The best free travel apps

By Alice Hudson

Planning a family road trip? Alice Hudson outlines 10 mobile apps to help you get the most out of it.

Statistics NZ figures showed 153,000 overseas visitors arrived here in May. Photo / Thinkstock
Statistics NZ figures showed 153,000 overseas visitors arrived here in May. Photo / Thinkstock

Exploring New Zealand is getting easier than ever for the tech-savvy, thanks to a recent proliferation of new and innovative mobile apps.

Overseas visitors were quick to find and download New Zealand's home-grown travel apps when they first began appearing on iTunes and at the Google Play store in 2010 and 2011.

Now locals are starting to make the most of the easy-to-download software, which help travellers hunt down activities, attractions, accommodation, reviews, tips and directions on their phones and other devices while they're on the move.

"About 30-35 per cent of our downloads are from New Zealand," says Yuri Volna, the Auckland-based founder of itravelNZ, a travel guide app that's been downloaded more than 25,000 times since it launched in 2011.

Traditionally, New Zealanders like to escape somewhere warmer as winter approaches, especially to Australia and the Pacific. Statistics NZ figures published this week showed 153,000 overseas visitors arrived here in May, compared to 182,400 New Zealanders heading overseas.

Yet, domestic travellers - both business and leisure - still make up the backbone of New Zealand's tourism industry, spending an average of $13.8 billion per year, compared with the $9.6 billion spent by visitors.

With the winter school holidays starting next weekend, Tourism Industry Association spokeswoman Ann-Marie Johnson says there are some advantages to keeping it local. The cold weather often means fewer overseas tourists to contend with and off-peak rates stretch your budget further (unless, of course, you're skiing in Queenstown where it's peak season).

So whether you're planning to hit the pistes or eyeing a family road trip, here's a selection of 10 free travel apps to help you on your way.

(All apps featured here are available on iPhone, iPad and Android devices via the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store.)

Help at fingertips for high tech tourists

1. mPASS

One of Air New Zealand's range of apps, mPass is the most useful. It stores up-to-date details of bookings, including seat and gate numbers. You can change your domestic flights via the app and if a flight is delayed, you can choose to be informed via push notifications. Your mPass acts like barcode boarding pass - simply scan it at the airport kiosk to collect baggage tags or, if you've only got hand luggage, queue jump straight to security. The app contains maps and FAQ's about Kiwi airports too, to ensure your journey is as smooth as possible.

airnewzealand.co.nz
Apple iTunes Store
Google Play Store
Windows Phone Store

2. Navfree GPS

This handy app is a great substitute for an expensive in-car GPS satellite navigation system. Search for a point of interest and get voice-guided directions to your destination, which will reroute if you make a wrong turn. You'll know how far you have to travel to your destination and your ETA - banishing that "Are we there yet?" cry from the back seat. The best part is maps are stored on your device so your route remains clearly marked even if - when? - coverage is lost. Community-driven map updates are free of charge to install. Chargeable extras include functions for locating speed cameras, petrol stations and latest traffic information.

navmii.com/GPSNavigation
Apple iTunes store
Google Play Store

3. itravelNZ

itravelNZ has to be the most comprehensive, smart phone travel guide for Aotearoa. GPS-based technology means you can search for activities, attractions and events close to your location, or you can do your research and search via region prior to your trip. View contact details, as well as special offers and deals offered by tourism and hospitality operators. Find and book accommodation and book it direct thanks to integration with Travel Bug. Also integrates with free navigation software - downloaded separately to get you to the right place. On-Line and off-Line capability means the app retains your previous research (including maps) even when you're not connected to 3G or WiFi. The best part? This app lists more than 1500 free activities nationwide the whole family will enjoy - from nature walks, waterfalls, lighthouses, farmer's markets, picnic and fishing spots. You can leave reviews and tips for others - it's still early days but the potential for a really useful social community to develop is huge.

itravelnz.com
Apple iTunes Store
Google Play Store

4. Campermate

Excellent for those using motorhomes and campervans. Facility-finding app featuring more than 10,000 locations including free and paid camp sites, locations of rubbish bins, toilet facilities, wifi sites, dump stations, police stations, petrol stations, hospitals, supermarkets and more.

campermate.co.nz
Apple iTunes Store
Google Play Store

5. Airbnb

Worldwide accommodation phenomenon well worth a New Zealand download. Connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay. Option to rent a room or two and be hosted by property owner or to rent an entire property - an apartment, farm cottage, beach bach - or even a luxury teepee. With well over 700 "entire homes" listed in New Zealand, this app shows you what's available when and enables you to book directly - though you have to wait for the host to check their messages and accept you. Hosts and guests leave feedback about one another. To take part as a guest you need to register via the website, create a profile and have your ID verified.

airbnb.co.nz
Apple iTunes Store
Google Play Store

6. Yelp

Looking for a fish 'n' chip shop open now? A petrol station before your tank hits empty? The app from Yelp can help you locate all manner of businesses near you, such as restaurants and cafes, particular types of shops, and their opening hours, providing their addresses and phone numbers to save you precious time on your holiday. Find places to eat, shop, drink, relax and play, read reviews and add your own.

yelp.co.nz
Apple iTunes Store
Apple iTunes Store

7. Kapu Forest

Even half an hour in a car or on a plane feels like an eternity in the super active mind of the average pre-schooler. This brilliant app features gorgeous illustrations by Kiwi Brett King and was created in Scandinavia. It will keep your little ones' minds off the boredom of transit as they are instead transported into the vivid world of Kapu Forest. They can choose to be any of 10 animal characters and may end up feeding the early birds, catching bugs with a frog's tongue or experiencing what it would be like to make fireflies light up at night. Educational and best of all? The music is not bad - or at least it won't send you completely round the twist.

kaputoys.com
Apple iTunes Store
Google Play Store

8. Instaplace

Make a modern version of a postcard with this app, which automatically "stamps" chosen snaps from your holiday with information particular to the location it was taken - like your GPS location and the weather conditions. It recommends a selection of suitable "skins" for you to choose from and you can further customise pics with text giving you the chance to share your thoughts on the holiday or just the funny faces your family are pulling. Share the results via all the major social networks and share a little piece of your holiday - and no postage stamp fees, of course.

Apple iTunes store
Google Play Store

9. Lemon Wallet (essential)

This virtual wallet app aims to make life easier and more financially secure and is perfect for when you travel. Lemon Wallet stores a digital copy of all your cards - ID, loyalty cards and of course debit and credits cards. You will always have a back-up if your real ones are thieved from your car while you and your family are out enjoying the scenery - happens a lot, unfortunately. Create an account, then add your cards either manually or by scanning them. Great way to keep track of receipts if you need a reminder of just how much your holiday may be blowing the budget.

lemon.com
Apple iTunes store
Google Play Store
Windows Phone Store

10. PredictWind

The wind in New Zealand can be extreme at the best of times. That lovely, bracing sea breeze can, particularly during winter, be the difference between a pleasantly freezing day and one where a hypothermia-inducing chill factor will prompt it to go down in family folklore as "the coldest we've ever felt". PredictWind trumps the standard weather widgets that come with today's smart phone technology. Made for sailors, it produces detailed forecasts of wind conditions wherever you are, complete with graphs tables and maps. Made for sailors, free accounts are limited to one-day forecasts only.

predictwind.com
Apple iTunes store
Google Play Store

- NZ Herald

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