Andrew Hempstead, author of "Moon Handbooks New Zealand," answered your questions on New Zealand.
Andrew Hempstead: Hi, all. This is Andrew Hempstead and I look forward to answering your questions over the next hour.
In advance of that a few quick thoughts on traveling to New Zealand that may answer general queries you have:
Air New Zealand has direct flights to Auckland from LA and San Francisco. With this airline, it is often possible to include Australia in your itinerary at little or no extra cost than flying to Auckland. Other specials offered include free stops in South Pacific destinations like Fiji or Tahiti.
All major car rental companies are represented in New Zealand. Often, there are no drop-off charges between cities and unlimited mileage is standard.
January is summer school holidays in New Zealand and everywhere is very busy. If you're planning on traveling during this month, make reservations well in advance.
Commercial campgrounds in New Zealand are called "Holiday Parks," and for good reason. Rather than offering just campsites, they come with facilities like swimming pools, communal barbeque areas, cafes, and tour booking desks, as well wide ranging of accommodations such as cabins, villas, and motel rooms. For those with their own transportation, they provide excellent value and a great way to meet locals.
Placerville, Calif.: My friend and I will be traveling with a tour group to New Zealand in September 2008. We are in great shape, love to walk, explore public parks, monuments, etc. With one free day on our own to explore in Auckland what would you suggest we NOT miss? Thank you in advance for any advice you could give us. —Denna
Andrew Hempstead: Denna, if your tour includes all the major Auckland highlights, plan on spending your spare day on Waiheke Island, a short boat trip from downtown Auckland.
Cedar Falls, Iowa: My sister and I (ages 22 & 26) have booked a seven day "layover" in New Zealand while on our way to Melbourne, Australia. We arrive in Auckland on March 8 in the early morning and depart Auckland in the late afternoon on March 15. While we do want to hit some of the main New Zealand highlights, we also like to do things and visit places that the locals would so that we can get a better idea of the local culture. What places or tour stops do you recommend? Thank you for your help! —Lynne & Alissa
Andrew Hempstead: Jennifer, if you're traveling extensively through the Pacific, you'll probably enjoy a break from surf and sand. With that in mind, spend a day or two in Auckland; head south to Rotorua for thermal attractions and native culture, then on to Tongariro National Park for volcanic hiking, and back up through Napier to Auckland. Renting a vehicle is your most flexible option for transport, then plan to stay in campgrounds or backpacker lodges.
Goodyear, Ariz.: On Feb. 2, 2008, my husband and I will begin a 14-day cruise from Auckland to Sydney, stopping at several New Zealand ports. My question: what can we expect of the weather, temperature and humidity wise. In the Arizona desert, temperatures of 70's and 80's mean evenings can get quite cool, requiring a light sweater. Should we expect the same in New Zealand, especially with higher humidity? Thank you.
Andrew Hempstead: Temperatures in New Zealand vary greatly from one end of the country to the other. In February, you should pack a light sweater regardless of where you are stopping. If the cruise is heading to the South Island and Milford Sound, something even warmer is required. More importantly, waterproof, breathable raingear is a must.
Ft. Collins, Colo.: Our 25-year-old son will be visiting NZ for about 6 months beginning in April. Other than a visa for a more than 3-month stay, are there any work permits or other requirements for employment?
Andrew Hempstead: All questions regarding visas and working in New Zealand are answered at: immigration.govt.nz.
Vancouver, Wash.: My husband and I are teachers in our 30's and this summer we are traveling around the Pacific for 8 weeks. Our second stop is Auckland from July 7th -12th. We enjoy the outdoors and adventure. We need suggestions on places to visit, things to do, where to eat and a place to stay. Considering we are traveling 8 weeks, we are trying to stay within a reasonable budget. No luxury resorts required. If you could help us out that would be great. —Jennifer
Andrew Hempstead: Jennifer, it's hard to recommend specific destinations without knowing your interests, but Rotorua and nearby Tongariro are two unique places near to Auckland.
As for your budget, New Zealand has a fantastic network of backpacker lodges. Most have as many or more amenities as motels, and most have private rooms.
Madison, Wis.: What airlines do you recommend for flights from Wisconsin to New Zealand? We found the 9-hour flight to Europe to be quite long.
Andrew Hempstead: Air New Zealand has a website for its North American customers: airnewzealand.com. If you find longer flights uncomfortable and Business Class uncomfortably expensive, consider Air New Zealand's Pacific Premium, a step up from Economy class.
