To travel through New Zealand is to open a cabinet of infinite curiosities. For a traveller from say, the Midwest of the United States, the heart of Australia or the vastness of Africa, the range and diversity of the landscape may at first appear overwhelming. There is everything to be found here: the deep, dark rainforests of Fiordland; the arid landscape of central Otago, where golden grasslands cower beneath the vast blue bowl of the sky; or the volcanic landscapes of the Central North Island, where the geological youth of the country is clearly evident. Every 10 km seems to bring a completely different and utterly unique landscape. A traveller seeking variety and surprise is sure to be richly rewarded.
Not only is the landscape different, but there is an enormous range of different weather patterns and rainfall gradients. It is surely a euphemism to describe New Zealand weather as changeable. The wonderfully iconic Kiwi song, 4 Seasons in One Day, by the New Zealand band, Crowded House, sums it up rather beautifully.
It really is possible to experience all the seasons in a single day. For that reason anybody coming to New Zealand should come prepared for a full range of weather and temperatures. It is quite possible to have a winter's day in summer, and a summer's day in winter. Come prepared for temperatures in the mid-30s and temperatures at or below freezing point. Some parts of New Zealand have annual rainfall in the vicinity of 500-600 mm, while a few parts of Fiordland can experience rainfall in excess of 9 m! A good raincoat and an umbrella can be your best friend.
Kiwis have been called coffee snobs, because we take our coffee seriously. We all have our own particular favourite roasts and cafes, and Kiwis will often be found discussing the merits of their particular choice. The good thing is that wherever you go, no matter how remote the location, there is probably a great cafe somewhere nearby. If you've driven for more than an hour without spotting a cafe, then you're probably not looking hard enough.
While there are good-quality hotels and motels scattered all over the country, it's also worth checking out the many B&B (bed-and-breakfast) establishments spread throughout the country. Many of them are run by people who have moved out from the cities to the country, and opened their small establishments. Almost all of them will be highly knowledgeable about their area, and Kiwis being the friendly people they are, they will be more than willing to share their knowledge with you. Don't be afraid to ask. Don't be surprised if they ask you what you think of New Zealand (it's a Kiwi thing). We Kiwis are incredibly proud of our country and we want our visitors to feel the same way.
We are all intensely proud of our national airline, Air New Zealand, which has been voted best in the world on a number of occasions. Be prepared for the quirky safety announcements when you are preparing to take off.
Kiwis are sports mad, with rugby union and cricket being our two main games. In 2011 the New Zealand All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup. Doing a little research on the game and maybe knowing a thing or two about it, or even just expressing an interest in the game, can be a great way to get a conversation going in a country pub or when you are chatting to locals.
If you are coming to New Zealand, to allow yourself plenty of time. A fortnight, as you will quickly find, is not nearly enough to really experience the country.
While the airlines are quick, friendly and efficient, rail services are almost non-existent. The best way to see the country is to drive it. You can either hire a rental car or rent a campervan, which gives you the opportunity to stay in camping grounds and areas set aside for caravanners. (Please note that "freedom camping" has recently been outlawed nationally by municipal authorities). And do remember the lower speed limits than many other countries: 100 km on open roads, typically 50 km in villages and 30km per hour in school zones.
You will find i-Sites (information offices) in most towns and cities. There are over 90 of these information offices with people who will all be happy to help you with regional and local guidebooks, maps, advice and bookings.
And finally, if travelling off-road in a 4x4 is your idea of heaven (it is ours), then we suggest you read "Out There South" and "Out There North". And speak to Tony who was the author and co-photographer.