When you visit a new country for the first time, it can be daunting. There are so many things to remember, from visa requirements to cultural differences, to knowing what to pack for the weather! New Zealand is no exception. Thankfully, as seasoned New Zealand travellers, we’re here to pass on our knowledge of getting to, and around, this beautiful country. So, here are 5 mistakes we often see first-timers make, and how you can avoid them on your trip.

1. Forgetting to Obtain your Visa

We’ll start with a big one. It’s mandatory for British passport holders to obtain an NZeTA (New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority) visa when travelling to New Zealand. To apply for one, you will need your passport, a credit card, a photo of your face and an email address (you can only apply for one person at a time). An NZeTA request costs NZD $17 on the free app, or NZD $23 if completed online.

You must also pay an IVL, which funds tourism infrastructure and helps protect New Zealand’s natural environment. You pay the IVL at the same time as you request your NZeTA. The IVL costs NZD $35 when you apply online.

Applying for an NZeTA on the New Zealand Immigration website Taking a Photo for Your NZeTA

You need to provide a photo of your face that meets the NZeTA requirements. You can either upload a recent photo or use your device’s camera to take a photo.

The photo you submit with an online application must be:

  • between 500 KB and 3 MB
  • between 900 x 1,200 pixels and 2,250 x 3,000 pixels
  • a JPG or JPEG file

Most of our travellers find the photo requirements the most difficult part of the application and it’s true that they can be fiddly. The easiest way to do it seems to be with a camera attached to your computer. If your photo is rejected, have patience and try again. If you really get stuck, give us a call!

Photo Requirements for a New Zealand Visa

To meet the requirements, photos must…

  • Be in portrait, not landscape
  • Be of you, not a photo of a photo or your travel document
  • Be in colour, showing natural skin tones
  • Be in focus, not blurry
  • Not be a selfie
  • Be taken 1.5 metres from the face
  • Be taken against a plain, light-coloured — but not white — background with no patterns or objects

The Immigration Department actually suggest you use a professional photographer, but we don’t think you have to go to that length or expense as long as you follow some basic rules:

  • Face the camera and keep your head straight
  • Keep your eyes open and mouth closed
  • Do not smile or frown
  • Show your face clearly and ensure that long hair is tucked behind your ears
  • Position yourself in the middle of the photo

What Happens If You Don’t Have a Visa?

Fortunately, none of our Silver Fern travellers have been in this position (probably because of our constant nagging to ensure they have one!), but you will not be allowed to board your flight from your departure airport to New Zealand until a visa is obtained.

2. Failing to Declare “Risk” Items

On your arrival declaration, you must declare all risk items in your hand luggage and checked-in bags.

Risk items include:

  • food
  • fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, honey, ingredients used in cooking, and all dairy products
  • alive or dead plants and seeds
  • wooden items
  • live or dead animals
  • live or dead animal products
  • traditional/herbal medicines
  • any shoes, sports or outdoor equipment you’ve used.

If you’re unsure, declare your items when you arrive or put them in the marked amnesty bins. You may be fined or prosecuted if you haven’t declared a risk item.

Once MPI officers have inspected your items, they may return them to you. Some items will not be permitted to enter New Zealand. In other cases, MPI officers will need to treat your items first – you will have to pay for this service.

In recent times, a customs officer has been stationed near the entry point for declaration, and it is worth double-checking with them – this can save you time and effort.

Yes, if you have an apple in your case, you will get fined if you don’t declare it, but it’s unlikely you will be stopped for having apple lozenges. Similarly, as long as your walking boots or shoes are clean, there will be no issue; if they are caked in mud, there will be!

We always suggest placing medicines in a plastic pouch with the prescription for customs to view – ideally, they should be in your hand luggage for easy access.

3. Packing too Much

Our blog actually has a handy guide on what to pack for a trip to New Zealand, but here’s a brief overview.

As always, our advice is to pack light – even if you’ve come business class with a baggage allowance of 30 kg upwards, bear in mind you have to carry this!

And for those of you travelling with us on a Silver Fern Small group journey be aware that our maximum case weight is 23kg. If you are travelling on the Coastal Pacific or Tranzalpine trains, your limit is also 23 kg.

In fact, you should be fine with no more than 20 kg.

Life in New Zealand is relaxed, and you’ll find even in the smartest restaurants, few people wear ties, and you certainly won’t need a different outfit for every evening! So, we say leave the top hat and tiara behind and dress in layers.

One of our travellers gives the following advice to women travelling to New Zealand,

I’m very much into blouses and shorts or lightweight pants in New Zealand, a fleece or sweater, and some good rain gear. For going out, I’ve a couple of lightweight summer dresses, which I augment (I think that’s the word!) with a variety of necklaces and brooches.

Roll up your clothing, don’t fold – it ensures clothes aren’t creased when you take them out of the case.

Don’t bother buying expensive midge bite lotions – New Zealand has no nasties, other than sand flies, for which the Kiwis have far more effective ointments (I can highly recommend the Te Anau Pharmacy).

4. Not Stopping Over En Route

Unless you are lucky enough to travel Business Class or are very restricted by time, we do suggest you include a stopover, at least on your way out to New Zealand.

It’s a long way!

Picture of the wing of a plane in flight with clouds and a sunblaze

A stopover gives you a chance to explore another place or region and, more importantly, allows you time to get your “walking legs” back. It helps to reduce the jet lag you will experience when you arrive in New Zealand.

Our top stopover is Singapore. In the last decade, Singapore has had something of a makeover – no longer the boring, grey city of old but now a vibrant new destination with a whole range of attractions and activities to delight the visitor, which can be seen in a relatively short space of time  (we recommend a ride on the Hop on Hop off Bus to get your bearings)

Marina Bay, Gardens at the Bay and a revamped Chinatown are some of the areas you should visit, along with old favourites such as the Raffles Hotel and Clarke Quay.

We recommend you stay on Clarke Quay since it is very central. It is near all the restaurants that line the quay, the MITI underground service, and the terminus point for the Hop on Hop Off bus.

If you’re thinking of spending a couple of days exploring Singapore, here are some hotels to consider:

These hotels range from approximately £550 to £350 for a room for two nights bed and breakfast. Please note these are approximate prices because like the airlines they operate fluid pricing policies.

Alternatively, consider flying west to east and stopping in Los Angeles or San Francisco for a few days.

For more detail on the best way to get to NewZealand, take a look at these options on our website



Golden Gate Bridge surrounded by cloud 5. Trying to Do too Much

One of our hardest jobs as tour operators is to get our travellers to slow down and savour the beauty of New Zealand’s natural wonders.

It’s easy to forget that New Zealand is the same size as the UK, and to see everything in a couple of weeks (often tacked onto a longer tour of Australia) is just not possible.

It’s about being selective and having at least a couple of nights at most locations so you are not constantly packing and unpacking or forever on the move. If you are restricted by time, consider an internal flight or train ride to break up the drive.

With 30 years’ experience planning our travellers’ holidays, there’s not a lot we don’t know about travelling to New Zealand. We specialise in preparing itineraries that make the most of your time there and ensure you see all the things you want to see. So why not book your New Zealand holiday today?

Or, if you’re planning a trip and need some advice, give us a call – we’ll be happy to pass on our knowledge!