Mechanicsburg, Pa.: My husband and I are planning a trip to New Zealand and Australia in October 2009. We would appreciate any suggestions for things to do and see when we visit. Thank you.
Andrew Hempstead: It is difficult to give advise on general sightseeing without knowing your interests. I'd suggest buying guidebooks to both countries and doing some research. As I've noted above, also check out Air New Zealand's airfares that offer deals to both countries for the price of one.
Columbus, Ohio: I am traveling to the North Island in mid April this year. Any advice on what to expect weather-wise? Also, our group is renting an RV for the week. Any tips on getting the best deal for the rental? Thanks!
Andrew Hempstead: Weather on the North Island in April is starting to cool down. On the plus side, you'll get a good deal on a campervan and finding campsites will be easy. Dozens of Auckland companies rent campervans, but I'd stick to the larger companies such as Britz and Maui.
Encinitas, Calif.: Is it safe to assume that Air New Zealand consistently has the best travel deals between the U.S. and New Zealand, or are there other airlines that offer competitive deals? (I'm interested in going in the latter part of August for about three weeks.)
Andrew Hempstead: Air New Zealand is the only airline flying in from the U.S. You can book through United, but the flight will be on a Air New Zealand plane.
As for flights—start looking today. Click on the Web Specials page at the U.S. link on airnewzealand.com to get an idea of flight costs.
Golden, Colo.: We're planning to take the whole month of March to rent a car in ChristChurch and tour the South Island. We don't plan to book lodging ahead of time so that we can be flexible and spend more or less time in certain areas. Would it be helpful to take a laptop along? Thanks.
Andrew Hempstead: I assume you are taking a laptop for Internet access? If so, know that the South Island is not as connected as the north. On the other hand, every visitor center has a computer with public Internet access.
Victoria, Tex.: My husband and I land in Christchurch on Feb. 24, take the Tranz Alpine Train the next day, and then pick up our campervan and head out on Feb. 26. We have the van rented for the next 10 days. What would be you plan of attack to see the most and best of the South Island?
Andrew Hempstead: Ten days is enough time to circumnavigate the South Island, looping through Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park, then down the west coast to Queenstown, across to Dunedin and back up to Christchurch.
Livermore, Calif.: We have two kids that will be 8 and 6 this Christmas. Are they old enough to take advantage of all the adventure New Zealand has to offer. They just did a great job of traveling through Costa Rica for a two-week Christmas vacation this year but I'm not sure how strenuouse the Milford Trek is? Are there places for beginner kyakers to have fun? Because it is so expensive to get to New Zealand, I'm wondering if we should wait until the kids are a little older? If they are old enough, I also have the all encompassing question of what we should do and how to keep it economical?
Andrew Hempstead: Kari, your children are probably a little young to enjoy the commercialized adventures New Zealand is famous for, but the country itself is very kid-friendly and there are shorter hikes everywhere, and lots of places to try kayaking, such as Abel Tasman National Park.
Regarding costs, one excellent way to cut costs without cutting the fun is to stay in holiday parks (campgrounds).
Madison, Wis.: We are recently retired so our time in New Zealand is not limited by work schedule, length of trip, or kids, just money, physical exertion, and running out of interest in the trip. We will be traveling on our own, but may be interested in tours of a few days. What do you recommend as to the length of time to visit the north and south islands at a relaxed pace?
Andrew Hempstead: I'd suggest six weeks, split equally between the two islands. Rather than traveling the entire time, plan on spending a full week somewhere to immerse yourself in the "real" New Zealand, even if it's a small town.
Pittsboro, N.C.: My wife and I are planning our itinerary for a campervan tour of NZ in Feb-Mar. We have 10 days on the S. Island and will travel from Picton to Queenstown along the West coast. If we drive directly from Q'town to Christchurch (assuming we omit Dunedin), should we take the inland route OR go East and drive up along the coast? I.e., what are the trade-offs in scenery and driveabilty between the two routes? Thanks!
Andrew Hempstead: Goldfields or wildlife? The inland route is dotted with old goldrush towns whle the coastal Catlins (between Dunedin and Christchurch) is one of the better places in New Zealand for wildlife viewing.
Romeoville, Ill.: We plan to rent an RV and tour both the North and South Islands for about a month. Should we divide the time between the islands 50/50 or is there more to see and do on the South Island? Do we need reservations for the ferry that would take us between the two islands? We plan to be there in February/March 2009.
Andrew Hempstead: 50/50 is an ideal split for general sightseeing. The South Island is renowned for "outdoorsy" pursuits, but the North Island's beaches, volcanoes, and national parks are equally appealing to many.
