Journey to Middle Earth: New Zealand Trip Planning and Pre-Departure Checklist

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New Zealand reopens to tourists from 2 May for the first time in more than two years. Here's my plan for a South Island driving holiday.

If you think “Fortress Australia” was bad, wait till you get a load of New Zealand. 

New Zealand shut its borders back in March 2020, and as recently as February this year, was talking about admitting tourists only from July, with a 10-day quarantine on arrival. Needless to say no tourist was ever going to agree to that, and thankfully common sense prevailed with the reopening brought forward to May, sans quarantine. 

While most people might prefer to see New Zealand in summer, there’s a certain beauty to late fall/early winter conditions too. So I’ll be heading over as soon as the borders open next week, and exploring the following places in South Island.

  • Days 1-3: Queenstown
  • Day 4: Te Anau/Milford Sound
  • Day 5: Queenstown
  • Day 6-7: Wanaka
  • Day 8: Mount Cook
  • Day 9: Lake Tekapo
  • Day 10: Christchurch

Here’s the game plan. 

🇳🇿 Journey to Middle Earth

Travel to New Zealand: Pre-Departure Checklist

✈️ Checklist for travel to New Zealand
  • Fully vaccinated with any approved vaccine (exemption for children aged 16 and below)
    • Booster not required
  • Obtain visa or apply for NZeTA (for nationals of visa waiver countries like Singapore)
    • Not required for APEC Business Travel Cardholders with NZ on the back
  • Complete NZ Traveller Declaration
  • Take pre-departure ART/PCR test 24/48h before flight
  • Take self-administered ART on Day 0/1 and report result
  • Take self-administered ART on Day 5/6 and report result
NZ Travel Checklist

As a reminder, New Zealand reopens its borders to nationals of visa-waiver countries from 2 May 2022, with a general opening expected to take place from October 2022. 

International travellers will need to satisfy the following requirements. 

NZeTA

Singaporeans and nationals of other visa waiver countries must apply for an NZeTA before departing for New Zealand. APEC Business Travel Cardholders with “NZ” on the back of their card are exempt. 

🇳🇿 New Zealand Visa-Waiver Countries
  • Andorra
  • Argentina
  • Austria
  • Bahrain
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Brunei
  • Bulgaria
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia1
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hong Kong2
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Korea, South
  • Kuwait
  • Latvia3
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania4
  • Luxembourg
  • Macau5
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Poland
  • Portugal6 
  • Qatar
  • Romania
  • San Marino
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Seychelles
  • Singapore
  • Slovak Republic
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan7 
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Kingdom (UK)8 
  • United States of America (USA)9 
  • Uruguay
  • Vatican City
1. Citizens only
2. Residents with HKSAR or British National–Overseas passports only
3. Citizens only
4. Citizens only
5. Only if you have a Macau Special Administrative Region passport
6. If you have the right to live permanently in Portugal
7. If you are a permanent resident
8. If you are travelling on a UK or British passport that shows you have the right to reside permanently in the UK
9. Including USA nationals

An NZeTA is valid for unlimited entries over a two-year period, and costs:

  • NZD$9 if applied via the NZeTA app (Android | iOS)
  • NZD$12 if applied online

On top of this, an International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL) of NZD$35 must be paid at the time of applying for an NZeTA, so the total cost will be at least NZD$44 (~S$40).

The NZeTA app is simple enough to use, and I was particularly impressed that when I scanned my passport, the system recognised that I had an APEC Business Travel Card. My records were updated automatically, and I didn’t have to pay any fees. 

The MileLioness does not have an APEC card, so she applied via the usual route. This involves scanning your passport, taking a selfie and confirming your personal details. Approval for her was instant, but YMMV.

AMEX, Mastercard and Visa are all accepted for payment, and be sure to pay with an AMEX-issued card if you want to earn points (since it’s likely a government MCC). 

NZ Traveller Declaration

NZ Traveller Declaration

All arrivals to New Zealand by air (regardless of age) must complete a New Zealand Traveller Declaration prior to check-in. This is free of charge; beware of lookalike websites that levy a fee!

Completing the declaration requires:

  • Flight number and date of arrival to New Zealand
  • Passport details
  • COVID-19 vaccination certificate or exemption
  • COVID-19 pre-departure test results
  • Contact details in New Zealand
  • Emergency contact
  • 14-day travel history

You can start a Declaration 28 days before departure. However, since pre-departure test results must be provided, you won’t be able to submit the Declaration until 24 hours before departure (assuming you’re using an ART). Partial progress can be saved and continued later, via a code sent to your email. 

