Top Tips on How To Plan A Trip To New Zealand

Auckland

Top Tips on how to plan a trip to New Zealand.

We’ve just returned from our 4th trip to New Zealand, it truly is the most breathtakingly beautiful country. We’d love to share our Top Tips on how to plan a trip to New Zealand.

Here’s our top tips on how to plan a trip to New Zealand.

New Zealand just seems to have the whole package. There’s scenery that leaves you gasping in awe. The people, who are so amazingly honest, trustworthy and incredibly down to earth. Blue of skies, that reach forever onwards. Finally, there’s that thin Ozone layer, which will have you reaching for the Factor 50!

Top Tips on how to plan a trip to New Zealand.

One other slightly big bonus, unlike Australia, New Zealand is free from those killer wildlife. No having to make weird noises in the Bush, when out on those long hike. That’s to let those snakes know you’re coming by the way! You can safely take a swim in the ocean, without having to worry about the nightmare killer jellyfish. Or even worse, those salties. That’s crocodiles, for those Brits, who are imagining a packet of salt & vinegar crisps right now!

So, now we’ve cleared that up, let’s start at the beginning. If you’re thinking of a trip to the “Land of the Long White Cloud” then congratulations! You’re mind is pointing you in the right direction! If you take the plunge and make those dreams a reality, then you are in for a massive treat!

New Zealand
Stunning Castle Point Lighthouse

But, where to start, what’s the best route? Should you have a stopover? Where should you fly to? How do you cope with such a long flying time? Where do you pick up a rental motorhome? Or, if you’re on longer trip, should you be thinking of buying a campervan? Possibly, even converting one, which is what we have done.


Flights – How To Plan A Trip To New Zealand

Well there’s one thing for sure, if you’re British and you’re flying out of the UK. New Zealand is going to be the longest flight time, that you’re going to have to make.

With a long-haul flight like this, I tend to think about it a little bit differently. When you know you’re in it for the long haul (pardon the pun!), you really do prepare yourself. Almost in a sub-conscious manner.

It’s a bit like going on a weekend break away. Packing a small bag with a few toiletries, you know it’s only a weekend and it will fly by. Oh gosh, there goes that pardoning of the pun again! Just try and make the most of the time you’ve got!

I always say, if I could afford to go Business Class, then these long-haul flights would be an absolute pleasure. But, I’m not in that calibre. Until I am, as a Mother of a Son who’s currently half-way through his Airline Pilot training. I live in hope of some freebies one day! In the meantime, it’s Economy or cattle class for us, which isn’t as bad as what people say. Well, that’s my humble opinion, anyway.

Choosing the Route and the Airline

Going East or West, States side or Asia? Hmmm, until this last trip, I would have said that it probably doesn’t really matter. In all honesty, we (that’s hubby Nigel and I), did not enjoy our transit through the USA. More specifically, Houston, Texas, more of that later!

When searching for flights, I use a comparison site initially, such as Skyscanner. This gives an idea of prices and also has the facility to look at block weeks or months. Therefore, giving an indication of the cheapest dates, for your departure airport and destination. This is really useful, if you are flexible with dates.

Hong Kong
Views of The Hong Kong Skyline

We’re flexible when it comes to departure airport. Our closest is Manchester, but there is less choice departing from here. By the way, there are no direct flights to NZ from the UK, incase you are wondering.

We have flown from Heathrow. Finding this fairly simple and the choice of flights is huge, in comparison to Manchester.

Prices also tend to be cheaper. However, you do have to factor in transport costs and, maybe, an overnight hotel. Also, the drive down to Heathrow itself or the cost of an internal flight.

Departure Airport

Whichever airport we choose for departure. Often we book a one-way car hire, to pick up locally and drive to the airport ourselves. It’s super easy dropping off and a shuttle bus takes you straight to departures. If you book in advance, there’s usually a good deal to be had too.

