Visiting New Zealand: Some hints, tips and general observations

We spent 7 weeks in New Zealand and spent a large proportion of that time living in a tent, which turned out to be a fantastic decision. We spent a good chunk of time in each of the North and South Islands and loved both. It was a brilliant trip with the usual ups and downs that you expect when living in a tent in a country with unpredictable weather.  Here are our observations and tips for anyone wanting to visit this fabulous country and a separate section at the bottom where we impart our camping wisdom.

First and foremost: go to New Zealand, it is a beautiful country with so much to offer. When you do go, please don’t write off the North Island, it’s absolutely worth a visit and there is heaps to see and do.


  • Kiwis are people, kiwi birds are birds, kiwi fruit are fruit – do not refer to kiwi fruit as kiwis, it will upset the Kiwis (kiwi birds don’t care either way)
  • Kiwis (the people) are nuts and will run along trails that you struggle to walk up
  • People will say hi to you all the time
  • Kiwis love to travel their own country, and rightly so, it is beautiful.
  • North vs South animosity. As with most countries, there is a regional rivalry between the two islands. We think that both are wonderful.


  • Sandflies are an absolute bugger, they are worse on the South Island and particularly on the west coast. You can buy repellent but you just have to grin and bear them mostly.
  • As expected, there are loads of cows and sheep.
  • You are highly unlikely to see a kiwi bird in the wild and will most likely have to pay to see them at one of the conservation sites.


  • Public toilets can be found in most towns and are generally very clean
  • Free Wifi can be a challenge to find, you just have to persevere, loitering outside BNZ branches is usually a good bet.


  • See above note about Kiwis
  • A dairy is a corner shop
  • You will find yourself using the word “heaps” quite a lot
  • A bach is a holiday home/coastal property.
  • A tiki tour is a sightseeing tour

Getting Around:

  • Definitely get a car and road trip, half of the fun we had was just seeing the landscape as we drove round. The roads are all excellent so any car will do, it doesn’t need to be a 4×4.
  • Prepare for lots of windy roads on some epically beautiful drives. This means that whoever is driving has to remember to look at the road, not out the window!


  • Camp if you can, get your feet on the ground. Camping means you can stay in many of the most beautiful places in the country.
  • Hiking is a huge pastime so prepare to walk. The best times we had in New Zealand were when we were out in the wilderness on a hike.
  • If you don’t have time to do the Great Walks, can’t get reservations in the huts or do not fancy staying overnight, think about doing sections of the Great Walks as day walks. We did several and they were very rewarding hikes.
  • Pack for all eventualities when out hiking, you can get four seasons in one day. The weather is unpredictable, even when predicted
  • Extreme sports / adventure sports are NZ staples, we had a fantastic time white water rafting and Caro highly recommends sky diving in Queenstown.


  • Tip Top ice cream is excellent, and the scoops are generally enormous.
  • Butter and milk are vastly expensive
  • All food fluctuates in price in the supermarkets, you do not get the home comfort of a cucumber always being 99p regardless of the time of year.
  • Whitakers chocolate is excellent.
  • Pies are an NZ speciality but make sure you research the good bakeries, most chains are fairly average so look for the independent shops with award stickers in the windows

General Camping Tips:

