If you’re reading this post, you are likely planning to backpack around New Zealand – great idea, well done! We definitely recommend it and here are some tips that would have been helpful for us to know before we came!
New Zealand is an absolutely stunning country with the most beautiful, natural scenery that looks fresh off a photo-shopped postcard. Not only does it have these incredible views, amazing landscapes and natural wonders, it is also seen as the adventure capital of the world, attracted nearly 3 million tourists in 2014, a figure that has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. November to March are the busiest months for international arrivals, probably due to this being the summer months and the main demographic of these visitors are between the ages 25-34, so it’s great for the younger travellers!
The geology and landscapes across New Zealand are so varied and striking, making it the perfect setting for hundreds of adventure activities– (as well as the home to SO many geologists from all over the world, with most of our friends from here being in the geology club haha)!
Because of this astonishing landscape, New Zealand has in recent years become very popular for movie sets, with the most famous being of course The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (and if you are a fan of these films, you can visit the Hobbiton set, plus 100 other towns that mention they were in a glimpse of one of these films too).
The North Island of New Zealand has a spine of mountain ranges running through the middle, with rolling hillside and farmlands on each side, leading out to beautiful golden, sandy beaches.
Visit a selection of active volcanoes, take a dip in geothermal pools, visit island sanctuaries and immerse yourself in the rich, prevailing Maori culture while learning the interesting political history of New Zealand. There is SO much to see in the North Island, please have a look at our other blog posts for a rundown of the main tourist attractions. (Auckland, Waitomo, Rotorua, Taupo, Wellington)
The South Island has the Southern Alps running through it, which are stunning in winter months when snow capped – a site that makes any tom, dick and Harry look like an award-winning photographer. You will also find spectacular glaciers on the South Island, beautiful but more rugged beaches, rainforests and superb ski fields.
Whether you plan on going alone or in a group, it is the perfect place to travel on the road at your own pace, to allow you to take it all in, experience all the must do activities, and discover secluded wonders off the beaten track.
This guide will give you a breakdown of travelling around here and hopefully will help plan your future travels!
Campervan & Car
Having travelled the North Island, and part of the South in a Campervan, we would strongly recommend this method if you have no time limit on your trip and you want to experience everything this breath-taking country has to offer. We found this was a fantastic way as you have the obvious perks such as saving on accommodation and transport but this also means you have the ability to explore in-depth at your own pace, with a flexible and leisurely itinerary (this was very welcoming on those days we were too hung over and lazy to move). You can explore exactly what you want, when you want (also moving swifty on from places with not a lot going on aka Palmerston North haha), and make this experience relaxing, affordable and good as gold bro!
Due to only having 4.5 million people living in the whole of New Zealand and 72% of these people living in urban areas, you can travel several hours and not see another car, however chances are the vehicle you do pass is a snazzy motor home stacked up with mountain bikes or surfboards and loaded with bright-eyed thrill-seeking travellers. The great thing though about this mode of transport, is that it really can be suitable for everyone: families, couples, the retired and gap year travellers. One con to this however, is if you are travelling on your own you may find it a little lonely being on the road for that long by yourself…although this could be some people’s idea of bliss! On the other hand, you can still meet people at campsites or tourist attractions so you could have the best of both worlds. Travelling as a couple, Matt and I found this suited us down to the ground…socialise when in the mood or isolate ourselves with a glass of wine (or 5) and a BBQ in an empty camping ground situated next to clear crystal lakes or tropical beaches with a backdrop of a snow-capped mountain range – not bad hey?
Buy or Rent?
There are heaps (picking up the kiwi lingo) of car/campervan rental companies that range in prices depending on the style or size of transport you require and the time of year. Prices sore in the summer months and a two/four/six berth van can cost on average $200-350 per day, however this can drop massively during winter months to around $60-$120 per day. These prices are an average and obviously every company differs, so the best way is to check the websites for any offers or deals they may have. Some of the main rental companies are:
If you have no time limit on how long you can be in New Zealand, and you can afford to, you should try to buy your campervan and sell it on once your travels have finished. We bought a 2-berth campervan from Auckland when we arrived for $4,000 and sold it 2½ months later for $4,300 (included the camping equipment we bought as well as a new stereo etc.).