We recommend you start your declaration as soon as possible and complete all steps except uploading your pre-departure test. Your declaration will be automatically saved and a link will be emailed to you.

-NZ Traveller Declaration

If you’re like me, your declaration will look like this right up until your complete the pre-departure test. 

Successful completion of the NZ Traveller Declaration generates a Traveller Pass with a QR code, which you’ll need to show at check-in and upon arrival in New Zealand. 

Pre-departure and on-arrival COVID-19 test

Travellers to New Zealand must present a negative result from one of the following COVID-19 tests:

  • A supervised rapid antigen test (ART/RAT) administered within 24 hours before your first international flight to New Zealand.
  • polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test administered within 48 hours before your first international flight to New Zealand.
  • A supervised loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test administered within 24 hours before your first international flight to New Zealand.

Supervised antigen tests are acceptable, which are available from S$12 (plus the cost of your own ART kit) in Singapore.

Cheapest pre-departure COVID-19 ART and PCR tests in Singapore

A list of approved ART kits in New Zealand can be found here. The following approved kits are sold in Singapore, so I’d recommend using one of these for your pre-departure test:

  • BD Kit for Rapid Detection of SARS-CoV-2
  • BIOCREDIT COVID-19 Ag Home Test
  • FlowFlex SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test
  • PanBio COVID-19 Ag Rapid
  • Standard Q COVID-19 Ag Test

In addition to pre-departure testing, New Zealand requires visitors to conduct self-testing:

  • On arrival
  • On Day 5 or 6 (the day of arrival is Day 0)

Travellers will receive a pack of ART kits on arrival in New Zealand, free of charge. 

No isolation is required before/after either test. Results from both tests (whether positive or negative) must be reported via a link that will be sent upon completing the Traveller Declaration.

You must report both RAT results, whether you test negative or positive.

You will receive an email from the New Zealand Ministry of Health after you complete your traveller declaration. Follow the instructions in the email and report your results using the link in the email.

You can also call the COVID-19 Test Results Line and leave a message with your result.

Call: 0800 432 010

-NZ Government

If your result is positive, you must take a confirmatory PCR test (free of charge) and isolate for seven days should that come back positive too.

Flights

Journey to Middle Earth: Flights
SIN-AKLCHC-SIN
SQ285
Depart
: 2245

Arrive: 1220 (+1)
Cabin: Business
SQ298
Depart:
1050
Arrive:
1740
Cabin: Business
Cost: 124,000 miles + S$142

While I’m only intending to explore South Island, I have to fly into Auckland first because the Christchurch flight doesn’t operate daily. 

From Auckland, I’ll connect to an Air New Zealand flight to Queenstown (cash ticket), rent a car, drive up to Christchurch and fly home from there. 

For the flights to and from Singapore, I paid 124,000 KrisFlyer miles and S$142 in taxes per person in Business Class. Those are Saver prices, mind you, and not easy to find. Advantage awards start from 90,000 miles per person, and even those are spotty for the next few months. Safe to say, we won’t see New Zealand appearing on Spontaneous Escapes anytime soon…

SQ285/298 are operated by A350-900s; for a review of the Business Class experience on this aircraft, refer to the posts below:

Singapore Airlines long-haul A350-900 Business Class

Lounges

Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge Changi

SilverKris Lounge Changi Airport

I was hoping that the new SilverKris First Class and KrisFlyer Gold Lounges would have opened by the time I take this trip, but no luck. The latest intel says we’re looking at a late May opening at best.

In the meantime, all the demand has to be soaked up by the SilverKris Business Class Lounge, and I understand the crowding situation has deteriorated significantly since my visit in November 2021. During peak periods, seats are impossible to find, showers have multi-hour waits, and guests are sometimes turned away at the door and sent to the neighbouring SATS Premier Lounge (which while decent is nowhere near the calibre of the SilverKris). 

Review: Singapore Airlines’ new SilverKris Lounge at Changi Airport Terminal 3

This will be my first visit to the SilverKris lounge during the evening rush (all my other visits so far have been in the morning), and I’ll share some insights into the situation where possible.

Air New Zealand Domestic Lounge Auckland

Air New Zealand Auckland Domestic Lounge

When connecting from Auckland to Queenstown, I’ll be able to visit the Air New Zealand Domestic Lounge, courtesy of my Star Gold status. This lounge was refurbished in early 2020, and looks pretty impressive for a domestic facility with a barista station, ample views of the runway and showers. 

