Updated: February 2018 by Timon at Beard and Curly.
New Zealand: a fabled land of Hobbits and Ring Wraiths, a place where there are more sheep than people and where the scenery is so spectacular it’s almost unreal. Some of the best experiences I’ve had whilst backpacking New Zealand have been when I was completely broke, hitchhiking or meeting locals and other travellers who convinced me to change my plans, be spontaneous and follow my adventurous instinct…
New Zealand may seem to be an expensive country but with a bit of imagination, it’s possible to travel New Zealand on a shoestring budget. These broke adventures have always resulted in great stories, new friends, and unforgettable experiences. I landed in January with a year-long visa and felt a bit like Bilbo Baggins, I was ‘going on an adventure!’
And what an epic adventure it has been backpacking New Zealand on a budget. I’ve spent more than six months exploring this truly incredible land and here is all of my knowledge prepared for you guys in one handy travel guide!
We’ll go over what to do, where to stay, and how to travel in New Zealand cheap. By the end of this guide, you’ll everything that you could possible need for New Zealand. All that’ll be left is buying a plane ticket and that dream campervan you’ve alwasys wanted!
Table of Contents
- Where to Go Backpacking in New Zealand
- Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking New Zealand
- Places to Visit in New Zealand
- Backpacker Accommodation in New Zealand
- Top Things to Do in New Zealand
- New Zealand Travel Tips
- Staying Safe in New Zealand
- What to Pack for New Zealand
- New Zealand Travel Guide to Getting Around
- New Zealand Backpacking Costs
- Must Try Experiences in New Zealand
Where to Go Backpacking in New Zealand
Made famous by the dramatic, unearthly scenery in Lord of the Rings, New Zealand is more than just an unbelievable movie set. New Zealand is every outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Made up of two islands, your adventures are infinite.
Summit mountains and alpine climb on the South Island, surf the dramatic, wild waves throughout the coast, bungee jump in Queenstown (where it was invented), or go on a bike ride, kayak excursion, or hike (or a hundred). And yes, you can even visit Hobbiton.
I’ve created two itineraries for backpacking New Zealand. One itinerary highlights the north island, and the other highlights the south island. You can easily combine both itineraries if you have a month or more to travel in New Zealand. Many travellers backpack New Zealand on a year-long work visa. If that is the case you have plenty of time to explore.
New Zealand 2 Week Itinerary #1: The North Island – Hip Cities and Parks
2 Weeks: The North Island’s Highlights
This itinerary will start in Auckland. If you’re a city person, you can definitely find plenty of things to do here – restaurants, nightlife, galleries, and nearby beaches galore. This is also a great place to base yourself if you’re making the trip to the Bay of Islands (north), the Rangitoto Islands just off the coast of Auckland, or Coromandel, slightly East. You can also make a trip to Hobbiton, the real live set they filmed the hobbit wonderland in Lord of the Rings.
Then head to Rotorua, a geothermal hotspot (no pun intended) full of geysers, mud pools, and yes, smelly sulfur. You can also engage with the indigenous Maori culture. Further south you’ll find Taupo and the epic Tongariro National Park. This is a great spot to hike and bike.
Next stop: the cool, hipster city Wellington, known for its food, drink, and art. If you’re a wino, make sure to drive through Hawke’s Bay Wine Country on your way to Wellington.
After Wellington, loop back around to Mt Taranaki, a classic 2,518m volcanic cone. Then go to the Waitomo Caves: damp, underground tunnels home to glowing worms! Before getting back to Auckland, surfers should stop at Raglan.
New Zealand 3 Week Itinerary #2: The South Island – Dramatic Scenery
3 Weeks: The South Island’s Dramatic Scenery
Get ready to be wowed. If you’re backpacking New Zealand for nature, this is the itinerary for you. Start your trip in Christchurch, then make your way to Kaikoura on the coast. Kaikoura is popular for whale tours and helicopter flights! If you’re a wine person, drink up some Sauvignon Blanc at the Marlborough Sounds. Picton is a quaint town to base yourself.
