2018 02 26 13.20.45

Flights to New Zealand - how to get to here

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July 2018 | By Shona Hore

14 minute read

Get hold of your free New Zealand Trails brochure here

Have you been thinking about or made the decision to travel to New Zealand? Great choice! Now, how are you going to get here? With so many options available, it's easy to get lost in all the noise out there. With apps for everything and companies offering all types of services, how do you know what the best way to plan your travel is?

We can help! With some handy tips and information compiled from years of working in the New Zealand travel industry, we have answered some of the most frequently asked questions on how to get to down here. And the service doesn't stop there - we offer an exclusive flight booking service for our guests to take the time and stress out of the arrangements. We'll work to get you the best price and the perfect timing to suit your New Zealand Trails trip, along with the rest of your adventure down under! Just get in touch to discuss the details and we can find the right New Zealand flight for you.

Can I fly direct to New Zealand from the US?

Mt Cook Any South Island

This is the kind of breath-taking scenery you'll have to get used to during your stay in New Zealand

With so many choices for direct flights to New Zealand, finding a departure airport closer to where you are is easier than ever before. There are direct flights to Auckland, New Zealand from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago and Honolulu with Air New Zealand and United Airlines. American Airlines also offer direct flights from Los Angeles to Auckland seasonally.

If you are flying into Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin or Queenstown then here are three of the most direct options:

  • Fly direct to Auckland and then transfer to a domestic flight to any of these destinations (with Air New Zealand or Jetstar), or
  • Connect in Sydney or Brisbane, Australia and fly direct to any of these destinations or
  • Connect in Nadi, Fiji and fly direct to Christchurch with Fiji Airways

There isn’t much difference in travel time between the above options and much of the decision will come down to price and if you have a preferred carrier.

If you’re flying via Australia you can choose from Qantas, Jetstar, Emirates and Virgin Australia.

Since you’ll be travelling a long way, spending transfer time in lounges is preferable. If you have lounge access via frequent flyer miles, then here are some of the partner airlines that may offer lounge access to you (you will need to double check your specific access allowances via your frequent flyer program).

Star Alliance:

  • Air New Zealand
  • United Airlines

One World:

  • Qantas
  • Jetstar

Independent Airlines:

  • Emirates – partners with Qantas for lounge access within Australia and New Zealand.
  • Virgin Airlines – partners with Air New Zealand for lounge access within Australia and New Zealand.
  • Fiji Airways – partners with Qantas, American Airlines, Air New Zealand and Cathay Pacific for shared lounge access.

If you are looking for a New Zealand experience right from departure, then opt for Air New Zealand. An award-winning airline year after year, Air New Zealand prides itself on its “kiwiness”. With hilarious safety videos that highlight our offbeat sense of humour and the chance to sample New Zealand wines and beers, this is a great way to kick off your travels down under and set the tone for a fantastic holiday.

Should I book my flights online or use a travel agent?

There are many arguments for both booking online and using a travel agent. While some methods work well for others, they might not be the right option for you. Check out our thoughts below to help decide what suits you best:

Pros of Online Booking:

  • The biggest advantage of booking online is finding a lower price.
  • You can use online portals that offer functions to compare prices, read the opinions of other travellers and make a reservation quickly.  

Cons of Online Booking:

  • The main drawback to booking online is the vast amount of information, which can be overwhelming.  
  • A booking engine usually does not give you the option of asking for advice or help.  
  • Quite often there is no simple way to change travel plans or correct them if something goes wrong with a reservation. This is especially true if you book through a site foreign to your home country.

Pros of Travel Agents:

  • Instead of hours spent searching information on your own, a professional travel consultant will offer the best travel solutions and help to find the right piece of information from all the noise online.  
  • Travel agents usually don’t finish their services at the time of booking, but also provide help and support in the event of problems.  
  • Travel agents also offer advice and insight that online booking engines don’t usually provide, such as visa requirements that can catch travellers off guard. 

Cons of Travel Agents:

  • The service charge is usually higher than when booking online.
  • If you have booked a group tour, and you choose to use your own travel agency, there is the possibility of mistakes being made if information is miscommunicated or misunderstood between all the parties involved.

Remember, if you'd like to take the research and stress out of booking flights, just make it easy on yourself and talk to our experienced team. We're happy to do the hard work and provide you with routes and prices tailored just for you.