Air New Zealand Lounge Christchurch

Air New Zealand Christchurch Lounge

Singapore Airlines uses the Air New Zealand Lounge at Christchurch Airport, which is surprisingly difficult to find reviews for online. I guess it’s up to me to add to the body of knowledge on this!

Hotels

New Zealand doesn’t have a lot of points options outside the major cities, so most of the hotels I booked are off-network (except Hotel St. Moritz, which is part of the Accor chain). 

In case you’re interested:

  • Queenstown: Kamana Lakehouse, Hotel St. Moritz
  • Te Anau: Aden Motel
  • Mount Cook: Aoraki Court Motel
  • Wanaka, Lake Tekapo: Airbnb
  • Christchurch: Airport Christchurch Motel

I don’t intend to review any of those, but would be happy to give a one paragraph summary if anyone asks. 

Car rental

I’m doing a one-way rental from Queenstown to Christchurch, and booked a mid-size SUV with Apex Car Rentals at NZ$587 (~S$533) for 10 days.

I wouldn’t say Apex was my first choice, but the cost is significantly less than what other agencies were asking for (~NZ$900+ for one-way SUV rental), and the Queenstown outfit scores decent enough ratings on Google with an average of 4/5.

This rental comes with a NZ$2,000 excess, and since my Singlife travel insurance policy covers S$1,500 of rental car damage, I don’t plan to purchase any additional coverage. 

If your rental doesn’t come with insurance, I’d recommend skipping the options offered by the agency and just buy a plan from a 3rd party insurer like Worldwide Insure.

COVID-19 Testing

⚕️ Testing: Singapore-New Zealand Travel
LocationRemarksPrice
🇸🇬 Singapore24h before departure (ART)From S$12
🇳🇿 New ZealandOn-arrival (ART)FOC
🇳🇿 New ZealandDay 5 or 6 (ART)FOC

Singapore has scrapped pre-departure testing for all fully vaccinated travellers, effective 26 April, so all that’s necessary is to comply with New Zealand’s testing regime.

As mentioned earlier, this involves 3x ARTs, one of which (pre-departure) is supervised, and the other two (on-arrival, post arrival) unsupervised. Since New Zealand distributes test kits on arrival, the total testing costs will be less than S$20 for most people. 

Returning to Singapore

Returning to Singapore is simpler than ever before, thanks to the launch of the Vaccinated Travel Framework (VTF) and the scrapping of pre-departure testing. All fully vaccinated travellers only need to complete an SG Arrival Card– that’s it!

There is no need to take designated flights or apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass. 

For the full rundown, refer to the article below. 

Complete Guide: Singapore’s quarantine-free Vaccinated Travel Framework (VTF)

Conclusion

New Zealand will be opening its borders to Singaporeans and nationals of other visa-waiver countries from 2 May, and if you’ve been itching to visit, stay tuned for this series of reports! 

Anything else you’d recommend seeing, given the itinerary I have?

Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Mark

Suggestion – Give Queenstown a miss – a (now) way over-priced tourist trap. Instead add some time to Wanaka, and add Cromwell. Cromwell is an outstanding spot, that seems off the radar of most international travelers.

Mark

Sorry, one more thing – based on your itinerary it seems you are going to Milford Sound from Queenstown. That is one heck of a day, and may not even be possible – especially if you want to take a cruise on Milford Sound once you get there (and that is the main/only attraction). Even from Te Anau, going to Milford and back is a long day. Suggest you add a day here.

Yuki

My friends and I stayed overnight at Te Anau and drove real early in the morning to Milford Sound for the cruise. After that, we drove back to Queenstown. Was a pretty long day for us indeed.

Dan

I took a bus to Milford sound as I read that the road to MS if closed, you could be stuck with your rental car. I also did the doubtful sound cruise which I enjoyed more but you will probably need to fit a day and a half for.

Yuki

Yap, definitely recommend staying the night before the cruise at Te Anau – Less stressful in the morning. Plus it’s still pretty dark when you start driving in the morning from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Better to drive a little slower even though it’s not snowing yet.

Spoon

When I visited Milford Sound for the cruise in winter 2012, it turned out to be the most un-memorable experience of my South Island trip. Ferry was packed with tourists and screaming boisterous children. Crowds everywhere and no peace and quiet. Had much better enjoyment doing my own driving up and down South Island, and a private helicopter trip up Mount Cook/Franz Josef glacier.

Phil

I drove it once from Te Anau in a cheap car with snow chains! Need to be conscious of weather if self-driving outside of summer.

