Top tips

  • Don’t try to take any food into the country, even fruit. It is illegal to import foodstuffs and stiff fines at the airport are common.
  • Protect yourself against sunburn. It’s a long way to go to have to stay out of the sun because you forgot to apply suncream on your first day.
  • Travel around. There’s a lot to see here.
  • Respect the country and its people. New Zealanders are a proud race and the best way to make friends quickly is to vocalize your love of the country.
  • Go heliskiing. It’s one way to make sure you get some proper freeriding done.

getting there

From Europe and the US, expect a 30-hour total journey time. Christchurch is the usual point of entry, and carriers to 'Ch-Ch' include Air New Zealand (airnewzealand.com), Qantas (qantas.com), British Airways (ba.com), Cathay Pacific (cathaypacific.com), American Airlines (www.aa.com) and United (united.com). Once in Christchurch, most hire a vehicle and drive to the resorts, although it is possible to catch an internal flight to Queenstown from Christchurch with Qantas and Air New Zealand.

red tape

New Zealand's immigration rules are strictly enforced. Most visitors can enter for periods of up to six months without a visa, although Australians citizens are exempt from this. Onward tickets are required, and passports should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of your visit. Those intending to work must have a work visa. Customs regulations here are also strict, so beware of bringing in foodstuffs or even mud on boots or running shoes.

health

No vaccinations are needed to enter New Zealand, and the standard of health care is of the highest standard. Health insurance is strongly advised for every visitor, as health care is not free to visitors. For more information of New Zealand's health care system, call Accident Info Services on T9529 0488. A particular health concern across New Zealand and the rest of Australasia is skin cancer. Sunlight here is far more damaging than in the northern latitudes, so take care to avoid cases of sunburn, no matter how minor – especially while high up in the resorts. Most locals will be vocal about making sure foreign visitors are aware of this seemingly innocuous problem. Listen to them.

eating

One of the main pleasures of a trip to New Zealand is the chance to sample the local food. As in nearby Australia, food here is simple, plentiful and very reasonably priced; even the humble sandwich is transformed into a delicately flavoured feast. NZ's most famous culinary export to the rest of the world is probably lamb, but the amazingly fresh seafood is held in equally high regard – particularly the mussels and other shellfish. The largely outdoor nature of Kiwi life is also reflected in the country's fondness for elaborate, social barbecues and in the huge number of local wines available. There are 10 main wine producing regions here, and they deserve a book treatment of their own. That said, there's a colonial influence at work in New Zealand, and UK riders in particular will be right at home with the way that the Kiwis have taken home country dishes and improved upon them immeasurably. And then there is the unique Australasian sweet tooth, represented by Lamingtons, Anzac biscuits and Pavlova, the national dessert. Riders should also try to sample some local Maori cuisine if they get the opportunity, particularly the hangi, a speciality in which a pit lined with meat, fish, vegetables is covered with red-hot stones and left to cook for hours – as much an extended social ritual as simple meal. Overall, food is venerated as one of life's simplest, most important pleasures. Certainly, any riding trip to New Zealand would be incomplete without trying an after-riding pie from the garage on the outskirts of Queenstown, or sampling chips, battered mussels and a beer from the local chippie.

crime & safety

In rural areas, crime is almost unheard of, although the usual precautions should be taken in busy resort centres such as Queenstown, and the major cities.

language

English and Maori are the official languages of New Zealand, with English used for most everyday communication.

getting around

Hiring a car or camper is the best way of getting around the South Island, particularly if you plan a road trip of any description. Distances between valley towns and resorts are fairly substantial. Roads in rural areas also tend to be of a basic standard, increasing journey times further. Cars drive on the left, and drivers turning left must yield to those approaching from the right. Another important local idiosyncrasy to consider is that motor insurance is not a legal requirement in New Zealand, meaning that private accident insurance is essential. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 'New Zealand law has removed the right of accident victims to sue a third party in the event of an accident'. Make sure you're insured.

car hire

The major hire companies operate in New Zealand, but a better option might be to use a local company such as apexrentals.co.nz, ezy.co.nz, acerentals.co.nz or omegarentalcars.com. Most have a huge fleet of campers, modern rentals and 4WDs.

public transport

Public transport isn't amazing here, which is why cars are really the way forward. Coach and bus services tend to be privately run and there are plenty making the trip from Christchurch down to Wanaka and Queenstown. Check out Wanaka Connexions (wanakaconnexions.co.nz), Scenic Pacific (scenicpacific.co.nz) and Atomic Travel (atomictravel.co.nz). Train travel around New Zealand is a little more limited and is run by Tranz Scenic, NZ's only passenger rail company – www.tranzscenic.co.nz. Hitchhiking is very popular here (a testament to the safety of the country) and a good way to get around the Wanaka and Queenstown areas.

opening hours

New Zealand opening hours are common to most first world countries, with shops and businesses open Monday to Friday 0900-1700. In the major cities and tourist centres, many shops are open at the weekends as well.

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