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Q&A with Jamie Desplaces, author of Moon New Zealand

As a travel guide author and New Zealand expert, Jamie Desplaces gets a lot of questions about travel to his home country. Here are his answers to some of the most frequently asked:

Q: Is New Zealand an expensive place to visit? How can I save money?

A: Though tucked away in the South Pacific, New Zealand prices are comparable to those of Europe and North America—though even visitors from these regions may still find things like alcohol and petrol to be expensive. But there are plenty of good quality lodgings for those on a budget, and heaps of bars that run happy hours and restaurants that allow you to bring your own wine, known as BYOs. Moon New Zealand has websites with last minute discounts on everything from sights to flights, while those visiting outside peak season are also more likely to score some deals on hotels and attractions. New Zealand’s biggest draws—its beautiful beaches and backcountry—are all free.

Sunrise at Cathedral Cove, Coromandel Peninsula ©wiiz, iStock

Q: What sort of clothing should I pack?

A: New Zealand is pretty casual, though it doesn’t hurt to pack a couple of smart shirts or dresses. Biblical downpours can occur even in the height of summer—you don’t get a country this beautiful without a bit of precipitation—so always make sure you’ve got a lightweight rain jacket in your backpack, and an extra layer if you’re hiking. Other essentials include walking shoes or good sneakers, a sunhat, and plenty of sunscreen—little air pollution and a thin ozone layer in this part of the world make for some unforgiving UV blasts.

Q: What’s the best time of year to visit?

A: The hottest and generally driest time is during the peak season in summer—remember the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, so our summer stretches from December to February. Most Kiwis take their main holiday in late December/early January, so it’s a busy time throughout the country. Either side, the weather’s still great during the shoulder seasons of fall and spring, with less crowds and more discounts on hotels and attractions. On South Island especially there’s plenty of snow during winter—and heaps of world class ski fields that cater to all levels.

Q: Do I need a visa?

A: There is currently a visitor visa waiver agreement with the US, Canada, Australia, and many European countries, meaning no visas are required. However, a proposal to introduce a one-off $35 tourist levy is proving popular and may be introduced sometime in 2019. The money would be used for maintaining tourist infrastructure and national parks, but visitors from Australia and the Pacific Islands will be exempt.

Q: What’s the best way to get around? Should I rent a car?

A: Air travel can be costly, and trains are limited. There’s a super nationwide bus network, and most of the more remote locations are well serviced by shuttles also. However, I would absolutely recommend renting a car or campervan. Not only is it more convenient, but you’ll get to savor the joy of experiencing a country of everchanging, spectacular scenery that looks as though it was carved out especially for road tripping.

Milford Sound, New Zealand ©shirophoto, iStock

Q: Is New Zealand a safe place for solo travel?

A: Solo travelers should always take the usual precautions, but for some peace of mind it’s worth remembering that in 2017 the Global Peace Index ranked New Zealand as the second safest country in the world. Kiwis are a staggering laid back and optimistic bunch who take great pride in their beautiful nation and welcoming overseas guests—scenery aside, among your fondest memories will be the people.

Q: Is tipping customary in New Zealand?

A: Kiwis certainly don’t work for tips and you’re pretty much guaranteed friendly service whether you tip or not. However, though tipping is not customary, it’s certainly very much appreciated if you do.

Q: What should I absolutely not miss on my trip?

A: New Zealand is so magical because its wildly varied landscapes of towering mountains, volcanoes, rainforests, fiords and tropical beaches are crammed into a really manageable area that allows guests—especially those with their own transport—to pack so much into their vacation. Top of the to-dos should be: experiencing some Maori culture; cruising or kayaking the “Eighth Wonder of the World” Milford Sound; visiting North Island’s geothermal heart; and scaring yourself senseless in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. There’s a wealth of world-renowned wineries and microbreweries where you can kick back in between the adventuring, too.

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