I'm not new to travelling after travelling around SE Asia and Oz but am heading to NZ in June for a year and I think it's best to have info before you go - doesn't matter how many times you've been away!
When I arrive in Auckland I had planned to stay there for a while as it's winter (I'm going to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and getting the trans-mongolian to beijing on the way to NZ) then wait till summer and travel around both islands. Was thinking it's probably best to hire a car? How much is room to rent in Auckland? Average wages? Best places to go and places best avoided?
Any info is welcome
Although the amount of really nice days per week is higher during the summer than it is during the winter, winter still has enough of them that I personally think that is actually the best time of the year to visit the South Island, especially the Southern Alps, as they'll be all glorious covered in freshly fallen snow. You'll also can revel in the lack of tourists, and many hostels will be very cheap. Do take out some time from your money-earning phase in Auckland to go and see that for yourself for a week or two.
Having a car of your own is definitely the way to go; the convenience of being able to stop by the road whenever you come by another breathtaking vista is a great good. Renting is worth it up to two months; after that, and especially from 3-4 months on, I'd recommend seriously looking into buying a car. There's a lively market of used cars which get sold on from backpacker to backpacker for very cheap (as low as NZD 1000-2000).
That said, getting around by Intercity/Newmans bus is also quite convenient - they go practically everywhere you'd want to go, with at least one bus daily.
The shortlist of places I'd say must absolutely not be missed in New Zealand - all because of beautiful nature: Lake Tekapo, Franz Josef Glacier (especially the Roberts Point Track), Mt. Cook, Tongariro National Park, Hobbiton (Matamata; assuming you consider yourself a LotR fan).
Also really good: Milford Sound, Cape Reinga, Christchurch, Auckland, Queenstown, Whangarei (because of the nearby hiking, otherwise a very non-appealing location for a tourist), Te Anau (for the Kepler track, otherwise a boring tourist-trap).
However, with a year there, you can pretty much look forward to seeing the entire country in depth. There's worthwhile places and things literally all over, and the scenery is stunning no matter where you go, so visiting lesser known destinations definitely is recommended.
[ Edit: Edited on Nov 1, 2007, at 11:48 AM by Sander ]
Thanks Sander - much appreciated
I'll defo try and head down to the south island during winter - the lack of tourists is enough of a reason really!