So essentially, excluding fuel, our transport and accommodation was free for our road trip around New Zealand! With this though, you need to be careful that the vehicle you purchase is in good condition and wont breakdown in the first 10 minutes, especially as on some roads you could be sat there hours waiting for a passer-by that could potentially have as much mechanical knowledge as me! Matt is a mechanic by trade so that was VERY handy! So just watch out and be aware! There are some companies, such as VTNZ or the AA that will check over a vehicle before you buy it to make sure it is in good nick, as long as the owner agrees to it. If the owner says no, then it is probably a glaring sign to run away.
If $4,000 for a 2-berth campervan is a bit out of your price range, there is definitely a lot of choice for cheaper ones, furthermore if it is just a car you are wanting – you can pick these up for anything starting at $200, but again BE CAREFUL!
Buying and selling your vehicle is easy here…like ridiculously simple that it doesn’t actually seem legitimate! All you need to do when you buy or sell is you both need to fill out a change of ownership form, which you can get from any post office.
Firstly the best places to look when buying that we found, were websites such as:
These are just like eBay and are used for everything here – especially Trademe – from vehicles to holidays, furniture, jobs and properties. Facebook pages that are buying and selling cars/vans are very helpful too, as well as backpacker sites, and notice boards in hostels.
You could also try car auctions where you can pick up a vehicle cheaply, however we went to one of these and it wasn’t really very helpful to be honest and we didn’t really understand what was going on, got a coffee and slinked away quietly haha! But if you did fancy a browse, a good one is Turners Auctions, which has 10 sites across New Zealand.
It didn’t take us long to find at least 5 campervans we liked, and the first one we went to view we bought! So we ended up buying from Trademe and selling from Gumtree, so we are living proof they work wonders!
We did our travelling at the end of winter beginning of spring (August – end of September) and so finding a van was no problem, however in the summer they are in high demand so view as quickly as you can and make your offer. On the plus side, this makes life a heck of a lot easier when it comes to selling if it is summer, as they get snapped up immediately!
The best places to buy and sell your vehicle in our opinion is either Auckland or Christchurch, as these have the main international airports and 9 times out of 10, travellers will begin or end their travels in these places.
– Make sure your vehicle has Warrent Of Fitness (WOF) this is just like MOT in the UK, and ensures it is safe and roadworthy. This is valid for 6 months and can be done at most garages.
– Insurance. You don’t actually need insurance in New Zealand so it is tempting not to bother…however we met someone who told us about a friend that hit a new BMW and had to remortgage their house to help pay it off, so it is definitely worth investing unless you are a millionaire and don’t really care, however you are reading a budget guide so I’m gonna guess you aren’t (but if you are, donations to the site are appreciated HA). We just went with the AA as it seemed to be the cheapest and that’s who I was with in the UK. Plus they sent us a $50 fuel card – winning!
Motor biking around New Zealand is also very popular here, with many companies offering guided tours, customized self guided itineraries for you to follow, as well as plenty of advice of spectacular routes you can take through the 1,600km of the North and South island. Some good websites for this are:
If you wanted to buy one, you can look again on Trademe, Gumtree, Facebook or in regional newspapers and the local bike press.
So another way of getting around is hitch hiking. This still goes on here, but slowly the number of people choosing to do this is dwindling unsurprisingly. No doubt this comes from horror stories, or films, but some still continue to do so. It is advised that if you do decide to try this, you don’t do it alone especially if you are female, and try to travel in pairs for safety. We picked up hitchhikers for the first time here, which was exciting! They were a French couple, and didn’t really speak much English, so it wasn’t really as fun as I envisioned, but at least we helped out a couple of fellow travellers (and we survived to tell the tale)! They did say that’s the way they had done the whole of New Zealand and sometimes they could be sat waiting for hours and get no where…. so definitely make sure you have A LOT of time on your hands if you go down this route.
Rideshares are a great way to cut travelling costs as you can share fuel costs. You can find notices in hostels on the notice boards or again on trademe or check out www.carshare.co.nz.
The Kiwi Experience is a really popular and fun way to travel New Zealand for young travellers. We have a few friends that did this and absolutely loved it and met so many people and from what I can gather, it was a proper party bus! This can be quite expensive, but perfect if you want to meet loads of people and go a bit wild!
The route we took around New Zealand is shown below, stopping in the order from A to P.
Go HERE to view in more detail.
We probably spent around $65-100 NZD per day between us, depending obviously on where we were and what we were doing. On our cheaper days when we stayed in free campsites, ate cheaply and just did the free stuff, it was probably like $45-50 per day.
