic (as are most cars in NZ). Some categories such as compact or intermediate do offer a manual gearbox if you prefer a manual gearbox this may also mean an increase in car rental cost.

Insurance: All our rental cars come with insurance cover. There is a maximum excess or deductible which you are liable for and this ranges between NZ$345 and NZ$450 depending on the rental car company and the type of vehicle. This will be clearly stated on your itinerary and quote from us. Insurance cover does have a few exclusions such as damage to tires and windscreens and these details are also specified. In order to rent a vehicle a bond to cover the excess or deductible is requested by the rental company on delivery or collection of the vehicle. This is usually in the form of a credit card authorisation.

Who can drive: There are few restrictions on who can drive the rental car with the main one being no-one under the age of 21. Each driver must also have a valid driving license (i.e. valid for the category of vehicle) and the license must be printed in English. If it isn’t then you should obtain an international permit locally. Each driver must present their license to be covered by insurance and listed as an authorised driver.

Navigating New Zealand: Getting around is quite straightforward particularly once you leave the cities. Roads are well signposted for example Mt Cook is signposted virtually all the way from Christchurch. Coupled with the fact that there are few other roads once in the countryside then getting around is a doddle. GPS units can be useful for city driving, finding that tricky hotel entrance and for planning estimated arrival times on longer journeys. With our excellent map and guide books and simple driving instructions within your final itinerary, we think finding your way will be easy.

Our advice - choose a car that has enough space. Consider how long you will be spending in it and how much luggage you might have.

What to do in New Zealand:

New Zealand offers virtually every activity and interest imaginable and some you wouldn't even dream possible. From horse back riding to hiking, fly fishing to farm tours, steam ship to steam trains and of course our natural scenery and our unique cultures.

Many activities can be region or island specific. An example might be if you wished to experience a Maori cultural performance the best choices would be found in Rotorua with a few others offered in Christchurch, the Bay of Islands and Queenstown. Walking and Hiking can be enjoyed almost everywhere and the extensive national and regional parks make this very easy to do.  Fishing - Bay of Islands is considered one of the best big game spots in the world while Taupo, Turangi, Canterbury, Otago and Fiordland have the best trout rivers. If you have a specific interest or a wish list then this could influence where you need to visit to have the best experience.

Our tip - if you have specific interests or wishes let us know and we can incorporate them into a tour or itinerary for you.

What to wear:

New Zealand is a laid back country and you wouldn't be out of place enjoying dinner at a fine restaurant wearing jeans and a shirt.  We suggest you wear whatever you feel comfortable in, including comfortable shoes for walking in. Take into consideration the temperatures you will experience and plan accordingly. The most effective method is layers. Having the ability to add or remove thinner layers as needed works best. Remember depending on the length of visit you may need to do some laundry. Plan this into your trip or better still get us to do it for you (the planning that is, not the laundry!)

Our tip: Practicality and comfort is the New Zealand way. Don't over pack, plan the laundry stops and leave some space for all those nice New Zealand souvenirs you will probably end up buying.

What else to pack:

The answer to this is based on some of the most common questions we get asked. If you have a more specific requirement then just let us know.
Hairdryers - most accommodations will have a hairdryer. If it’s an absolute must to use one every day then just check with us to make sure that's the case at each property.
Voltage adapters - NZ works on 240 volts so check that anything you wish to bring along also works on this. Most cameras and electronics are dual voltage but might need the adapter so don't forget that. If in doubt just check with the supplier.
Medication - if you have a specific medication and need to check its availability here we can do that for you. Check with your prescribing doctor to see what paperwork you might need to obtain it here.
Internet - Most accommodations offer WiFi or in room internet access.  The service may require a payment for access at some properties or there may be a charge for high use.  If internet access is essential for your travel discuss this with your Travel Consultant and they will ensure you only stay in properties where internet is available.

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Road to Mt. Cook National Park
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