Should I upgrade my flights?

Many of our guests do choose to upgrade their flights, and, if this is an option that is open to you then it’s definitely worth considering for the reasons below:

Jetlag – getting a decent amount of sleep when flying long haul is a great way to combat the effects of jetlag. If you are one of those people who sleep like a baby on the plane... then we are super jealous! For the rest of us, a comfortable, more spacious seat like premium economy or being able to lie down (business class) is a much better option to maximise rest.

Limited holidays – we all know that sometimes we just don’t have enough time to do everything we would like, so for people arriving for their tour with little or no time to acclimatise, then upgrading can help you feel more refreshed when flying into New Zealand.

Lounge Access –seat upgrades may come with access to airline lounges - and with many flights having layovers, access to a shower; comfy seats and food can make a huge difference to the comfort of long haul travel.

Some of our guests choose to put their frequent flyer points towards upgraded travel and speak highly of the difference it makes to the start of their holiday in New Zealand.

If I leave on Saturday, what day will I arrive in New Zealand?

Because flights to New Zealand cross the international dateline, the arrival day can be confusing. For instance, a flight leaving San Francisco on Saturday will not arrive in New Zealand until Monday. However, on the return you can arrive on the same day that you depart New Zealand.

Here’s a handy quick reference:

Tour starts on Sunday – depart no later than Friday.

Tour starts on Monday – depart no later than Saturday.

Tour starts on Tuesday – depart no later than Sunday.

What is the best way to get from the airport to my hotel?

There is a plethora of options for getting to your hotel when you arrive in New Zealand – we highly recommend deciding on what do to before you travel, to avoid delays on your arrival.

Walking – this is a great option if your hotel is close to the airport. If it’s a nice day, walking is a smart way to start the process of shaking off the jetlag and stretching those legs after a long flight. At Auckland airport you can take your luggage trolley with you to any of the hotels that are within walking distance and there are conveniently well-marked pathways to lead you there.

Taxi – these are the most expensive options at the airports but usually the most convenient. Taxi stands are close to the terminal buildings at all airports in New Zealand. All taxis in New Zealand are metered, so negotiating rates is not a thing here - unless you are using the taxi for a sightseeing trip or long distance travel, in which case have the conversation in advance of your trip.

Uber – is available in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown in New Zealand. Uber drivers are not allowed to use the pickup and drop-off zones at airports in New Zealand. However, some drivers will still use these zones, those that do not will have specific pickup/drop-off points within easy walking distance of the terminal building. Usually the driver will call prior to pickup so they can point you in the right direction. Just be prepared that you may not be able to take your luggage trolley to some of these locations,  so if you have a lot of luggage, it might not be the best option.

Airport Shuttle – all airports have shuttles,  a cheap and convenient way to get to your hotel. These can usually be booked online and pickup locations are found in convenient locations at the airports. A handy hint is to pre-book online, as airport shuttles fill up quickly during peak months. This will save you waiting around at the airport for space to free up.

Hotel Shuttle – many hotels close to airports in New Zealand will have their own hotel shuttle; check with the hotel when you book as these usually come complimentary with the booking or at a minimal fee.

Public Transport – there are not many public transport options in New Zealand, however this is slowly changing. Auckland has its own bus that services the majority of hotels in the airport area. Tickets can be purchased for a small fee at a kiosk at the bus stop. And if you are staying centrally in Auckland, then the SkyBus is a great option to get to the city and has bus stops located close to most of the major hotels in central Auckland. Christchurch and Queenstown are small enough that public transport is the one of the least efficient means of getting to your hotel.

I’m doing a guided tour, should I arrive a few days earlier?

Auckland New Zealand

Taking the ferry from Auckland is always a highlight for our guests

It is highly recommended to arrive earlier if possible. This is a great way to acclimatise and adjust to the new time zone before you hit the ground running on the first day of your tour.

Coming a little earlier than your tour start date also reduces the possibility of any flight delays affecting the start of your tour.

You can take advantage of arriving earlier by exploring areas that you might not otherwise get to experience. Here are some of our top things to see in each of our tour start locations:

Auckland – if you have a full day in Auckland then head out to some of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf for some hiking and natural history. Highly recommended is Tiritiri Matangi Island. This island is a thriving wildlife sanctuary for native and endangered birds, with a 90-minute guided walk to learn about some of our most unique and endangered species. There are plenty of walking tracks through native bush and to the beautiful Hobbs Beach, as well as up-close views of little blue penguins in their nesting boxes. There are also other islands you can explore like Rotoroa or Motutapu Islands which offer plenty of hiking trails. We recommend packing lunch as there are no restaurants on these sanctuary islands.

