Backpacking New Zealand: My overview!
This is my overview of budget backpacking New Zealand covering: general costs, things to know, tips, transport, accommodation options and my overall experience of the country.
Welcome to middle earth…
When Peter Jackson thought about turning the Lord of the rings books into movies, you can see why he didn’t need to stretch his imagination too much in terms of where to set the movie and what landscape to use. There was no need for a make belief world to be dreamt up, he just needed to see what was around him.
The two volcanic Islands that make up New Zealand make this country one of the worlds hotbeds for tectonic activity and geothermal phenomena.
While the Lord of the rings movies may have exposed and made New Zealand even more famous, there is so much more to this country. Home of Kiwis, Mauri’s, the Haka, the extreme sports capital of the Southern Hemisphere and the adventure travelers heaven. With hiking, mountaineering, caving, sky dives, bungy jumps, mountain biking, white water rafting to name just a few activities. It’s one of the worlds geothermal wonders, with volcanoes, black sand beaches, hot springs, sulphur pools, geysers, wide mountain ranges and Glaciers. Then there’s it’s natural charm and beauty….And it’s the only place on earth you can eat a Fergburger!
The thing is these are just words, until you experience New Zealand for yourself you can’t get a true sense of how amazing this country is. What I can say is, when you backpack New Zealand you’ll forget the rest of the world exists. I have only ever come across one person who didn’t fall in love with this country but she’s Canadian!
A few tips:
- Renting a car or camper van is a great way to explore and backpack through new Zealand rather than organised bus tours.
- Traveling through New Zealand will make you feel like you’re in a fantasy world.
- There are designated camp sites throughout the country – some are very cheap
- New Zealanders are known as ‘kiwis’ – they’re a friendly bunch but might take some getting used their accent. for example; eggs are pronounced as ‘iggs’ and chips are pronounced as ‘chups’.
- As you’re backpacking New Zealand you will come across so many hidden gems.
- New Zealand can be quite expensive – Be sure to budget well (covered more below).
- Be prepared to see a lot of sheep.
- Not surprisingly New Zealand is known to have the best Lamb in the world, and also very big on its dairy.
- Be prepared to have your breath taken away everyday.
- Take clothes for all-weather conditions – Wellington is always windy no matter what time of year it is.
- New Zealand is the adventure capital of the Southern Hemisphere.
- Winter in New Zealand is when the South Island comes alive.
- If you’re planning on learning Skiing or snowboarding remember ski passes can be quite expensive.
- Backpackers go to Queenstown – And don’t leave! There’s a reason it’s known as Neverland.
- Try a Fergburger in Queenstown.
- Do a sky dive in Franz Joseph (incredible views of snow-capped mountains and the glaciers)
- Drinking ‘just one more’ leads to being out until the sun comes out.
- Be sure to check out the Southern Fiords like the Milford sounds.
Some things to be wary of when backpacking New Zealand:
- Mosquitoes, they are everywhere: I had a war with them through my trip – One even gave me a fat lip!
- Swarms of sand flies in the South Island – get everywhere, seen people bitten head to toe.
- If you are renting a vehicle, make sure you take precautions for breakdowns.
- Be wary of anybody that asks you to ‘stay for just one more’ – one more leads to drinking all night long.
- New Zealand can be expensive so keep an eye on your budget.
- There’s a lot of tectonic activity under New Zealand so you are likely to encounter earthquakes at times. (tiny tremors to devastating)
- Be careful on some hiking trips, especially in the winter and on or around mountains.
- Make sure you notify the correct right people when going on long hiking trips (people have gone missing on mountains)
- New Zealand has varied and rugged terrain, some roads can be quite dangerous so be careful.
- Settling in Queenstown is dangerous for you and your liver – You might forget the rest of the world is out there and you will drink your body weight in alcohol 😀
Basic things to know:
Language spoken: English.
Other Languages spoken: Mauri.
Currency: New Zealand Dollar.
Backpacking in New Zealand is – Expensive.
To check live rates click here XE.com
The most common visa’s for backpackers are:
Visitor Visa – Stay up to 9 months but cannot undertake any work with this visa.
Working Holiday visa – For people between 18-30, if you’re from UK or Canada you can choose from 12 or 23 months stay.
All visa’s can be applied for through New Zealand immigration.
Things to know when budgeting for New Zealand:
As amazing as New Zealand is, it can be an expensive country to backpack even if you’re working whilst traveling.
If you are traveling on just a tourist visa, you can’t work so you’re going to need a budget similar to Australia. You’ll be looking at spending around $40-$50 a day including accommodation, transport and filling your day.
If you are on a working holiday visa, it’s still quite hard as unlike Australia where you can earn higher wages, New Zealand pays less but costs around the same as Australia. I wont lie, saving money in New Zealand is a hard task unless you go off to work on a dairy farm away from civilization.
During my time living in Queenstown I was constantly broke and I had a full-time job. There were times I had to endure some really tough times, not eating proper meals for days, not having a penny to my name and only getting by with food and drink vouchers from work.
However, don’t let this put you off. Tough days come and go, and there are ways to save money as I proved to myself when I ended up saving for my trip to South East Asia. It just means you have to live further on the bread line and cut down on needless spending.
Hostel rooms can cost a lot depending where you are, if you’re in a more touristic area like Queenstown it’s going to cost you more. Whilst I traveled New Zealand I slept in my camper-van in camp sites; they can save you a lot of money and only cost a couple of dollars a night. However when I settled I stayed in a hostel for a while then rented a room. If you do your research you will be able to get a good price on renting rooms.
