New Zealand closed its borders due to COVID beginning in February 2020, finally reopening to visitors over two years later, in August 2022. As an island country, border security is far easier than in the US for example.
I had the opportunity to visit recently, for both work and fun, 3 days of each. For work, I am an ophthalmology consultant in the eye department, where I once worked full time about 20 years ago. I have maintained my license and visit once or twice a year to assist in the eye clinic where their national health service has perpetual long wait lists for eye care.
I combined this trip with a hiking and kayaking adventure in the Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island.
Getting to New Zealand is easy but not for the faint hearted as the flight from the US to Auckland is about 12 hours. Nonstop flights depart daily from Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston via United or Air New Zealand. Several flights per week depart from Chicago and New York City, but these flights are even longer and out of the way if traveling from Denver.
Fortunately, flights from the US leave at night and if you can sleep on the flight, arrival early in the morning, two days later due to crossing the international date line, is not so bad. Even better is a lie flat business class seat. The day lost going to NZ will be recovered when you return to the US. Clockwise I often arrive home before I departed NZ.
An easy to obtain electronic travel visa is required but there are no longer any COVID requirements, either testing or vaccination. A day in Auckland is a good way to relax after a long flight and chip away at some of the inevitable jet lag.
After that, the adventures begin. New Zealand has 14 national parks and stunning scenery, especially in the South Island. From volcanic plains and glaciers to rain forests and fiords, there is much to see and do, especially if you enjoy hiking. The hikes vary in length and difficulty, but there is something for everyone. I recommend the guided hikes where you stay in a comfortable lodge, enjoying a soft bed, hot shower, delicious meal, and glass of wine, rather than bunking in an open hut, especially if it is raining, a frequent phenomenon along their West coast.
New Zealand is mostly cashless, and a credit or debit card will make purchases much easier. Mobile phones work just fine over there. My carrier is AT&T and for $10/day I can use my phone just as I use it at home – calls, messages, email, and web browsing.
The culture has a British flavor as NZ is part of the Commonwealth, but the accent is distinct from the UK and similar to, but still different than that in Australia. There is also a heavy Māori influence, the Māori being New Zealand’s indigenous peoples.
Although a long trip, NZ is an easy country to visit and well worth it if you are looking for an out of the way adventure. Given the travel distance, I would recommend at least two weeks to get a good taste of the country.