Congratulations! It's finally happening. Whether it took you days or years to pull the trigger, you've booked a flight to the other side of the world to see the Sounds, run with the sheep, and follow in Frodo's footsteps.
Before you land in Kiwi country, here's a few things that you'll be happy to have in your [figurative] back pocket.
1. New Zealanders' Opinions of Tourists
Not all New Zealanders welcome tourists with open arms... but with good reason. In recent years, a small minority of tourists have made quite the bad name for the rest of us by being all around rude guests- littering, piss poor driving, and basically acting like asshats while visiting New Zealand.
Locals in NZ are fed up with drifter type tourists who from their perception are using up public resources, disrespecting their country and not even spending any money.
[Click any of they hyperlinks above to view the news articles]
What can you do to help? Act like you would when you visit someone else's house. Clean up after yourself, pay your share, and be polite. If you're not going to do it for you, do it for your country. Kiwis (and everyone else you meet) remember which countries the well behaved tourists come from.
I grew up with Wisconsin mosquitoes. I've even had the pleasure of feeding the deep woods Michigan tiger Mosquito. HOWEVER, I will take mosquitoes over NZ sandflies any day of the week.
Lets compare mosquitoes & sandflies to zombies.
A mosquito is like a screaming, running zombie: scary enough, but easy to locate and put down with a headshot. Sandflies are like a horde of shuffling, slow zombies. You won't even notice them until all the sudden there are fifteen of them chewing on your foot.
Sandflies are all bite and no bark. They leave huge welts that itch for days afterward. They also travel in swarms and are so small and quiet they're difficult to locate and smash easily. I hate sandflies, and you will too.
Even after you've read this, you're still thinking that they can't be that bad. To that, I say I have never been chased from a campsite from mosquitoes. Sandflies made me flee on three different occasions while in New Zealand.
Somehow the public perception of internet in New Zealand is that it's an incredibly rare resource that must be used in small quantities so that some is saved for future generations. Coffee shops, restaurants, and bars will gladly let you use their wifi but prepare for disappointment-its often slow, capped at 50 mbs (think... a few iMessages home to mom) and always password protected.
That forces tourists who want to upload or download something larger than an email off to the library (think, backup photos, send a Snapchat video or godforbid FACETIME). Because of this the poor libraries in NZ are absolutely SLAMMED with tourists. From open to close, expect to see groups of young backpackers in every available library space sipping up that sweet interweb nectar.
It's so bad in fact that many libraries A) charge for internet after the first half hour B) have separate facilities for WiFi users such as a backroom.
You'll inevitably find yourself in a library during your travels. Don't spread your stuff around to create a shantytown in the middle of the library and please, this should go without saying, wear some shoes. (Why are there always German tourists in the library who don't have shoes?) And please oh please eat your lunch outside... or in your car... or anywhere besides whipping up a PB&J sandwich on the very limited counterspace everyone is sharing.
Is New Zealand is expensive? If you eat at a restaurant for every meal, stay at hotels, and have a nice rental car, then yes, New Zealand is really expensive.
However, if you live a normal lifestyle similar to how you do at home you can live out a comfortable daily life as a tourist and not spend anymore (aside from the plane ticket) than you would back home.
What does that mean? Grocery stores for food and cooking for yourself, an inexpensive campervan, and Department of Conservation camp sites to start. In fact, we were surprised at how affordable New Zealand is, especially with the dollar being as strong against the kiwi buck as it is in March 2016.
Out of everywhere we traveled, NZ had the widest range in weather that you had to be prepared for. It could be swimsuit hot on a beach during the day but then so cold at night that you need to wear everything you own to sleep in.
While everyone makes jokes about it always raining when you go camping you can count on it raining more often than not. Throw in altitude changes with mountains everywhere and you'll be traversing through endless micro-climates for your entire visit to NZ.
This is a country that you need to bring your A-Game to prep for. Bring your cold weather gear, your wet weather gear, your awesome waterproof hiking boots, and then throw a swimsuit on top of all that. Arrive with the knowledge that there will be entire days you will have to just write off because it will pour all day. We got rained out of Abel Tasman, Queenstown, the Fox and Frans Joseph glaciers, and only had one decent day in Milford Sound. Not complaining... just communicating.
From an American perspective, New Zealand seems compact and easily drivable. Few things to look out for:
Speed Limits: Kiwis drive fast and their speed limits allow for this. Pay attention to the suggested speed limits on twisty roads- they are really accurate and you wouldn't want to be going faster than posted around a turn that turns off into a river gorge.
Foreign Drivers: Be on the lookout for all Campervanners. Foreign drivers operating on NZ roads are notoriously dangerous. The high speed limits and driving on the left side in a vehicle bigger than what they use at home seems to confuse the majority of them. Stay in defensive driving mode, doubly so if you're going to be driving a motorcycle in NZ.
Get out of the way: Remember when I mentioned Kiwis drive fast? They drive fast. Pull your slow camper van over and let traffic pass you. That way you'll end up with a friendly wave instead of an angry finger. If you're doing it right, they'll give you a nice little beep as they pass. That's Kiwi for "Thanks for being one of the good tourists"!
7. Yes, Your Trip to New Zealand Will Be As Great As You Imagined
You'll never see more natural beauty packed into one country. Our jaws were in a constant state of dropped as we discovered something new around every corner. Endless waterfalls, rivers, mountains, sounds, beaches...the variation you'll encounter over just a two hour drive will leave you wanting to apply for citizenship.
Packing soon? Check out 6 Essentials for your New Zealand Campervan Trip