New Zealand

new zealand

If you’re considering a trip to New Zealand-Aotearoa then it’s worthwhile investing a little time before you go researching the local culture. This isn’t a difficult homework task and you don’t need a PhD – just watch a few NZ movies, listen to some great music and if you like, read a few books. It’s fun to find out what the Kiwis are all about and to make it as easy as possible for you, here we provide some quick links to the cultural landmarks of the country downunder!


NZ movies can be dark and humourous, and many of the best are infused with elements of the Maori culture. For example what did Peter Jackson do before he made Lord of the Rings? One of the best comedy zombie movies ever, Braindead.

NZ actress Anna Paquin started her Hollywood career with this atmospheric art film, the Piano, with Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunter.

A great historic-action film is Utu (meaning ‘revenge’) set during NZ’s colonial civil war in the 1860s.

For bitter-sweet comedy check out Boy.

For just the ‘dark side’ watch Once Were Warriors, exploring tensions between gang culture and family.

Top of the list for pure feel good factor and a great story we recommend Whale Rider, which everyone is guaranteed to love.

Apart from Peter Jackson and his hobbits, nobody’s done more to promote New Zealand to the rest of the world than NZ’s fourth-best folk band, Flight of the Conchords – watch their classy music video Sexy Lady!

For a local hit that could not have been made anywhere else check out the animated comedy Brotown, this excerpt is from an episode about the Kiwi love hate affair with the Australians.

The Booker Prize-winning The Luminaries is very readable and will give you a sense of the gold mining history of the South Island. You could also read Whale Rider (Witi Ihimaera) the excellent short novel the film is based on, or the only other NZ book to win the Booker, The Bone People, a magic realist poetic narrative from the ‘80s.


There’s really too many great musicians to mention here – for such a small country there’s some great sounds coming from the South Pacific, and it’s not just Lorde. If you love music then you’ll love NZ. Here’s a few local classics and some of my personal favourites:

Fat Freddy’s Drop – funk soul electronic

Katchafire – blissful reggae

Che Fu – smooth hip hop soul

SJD – beautifully crafted pop songs

Fly my Pretties – a collective of NZ musicians performing each other’s songs (this song is the awesome Ria Hall)

Iva Lamkum – up and coming soul sister

Woolshed Sessions – a beautiful one-off folk project

The Haka & Maori culture
The haka is a traditional war dance that is part of the Polynesian cultures of the south Pacific. There’s the haka, which many associate with the sports teams of New Zealand (for example the Samoan and Kiwi rugby league teams face off here; even school kids do a mean haka) and then there’s kapahaka which is music and dance performance:

The Guardian; a photo essay

Winning performers of the 2015 kapahaka national champions:

All you really need to know is that the national sport is rugby and the All Blacks are the best in the world! They are one of the most successful sports teams ever:

The Guardian Business lessons from All Blacks team culture

NZ accent
Finally, you may have trouble understanding NZ English so here’s a couple of clips for you to study.

Beached as bro

Chat show host Graham Norton’s reaction to the New Zealand accent:

Flight of the Conchords’ again – Bret has trouble with his name.





Famous as the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, New Zealand really is a natural paradise. However it is at the bottom of the world and takes a bit of commitment to get there. For a start it’s a 15 hour flight from the Americas, or a 30 hour flight from Europe, and then it can be a tricky place to do affordably. The NZ dollar has been high the last few years and the cost of living always increases.

As a visitor it’s all too easy to spend your money on the huge range of great craft beers or on sampling some of the once-in-a -lifetime adventures – for example heli-skiing over Franz Josef, whale watching at Kaikoura or winery tours on Waiheke Island.

Franz Josef
Franz Josef

The expensive way to do it is to stay in hotels, rent a new mobile home, stay longer in the cities, and do all the Lord of the Rings tour guide experiences advertised. And if you have some funds then definitely there’s some great tourist experiences to take advantage of.

But as the German backpackers have always known there’s ways to make it more affordable for the average traveller.

To make it worthwhile consider staying a longer time. Although a small country it’s very diverse with mountains, beaches, and forests all within driving distances of the main cities, and you can easily spend a few months on the road exploring. The South Island has the more spectacular scenery while the North Island has more of the beautiful people.

The best time to go (unless you’re a skier) is over the summer months, December to March, when it’s hot. So if you go earlier there’s more chance of getting good deals and also it’s less crowded at the popular spots. Consider going early, from August, before the high season and stay for summer, or stay later into April when it can still be warm.

Here are some tips for doing it the cheaper way.

  1. Working holiday

If you’re under 30 and lucky enough to come from a country with an agreement with NZ ( then a working holiday can pay your way, and you can get a closer look at NZ culture from the inside. You could live in a city for a few months and then travel, or you could do seasonal jobs such as fruit picking to travel around as you work.

  1. Travel in your own van


If you buy a camper van once you’re there, and are smart about when you sell, the cost can come back to you at the end of the trip when you sell it. In a camper you have your own freedom and can go where you like, and you are self-sufficient.*

  1. Cook for yourself

Whether you’re travelling in a van or staying in hostels, aim to cook for yourself as much as you can. Eating out will erode your funds quickly, and you can save for the travel experiences. Eat out for special occasions, or when you need to.

  1. Go to Nature direct

The big drawcard of this country is the natural experience, but it’s also where lots of tourists rely on guided activities to experience it. For sure it’s easiest to rely on tours, and there’s an added value in having an expert show you round, but if you know where you want to go and do a little research yourself you can design your own trip.

Go camping – there are privately run holiday parks throughout the country, usually next to the beach where you can camp or park your van. There are also campsites in conservation areas maintained by the state. They are kept in great condition in beautiful places. Just be aware the busiest time is end of December and January, when most Kiwis are on holiday too.

The forests are best experienced by walking through them. If you’re well prepared for tramping then do one of the Great Walks, which cost just a small fee for staying in the huts.*

Abel Tasman

The easiest walk in the country is the beautiful Abel Tasman walk, which goes from beach to beach, and can also be visited for just a day. If you’re more ambitious then do one of the Milford Sound walks. Tongariro Crossing is a one day 8 hour walk across an active volcano.

There’s lots of amazing day walks that can be done from a nearby hostel base.

If you just want to surf and play guitar go to Raglan and stay at Solscape ecolodge.

  1. Backpacker it, or camp

Check out the Hostel networks and meet lots of other travellers. It’s still relatively cheap, very social and some of them are destinations in their own right.

As already said above, the campsites are not just in beautiful places but are the cheapest kind of accommodation.


Woofing is the volunteer network for organic farms (Willing Workers on Organic Farms). The deal is you do a few hours work each day and you don’t need to pay accommodation and food is provided. You also get to meet the locals, see some lush different properties and communities, and contribute to good projects.



* Freedom camping doesn’t work so well these days, local councils can be strict and move you on

* If you’re doing the serious walks do it properly and make sure you’re prepared – take good shoes, warm clothes, equipment – these are things you can keep, or resell after.






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