Min

I agree.. when i travelled pre Covid.. we drove from QT to Milford Sounds and stayed a night at the Lodge. It was a nice little splurge and came with dinner but the good thing was we could do the morning cruise which only completes either at 12 or 1pm. Thereafer we drove all the way back to Wanaka.. very tiring but at least sleeping over at Milford Sounds for 1 night broke the trip into 2 and it was very special.

puzzled

curious, why south island and not north?

Phil

Good choice, much more rugged. Looking forward to your reviews to try and gauge what has changed these last few years.

Ahbiao

Just curious, for Singapore passport and APEC card, is the Australian ETA visa also exempted?

Yuki

I used Go Rentals in NZ previously – It was pretty good too. Seems like you are not going Franz Josef/Fox Glacier. I do recommend a Helicopter ride there if you are there. The Glacier Hot Pools were also great when I was there in May 2019.

Dan

I used Ezi car mainly because they have a pickup point right at the ZQN airport whereas you need a shuttle bus for Apex. But both are good

Yuki

I see I see. My friends and I did a one-way too – we drove from Christchurch to Queenstown. We kinda did a detour to do both Glaciers and Mt Cook/Lake Tekapo. But between the glaciers and stargazing, I would vote for the latter too. Maybe you will spot a floating ice berg when you reach Key Point after doing Hooker Valley Hike at Mt Cook.

henry heng

Hi

We love Queenstown.
Drive and stay in Te Anau to do both Milford Sound and Waitomo Glowworm caves. Worth the time.

If you want to see southern skies, 1 night in Lake Tekapo is too risky.
We stay 3 nights and only get to see on 3rd night as it was too cloudy 1st 2 nights. Really beautiful. Took my breath away.

regards

Wan

Franz Josef is a must go – one of the biggest highlight for the South Island!

Tbh, no point staying over at Mt Cook unless you plan to do a heli ride up top, imo

Min

When i traveled in 2019, Franz Josef was underwhelming. The glacier were closed for hikes due to landslide and the whole town was sleepy and the only saviour was the heli ride which covers also Mt Cook. On the flip side, Mt Cook was very beautiful and there’s hikes to cater to every traveler.

I agree, one heli ride is essential!

Senn

Do share summary of your accommodations experience – have made my redemption to South Island too! Enjoy your trip!

Working Holidayer

Suggestion:
I will give Te Anau and Mildford a miss as I think this two places are overrated for such a long journey to reach and a short trip like yours.

Must go hiking/trekking for visiting New Zealand, like Roy’s Peak. Many treks can be completed in one day.

One of the beauty of NZ is the people or stranger you meet there, and of course the Sky.

Do enjoy the quiet and quality time with closed one while you are there.

Sean

I’m heading down tomorrow evening, our paths may cross in ZQN if you’re there the following weekend.

The ANZ lounge in AKl is not new, been open for at least three years. It can also get crowded – my tip is walk right to the far end, there’s a sort of semi-separated space that is often quieter.

Wil

Driving to Milford Sound from Te Nau must be careful during winter. The morning road most of the time have black ice and it’s very slippery.

similarly on the road up to Mt Cook from Queenstown. Saw a lot of cars accident at the bends. Almost become one of them.

TanKH

Hey Aaron what was the promo u had that gave u a “time off” discount? Share leh

murrayf

Apex car rentals are fine, we have used them a few times. RAD (used to be called rent a dent) are also using modern cars, i have used their subarus which are good. The big rental companies are way too expensive for no real benefit.

Get the “first table” resturant app for 50% off meals. The lioness will thank you, we had some top quality meals in queenstown.

jean

for stargazing in Tekapo, hope you’re doing a stargazing tour – we did the observatory tour (https://www.darkskyproject.co.nz/choose-your-experience/the-summit-experience/) in 2017 and it was a real highlight in a trip already full of amazing moments. also, for Milford Sound, if you’re more actively-inclined, you can consider doing a kayak trip instead of the cruise – you will probably see less of the sound but you can get really up close to the fjords, and it’s much quieter and more private. we did the day safari with Rosco’s, which included transport to/from Te Anau (https://www.roscosmilfordkayaks.com/Our-Adventures/?adventure=3fcbwl21zr/Day-Safari), and have zero regrets choosing it over the… Read more »

A J

https://www.greatjourneysofnz.co.nz/tranzalpine/

I intend to take this train on my next trip there! Scenery looks amazing, and there is an open air carriage as well!

Yuanyan

Hello, can I ask, how did you get data during your trip?

Did you get a travel sim card from a local telco (eg vodafone) or you applied for data roaming or you used pocket wifi?

Lion Den

Did you redeem miles for the flight from Auckland to Queenstown? If yes, how much was the redemption?

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