If these types of activities don’t fit your budget, fear not, we’re heading into nature soon. The best things in life are free after all?
Next Stop: Abel Tasman National Park. You’ll think you’re on a tropical beach (minus the temperature). Nearby you can drive to Whaririki Beach (pronounced ‘Far-ricky’) – squeezed between Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Park – and will take you through Golden Bay.
Drive through Punakaiki, home of the Pancake Rocks: a series of coastal cliffs that literally look like giant stacks of pancakes. Around these rocks are also several impressive blowholes.
Next is off to Franz Josef Glacier to witness the world’s steepest and fastest moving glacier. Then head to bohemian Wanaka, also known for a famous tree in the middle of a lake. Make your way to Queenstown, New Zealand’s – and frankly the world’s – adventure capital. Ski in winter, hike in summer, and bungee jump or skydive year round.
Saving the best for last, get ready to make the Milford drive to Milford Sound. After being wow-ed over and over again, head off to another beautiful place, the Catlins, mostly uninhabited with coastal rainforest and rugged beaches.
Want to meet likeminded travellers? Check out my guide to the 12 best hostels in Christchurch!
Read up on the best areas to stay in Christchurch using our comprehensive guide.
Now that we’ve covered itinerary ideas for New Zealand, we’re going to discuss some of the best places to visit while backpacking New Zealand. Read on for more!
Auckland is the best place to start for a lot of people traveling to New Zealand. This city holds the majority of New Zealand’s population and it’ll probably be the busiest place you visit in New Zealand. Auckland Central itself is just like any other Western city, perfect for picking up any last minute necessities but spend too long here and you will drain your funds fast.
Visit the sky tower for some views over the city, or kickstart your adrenaline by walking or jumping off the top! The average price of a hostel in Auckland ranges from $35 – $40NZD per night and there are not many sites worth visiting. If you are willing to get out of the city, there is plenty to do.
For awesome things to do in the city, be sure to have a read over our in-depth Auckland city guide here.
Backpacking Rangitoto Island
A volcanic island off the coast of Auckland, uninhabited by people and a reserve to some of New Zealand’s native birds and bush, Rangitoto is a great place to reconnect with nature while backpacking New Zealand. There are limited ferries to Rangitoto each day at around $30NZD return per person.
No need to book in advance; just pop down to the ferry terminal to buy your ticket. There are multiple hiking loops and plenty of cool caves. Get to the top for sunset and enjoy panoramic views of Auckland and the sea horizon behind you. Make sure you take that last ferry back or you’ll be stranded.
Climb a Volcano in New Zealand
Climb Mount Eden Domain at sunset for a beautiful view over the city and see the Sky tower lit up at night. Take some snacks and some cold beer and watch the city light up. Did you know this is Auckland’s highest volcano?
Backpacking Waiheke Island
There are a couple of islands off the coast of Auckland, this one in particular transports you to a tropical paradise and you’ll forget you were ever in a big city. Only $35NZD return on the ferry, this island is paradise.
White sand beaches, beautiful vineyards, great walking trails and incredibly blue water, this is the perfect place to spend a day. Eating out on the island is expensive, so I would recommend bringing a picnic or barbeque food, or cooking yourself and eating down by the beach.
Possibly my favourite place on the North Island of New Zealand, this cute little hippie/surf town caters well to New Zealand backpackers. Without being massively overrun with tourists, this wee town is known for being one of the best surf and kitesurf beaches in New Zealand and it has a great chilled out vibe. Most people around here will surf and everyone is keen to teach you how.
Board hire is cheap at only around $20NZD and if you stay at a hostel, they will often have discounted lessons available. Definitely CouchSurf here; you will meet some wicked people who will probably have boards, boats, and kayaks that you can borrow!
