With the Aussie dollar riding high a visit to our most popular overseas destination has never been a better value. New Zealand's close proximity, great skiing, spectacular scenery and generally laid back (almost comatose in some places) way of life make it a great place for a holiday or extended trip. In 2008 nearly 900,000 Aussies visited New Zealand. Recent marketing pushes from the New Zealand government has kept people coming – it's hard not to get a little emotional after a bad week at work when those adds come on … it really is a great place to unwind. So what's the best way to get there and around?
Flights to New Zealand
There are plenty of great deals to New Zealand, with decent competition for your money from different airlines. This has made flights as cheap as they have ever been, but beware, booking early is still key as cheap seats will be sold up well in advance, especially for peak times. Direct flights into Queenstown from Australia are always full over winter.
Important tips for booking flights to New Zealand:
- New Zealand's international airports are Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington and Queenstown (limited direct flights from Oz in Ski season)
- A good time of year to buy tickets is January. Air New Zealand will release their specials around this time and seats will be readily available for later in the year (for ski season or flights up until September).
- Splitting your return fare between two airlines is a way to save money – Qantas, Virgin Blue or Air New Zealand may be the cheapest on the way over to Auckland, while Emirates are often the cheapest on the return leg (a good chance to fly a great airline. Check online for one way fares rather than returns. A bit of searching will save you money.
- In general you should budget around $ 450- $ 500 Aussie return inc. tax for flights to New Zealand. Any cheaper than this and it's a great deal.
- Direct flights into Queenstown will almost certainly be closer to $ 600 inc tax if you get in early
- Virgin Blue is the only budget carrier that flies to the three major airports from Australia
- Lan Chile and Aerolineus Argentina may sometimes have cheap seats as they stop over here on the way through to South America (via Auckland)
- New Zealand is the most popular international destination for online flight bookings and there's really no need to use an agent if you are happy to book online. Save yourself the commission agents will charge by booking on the web
Round the World On Star Alliance New Zealand is an easy stop on the way to either the states or pacific Islands.
On One World Qantas or Lan Chile will get you there either on the way to the States or South America. It counts as part of the Australian region on continent based tickets.
The best time to go Autumn (March to June) or spring (August to November) are great times to visit. Fares are cheap at these times, and there is less tourist traffic around the popular spots. The colors are great, and your holiday will certainly be more relaxed. On the South Island September – October is a great time with the combination of the change of seasons and snow capped mountains making for spectacular drives.
As in Australia and around the world try to avoid local school holiday times as prices will be higher. Try to avoid January, the first week of February, April and the first few weeks of July.
Hiring a car
The cheapest time to rent a car is over the winter months from June to October. The great range of choice of hire companies and the strong dollar means it's an easy and cheap way to get around at any time of year. $ 40 a day will get you started. Check the big operators such as Hertz, Easy Rent and Budget, along with a bunch of smaller operators.
Renting a campervan has become one of the most popular ways to see New Zealand, and with good reason. It will give you total freedom and will work out a little cheaper than staying in hotels over the length of your stay. There's a great network of camping sites to park in, or otherwise just propping for the night out in the country is much easier than on Australia's East coast – you will rarely be bothered by a ranger at 6 am trying to fine you $ 300 for parking in a public place. (those rangers, they'll get ya)
In general a campervan will set you back around $ 100.00 per day with all the bells and whistles. A good tip is that buying comprehensive travel insurance in Australia will save you on your car insurance in New Zealand. A decent Australian policy will have a high rental vehicle excess cover, allowing you to choose the cheapest insurance option for the camper van. The travel insurance policy will pay for itself a few times over.
Check out companies such as Britz, Pacific Horizon, KEA, Apollo and Maui. There's lots of competition for your dollar.
Be sure you understand the varying road conditions in New Zealand – driving around in winter through narrow roads with sleet and snow can be very difficult and put a dampener on any trip.
For longer stays buying a car is an option – 2nd hand cars can be quite cheap and the process of changing ownership is easy (just a trip to the post office).