Usually, we choose a route dependent on Airline and price. We like a good Airline and we like a good price even more! Equally as important for us, is a flight with just one stop. Preferring a short transit between that stop and the second leg, but making sure it’s not too short!! We don’t want to be worrying about missing a connection!

This time when flying from Manchester, there was a choice of the excellent Qatar, Emirates and Singapore Airlines. All with just the one stop, but we chose Singapore Airlines, as it was the most reasonable for us. Although, this route was through Houston, USA rather than via Singapore. Qatar fly through Doha and Emirates through Dubai.

Last year, we chose to fly from Heathrow with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. Booking a connecting flight from Manchester to get us to Heathrow a few hours before. We had a few nights stopover in Hong Kong before the second flight to New Zealand.

Direct or Stop?

Once we establish which route and airline is the best price. Booking direct on that airlines own website, rather than through an agent or comparison site. I prefer to know that I’ve booked it direct. I join the relevant club with the airline to get their flying miles too. Also, if you fly regularly, the points on a long haul flight soon add up.

The only time I tried to book through a comparison website, the deal was too good to be true! Choosing a Singapore Airlines flight through Skyscanner, took me to an agents website to book. I was super excited at my deal. Having finished the online booking form. I received an e-mail a few hours later, telling me the flights were unavailable! Lesson learned I feel!

New Zealand
A lazy Afternoon on Waiheke Island, Auckland

Stopover or Transit?

Booking a stopover is a great way to see somewhere new. It also gives a break between flights, this is a Multi-City flight.

Sometimes though, we just have a transit stop, this is when you land and wait to board the next flight. It could be a couple of hours or several hours, we always check these times when we book. Personally, we like a transit stop of around 3 hours. This is enough time to stretch the legs, freshen up and get some food before boarding again.

If we choose a stopover. It’s time to collect the luggage, grab a taxi or transport and head to the hotel for a few nights. It’s great to relax and explore.

If we’re in transit only, then we may have to collect our baggage and re-check it in. We had to do this, on our last flight through Houston. We found this route to New Zealand a rather tedious one. Firstly, even though we were only in transit through the USA. We still needed an e-visa, which we applied for online, for a small fee.

However, we found the whole process through the airport at Houston a bit of an ordeal! We needed to go through immigration, then collect our bags. Queueing in a very British fashion, staying behind marked lines. Waiting patiently to be called to a booth, by whichever official was free first.

New Zealand
Relaxing in this Stunning Coastal setting

Immigration and Baggage

I was summoned to an official, followed by Nigel to a different official a little further along. As I got waved through after a short questioning on where I was going and why. Poor Nigel was questioned over why he was flying to New Zealand, through the unusual route of the USA. Why did he book that flight? Who was he flying with? At this point, he thought, does the official mean Singapore Airlines, or my wife?!!

When he declared “my wife”, the official continued to ask, where I was and why I wasn’t with him! Luckily, by this time I was waving to him, like an overly excited tourist. Willing him to hurry up. I just wanted to collect my suitcase and a strong Americano, with my favourite hot milk on the side!

Nige then had his passport stamped. He was, however, sternly told, to in future, bring his wife with him to the desk! Well, being the rather independent woman that I am, I do find this rather offensive! To think that I should be attached to my husband in this way…….Or as I told the official on the return journey. Following 30 years together it’s rather nice to have a few minutes, in line by myself, especially, after a 13 hour flight!!

Which New Zealand Airport?

New Zealand, is two islands, known as The North Island and The South Island.

The capital, Wellington is in the South of the North Island. Auckland, which is more centre of the North Island is the larger International airport of the two and the more popular destination.

The main international airport for the South Island is Christchurch.

So how to decide where to fly to? Well, in actual fact, that’s not so difficult as the choice is almost made for you.

Firstly, if you’re wanting to book a motorhome hire in New Zealand on arrival. The main depot’s for the majority of motorhome hire companies is Auckland and Christchurch. Although Jucy rentals have a depot next to Wellington airport, they are in the minority.