If you want to stretch your legs and only have a half-day in Auckland, then head over to Rangitoto Island and hike to the top of a volcano (don’t worry, it’s dormant) with spectacular views over the harbour city of Auckland. Alternatively, if you wish to soak up some café culture then head to Devonport. A short 15 minute ferry ride from central Auckland, Devonport is a historic seaside town with picturesque Victorian villas, quaint cafés, restaurants, galleries and shops.

Christchurch – known as the most English city in New Zealand, it is easy to lose hours exploring the botanical gardens, including the rose gardens that look like they could be from any grand old country estate in England. For those who wish to take it a step further you couldn’t get much more English than punting on the Avon River. Christchurch’s recent history is headlined by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. To learn more about the impact of the earthquakes, head to the central city and pay a sombre visit to the Christchurch Cathedral ruins - you can follow this up by checking out the Cardboard Cathedral, an ingenious temporary dwelling for worshipers, while they wait for a more permanent solution. The rebuild of Christchurch is turning the metropolitan area into a forward thinking and sustainable city using lots of “kiwi ingenuity”.

If you have limited time and/or you are staying near the airport, then pay a visit to the International Antarctic Centre. An interactive museum dedicated to everything Antarctic, learn about the legacies of explorers like Scott and Shackleton, experience an Antarctic storm, visit the little blue penguins and much, much more.

Queenstown – the adrenaline capital of the world. If you can jump off, out or over it - you can do it in Queenstown. Home of the first commercial bungy jump and numerous adventure activities from jet boating to skydiving... there is plenty to keep adrenaline junkies amused.  

Want something a bit more chilled out? Well, Queenstown is located in the heart of the Southern Alps and has many slower paced and scenic things to do too. Some suggestions are going for a walk around the lakefront and gardens - this is a lovely way to spend a few hours and ease your way into life in New Zealand.

To get the heart pumping a bit then head up Queenstown Hill and make a wish in the basket of dreams, or if you have a full day and loads of energy then heading up Ben Lomond will offer unsurpassed views of Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. This is an alpine hike so make sure you’re prepared for all types of weather! If you want the views without the puffing then catch the gondola up to the Skyline. Sunset is an incredible time to head up there – lounge in the bar with a cocktail in hand watching the sun slip down behind the mountains and the sky turn red. Most hotels in Queenstown have a travel desk where booking activities and getting advice is easy. Enjoy!

Do you have any extra advice before I come to New Zealand?

  • Pack a pen in your carry-on luggage. New Zealand requires all passengers to fill in an arrivals form prior to landing, and they don’t supply pens with the forms.
  • Have your hiking boots handy in your luggage (or on your feet) – biosecurity is a big deal here in New Zealand and being an island nation, we are very susceptible to invasive species. You will be asked about your boots when you arrive at customs and they will likely want to check them for any foreign bodies (you may be surprised how thorough they are).  
  • All food items need to be declared... don’t try and sneak that apple from the plane through customs – it’s an instant fine if you are caught with undeclared food items and this is taken VERY seriously in New Zealand.
  • If you are transferring to a domestic flight in New Zealand, make sure you have the right cabin baggage weight – it’s limited to one bag of 7kg (15.5 pounds). Be sure to pack any unnecessary items into your main bag before checking it in to your domestic flight, if you think your cabin bag will weigh too much.
  • If you are travelling on a USA e-passport then skip the queues and take advantage of the e-gates. These are clearly marked at the airports and typically make clearing immigration so much quicker!
  • Great news! You can carry liquids including full water bottles on domestic flights in New Zealand and you are not required to remove shoes or belts at security screening unless specifically asked to do so.
  • Wi-Fi is limited in many parts of New Zealand (being remote and mountainous) so, when you can, make friends and family back home jealous by posting those amazing photos you are sure to take.

Already booked a tour with New Zealand Trails?

If you are going to be travelling on one of our New Zealand Trails tours, let us take care of you. We can provide flight, pre/post tour accommodation and transfer bookings for you. This way you know that the best option has been selected for your personal needs. Contact Jodi if you would like to find out more.