  • Tent envy is a very real thing
  • If you are in Australia or New Zealand get the CamperMate App, it’s free and a complete game changer, we used it to pick every single one of our campsites for 6 weeks in NZ
  • DOC campsites vary in price and value for money. We have stayed at some amazing free DOC sites, but others, particularly near big attractions are quite expensive for the facilities provided. You can be fairly certain that DOC sites will be in natural locations, surrounded by forest or backed by mountain ranges.
  • All campsites vary in what they provide so you need to be self-sufficient, this doesn’t take much.
  • When you really can’t be arsed, ice cream is a valid dinner option
  • It sounds simple but learn how to pitch a tent before you go or give yourself lots of time on day one.
  • Use the guy ropes, they are there for a reason! Sounds simple again but we saw so many people with them tied in neat little bows hanging off the tent where they are worse than useless and on wet nights they will have ended up with a tent full of water.
  • Camping and alcohol are great friends at night under the stars, perhaps with a campfire and (if you are unlucky) someone playing guitar. They are worst enemies the following morning as hangovers are a thousand times worse in a tent, you have been warned.
  • Not touching the inside of the tent sides is a skill you will need to develop to stay dry
  • Wet wipes are an essential part of any washbag and will be your shower on occasion
  • We had a packing cube of “tent stuff”, things that we might need in the tent all stored in one place so we could just chuck the packing cube in when we were setting up rather than digging about for individual things. Ours had things like head torches, socks (in case it got really chilly), earplugs, wet wipes etc. Also make sure to bring a bottle of water in with you
  • Try and set up whilst there is still plenty of light, aside from the obvious benefit of being able to see what you are doing there are also fewer bugs around to get inside whilst you are putting out your mats and sleeping bags
  • We made a point of packing up everything inside the tent as soon as we got up (rolling up sleeping bags and roll mats etc.) even if we were planning to hang around for a while. It is really grim sitting in a hot tent stuffing a sleeping bag and tents heat up when the first ray of sunlight hits them so better to get it done early.
  • Most camps check out at 10am, don’t underestimate how long it takes to pack up a tent. It takes about 30 minutes to fully set up or fully collapse a tent, including getting everything in or out and drying it.
  • If at all possible, try and get the tent dry before you pack it up, it’s pretty grim pitching a wet tent. Even if it hasn’t rained there is a good chance that the bottom of the groundsheet will be wet and also the underneath of the rainsheet, because of all the breathing, so remember to flip that over to give the underside a bit of an air. In order to speed things up we assigned one our tea towels the “tent tea towel” and used this to wipe down the tent… just don’t forget which one it is.
  • If you do have to pack up wet stuff, take advantage of sunshine throughout the day to get everything out and dry it, you never know when it will start raining again.
  • This should go without saying but we’re going to say it anyway: only open the tent door for the absolute minimum amount of time possible, little fitey buckers will get in there before you know it and then you have to spray the whole tent and spend the next 10 minutes coughing and spluttering with streaming eyes and tonsils covered in Deet.
  • Netflix is a marvellous thing and kept us occupied on many a wet night, take advantage of campsites with power to get everything charged up
  • Every so often you will need a night in a proper bed, don’t feel guilty and don’t go for the cheapest option, find a fairly nice place so that it really feels worth it. Don’t worry, you will be surprised how much you miss the tent and will be happy to get back in to it one or two nights later
  • Some free sites will only allow self-contained vehicles because there aren’t 24 hour toilets. Don’t be that person, if you aren’t self-contained find somewhere else to stay
  • Leave only footprints, sure it’s a bit cheesy but seriously, clean up after yourselves. People like to camp to be out in nature, not surrounded by discarded plastic.
  • There are few things less satisfying than drying with a quick dry towel but make your peace with it, they are essential
  • Try and get to sleep early, because the birds will be up at the crack of dawn and there are only two sheets of very thin material between you and them
  • Come up with a way of resolving arguments quickly, living together in such close quarters inevitably results in tension and irritability. Seething for a long time is an option but is hugely unpleasant for both people.


You don’t need to go overboard with camping equipment, if you have plenty of places where you can buy stuff just start out with the bear minimum and build up from there. For example: cooking for two people, we found a single burner was plenty and this cuts down on the amount of stuff you need drastically. If you only have one hob there is no circumstance in which you need two frying pans.

  • It’s always tempting to buy a bigger tent so that you have more space and it is always a mistake. You are in a sleeping bag anyway so there is a limited amount of space that you can take up and big tents just mean that you get cold.
  • Invest in mosquito coils and deet based repellent
  • Usually a one burner stove will be enough, just plan ahead
  • Buy a mini shovel and hope that you never need it
  • Always have your own toilet paper and invest in some hand sanitiser
  • Inflatable roll mats are excellent but they are also made of quite a slippery material so if you put your sleeping bag directly on top of one you do tend to slither around a fair bit and will find yourself on the ground sheet eventually. We double-layered with a foam roll mat on top of the inflatable mat, problem solved.
  • Splash out and buy a pillow, and not just a travel pillow, a proper pillow
  • Fairy lights make a great tent decoration and are also a practical solution for when it gets dark and stuff
  • Sleeping bag liners are a must, in warm weather you can use just the liner and keep cool and they add loads of warmth on colder nights. A liner is also a good way of keeping your sleeping bag clean as they are a million times easier to wash and dry.
  • No need to invest in a mallet, just bear in mind that not everywhere will have rocks handy so find one and keep it in the back of the car for hammering pegs in to hard ground.
  • Buy a tarpaulin sheet to put over all of your clothes and bedding in the car so that you can stack the camping equipment on top of it and keep everything else clean and dry
  • Get a decent size coolbox; remember that most of it will be taken up with ice or frozen bottles. On that note, keep water / fizzy drink bottles, fill them with water and freeze them for a cheap reusable alternative to ice or those freezer cubes.
  • Buy a shelter, just do it. Yes, it’s an extra expense but it shades you from the sun and gives you somewhere to go out of the rain other than the tent or your car. When we left NZ and sold our stuff online everyone wanted to buy just our shelter.
  • Buy the second cheapest chairs, the cheapest ones will fray within minutes and flat pack you in to them every time you sit down. The same goes for the camping table.

So it turns out that we gathered quite a lot over those 7 weeks. Our main tip would be to go and experience it for yourself. If you need any inspiration please have a look through our blog posts or feel free to contact us with any questions.


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