Mt. Cook New Zealand

Things to know before you visit New Zealand

We’re fresh back from three weeks in New Zealand. What a beautiful country and hospitable people. The time passed way too quickly. It was our first, but surely not our last visit to the Pacific island country. We recorded observations along the way and share here to enhance your New Zealand visit.

Every turn in the road revealed another beautiful scene.

We visited both the South and North Islands, logging 2,500 miles. Around every curve in the road was a beautiful view that would take your breath away… rainforest, rugged coast, mountains, glaciers, pasture land and looking miles toward the horizon on the open road. Stunning, absolutely stunning in all directions.

It’s work driving in New Zealand.

Most roads (even major highways) are two lanes, narrow and curvy as a spaghetti noodle. Add frequent one-lane bridges and you can imagine the pace is slow. In the States, I am constantly amazed how GoogleMaps can estimate drive time accurate to a few minutes. But GoogleMaps has no idea how long it takes to get somewhere in New Zealand! Our joke was to take whatever time GoogleMaps says and double it. The upside is you get can enjoy the stunning scenery more at slower speeds –except for the driver who has to focus intently to keep the car on the road. One Kiwi put it perfectly when he said, “driving in New Zealand is a lot of work.”

Coromandel Peninsula New Zealand
Around every turn is another amazing view, like this one from Coromandel Peninsula.

Kiwis love to be outdoors.

Tramping (backpacking) is a way of life, with extensive multi-day hiking trails and overnight accommodations spaced a day’s journey apart. The same trail and lodging system exists for bicycles. This is the country where bungee jumping was invented, so there is plenty of adrenaline-pumping activity for any level of thrill.

There is no litter in New Zealand.

B proclaimed upon return to the States, “there is more litter on one mile of U.S. highway than in all of New Zealand. They were taught at an early age to “be a tidy Kiwi” and the lesson stuck.

They farm deer!

The first time I saw deer in a fenced pasture I thought, “that rancher will be mad those deer jumped into his pasture.” Then I saw the same thing pasture after pasture. On investigation I learned that New Zealand invented large-scale commercial farming of deer and remains the largest supplier of farm-raised venison. We in the U.S. go to great lengths to try and keep deer out. Kiwis try to keep them in.

Sheep use the highways, too.

We spent a day with tour operator BBQ Bus, traveling from Queenstown to Milford Sound. On the return leg, we waited and watched in fascination as hundreds of sheep traveled our roadway to a new pasture. The 30-minute wait could have made us mad, as impatient Americans tend to do, but our driver narrated and fielded questions and the wait became a fascinating lesson on sheep ranching.

Kiwis love their All Blacks.

New Zealand’s national rugby team has 4,654,925 Facebook fans, only slightly less than the country’s entire population! Rugby is the country’s national sport, and source of national pride. The All Blacks boast two recent national championships among a long list of accolades. When you ask a Kiwi what they enjoy about New Zealand, the All Blacks are sure to make the list.

camper van new zealand
Camper vans seem to outnumber cars in New Zealand.

New Zealanders make a nice bottle of wine.

Grape fields and wineries dominate several regions of New Zealand. We went expecting their signature export, Pinot Noir, to be the primary wine, but discovered many nice reds and whites that vary depending on the growing region. Combine wine with delicious local cheese and beautiful outdoor dining spaces and you can imagine why we scheduled multiple wine tastings in our tours.

Camper vans seem to outnumber cars.

I know there are more cars, but camper vans seem to be the majority, especially on the south island. A nice climate, road-trip-friendly road system and availability of freedom camping make camper vans a popular way to travel.