Where to Go
The most southern country in the world apart from Antarctica, New Zealand often feels so far away that it could practically be on a different planet. Visiting there gives off that same atmosphere; from the link to Tolkien’s mythical world, and the every changing weather and incredible Maori culture, sometimes New Zealand doesn’t feel quite real.
As a result, it can be difficult to know where to visit, with every place seemingly calling your name. That’s why, to make it a bit easier, we scoured and hunted for the absolute best places to go to experience all the best the country has to offer.
Found in the South Island, Queenstown is unequivocally the adventure capital of New Zealand. It’s here that travellers can hike the towering peaks of the Southern Alps and seek adventure and adrenaline on the waters of the sparkling blue Lake Wakatipu. The area itself is beautiful, with some of the best scenery in the country, and options to cycle around the lake or set off on a cruise. Plus, there’s a buzzing nightlife, with plenty of bars and restaurants dotting the city centre.
The largest city in New Zealand – and also the most populated – Auckland is in the North Island, and is known worldwide for its fantastic foodie culture. The Auckland Harbour Bridge has some of the best views in the country, and the oldest part of the city – the Auckland Domain – is full of hidden treasures and wonders surrounding the history and heritage of New Zealand. It’s here that travellers and historians alike come to witness the Maori and pacific Island artefact exhibits in the Auckland Museum.
Everyone who visits New Zealand always makes a stop to the Bay of Islands – it’s practically a rite of passage for any traveller. If you’d like to continue this tradition, and we highly recommend that you do, then have a stop in Paihia. The small-town feel of the place gives off that local community atmosphere, but don’t be fooled into thinking there’s nothing here. In fact, there’s plenty of opportunity to swim with dolphins, or go scuba diving to visit the Rainbow Warrior, an immense underwater shipwreck.
The thermal wonderland of New Zealand, Rotorua is the place to go to see any number of volcanic happenings or visit the hot springs and geysers that can be found in and around the city. Typically, these have been protected in parks and reserved, but that doesn’t mean they’re not open to visitors. Still today there are natural eruptions occurring all the time, and the nearby Wai-O-Tapu is well noted by any keen travellers for the colourful appearance of the hot springs.
The sunniest place in New Zealand with the greatest number of sunshine hours per year of the whole country, Nelson is popular thanks to its fantastic climate and the numerous national parks that line the city’s boundaries. The perfect place during the summer thanks to the outdoor recreation facilities, backpackers come here to see the Abel Tasman National Park, and enjoy the local farm-to-table restaurants in Founder’s Park.
What to Do
From cultural hotspots, to hiking up mountains, canoeing on lakes, and visiting volcanic geysers, everything about New Zealand combines to make it one of the most unique and interesting places you’ll ever visit.
Explore Maori Culture
The Maoris were the first people to inhabit New Zealand roughly 1000 years ago, arriving from their mythical Polynesian homeland of Hawaiki and contributing irreversibly to New Zealand culture as it stands today. From the place names that dot the country, to the famous “haka” that precedes every All Blacks rugby match, the Maori culture is everywhere.
Rotorua is the heart of Maori culture, with many travellers heading to Marae, a Maori Meeting Ground, for a night of tribal singing, dance, fire poi, warrior training, hakas, and more.
Go tramping through the wilderness
Trekking isn’t a think in New Zealand. Instead, people here go tramping cross the gigantic fjord lands, over the snow-capped peaks, and along the craters and lakes that dot the landscape.
The hardest thing is decided where to go tramping, because there are so many incredible walks. For a day trip, there’s the iconic Tongariro Crossing, while those looking to head out for a longer period can enjoy the 4-day Milford Track
Visit Tolkein’s Middle Earth
New Zealand is practically synonymous with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, ever since the first movie was released in 2001. The Kiwis have fully embraced this association, and the national airline, Air New Zealand, even released a Hobbit-themed safety video every time a new movie was released.
The rolling hills of Matamatato are the best place to visit if you’re a big Lord of the Rings fan; the site of the idyllic Hobbiton movie set, the hills and pastures here boast 44 Hobbit holes. There’s also the Weta Cave here, the very same workshop that was used to create the amazing costumes and special effects in the movies.