I would book the ferry as far in advance as possible for a summer crossing. There are cheaper fare levels available for booking within New Zealand, but if the "level" has sold out, and so have higher fares, you'll miss out all together.
Austin, Tex.: How much of a problem is driving in winter? My husband and I are planning an August, 2008, visit to New Zealand. We are going to focus most of our time on the north island, and the northern portions of the south island—Christchurch is about as far south as we are thinking of. We are concerned that road conditions farther south would make our driving dangerous. What are your thoughts on winter-season travel?
Andrew Hempstead: Mountain roads are always narrow and generally icy in winter, especially on the South Island. The coastal route between Picton and Christchurch is at sea level and rarely ices over.
Mena, Ariz.: Looking for the best deals on roundtrip flights to NZ. We plan on making a 3-6 month visit starting in late Nov. or early Dec. '08 departing from LAX, and arriving in Auckland. Could you please tell me the best online airline deals? And how far in advance the least inexpensive tickets might be obtained? Cheers, Mark
Andrew Hempstead: Air New Zealand has some good deals year-round. Start checking their web specials page.
Los Angeles, Calif.: My wife and I plan to visit New Zealand over the Christmas-New Year break at the end of this year. I understand that reservations at hotels and on ferries and buses are very difficult to get because of heavy bookings, and that tours are a better bet because they book space long in advance. Do you agree? And if you favor taking a tour, do you know of a reliable firm that puts together individualized air/bus/train/hotel packages?
Andrew Hempstead: Tours do indeed guarantee your travel arrangements run smoothly, but as it sounds like you're already planning your trip, you should have no problems making bookings this far in advance for next Christmas.
Chicago, Ill.: Hello from freezing cold Chi-Town! My boyfriend and I (he's 36 and I'm 45) are now anxiously awaiting our Feb. 15th-29th trip to New Zealand's South Island. Because we only have 11 full days and we are flying in to Christchurch and out of Queenstown, we found that we must make a choice between making our way from Arthur's Pass to Queenstown for 2 nights in either the Mount Cook/Lake Pukaki area or the Fox/Franz Josef Glaciers and then Wanaka area. Although they are geographically located next to each other, there is no pass to travel between the two areas. We love dramatic mountain lake scenery and moderate half-day long hikes. We DON'T love hordes of tourists but realize that both spots will have them. We know that a Heli-hike on Fox or Franz Josef Glacier is the best option there. If we go the West Coast glacier route, we were considering the heli-hike and then perhaps the "Siberian Experience" the following day. We know that's packing a lot into only 2 days. Suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
—Lauren and Pete in Chicago
Andrew Hempstead: Yes, lots in two days for travel between Christchurch and Queenstown. Firstly, the Siberia Experience is one of the better "packaged" wilderness experiences in New Zealand—a must-do. I would plan the west coast drive rather Mount Cook for a couple of reasons—you'll see lots of other mountains around Queenstown, Arthur's Pass, and driving across Haast Pass.
The heli-hike is very weather dependant, but in many ways, walking up to the glacier on an overcast day (and along its edge for experienced hikers) is just as interesting.
The highway down the west coast is very slow going—30 miles per hour is average—so plan appropriately. Maybe spend one day less in Queenstown...
Encinitas, Calif.: As a traveler who has been to NZ 7 times in the years past, what sort of changes would I see in the South Island as compared to what was seen in 1988?
Andrew Hempstead: Obviously the scenery has changed little in the last couple of decades, but the local tourism infrastructure has transformed itself into one of the world's best on every level—from backpacker lodges that are more like hotels, to restaurants serving super-creative foods, to organized tours that cover every inch of the country.
The wine industry in the South Island has also boomed. In many cases, its more than just about the wine, but the wineries promote themselves as destinations, with accommodations, restaurants, and walking trails.
Kenosha, Wis.: My wife and I will be traveling in New Zealand in March. How long does it take to drive from Christchurch to the ferry terminal in Picton, taking into consideration we have to drop a car off at the terminal? There is a ferry leaving at 1:15pm.
Pat and Lynda
Andrew Hempstead: Like elsewhere in New Zealand, you should allow a lot longer than the map suggests. Christchurch to Picton is around 120 miles, but allow at least three hours driving time. Vehicle drop-off at the ferry is quick and well organized.
If possible I'd recommend leaving the night before and staying overnight along the way at Kaikoura (whale-watching, good seafood, seal colonies, and memorable accommodations like Hapuku Lodge), one of my favorite places in New Zealand.
