Flights to New Zealand: How to Get Here

shona hore

By Shona Hore

15 minute read

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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 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 you cut through the noise! We have all the answers to our most frequently asked questions about how to get down here. We’ve spent years working in the New Zealand travel industry, ensuring our guests have the most stress-free and exciting experience right from the moment they get in touch. Ready to head ‘down under’? let’s chat!  

When is the best time to travel?

Here in New Zealand, the weather is pretty temperate. Luckily for us, that means we have a 6-month window from October to April to make the most of our lovely weather outdoors.  As for booking your flights, you’ll likely get the best value if you’re travelling during our shoulder seasons which are - spring (October to November) and autumn (March to April). Both are lovely times to visit with all the seasonal colours!

Can I fly direct to New Zealand from the US?

Fly to New Zealand to see Mt Cook

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

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

If you are flying into Wellington, Dunedin or Queenstown, 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.

What's the best way to get here from the UK and Europe?

There are two main options for our European contingent to head down under. You can fly either via Asia or North America.

If you choose to travel via Asia, there are an array of stopovers to choose from, including Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong. If you fancy adding a North American note to your trip, you can fly direct to New Zealand from destinations including Los Angeles, Vancouver and Chicago.

What's the best way to get here from Australia?

There are daily flights connecting New Zealand to our Australian cousins. It’s a short hop over the Tasman Sea and there are many flights to both the North and South Islands. If you’re on our Sweet North or New Zealand Great Walk Adventure - North trips, there are heaps of flights to choose from that take you to Auckland, our biggest city. Take your pick, you can fly to Auckland from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

If you’re on one of our South Island trips, it’s well worth flying directly to Queenstown - where all our South Island hiking and adventure tours begin. If you are headed to Christchurch – the ‘Garden City’ or Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, there are direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Too easy!

How do I travel between Islands?

Thinking about exploring both islands? Great! Our North Island trips are designed to fit perfectly with all of our South Island trip dates, and it doesn’t matter which Island you start with first.

It is really easy to fly between the main centres here in New Zealand. If you’re hopping from the North Island to the South Island or vice versa it’s just a quick flight and there are multiple departures per day. Most will land in Auckland if you’re flying internationally and if you are starting your trip in Queenstown you can just pop down a day or two before your trip, or the morning your trip starts if you need to. Have a chat with our Guest Services team. They’ll help ensure you’re in the right place at the right time.

Do I need to worry about flights before booking my New Zealand Trails trip?

Not at all! Our guests typically join up with us to lock in their preferred trip dates and sort out their flights later. The great thing is, once you have secured your spots on your walking trip, our Guest Services team is here to help you through booking the best flights for your individual needs.

Often our guests will plan their New Zealand holiday more than a year in advance. If the airlines haven’t released their flights, that’s no worries. There are multiple flights that will line up with your trip down here in New Zealand and if for any reason you need to change the timings of your trip, we have our lifetime deposit which allows you to transfer to any trip or trip date as long as you let us know at least 90 days before your trip starts.

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 for 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 the information is miscommunicated or misunderstood between all the parties involved.

Remember, our Guest Services team is here to talk you through everything if you’re putting all the bits and pieces together yourself. That includes, flights, pre/post-trip accommodation and visa requirements. We like to work directly with you when it comes to your trip with us and want to make sure you feel taken care of every step of the way. We’ll point you in the right direction.

Am I able to use my lounge access?

Yes! 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.

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

If you are from the US you probably know, we’re in the future here in New Zealand! Because flights down here 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 get some fresh air and stretch those legs after your 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 – 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. 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 before pick-up 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 positions 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. 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 one of the least efficient means of getting to your hotel.

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

Flights to New Zealand, landing in Auckland

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 acclimate and adjust to your new time zone so that you’re feeling fresh for the first day of your trip.

Coming a little earlier also reduces the possibility of any flight delays affecting the start of your trip. You can take advantage of your extra time 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 travel 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. 

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? No worries! Queenstown is located in the heart of the Southern Alps and has many slower-paced and scenic activities 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. There’s also no shortage of vineyards in the surrounding area with Central Otago’s Pinot Noir having an impressive reputation on the world stage.

To get the heart pumping a bit you can head up Queenstown Hill and make a wish in the basket of dreams sculpture, or if you have a full day and loads of energy, a hike 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 visit – 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?

  • Seat upgrades come with access to airline lounges. Lots of our guests will use their frequent flyer miles to treat themselves to a comfier seat, and access to food and showers. 
  • 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 into 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 can be limited in some 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 tips and advice on flights, pre/post tour accommodation and we can transfer bookings for you, meaning you can be confident that the best option has been selected for your personal needs. Contact Jodi if you would like to find out more.

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

If you are planning on arriving in 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?

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.

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:

Grand Explorer (Queenstown Airport)

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

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

Masterpiece (Queenstown Airport)

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

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

Kiwi Classic (Queenstown Airport)

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

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

Pure South (Queenstown/Christchurch Airport)

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

Depart no earlier than         7:00pm International 6:00pm Domestic

New Zealand Great Walk Adventure - South

Arrive no later than             7:00am International 7:30am Domestic

Depart no earlier than         7:00pm International 6:00pm Domestic

Sweet North (Auckland Airport)

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

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

New Zealand Great Walk Adventure - North

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

Depart no earlier than          7:30pm International 6:00pm Domestic

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

MP Nov Three guests waterfall

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

If you are experiencing New Zealand with any of our 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 a waterproof jacket, personal medications, hat and gloves as well as a water bottle (doesn’t have to be full). 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 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?

MP Feb Cass at Key Summit2

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 specific trip, 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 8 guided trip options.


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