Transport is fairly cheap though, buses run regular between towns and cities, taking budget buses like Naked bus will help with your budget. Renting camper-vans will require some research too, if you go for the more well-known vans like Wicked vans they will cost you a pretty penny, but look around and there are some bargains out there.
Depending on what time of year you’re in New Zealand will depend on what you’re doing. Activities are in general quite expensive and most of your budget will be go on them. If you’re there during the winter and looking to ski or snowboard mountain passes are quite expensive, trips up the glaciers, sky dives, tours around the Milford sounds will put a dent in your budget. However with New Zealand’s incredible terrain and landscape, you don’t have to pay to enjoy yourself; go on hikes and free tours, see what hostels have organised.
Food and drink:
Eating out is expensive in New Zealand, and you have to learn to be a bit savvy with shopping for your own food, there are certain basic foods that cost more than they should. Shop in local markets if you can and if you can cook in bulk so it can last you a few days. Pasta be coming out your ears. Alcohol will also put a slight dent in your budget. Backpackers and kiwis like to party, and if you’re in an adventure town like Queenstown then you’re going to party quite a lot.
As you can see I haven’t gone into too much specific pricing, as prices always change and information becomes irrelevant. However if you are looking to compare live prices here is a couple of good sites for live comparisons to help you: numbeo and expatisan.
Despite New Zealand’s contrasting landscape getting around it very easy but do be wary of its rugged terrain in some places. There are a number of options to how you can travel around from public transport to renting your own vehicle.
For this trip I was joined by a friend and we thought the best way of backpacking New Zealand was to rent a camper-van. Having the freedom of the camper van we were able to go both on and off the beaten path and explore more hidden gems. (I’m just glad I had a friend who was well adapted to driving through mountains and rugged sharp cliff edges.)
NOTE: You can rent in the north Island and drop off in the south Island. I.E If you rent a van from Juicy in Auckland you don’t have to return to Auckland to drop it off. You can drop it off at your last destination as long as they have an office there.
Walking – Take in the sights.
public buses – Regular buses within towns and cities.
Trams: Available in certain towns and cities.
Taxi – Very expensive option.
Kiwi experience – Backpacker adventure tour operators with hop on-off options
Stray backpacker bus – Backpacker adventure bus tours
Naked bus – Cheap bus service
Trains – A number of scenic journeys available.
Boats – great scenic option to cross between north and south Island.
Flights – Domestic flights available. Quickest option but more expensive
Accommodation options when backpacking new zealand:
There is an abundance of accommodation to choose from wherever you are in New Zealand and it also has a good number of campsites dotted all over the country ranging from very basic to ones with all mod-cons.
- Hostels – Range from small quiet, party, to large hotel like franchises. (short or long-term)
- House/apartment shares – It’s common for groups of backpackers to rent homes to call their own on short-term leases.
- Traveler houses – A cross between hostels and houses, purely full of fellow backpackers.
- Couchsurfing – Very popular in Australia.
- Air BnB – Rent a room for some privacy.
- Volunteering – Exchange work for accommodation.
- Your camper-van – Rent your own camper-van, stay off the beaten track.
- Camp sites – For those traveling in your own vehicles, New Zealand’s campsites have some of the most stunning back drops you can imagine
My overview of Backpacking New Zealand:
I can confidently say, the single greatest choice I’ve made traveling was that sporadic choice to hop over to New Zealand after my Australian working holiday visa expired.
I’ll be honest, I had never really given any though to backpacking New Zealand before, there was no desire to go there. However I am so glad I gave it a chance. I can categorically say I love New Zealand. It’s a rare country that apart from running out of money a few times, and it getting so cold in winter something I have nothing bad to say about it.
I know this is cliché but New Zealand is just magical! For me both islands were amazing, every place I went had it’s own surprises and charms. I met so many awesome people along the way, made lifelong friends and got to experience things I only dreamt of before hand. (See highlights below)
Like Australia, New Zealand is fairly simple to backpack through, it was the first time I had traveled in a van or in fact stayed in campsites or slept on roadsides but that just made the experience more worthwhile. However it’s not just the traveling, I set up camp in Queenstown after my travels and it’s a place that I just fell in love with (Check out my post Missing Neverland )
I love New Zealand so much that It’s the only country I’ve been to twice since I started to travel (apart from multiple trips to Singapore but that’s just because of connecting flights.)
Some of my highlights:
Volcanic black sand beaches.
Bay of Islands.
Experiencing Mauri culture.
Learning the Haka.
Tongeria crossing. (Hiking through Mordor)
Walking in the crater of a dead volcano.
Being in a Glacier.
Sky dive over glaciers and snow capped mountains.
Discovering hidden off the map villages.
learning to snow board.
Living in Queenstown.
Having ‘just 1 more’.
Partying in queenstown.
Friends I made.
Waking up to the sight of snow-capped mountains.
Some of my dislikes:
Auckland (Reminded me of England)
My war with Mosquitoes and sand flies.
The smell in Rotoura.
Ice cold showers in campsites.
Not spending enough time in Wellington.
Being broke in Queenstown.
How expensive backpacking New Zealand is.
Going days without a proper meal.
Freezing in winter in my crappy cabin.
My route Backpacking New Zealand:
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