We have heaps of handy information and tips to help you out with planning your arrival to New Zealand.

What time do I need to be at the airport to start my New Zealand Trails tour?

If you are planning on arriving into New Zealand on the first day of your tour, then you will need to ensure that you are ready with your luggage for the pickup time. If you are flying on an international flight - then make sure your flight will land at least an hour before collection time. This will allow time to clear through customs and immigration. For domestic flights 30 minutes prior to pickup should be enough time to offload and collect your baggage.  

To find your New Zealand Trails guides, you will need to go to the allocated meeting point for the airport you will be picked up from – this will be in your pre-arrival information pack.

I want to book a flight that arrives earlier/later than the suggested arrival/departure time – is that OK?

Milford Sound boat

You do not want to be late for the Milford Sound boat and miss this incredible experience

Our tours are designed to make the absolute most of your time here in New Zealand and as such we like to hit the ground running and get you out into the wilderness of New Zealand as soon as possible. This means there is little to no flexibility in the pickup and drop-off times. Many of our tours have deadlines to meet, for example we need to be in Milford Sound by 4:00pm to make the overnight boat. Unfortunately, the boat will not wait for us. It's the same for the last day of the tour, you may be travelling from remote locations or we may have activities planned for that day to make the most of your time in New Zealand.  

Below are the times that you should book your flights around for each tour:

World Heritage (Christchurch Airport)

Arrive no later than              9:00am International 9:30am Domestic  

Depart no earlier than         6:00pm International 5:00pm Domestic

Masterpiece (Queenstown Airport)

Arrive no later than              8:30am International 9:00am Domestic  

Depart no earlier than         5:30pm International 4:30pm Domestic

Kiwi Classic (Queenstown Airport)

Arrive no later than              8:00am International 8:30am Domestic  

Depart no earlier than         5:30pm International 4:30pm Domestic

Short South (Queenstown/Christchurch Airport)

Arrive no later than              8:00am International 8:30am Domestic  

Depart no earlier than         5:00pm International 4:00pm Domestic

Sweet North (Auckland Airport)

Arrive no later than              8:00am International 8:30am Domestic  

Depart no earlier than         8:00pm International 7:00pm Domestic

I’m arriving on the first day of tour, is there anything I should know to prepare for this day?

new zealand trails

You should prepare for big smiles and an awesome time on your trip!

Kiwi Classic/Short South – If you are travelling on either of these tours, you will need to come prepared for your overnight boat trip into Milford Sound. Because of limited space for luggage on the boat, you will need to have your overnight bag packed ready to go when you land in Queenstown. There are limited locations and time for repacking once you arrive on your tour, so the more prepared you are the better. For detailed packing instructions refer to the pre-departure information sent to you approx. 60 days prior to your departure.

Masterpiece/World Heritage Walking Tour/Sweet North – If you are experiencing New Zealand with any of these tours you will be hiking on your first day, so you will need to make sure you are appropriately dressed and ready to go! Hiking in New Zealand requires you to dress with layers as the weather can change at the drop of a hat. So, to be prepared make sure you have lots of warm layers you can take on and off, wear good supportive hiking boots and pack a day pack with waterproof jacket, personal medications, hat and gloves as well as a water bottle (doesn’t have to be full). For detailed packing instructions refer to the pre-departure information sent to you approx. 60 days prior to your departure.

For all our tours make sure you have a water bottle handy – you can purchase one at the airport before your tour starts. There are limited places to buy water bottles, especially on the first day of your tour so make sure to have one on hand. Your New Zealand Trails guides will have a water supply in the van so you can top up your water bottles freely during the tour.

What do our guides look like?

new zealand trails guide

Our guides will be wearing their uniform and a big smile to greet you

Your New Zealand Trails guides will be wearing their uniform. This consists of a black top with the New Zealand Trails logo on it. There will usually be two of them and they will likely look like they are ready to go hiking with really big smiles on their faces. Keep an eye out for them, as it’s easier for you to spot them than the other way around. 

If you have any further questions or need advice for your particular needs, don’t hesitate to contact us

Check our trip schedules and availability on our availability page. To work out which trip suits you best, check out Which Trip is Right For Me.

Request your FREE NEW ZEALAND TRAILS Brochure here now for articles, stories and information on our 5 guided trip options.

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