Northville, Mich.: My wife and I will be touring New Zealand from Feb 1st-Feb 23rd. What temperatures ranges can we expect?
Andrew Hempstead: Temperatures in New Zealand vary greatly from one end of the country to the other. Auckland in February sees many days in the 70s and 80s, while the South Island is at least 10 degrees cooler.
Also note: Temperatures in New Zealand are always given in Celsius. Unless you can do the conversion in your head, I'd recommend carrying a small chart so you can quickly see the Fahrenheit equivalent.
Seattle, Wash.: Hi. What is the best time of year to take my children over for a visit? Either Christmas break for two weeks or July-Aug for two weeks? I would like to spend a week in Northern New Zealand, visiting relatives, and a week in Sydney/GBR. Is it doable in just 2 weeks?
Andrew Hempstead: The time you decide to visit New Zealand depends on your interests. Late December through January is summer break in New Zealand. If you can book well in advance and are prepared for higher prices, this is a wonderful time of year to visit. The skiing and snowboarding is great in July and August, but you wouldn't be able to enjoy many of the other outdoor activities the country is known for.
Puyallup, Wash.: I am a long distance hiker. Are there any tramps like the Pacific Crest trail there. What I am interested in is: 1-4 week trips for 2-4 people. There would be resupply places and/or lodging every 4-7 days. I like to plan my own backpacking trips, but a website of a backing tour guide might be helpful. Thanks, Sharon
Andrew Hempstead: New Zealand has no trails similar to the Pacific Crest in length. Fiordland National Park has a half-dozen long-distance trails (the 50-mile Dusky Track is considered the most challenging), many of which link up or can be hiked in combination.
Sanford, Fla.: My husband (57) and I (53) have traveled all over the world. We love to hike and have wanted to hike the Milford Trek for years. Is it a difficult hike? What are the accomodations (don't particularly want to camp)? And what month is ideal?
Andrew Hempstead: Due to its popularity, access to the Milford Track is restricted to 40 hikers each day. Additionally—and luckily for you—camping is prohibited. Instead, hikers are required to stay in the three huts en route, making it a four-day trip. Details at doc.govt.nz. A number of companies such as Ultimate Hikes offer guided walking trips. These are more expensive, with guests staying in upscale lodges along the trail (these lodges are for hikers on guided walks only).
If you have the time, I'd suggest hiking the Milford Track, but also walking one of the less-famous, less-crowded, but equally scenic trails. For its scenery alone, the Routeburn Track is my favorite of these.
Regardless of which track you walk, it's impossible not to be impressed with the hiking infrastructure in this part of the South Island. The government brochures (available through the website doc.govt.nz) are very detailed, huts are along most trails, shuttle buses buzz between trailheads, and companies such as Info&Track (infotrack.co.nz) in Queenstown bring all the elements together. Although they can't control the weather...
Calgary, Alberta, Canada: What is the best way to see the highlights (the must-dos) of New Zealand in 3-4 weeks without spending most of your time driving/navigating?
Andrew Hempstead: I would suggest renting a vehicle in Auckland and dropping it off in Christchurch, then flying one way back to Auckland for your return flight home. If you are planning to travel in fall (March through May), reverse this itinerary so that you are in the South Island during the beginning of your trip, when the weather is warmer.
Los Angeles, Calif.: My travel girlfriends and I are planning on going to NZ later in the year. What time would you suggest when we could get a good deal on flight and accommodations? Also, what areas would you suggest we visit? We plan on going for about 1-2 weeks. Thank you.
Andrew Hempstead: December is the start of high season. Airfares are less expensive in November, and this time of year (spring) is warm enough for short sleeves yet crowds are minimal.
Allow one week to drive around each island. The North Island is more varied than the South, so I'd stick to the North for a short trip.
Mitchellville, Md.: We are attending our niece's wedding in Australia Sept 27 and plan to leave from Brisbane to New Zealand on Sept. 30. We would like to spend 10 days-2 weeks in New Zealand. There will be 4 adults. Can you recommend the best way to proceed: organized tour; tour on our own (preferred); we are U.S. and don't want to drive but one is from England who could be the driver. Ages 59-62.
Andrew Hempstead: It is difficult to "tour on your own" without driving (the bus system is excellent, but not as practical as driving).
Roads on the South Island are more demanding than the north, and distances are greater. How about joining a guided tour through the South Island and renting a vehicle to get around the North?
Papillion, Neb.: What exactly are glow worms?
Andrew Hempstead: Glow worms are larva that hang from the ceiling of caves (Waitomo is best known). Their tails glow to attract small insects, which are trapped and eaten.
