Backpacking New Zealand: My overview

Backpacking New Zealand: My overview!

This page is my overview of backpacking New Zealand, covering the country, some tips, general things to know, transport and accommodation options, general costs and my overall experience.

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 😀

Backpacking New Zealand: My overview

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

Visa options:

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:

Backpacking New Zealand: my overview

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.

Accommodation/ transport:

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.

Activities/tours:

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.

Getting around:

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.

 

Backpacking New Zealand: My overview

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.

Transport options:

Locally:

Walking – Take in the sights.

public buses – Regular buses within towns and cities.

Trams: Available in certain towns and cities.

Taxi – Very expensive option.

Nationally:

Kiwi experience – Backpacker adventure tour operators with hop on-off options

Stray backpacker bus – Backpacker adventure bus tours

Naked bus – Cheap bus service

Juicy camper vans or Wicked camper vans   – A wide range of camper van options

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

 

Popular backpacker tour  companies:

Peter pans

STA travel

Haka tours

Flying kiwi adventure tours

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.

Stunning landscapes.

Coromandel.

Rotoura.

Hot Springs.

Giesers.

Experiencing Mauri culture.

Eating hungi.

Learning the Haka.

Waitanimo caves.

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.

Fergburger.

Milford sounds.

Mysterious boulders.

Wanaka.

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.

Gisbourne.

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:

Check out these for backpacking New Zealand:

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49 Comments

  1. Loved your post. New Zealand is indeed a country blessed doubly by nature. It probably has some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. No wonder Lord of the Rings was shot here. I have never been to New Zealand but have friends there and hope to get into the great outdoors of the country someday. Your guide is pure gold in terms of people heading out there for the first time.

  2. It’s true, New Zealand is quite underrated. But, since you had that magical experience, it makes me want to book a flight and rent a car there, drive around!

  3. Wow, what an epic backpacking trip across New Zealand! I would love to visit Middle Earth one day, such beautiful landscape and terrain. Renting a camper van sounds like a fun way to see NZ! What was being in a glacier like?

  4. This is an awesome post on New Zealand! I love the idea of hiring a camper van – to see the beautiful scenery and to save a little cash. I hadn’t realised New Zealand was as expensive as Australia, I might have to wait and save up a while before I plan a trip there!

  5. Thanks for an amazing blog post on new zealand.
    Now i know why New Zealand has huge milk supplies, I just knew the weather acting as the main factor but after reading your post, i am more aware.

  6. NZ is probably one of the highest items on my bucket list – I even noted down some hiking treks as the diversity in the landscapes makes even smaller hikes extremely rewarding. Can’t wait to get there 🙂 And yeah, I’ll probably rent a car for the trip – many of the NZ folks get with their cars to some place, turn on the speakers and have a party in the open… at least thats what this one NZ girl told me that I was together for the summer during uni. SO prolly a nice way to get to know other people.

    Mario recently posted…Photoreview: The best photos of the first half-year 2017 #FOPAMy Profile

  7. Impressive guide… you’re so right saying, these are just words until we experience New Zealand for real… A tempting invitation to backpack New Zealand… Thanks as well for laying the pros and cons,,,

  8. I would love to take a camper van and go through New Zealand! It sounds like it is becoming more popular to travel this way there. I agree that New Zealand is expensive, which is why it’s a little farther down my list. Thanks for sharing the great information!

  9. I didn’t know that NZ is expensive to travel within. Was it expensive as Australia? Coz if it is then it’s really expensive. But hows the food? Is it cheap?

  10. Road tripping New Zealand in a camper is definitely on my list, this just made me really jealous. How much did you manage to rent the camper for?

  11. Your photos are amazing! I’ve heard from many people that NZ is a really beautiful place to visit, and I totally understand that now from your photos! I also can confirm their quirky accent…I have a friend who is a transplanted Kiwi (he’s lived in Chicago for 20+ years) but he still “talks funny” occasionally.

    Thank you for your very practical tips on money, weather, packing, and getting around. I’m inspired now!

    • Haha you should Google fergburger….its a burger place but really popular and famous in new Zealand …but it’s not a chain or franchise, it’s even in lonely planet,I’ve seen tourists go there just to take a picture to say they’ve been there and not even taste the burger which I don’t understand…..u have to Google it haha ….and also yes the scenery is definetly worth it …best way to describe it would maybe a smaller version of Iceland 😁

  12. New Zealand is beautiful. A few years ago I cycled both islands and the views were breathtaking. I totally missed Fergburger. I just looked at their menu and now I have en other reason to go back. Maybe backpacking next time!

  13. Excellent post. loved it..our next destination is Newzealand.. we plan to go in early april for 2 weeks. We are into hiking is april a good season for hiking or you think most of trails will already be closed. and are 15 days enough? 40-50 usd/day is kinda cheap no..i was expecting more for newzealand…even backpackers way..but thats a good news..one last thing where is that wild people pic taken? looks goof and would like to visit.

  14. I’m headed to NZ next October and we were thinking of renting a camper can buy had no idea where to start looking! Thanks for the links! It sounds like you had an amazing time! I can’t wait to explore it!

  15. Oddly enough, my friend too said just that when you backpack New Zealand you’ll forget the rest of the world exists. Guess I need to check that bit out soon. Sure your tips will come in handy

  16. You came across someone who does NOT like New Zealand, are you kidding me? I mean, I know Canada;s gorgeous and all but how can one not fall in love with the magic land that NZ is? Oh Fergburger, you’ve taken me back to Queenstown, my favourite place in New Zealand. I was supposed to skydive over Franz Josef and Queenstown but was so unlucky with the weather! And you’re right about being prepared for any kind of weather. I travelled in the thick of summer, and it rained for 3 days, it was SO cold, the one jacket I carried with me was not sufficient. It’s warmer in the North Island though as compared to the South Island. Fantastic read Amit, so comprehensive, like all your posts. Brings back such amazing memories 🙂
    Medha Verma recently posted…What to do in 48 hours in Tbilisi, GeorgiaMy Profile

    • Haha yeah medha my friend that I convinced to join me in New Zealand, she’s from Newfoundland and it just reminded her too much of home, and plus it was at that point where we were complelty broke….the sky dive over franz Joseph was amazing I have a video of it..i might have to write a post about it 😁😁😁

  17. New Zealand is still on my list, and I feel sometimes I’ll never get there! Thanks for the tips on the cost of NZ and the mosquitos!! I always get eaten alive! I hope to get there soon and see all the places you mentioned.

  18. Such a detailed post! My best friend spent a year in New Zeland, and he said it really was expensive. It looks like I’ll have to leave this country visit for the times when I am old and rich 😀

    • Thank you , yeah it was expensive but It can be done on a budget, I backpacker it on quite the tight budget so if you do the research you don’t have to wait until your old and rich lol you jist have to have tight purse strings 😁😁

  19. Wow! What a great adventure! “Be prepared to see a lot of sheep.” Loved how you weaved funny one-liners in with all of your helpful tips, too! Traveling around this beautiful country by camper van sounds like a dream come true!

  20. I have only been to Auckland and Bay of Islands in New Zealand, but would love to see more of the country. I would especially like to visit the Giesers. I liked your dislike of Auckland reminding you of England as I quite liked that!

  21. Having access to campsites is one of the biggest deals when traveling. I could easily sleep inside a tent if that is what it would take to cut the expenses big time. I have always wanted to visit New Zealand and your post is just so inviting.

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