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General Information

Getting started

You don't need a visa if your country has a visa waiver agreement with New Zealand, provided you stay for less than 3 months. What you do need is:

If you fly via the USA the baggage allowance is 2 x 32 kg per person. Flying with Emirates from Germany via Dubai we were allowed to take 20 kg + 7 kg hand luggage per person. That was more than we needed, and we even took some outdoor equipment with us. If your flight goes via Dubai no bag or other luggage may weigh more than 32 kilos. Read more packing tips and download packing list go

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Climate

New Zealand's far North has a subtropical climate during summer, while inland alpine areas can be as cold as -10°C in winter. But, all in all, New Zealand's climate is very mild, lacking season-related extremes. Instead, New Zealanders are used to the so-called four seasons in one day, because weather can change very suddenly and unexpectedly. Even if you start your excursion while the sun is shining bright and the sky is clear blue, you may get soaked through – and vice versa. Good rain clothes are essential. Kiwis are wont to say:

If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.

As New Zealand is situated in the Southern Hemisphere, the North has an average temperature of 15°C warmer than the South with 9°C. The warmest months are January and February, the coldest month is July. The average rainfall is pretty high with 640-1500 mm which is evenly spread throughout the year.
New Zealand's National Meteorological Service

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Driving

At the beginning, driving on the left is strange if you aren't used to. The driver sits on the right side and changes gears with his left hand. Be very careful after turning and when you have to change lanes because of road works (sometimes a flagman controls the traffic with a hand-held Stop/Go sign) – if you are used to driving on the right, you might tend to stay in the wrong lane. Keeping in mind that the driver sits in the middle of the road and the co-driver at the edge was helpful for us. In addition to that, our vehicle had stickers with arrows on the windscreen which is not a bad idea.

The speed limit on the motorway is 100km/h, in towns 50km/h if not signposted otherwise. Most Kiwis accept these limits and are thoughtful drivers. We liked driving in New Zealand (but maybe we see it from another point of view since we are from Germany where unfortunately we have no speed limit on the motorways).
The official New Zealand road code

Traffic sign: No engine brakes

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Electricity

Throughout the country the electricity voltage is at 230/240 volts (50 hertz). You need a converter if the voltage of your equipment is different from that and also if the plug doesn't look similar to that on the illustration. Most hotels and motels have 110 volt AC sockets (rated at 20 watts) for electric razors. To connect your laptop computer to the Internet a RJ45 type plug is required.

Electric plug in New Zealand

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Internet

Internet Cafes are called Cybercafes. The rates are very variable and depend on where you are. In the cities you pay about NZ$3 per hour, on campgrounds and in smaller villages up to NZ$8. To connect your own laptop computer to the Internet a RJ45 type plug is required.

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Language

English and Māori are the official languages of New Zealand. English is the everyday language. Because of the multi-cultural society of the country you will also hear many other languages.

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Money

New Zealand's unit of currency is the New Zealand Dollar (NZ$ or simply $). Payment by credit card is common, VISA- and Mastercards are widely accepted. Debit cards / EC cards with Maestro logo in combination with your pin should work at every ATM – I write should because one of our cards didn't work at all – so make sure you have another option. It's best if you ask at your local bank if your card will work in New Zealand. Bank opening hours in New Zealand are Mon - Fr from 9.30 am - 4.30 pm, although some banks in the cities are also open on the weekend.
Currency converter / newzealand.com

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Phone

Usually pay phones work with phonecards/ value cards which you can buy for NZ$ 5, 10, 15 and 20 at dairies, supermarkets, news agencies, post offices and petrol stations. Firstly call the toll free access number (which should be noted somewhere in the phone box), then enter the PIN of the phone card. Some public phones also work with credit cards. Coin-operated telephones are hard to find.

GSM cell phones work well in New Zealand. If you need to be available under your own phone number, make sure your provider has a roaming partner in NZ. Otherwise you can go on a prepaid service using a local SIM card (which also makes more sense for local calls). Don't forget to note the numbers you need because your old phone list won't be available with the new card. You can buy Vodafone prepaid cards for NZ$ 20, 35, 80. They will also set you up.

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Time Differences

The time difference from Europe to New Zealand is between 10 and 12 hours depending on summer time (called daylight-saving in NZ).

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Travel Time

It goes without saying that the Kiwis peak travel time is during their summer holidays from mid December to the beginning of February. If this is also your journey time, it might be wise to pre-book campgrounds, overnight stays in the huts on the walking tracks, the ferry across Cook Strait and certain other activities (perhaps even the really essential things like the ferry or the huts on the great walks before you arrive in NZ). I guess travel is more relaxing and you can act more spontaneously when the Kiwi holidays have passed: in spring from September - November and in the late summer/ early autumn.

We were travelling in spring and we experienced every weather situation from bloody cold to red hot ;-) Unfortunately the water was still too cold for swimming, although it was ok for the hardy guys. Next time I want to go to New Zealand in late summer, I hope the water will be a little bit warmer then :-)

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Water

The tap water in New Zealand is safe to drink, if not signposted otherwise. Water from lakes and rivers should always be boiled. If you plan a longer hike go to the nearest visitor centre and ask for the water quality, it might be advisable to take your own drinking water for the trip.

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