Minneapolis, Minn. : Are there any places on either island to go on a free glow worm tour? Also, where are some places to purchase afforadle, but authentic, Moari art?
Andrew Hempstead: A few places, such as Hokitika, have small glow worm caves, but, for the price of a lunch, the caves at Waitomo are far superior.
Louisville, Ky.: My spouse and I both in our late 50's have shared interests and activities for our Fall trip to N.Z.. However we do have some separate interests. I am a weaver and would like to meet other weavers and maybe visit a sheep farm. My husband is interested in a bike tour. Are there places to contact to meet these interests?
Andrew Hempstead: Most towns have weaving clubs. The best way to find out about these would be to inquire at local visitor centers. Regarding bike tours, not sure if you mean bicycles or motorbikes, but check bikenz.org.nz for the former.
Niceville, Fla.: My husband and I will travel to NZ at the end of Feb. for a business meeting in Auckland and then plan to explore the country for 3 weeks. We already have our round-trip tickets between the US and Auckland. In trying to sort out an in-country itinerary, we are confused by the many various opinions on how to travel between the North & South islands. Rent a car for just a few days on NI, then fly to SI? Fly to the south end of SI, then drive back north? I know there isn't one best answer for everyone, but is there really a time or economic advantage of one direction over the other? Also, are domestic NZ air tickets cheaper to buy from the US before we leave, or in NZ after we get there?
Andrew Hempstead: Airline tickets can be bought more cheaply in New Zealand. One way to do this without actually being in the country is to go the Air New Zealand website and click on the New Zealand site, and by default you'll be offered different fare levels than on the U.S. site.
I'd suggest renting one vehicle for the entire trip. Rental car companies are based at both ferry terminals, so you leave your vehicle in Wellington and pick another up in Picton. This process runs very smoothly, saves you money, and keeps all vehicles on their island of origin. The car company does not need to know you're changing vehicles more than a day or so ahead of time, so your original booking should be for one block of time.
Cincinnati, Ohio: The scenery in The Lord of the Rings trilogy was spectacular. How do I find the best tour/tour guide to show me some of those sites, and how much money should I plan to spend doing such a tour?
Andrew Hempstead: Once you arrive in Queenstown, you will be inundated by "Lord" tours.
Ian Brodie has authored a book on the film sites, but it may only be available in New Zealand.
Bonita Springs, Fla.: What is the best time of year for a month-long independent "tour" of the country. My wife and I are 65, have traveled extensively in Australia, but have never neen to New Zealand. Thanks.
Andrew Hempstead: November and March are my favorite times of year to visit New Zealand.
Louisville, Ky.: We plan to be in N.Z. in Sept/Oct for about two weeks. Should we try to see both the North and South Islands in that time frame? Is renting a car the best way to get around? Are bed and breakfast places readily available?
Andrew Hempstead: One week on each island is ideal. Renting a car is ideal, but do make sure to allow extra time for the country's winding roads. Bed and breakfasts are very popular in New Zealand. The best are detailed in my own guidebook, or purchase the New Zealand Bed and Breakfast Guide.
Simpsonville, S.C.: I will be touring NZ in October 2008. What are the best wines to try? I am on a limited budget, 68-years-old, and interested in the history, particularly during WWII. Do you have a recommendation for a good museum?
Andrew Hempstead: Tastes vary, but wines from the Martinborough and Otago regions are highly under-rated and both very enjoyable areas places to visit.
The Museum of New Zealand (Wellington) should not be missed.
Springfield, Ore.: My husband and I are planning to go to New Zealand this fall or next spring. Can you please tell us which is the better time to travel with specific regard to cost of air fare and lodging, fewest travelers, and things to do. For both spring and fall, please give the dates defining "low season" when the best rates are available.
Thank you very much,
Andrew Hempstead: Both times of year are shoulder season and airfares, crowds, etc, equal. November and March are my favorite months for travel, although the ocean is too cool for swimming in November. You also may want to avoid Easter, which is busy everywhere.
Maumelle, Ark.: What adventure companies do you recommend for N.Z.? I'm particularly interested in hiking/trekking.
Andrew Hempstead: I traveled with Hiking New Zealand and had a wonderful trip. This company is one of the original adventure companies in New Zealand. Website is nzsafaris.co.nz.
Andrew Hempstead: I hope my answers help in planning your travels.
New Zealand is one of my favorite places in the world and I'm sure you will enjoy the country as much as I always do.
Happy Trails, Andrew