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…
Sometimes New Zealand can be overlooked by backpackers and left in the shadow of it’s more fancied neighbor Australia but for no good reason. This is one of the most amazing countries you will ever witness. I have only ever come across one person who didn’t fall in love with this country but she’s Canadian!
New Zealand might have been made famous by the Lord of the Rings movies but 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.
A few tips:
- Renting a car or van is a great way to explore new Zealand.
- Do both Islands, both are worth it.
- Take clothes for all weather conditions – Wellington is always windy no matter what time of year it is.
- Winter in New Zealand is when the South Island comes alive.
- If you’re planning on learning Skiing or snowboarding remember ski passes are expensive.
- Eat 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.
- Kiwi accents are funny – eggs are pronounced ‘iggs’ – chips are pronounced ‘chups’
Some things to be wary of:
- Mosquitoes, they are everywhere – I had a war with them through my trip!
- Swarms of sand flies in the South Island – get everywhere.
- Be wary of anybody that asks you to ‘stay for just one more’ – one more leads to being out all night long.
- New Zealand is 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 rumble 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 chose from 12 or 23 months stay.
All visa’s can be applied for through New Zealand aimmigration.
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 on the breadline and cut down on everything.
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 sights; 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 your 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 to see all of New Zealand’s beauty 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.
There is an abundance of accommodation to chose 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’ll be honest, I had never really given New Zealand much thought before I made the impromptu jump from Australia but it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love New Zealand, and apart from being broke all the time, constantly not having any money, going hungry a few times and being very fucking cold at times there’s nothing too bad I can say.
I know this is cliche 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 New Zealand is.
Going days without a proper meal.
Freezing in winter in my crappy cabin.
My route backpacking New Zealand:
Learning from my mistakes in Australia, I decided to travel New Zealand before I settled in one place. My trip took me from from Auckland to around the whole north island before heading to the south island, following the west coast down and and finally cross country to Christchurch. Once My travels were over I headed back to Queenstown and settled in neverland.