Visit the Sauvignon Blanc Wineries
One of the most famous white wines in the world comes from New Zealand: the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. And the great thing is that some of the most beautiful parts of the countryside are home to the vineyards where these wines are produced. These include areas in Marlborigh, where travellers can meet the local winegrowers. Alternatively, there’s also the vineyards of Waiheke Island; just a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, the amazing views make the perfect backdrop for a relaxing afternoon spent sipping the famous wines.
Go Whale Watching
The best thing about New Zealand is that there isn’t a specific “whale watching” season – you can see the incredible creatures all year round. Kaikoura is ticked away between Christchurch and Picton on the South Island, and is strongly considering the whale watching capital of the country, if not the world. Visit during the winter to see the humpbacks pass through, or the summer if you want to spot the fabulous orcas.
Read More About New Zealand
Best Time to Visit New Zealand
New Zealand has something to offer every month of the year, but the long and short of it is if you’re looking to explore, be outside for long periods of time, perhaps enjoy some time on the beach, then the summer months are the time to go. With average temperatures of around 25 degrees in February, and fewer crowds, it’s the best time to see New Zealand at its finest.
The winter can also be a great time to visit, with colder temperatures carrying with them a string wintry theme. There’s plenty of snow and alpine peaks for the skiers, and June sees Queenstown’s annual winter festival kick off in high spirits.
In terms of festivals and events, July has the classic Dunedin’s Chocolate Carnival and the New Zealand International Film Festival, while October has the Auckland Heritage Festival and January is the month of the New Zealand Sevens rugby tournament.
How Much Does it Cost
It’s not the cheapest place in the world to visit, but New Zealand can still be visited on a backpacker’s budget if you know the tricks of the trade.
A daily budget here could be $55-75 if you wanted it to be, that’s assuming you’re staying in hostels, cooking your own food when you can, and using public transport.
Typical costs while backpacking across New Zealand:
Pint of beer
Even though it’s expensive, there are a few ways to cut the costs. One of these is – and bear with me on this – learn how to cook a decent meal. New Zealand is not known for it’s amazing cuisine, and cooking your own meals the majority of the time will save you splashing out at least $10 per meal – that’s $30 a day.
In keeping with this theme, another handy trick is hitting up those happy hour deals. All the best backpacker bars have cheap happy hours offering drinks for as ow as $3 – which is almost half price.
Another great tip is to WWOOF it. WWOOFing essentially means working for your accommodation and food, so in return for working on a farm, the farmers will provide you with a comfy bed and a meal – win, win.
What to Pack
Despite being right next to Australia, New Zealand’s weather is actually more akin to the UK’s than its Aussie counterpart – it even has a ski season. So, while there will be opportunities for sunbathing and strolling along the beaches, don’t assume that it will always be like that.
The north island is typically warmer than the South Island, although during the summer months (which is November through to February because it’s the southern hemisphere) the weather is pleasant for both islands. You’ll want to make sure you’ve got a rain jacket, t-shirts and long sleeve tops, hiking boots, a hat, and some nice clothes for the evening.
You’ll also want a swimming costume, towel, water bottle – the water here is safe to drink – toiletry kit, and a first aid kit. The healthcare system might be great, but you don’t want to have to rely on it for every scratch and bruise.
While there are a lot of hostels in New Zealand, they’re by no means cheap, and if you’re travelling during peak season then expect to pay at least $20 a night for a shared hostel dorm room.
Instead, a good alternative is couch surfing, which is a good way to meet locals and new people, or rocking up at one of the free campsites dotted around the country. Even if it’s not free, you can normally pitch a tent for $3 a night.
A lot of backpackers in New Zealand also utilise the option of working for accommodation – at least for a little bit of their time, anyway. If you know you’re planning on staying a while, then check with any local hostels, homestays, farms and more to see if they need some work doing in exchange for a room and food.