Campervan Hire New Zealand
Travellers Autobarn Rental Campervan

Auckland is a great central place to start a trip. It’s the main hub for international flights. So, the choice of Airlines, flight times and subsequently getting the best pricing is good. All the major motorhome hire companies have a base on the outskirts of the airport. If you are collecting a campervan, then it’s an easy location for this.

If you’re thinking of buying a campervan or converting a van. Which is what we have done, then Auckland is really well situated. With just about anything and everything available and it’s the largest urban area in New Zealand. It’s also within good driving distances of many of the major tourist areas and large cities. Hamilton, which is where we sourced and converted our van is vast.

South Island Arrival

A flight into Christchurch is great for touring the South Island, especially if you’re short on time. Once you’re outside of the city, the areas become more remote and distances long, although, scenery is just amazing. There are motorhome rental companies based at Christchurch too. Ideal if you want to tour the South Island independently of the North.

New Zealand has a maze of internal flights, small airports and connections between. It’s standard practice to take a flight between places, which makes it easy to link between airports if needed.

Auckland has a good transport network from outside the airport terminal, you’ll find buses, taxi’s, mini-buses and shuttle services, all readily available at a reasonable cost.

Coping with a Long Flight

I find, the best way to deal with the thought of flying for near on 24 hours is to not think about it!!

If I really do start to dwell on how long I’ve got to be sat there for. I make a point of breaking the journey into segments in my mind. A little bit like watching a film. You have the beginning, where you’re getting into what it’s all about. A middle, which is the gripping full blown story and the end. Where it all comes to a mighty conclusion!

A neck pillow is essential for me, also, my Beats headphones, which block out noise from the cabin. An eye mask too (such a lovely sight!).

Also, I try and book an aisle and a window seat. Where there’s a free seat between, in the hope that we won’t get someone booking it. It’s always worth asking at the gate, if any upgrades are available. Or if they can assist with any better seating, on our last flight we got offered a row of seats with extra leg room at no extra cost, which was great.

Preparing for the Journey

If you haven’t taken a really long flight in a while. You’ll be surprised at how much better aircraft is now, than it used to be. The cabin is quieter, air flow better, mood lighting makes it more relaxing. Generally, I think leg room is really good. There’s also fantastic entertainment systems, all the latest movies, music, TV programmes, box-sets, games. You name it, there’s plenty to keep you amused.

When I’m not eating or drinking, yes the cabin crew, are always feeding you one or the other. I find myself watching a film or putting on the eye mask, some soothing music through the headphones and before I know it, I’ve drifted off for a few hours. Usually waking up just in time for the next meal serving!!

Some airlines provide eye masks, compression socks, toothpaste and toothbrushes. As well as plenty of snacks available either through the monitor in your seat or by stretching your legs and making your way to the galley.

If you’ve only ever taken a short haul flight, you will notice the difference in the long haul experience.

Buying, Renting or Converting a Campervan

This is a difficult one. It all depends on how much time you’re going to spend in New Zealand and how big your budget is. If you’re thinking of converting a van. Of course, you also have to be organised, capable and allow the time to do the conversion.

Hiring a motorhome is expensive, but, it’s your transport and accommodation in one. It’s also your cafe and gateway to some amazing locations to stop the night or take a picnic! The worry of things going wrong is left to the hire company. There’s no unexpected repairs or parts to have to pay for and you can just hand it back when your finished without the hassle of trying to sell it on.

If you’re planning on spending a good chunk of time in NZ. It may be worth investing in buying a campervan or converting an empty van.

