It is the geologically youngest nation in the world, and perhaps the most naturally beautiful. There are more sheep than people that live here – a ratio of 7 sheep to every human. It is a country that became extremely popular as a tourist destination after Peter Jackson shot the Lord of the Rings here.
The tropical North Island is distinctly different from the alpine South Island. The modern cities of Aukland and Christchurch quickly give way to a magnificent countryside. Its isolation from the rest of the world results in some of the darkest skies that makes it perfect for star gazing. New Zealand is a nation that has to be experienced and will offer everyone a myriad of photographic opportunities.
Visitors may need a visa to enter. New Zealand participates in the visa waiver program and has reciprocal arrangements with a large number of countries permitting either visa-free entry, or a visa-on-arrival arrangement.
While New Zealand is one of the most remote destinations in the world, it is a well developed country, and is quite easy to get to. Air New Zealand is the national carrier and offers several direct flights from destinations around the world. Qantas, Virgin and JetStar all fly from multiple airports in Australia. Several other major carriers will get you there, either directly, or via their code share partners.
Aukland is the major gateway point in the North Island, while the South Island is served by both Christchurch, and Queenstown. Following the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, the city has been in a rebuilding phase, and at the time of writing this in 2016, is still not the greatest of destinations for visitors. Queenstown is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful approaches into an airport, and is a must do for every intrepid traveller.
When in New Zealand, you’re best off getting around by driving your own rental car or camper van. Sealed roads are well developed and will get you to all the tourist spots. There is also a ferry that runs between the North Island and the South Island.
The trans-Alpine railway runs between Christchurch and Greymouth and offers a lovely day trip.
New Zealand uses the New Zealand dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted.
New Zealand also offers generally good mobile coverage, except in the Fiordlands. Once you arrive at the airport, consider getting a SIM card. Vodafone has a kiosk at the airport.
Best time to visit
As with all landscape photography destinations, the best times to visit New Zealand are during the southern late summer to mid autumn (March through late April), and the southern late spring to early summer (early September to late November). Winter attracts lots of ski enthusiasts. Summer is the busiest tourist season.
New Zealand is also an island with no significant barrier from the winds coming off the Southern Ocean. Irrespective of the season, temperatures here can drop very suddenly, without warming.
It is usually advisable to pack layer of clothing, and include a warm jacket, hat and gloves.
You will also do a fair bit of walking on hiking trails here, so it’s important that you have a comfortable pair of shoes, or preferably, a strong pair of hiking boots, for the days when you are out and about. Hiking poles offer great support on the trails.
New Zealand uses a Type I plug socket at 230/240V and 50Hz. Plug sockets can be sparse in some older properties, so consider bringing along a power strip if you have a lot of devices.
What else should I know
Driving in New Zealand is a pleasure. The well paved roads and breathtaking scenery make it a perfect destination for a road trip.
New Zealanders are very laid back. Like Australia, stores close at 6pm (and at 5pm in smaller communities). When driving to your next destination, its a good idea to have a plan on where you’re going to get your evening meal.
New Zealand has some of the world’s best produce. Their lamb, in particular, is of particularly high quality. When visiting New Zealand, one must try some of the local cuisine.
The Fjordlands – Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound – are beautiful, but very remote. While you can drive to Milford Sound, I’d recommend taking an organised tour. Doubtful Sound cannot be accessed by road, and must be done as part of a tour. In addition, the Fjordlands can become inaccessible in the winters, and tour companies will suspend operations.
If you’re hiking in the New Zealand summer or early autumn, you may run into sand flies that sting. Its important to apply insect repellant and have anti-histamines handy.