Food and Drink
New Zealand isn’t particularly well known for its cuisine, but it does offer up some interesting dishes. Typically the food here has been crated from native Maori and European influences, although if you head to any of the larger cities – like Wellington or Auckland – you’ll also find a very heavy Asian influence.
One of the most quintessential New Zealand food items is Vegemite, essentially just Marmite. There’s also New Zealand venison, and something called Giapo Hokey-Pokey ice cream, which is essentially vanilla ice cream with sponge toffee mixed in.
In terms of drinks, you can’t complete a tour of New Zealand without a visit to one of the wineries, which have really come into their own in the last 30 to 40 years. The country is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, which some have claimed to be the best in the world.
New Zealanders described themselves as friendly but reserved, and open but respectful – so it’s worth keeping this in mind while travelling through the country. Tehre are also marked difference between Maori cultures and those descended from European settlers.
A few things to bear in mind when backpacking through New Zealand:
- New Zealanders are very relaxed, low-key and free of pretension
- Typically greet people with a “gidday”
- Tipping isn’t expected but is appreciated
- The Hongi, a traditional Maori greeting, is used when meeting certain Maori – essentially press your noses and foreheads together and share in “the breath of life”
- Sharing food is very common, especially at a barbecue or hāngi
- Wealth and social status are not important
The bus system around New Zealand is really good, and most of the major cities have good rail services as well – such as Auckland and Wellington, where a one way far starts from roughly $2. There are often transit cards available as well; for instance, Wellington has na Adult Snapper card which will save you nearly half your fare, while Auckland has the AT HOP card.
The most common way of getting around for backpackers is hopping on a backpacker tour/bus. These offer a hop-on/hop-off service which allows for flexibility to travel at your own pace, and you’ll also have activities and accommodation organised for you.
To travel cross country, New Zealand has three train lines: Northern Explore, Coastal Pacific, and TranzAlpine, which offer viewing platforms, audio commentary, information packets, and huge windows to admire the view.
New Zealand is one of those insanely easy countries to visit. In fact, for the majority of nationalities, a visitor’s visa can be obtained on arrival. All you need is proof of onward travel exiting the country, and maybe proof as to how youre going to support yourself while you’re there – which just means you need to show a credit card.
For UK citizens, the Visitor Visa costs nothing, and allows travellers to stay for up to 6 months. If you’re looking to stay a bit longer, looking into the Working Holiday Visa which is available for citizens under 31 years old, costs roughly £115, and allows you to stay for up to a year.
Is It Safe?
One of the safest countries in the world, even if you’re travelling solo you’ll likely experience no issues in New Zealand. The crime rate here in general is very low, and the healthcare system is excellent – even for tourists.
The usual precautions you would take at home are usually enough, and just make sure you’ve always got a copy of your important documents on you. A good thing to remember is that the emergency number here is 111.
A Brief History
New Zealand is a relatively new country in terms of human habitation. In fact, the first inhabitants didn’t arrive until the year 1000 A.D. These were the Moa hunters, of Polynesian ancestry.
The country was first discovered by Europe when Dutch navigator Abel Tasman arrived, and James Cook, a British explorer, arrived shortly after, exploring the New Zealand coastline in 1769. Then, in 1840, the country became a British colony, when the initial settlers began warring with the Maori tribe’s people.
Today, the ancestors of the Maori and the colonists live in virtual harmony, with both having full rights to vote in elections and participate in government since the late 1800s. The country became independent from the UK in 1947 through the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act.
- The world’s first commercial bungee jump was a 43 metre leap off the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown in 1988
- In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women the right to vote
- New Zealand won the first ever Rugby World Cup in 1987
- It’s home to the only flightless parrot: the Kakapo
- There are no nuclear power stations in the country
- Nowhere in New Zealand is more than 120km from the coast
- Only 5% of the population is human – the rest are animals
- It has three official languages: English, Māori, and New Zealand Sign Language
- One third of the country is protected national park
If you really want to make the most of your time in New Zealand, then check out these useful resources. When you’re backpacking, it’s always better to be safe and prepared than winging it.
- Links incoming