New Zealanders are a laid-back, modest bunch as a whole – exercising the usual good manners will help endear you to the locals.
- Greetings Shake hands when meeting someone for the first time, and look people in the eye.
- Attitude Brash, self-satisfied, arrogant attitudes really annoy people (note: this is how they perceive Australians to be and not what Kiwis are like!).
- Māori Customs Adhere to strict Māori protocols if visiting marae (meeting-house complexes). Otherwise, respectful behaviour goes a long way.
- Invitations If you’re invited to dinner or a barbecue at someone’s house, bring some wine, beer, meat or a bunch of flowers.
Those who have limited time to get between NZ’s attractions can make the most of a widespread (and very reliable and safe) network of intra- and inter-island flights.
Touring cyclists proliferate in NZ, particularly over summer. The country is clean, green and relatively uncrowded, and has lots of cheap accommodation (including camping) and abundant freshwater. The roads are generally in good nick, and the climate is usually not too hot or cold. Road traffic is the biggest danger: trucks overtaking too close to cyclists are a particular threat. Bikes and cycling gear are readily available to hire or buy in the main centres, and bicycle-repair shops are common.
By law all cyclists must wear an approved safety helmet (or risk a fine); it’s also vital to have good reflective safety clothing. Cyclists who use public transport will find that major bus lines and trains only take bicycles on a ‘space available’ basis (in cities, usually outside rush hour) and may charge up to $10. Some of the smaller shuttle bus companies, on the other hand, make sure they have storage space for bikes, which they carry for a surcharge.
New Zealand may be an island nation but there’s virtually no long-distance water transport around the country. Obvious exceptions include the boat services between Auckland and various islands in the Hauraki Gulf, the inter-island ferries that cross the Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton, and the passenger ferry that negotiates Foveaux Strait between Bluff and the town of Oban on Stewart Island.
Bus travel in NZ is easygoing and well organised, with services transporting you to the far reaches of both islands (including the start/end of various walking tracks)…but it can be expensive, tedious and time-consuming.
New Zealand’s main bus company is InterCity(www.intercity.co.nz), which can drive you to just about anywhere on the North and South Islands. Naked Bus has similar routes and remains the main competition.
Car and motorcycle
The best way to explore NZ in depth is to have your own wheels. It’s easy to hire cars and campervans, though it’s worth noting that fuel costs can be eye-watering. Alternatively, if you’re in NZ for a few months, you might consider buying your own vehicle.
There’s an unusually high percentage of international drivers involved in road accidents in NZ – something like 30% of accidents involves a nonlocal driver. Kiwi traffic is usually pretty light, but it’s easy to get stuck behind a slow-moving truck or campervan − pack plenty of patience, and know your road rules before you get behind the wheel. There are also lots of slow wiggly roads, one-way bridges and plenty of gravel roads, all of which require a more cautious driving approach. And watch out for sheep!
To check road conditions, call 0800 444 449 or see www.nzta.govt.nz/traffic.
- Kiwis drive on the left-hand side of the road; cars are right-hand drive. Give way to the right at intersections.
- All vehicle occupants must wear a seatbelt or risk a fine. Small children must be belted into approved safety seats.
- Always carry your licence when driving.
- Drink-driving is a serious offence and remains a significant problem in NZ, despite widespread campaigns and severe penalties. The legal blood-alcohol limit is 0.05% for drivers aged over 20, and 0% (zero) for those under 20.
- At single-lane bridges (of which there is a surprisingly large number), a smaller red arrow pointing in your direction of travel means that you give way.
- Speed limits on the open road are generally 100km/h; in built-up areas, the limit is usually 50km/h. Speed cameras and radars are used extensively.
- Be aware that not all rail crossings have barriers or alarms. Approach slowly and look both ways.
- Don’t pass other cars when the centre line is yellow.
- It’s illegal to drive while using a mobile phone.
New Zealand train travel is all about the journey, not about getting anywhere in a hurry. Great Journeys of New Zealand operates four routes, listed below. It’s best to reserve online or by phone; reservations can be made directly through Great Journeys of New Zealand (operated by KiwiRail), or at most train stations, travel agents and visitor information centres. Cheaper fares appear if you book online within NZ. All services are for day travel (no sleeper services).
A Scenic Journeys Rail Pass allows unlimited travel on all of Great Journeys of New Zealand’s rail services, including passage on the Wellington–Picton Interislander ferry. There are two types of pass, both requiring you to book your seats a minimum of 24 hours before you want to travel. Both have discounts for kids.
Fixed Pass Limited-duration fares for one/two/three weeks, costing $629/729/829 per adult.
Freedom Pass Affords you travel on a certain number of days over a 12-month period; a three-/seven-/10-day pass costs $439/969/1299.