Putting your car / campervan / person on the interisland ferry
Getting between the two islands with your car or on your own is easy and pretty reasonable. Ferries depart 5 times daily between Wellington in the North and Picton in the South. Look out for deals on these sites:
Expect to pay around $ 50New Zealand dollars for a single trip without a car.
New Zealand is by far one of the easiest countries to get around backpacking. A near perfect network of hostels is served by great public buses or, the easier choice, backbacker buses such as the Kiwi Experience. The later is a hop on hop off style bus that will take you around the islands at your own pace, conveniently stopping at all the major sights and outside the door of selected hostels. If you can put up with the odd white shoe wearing Brit spending dad's money then this can be a great way to see the islands, with plenty of choices for adventure activities along the way. Also check out the 'magic bus' and 'stray travel' websites for similar services.
There are a few great scenic train rides in New Zealand that are reasonably priced and a good way to ditch the hire car for a few days. In the North Island you can travel between Auckland and Wellington, or on the South Island the train from Christchurch-Picton is always popular. The later takes in the Kaikoura ranges on one side and the Pacific coast on the other side. The trip takes around five hours, takes in 22 tunnels and is highly recommended.
At present Zuji or Air New Zealand are two sites that will allow you to book and pay for New Zealand domestic flights online. Prices are fairly cheap; budget around $ 90 inc tax one way from Auckland to Wellington as an example.
Accommodation – As with flights booking well in advance is the key to getting a reasonable price for accommodation. If you are winging it and booking just a night and hire car be aware in Ski season and New Zealand school holidays accommodation options thin out very quickly. Moreover, there can be a massive difference in price through agents and different websites. Be sure to take the time to check out at least a few options before you book.
Skiing? Cheap fares and packages, along with decent snow make a ski trip to New Zealand an easy choice rather than the overpriced and inconstantious trips within Australia. A week in New Zealand really can be cheaper than staying at home.
The major difference between Australia and many other destinations is that you can not stay right at the snow (with the exception of Cardona, above Wanaka, and these apartments are booked months in advance). You will be staying in towns close buy, but this is no drama as transfers to the mountains are cheap and being in Queenstown any night during ski season is not a bad thing.
Booking early is the key, especially for big groups. Try and book any flights and packages in January – there is always a multitude of deals available. Consider booking late season – August through to October. The snow is fairly dependable and you will avoid peak prices.
The capital in New Zealand for both Skiing and adventure activities, Queenstown has never lost its appeal. You can ski up to 5 areas, including nearby Wanaka. There is accommodation from the plushest digs through to a bunch of backpacker style options that we generally lack in resorts in Oz. Queenstown is also great in summer, with plenty to keep you busy off the mountains.
Some 70 km's from Queenstown, Wanaka is a big resort though less crowded and hedonistic than Queenstown. It's a cheaper choice than Queenstown, but has less scenic value and comes with little of the village style atmosphere that you get from its flashier neighbor.
Mt Hutt enjoys the longest ski season in the South Island due to its status as one of the highest ski fields in the Southern Hemisphere. It's located just 1.5 hours drive from Christchurch. Accommodation choices are either Methvan or Mt Hutt, and range from cheap and simple motels to luxury resort style.
Located on the North Island, Mt Ruapehu is little known to people outside New Zealand. To locals, this area represents consistent snow and the country's most developed ski areas. Tour operators automatically ignore this region, though it's many new Zealand locales first choice over winter. Heli skiing is better served in the South Island, along with other adventure activities.
Heli Skiing For heli skiing trips or scenic flights over parts of both islands a multitude of choice abounds. Just be sure to check the safety record of the operator you choose.
Some other useful tips Stay longer than the average five days most Aussies do – a month of travel here should leave you wondering what the rush is back home
Do not bother buying road maps – the Value Tours brochure, from any agent in Aus, has a comprehensive rundown of accommodation options, and a free and decent map. Something like an NRMA guide book. Failing that free tourist maps when you arrive are just as good.
Always check for deals in January for the Ski season
Also look into skiing in the North Island for something different