Tourist attractions can obviously vary dramatically in price depending on what it is. The best thing to do would be to sign up to groupon.co.nz (even though they send you 100’s of annoying emails everyday, the deals are actually worth it when you find a good one) and continually check grabone.co.nz and bookme.co.nz for the best deals. Check out our recommended adventure activities in NZ.
Shop at actual fruit and veg shops, and at the butchers (i.e. madbutcher) and your costs will keep low, however we also shop at the supermarket Pack’n’save and this is really cheap too, but per person per day it’s around $25 (we actually manage to do it for about $30 for both of us but that was because we really were trying to do it as cheaply as possible with some pretty questionable ‘meals’). Obviously this gets more expensive when going out for meals – but again look on grabone/bookme/groupon for deals!
When we were travelling, the cost of petrol per litre was $2.20 which was a bit of a killer and was one of the biggest factors we didn’t really account for properly…leading us to cut the trip a little bit short. Currently petrol is now $1.82 (as of 5 Feb 2015), and is supposedly meant to stay this for a while so that will help massively! This really is one of those ‘it is what it is’ predicaments because there’s nothing you can do about it so its best to just try to get over it at the start, rather than begrudgingly filling up when you have been coasting down the hill on empty for the last leg of a journey and playing the game of ‘It’s too expensive here, lets see if we can make it to the next garage!’ because sometimes you don’t…trust me.
Just like any other developed country, the accommodation range is massive and you can find very varied types and standards of accommodation. For hostels it is around $20 – $30 pp per night. For budget versions of accommodation, see below section.
In bars or pubs, drinks are on average: Cocktails $12-14, Wine $7.50, Bottle Beer $7.50
In the supermarkets drinks are: Goon $22, 12 pack bottle of beers $20. You can’t buy spirits from supermarkets so you have to go the bottleo, but they are definitely not hard to come by!
Most towns have some sort of camping ground, whether that is paid or allows freedom camping. We heard rumors that you can camp anywhere in New Zealand, however this isn’t true and you should not assume that you are allowed to park up and stay somewhere over night as this could result in some hefty fines. The laws on this used to be much more lenient and freedom camping was apparently allowed almost anywhere, until New Zealand hosted the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and people really took advantage of these laws and littered the areas and really damaged or destroyed a lot of land across New Zealand, so bloody annoying!
If you have the budget for it, and you see yourself as a bit of a flash packer you can stay in hotels, eco hotels or lodges and other swanky accommodation here. Alternatively budget hostels are of course available throughout the country (try hostelworld.com), however if you really want to keep the cost down then camping is the way forward! There are hundreds of places you are able to do this.
If you have a self-contained campervan (a toilet on board) you will get a sticker and certificate to prove this, and are then able to camp in more free sites and ‘freedom camp’. To certify your vehicle to be self-contained, you need the following:
- Fresh water supply: 4L per person per day (i.e. minimum 12L per person)
- A sink
- Toilet: 1L per person per day (i.e. minimum 3L net holding tank capacity per person)
- Holding tank: 4L per person per day (i.e. minimum 12L per person ) and monitored if capacity is less than the fresh water tank
- An evacuation hose
- A sealable refuse container (with lid)
Ours wasn’t self-contained so we just had to make sure we stayed at a campsite that allowed us to be there! An absolute godsend for us was the WikiCamps app. This easy to use app saved us splashing out for accommodation for around 80% of our travels as it finds and directs you to every legal free campsite around New Zealand. The app lets you know the facilities there, exact location, costs, ratings from other guests and more. This is an absolute must-have!
The free campsites are often very basic, and some have toilets and in most cases these are long drops – and omg they are rank!! But it’s free so we have to try not to complain! But one piece of very important advice is DO NOT shine a torch down the long drop…trust me.
Hostels are in pretty much every town even when there’s like 5 other houses. Just have a look on hostelworld.com.
Farm stays – Help X
Doing a farm stay or Woofing (Working on Organic Farms) is the best way of really seeing a place in the eyes of a local, especially if you plan to stay in a certain area for a couple of weeks. This method is an absolute godsend if you start to run low on money (or pretty much run out like we did) or alternatively if you just want to get to know an area, explore hidden treasures that other tourists just would never stumble upon and to have a totally unique experience. We did two farm stays through HelpX, the idea being you work 4-6 hours a day doing things like gardening, farm work, housework or just general odd jobs, and the host provides you with accommodation and food in return. It’s a great system that massively helps out both the host and the helper. HelpX is online based, and for 20 Euros they have a 2 year membership, which allows you to contact different hosts you feel would be best suited to what you want to do and where you want to go. It also gives the hosts the chance to contact the Helper depending on the kind of person/people they are looking for. They are a trusted company that operates worldwide including in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe including France.