Self-Build Campervan
Our LDV V80 Self-Build

Buying a Campervan or Van

  • The e-bay equivalent in New Zealand is Trade Me. This is where you’ll find all new and used stuff for sale. Garages list their stock on here too. It’s a one-stop site to search for everything from private sales to new vehicles. https://www.trademe.co.nz/
  • Campervans, conversions, motorhomes, whichever you’re looking for, they hold their value, so even old vehicles can be pricey. Both old and new is more expensive than buying the same in the UK.
  • We couldn’t find any second hand campervans suitable for sale at the time of our search.
  • Most, were extremely expensive, really old and not particularly inviting looking.
  • We may have been unlucky. But the other inconvenience is the prospect of having to drive to various parts of the country to view. Distances can be quite long and journey times longer. There is no motorway system in NZ. Although some areas have Highway’s, these aren’t like the UK version of a 3-lane motorway!
  • We had hired a car for a couple of weeks to help with our search for a campervan. This was invaluable, we ended up basing our search around Hamilton, where you can buy or source just about anything.
  • If you can afford to buy a brand new motorhome, then there are several dealers in the North Island. Expect to pay higher prices than the UK or Europe for the same van. New Zealand import many UK and European models and also have their own brands.
  • The actual buying process is very straight forward. Without a New Zealand bank account you’ll have to transfer the funds from the UK. We used a UK Foreign Currency Exchange company to make the transaction. This way the exchange rates are more competitive than a standard UK bank.

Buying a van

New Zealand campervan
Nigel Building our Self-Build Campervan
  • We chose to buy a new LDV V80 high roof van. 5m in length and converted it ourselves into a campervan. This way, we were able to use new fittings, as well as getting the layout that we wanted.
  • Once we’d done the deal with the main dealer, we were able to collect the van within a few days. In New Zealand there is no annual vehicle road tax. You do have to pay a tax based on KM if it’s a diesel engine. This we do every 2000KM, at a cost of around $140. It comes as a card that you display on the windscreen. Fill out the form in the Post Office where you can buy the KM over the counter.
  • We bought insurance online. Unlike the UK, we didn’t have to buy insurance and show it to the dealer before driving off. Although, we did buy fully comprehensive insurance for our own peace of mind.
  • For us, it was worth buying a van, as our Son is living in New Zealand. So the van is based with him for most of the year. It’s also a perfect size for every day driving and fit’s into a normal parking space.
  • Self-Build’s aren’t for everyone! This is something Nigel had wanted to do for a long time. For us, it provided a great opportunity to fulfil his dreams of building a campervan.
  • Whatever you’re looking at, ensure it’s “Self-Contained” and has the correct documents to prove it. If you want to make use of the extensive Freedom Camping facilities in New Zealand. There is no doubt that you must be classed as “Self-Contained”.

Self-Containment

New Zealand
Our LDV Self-Build Campervan
  • This basically means that you have on-board fresh and waste tanks. With proper drainage for the waste and the relevant hose to dispose of the water. There must be a toilet, that is fixed during driving. Both water and toilet must have enough capacity for the number of people that you want certification for. Enough for 3 days supply. You also must have enough space around you to use the toilet.
  • The rules changed recently. To stop the huge wave of small people carrier vehicles, small vans and cars from using the Freedom Camping areas.
  • In the past, they were able to obtain self-containment just by showing they had a portaloo and some water carriers. When in reality, they would never be able to use the portaloo. Which has resulted in a large number of complaints from locals, witnessing the bushes being used as a toilet etc.
  • Those that have already obtained a Self-Containment. Will be able to use it until the date of expiry (they last a few years). But will not be able to re-apply after this time under the new rules.
  • When we finished our van, we had to take it to an authorised person who checked our equipment. Ensuring, it met the standards for Self-Containment.
  • He then issued us with a certificate and logged our van on the database. Using our number plate and detailing the facilities on board.
  • We have Self-Containment for 3 people. The actual sticker to display on the rear of the van was sent in the post within a few days.
  • A list of authorised officers and further information on Self-Containment is available from:
  • The New Zealand Motor Caravaners Association website https://www.nzmca.org.nz/
New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand’s Capital

One Comment on “Top Tips on How To Plan A Trip To New Zealand

  1. Pingback: Wellington New Zealand, One Cool Capital! – vanlife4x4

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