We did two farm stays in Canterbury, and are still really good friends with one host family and have been to the races and to parties with them! They are like our second home in Christchurch and we just had so much fun with them! We did a number of different jobs for each family and I was very nervous at the beginning as I know sweet FA about gardening, and do not know the difference between a weed or a plant, not forgetting I am the weakest person known to man so I knew I would be crap if I had to do manual labour! However I learnt loads and really did enjoy working outside in the garden…a profession I could never see myself doing until I’m in my 60s!!
I was just doing ‘pruning’ and Matt was chain sawing trees, paving slabs and making paths, so it definitely gave him some great experience for when I need him to do DIY jobs in the future haha!
The ‘typical woofer’ (just a matter of opinion) is pretty annoying, and similar to those at school that majorly suck up to the teacher to the point the teacher gets annoyed. However that’s a massive generalisation and obviously everyone isn’t like that because Matt and I are obviously extremely hilarious and fun. But there were a few others we have met, and they are just far too enthusiastic whilst seeking every opportunity to show off their green fingers and brownie badges.
Aside from that though, it is an incredible experience, as the host will often treat you as part of the family. For example we were allowed to go off-roading on the quad bikes, take out the surf boards and were invited on the boats to see the dolphins…so you can create some brilliant stories without having to fork out a cent (only a garden fork, wheyyy)!
If you are looking to settle for a while somewhere and get a job & apartment, this is also a brilliant way to ease into that. We arranged interviews and house viewings whilst at our second stay, and then moved straight into our house and started our jobs the following week.
Couchsurfing is something I only heard about last year, but now I seem to hear about it all the time, and only good things! This is basically where you sign up and create a profile about yourself, and can express interest to a host if you are visiting their country and would like somewhere to stay for a few nights. This will be, as said in the title, will be just someone’s sofa/floor or spare room. Just sign up to https://www.couchsurfing.com. This gives you the opportunity to be shown around by someone who knows the area really well and meet like-minded people who have an interest in learning about other cultures and backgrounds. As well as using the site to find accommodation, you can choose to become a host to help out another fellow traveller. The idea behind it all, as stated by couchsurf is:
‘We envision a world made better by travel and travel made richer by connection. Couchsurfers share their lives with the people they encounter, fostering cultural exchange and mutual respect.’
Always be prepared for every type of weather in this country. They could predict the hottest day, and then the southerly wind appears to ruin the party and this obviously blows straight from the arctic so this is NOT fun when you are trying to tan in a bikini on the beach! Just make sure you are prepared, even in the summer, and just bring a light jacket at all times.
One thing you have to remember is the is a huge hole in the Ozone layer above New Zealand so the sun can be really harmful, even more so than anywhere else in the world so sun cream is very important.
|City||Summer – Dec-Feb||Winter – June-Aug|
|Auckland||Ave. high: 23.8°C (75°F)
Ave. low: 16.4°C (61°F)
Ave. rain days per month: 10
|Ave. high: 14.7°C (58°F)
Ave. low: 8.0°C (46°F)
Ave. rain days per month: 13
|Wellington||Ave. high: 20.3°C (69°F)
Ave. low: 13.4°C (56°F)
Ave. rain days per month: 9
|Ave. high: 11.3°C (52°F)
Ave. low: 6.2°C (43°F)
Ave. rain days per month: 11
|Christchurch||Ave. high: 22.5°C (73°F)
Ave. low: 12.2°C (54°F)
Ave. rain days per month: 7
|Ave. high: 11.3°C (52°F)
Ave. low: 1.7°C (35°F)
Ave. rain days per month: 7
|Queenstown||Ave. high: 22.5°C (73°F)
Ave. low: 10.7°C (51°F)
Ave. rain days per month: 8
|Ave. high: 8.1°C (46°F)
Ave. low: 0.1°C (32°F)
Ave. rain days per month: 8
(Chart from experienceNZ)
Tourist visas for New Zealand are relatively easy to get, depending on where you are from. This is up to 6 months if you are from the UK. However if you plan to work whilst you are here, you will need a working holiday Visa (what we both have) which allows you to live and work here for 1 year outright with the option extend for another year if you carry out a full medical.
All visa information can be found at http://www.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/stream/visit/
We hope this helps with your NZ Travel Planning!