Only a two-hour drive from Auckland is the Coromandel Peninsula. There are loads of activities making this a wonderful weekend getaway. The white sand beaches are pristine at New Chums Beach and don’t forget to hike up to the overlook for epic views. Hot Water Beach, while not very scenic, is a fun experience to soak in natural hot springs oceanside during low tide. The Karangahake Gorge is very scenic and has some short walking tracks.
The best stop and a must visit in New Zealand, is Cathedral Cove. Come during low tide and preferably at sunrise or sunset. There are only two hostels in Coromandel costing between $30 – $35 for a dorm bed. There are several campsites on the peninsula for around $10.
Rotorua – or the town that smells like farts as most people will refer to it – is actually not as smelly as it is made out to be, but there is LOADS of geothermal activity here. This town is incredibly tourist orientated and backpacker friendly – the whole working part of the town comprises of backpackers. I would recommend CouchSurfing here since the hostels cost quite a bit. If hostels are your only option, Rotorua Central Backpackers is an awesome one in the centre of Rotorua (but check out all of the best hostels in Rotorua here!)
While backpacking here, check out the Wai-O-Tapu National park for all things Geothermal. You can hire a mountain bike and take the trail to the national park or pay for the shuttle service to take you there if you are in a less active mood. Entry to the national park is around $33NZD- slightly pricey but totally worth it and a must do while backpacking New Zealand.
The Redwoods are incredible and you can easily spend a day wandering through the woods, and swinging on vines pretending to be Tarzan. The Green and Blue Lakes are a must see while here, as are the hot pools. You will need a car to reach many of these places in and around Rotorua. I hitchhiked my way around. It was free, easy and because the place is so tourist friendly, it never took long to get a ride.
Read up on the best areas to stay in Rotorua using our comprehensive guide.
Backpacking the East Cape Road
Take a road trip in the spring/summer around the East Peninsula of the North Island. It is beautiful and relatively unexplored by travellers. Rugged coastline, mountainous scenery, beautiful sunrises and plenty of off the beaten track experiences to be had.
One of the must-do stops around the East Cape is the beautiful Te Kaha: a rural area with some of the most unique and friendly homestays! I stayed at the lovely Airbnb property Maraehako Bay Retreat for two nights.
Also in this area is the gorgeous Tatapouri: an incredibly small, local seaside town where you can feed Stingrays, tackle some epic swells with your surfboard, ride horses up the mountains and along the beach or simply sit back and enjoy the views. Some sights to see around the East Cape include the East Cape Lighthouse, which is also the most easterly point in New Zealand.
You can also visit the Tolega Bay area, home of the longest pier in New Zealand and super fun to jump off of. The activities along the East Cape are incredibly backpacker friendly due to the (surprising) poverty in the area with almost all accommodations offering Work for Accommodation options.
Enjoy Sunrise at Blue Duck Station
This is my favourite place in New Zealand to disconnect and get back in touch with nature. The most gorgeous scenery surrounds you and they make the best Goat Curry! This farm is 5200 acres and is leading the way in environmental conservation. A generous portion of land has been given back to nature, ensuring the protection of New Zealand’s native bush and wildlife, such as the Kiwi or Blue Duck. Enjoy bush walks, horse treks, and hunting activities.
Wake up early and witness the most incredible sunrise. I promise you won’t regret it. At $37NZD per night, it’s not the cheapest but it’s worth it. You’ll fall in love with Blue Duck Station and will want to stay longer.
Good thing is they are often looking for WOOFers! You’ll need a 4×4 car to get here though. This is way off the bus route and it would be striking gold if you managed to hitchhike here, but I promise it is worth visiting Blue Duck Station while backpacking New Zealand.
Backpacking Tongariro National Park
This park is New Zealand’s oldest and is also a dual World Heritage site. It is home to the famous ‘Mount Doom’ and of course, the Tongariro Crossing – one of New Zealand’s best day hikes.
There are many LOTR filming sites around here as well as many alternative walks. There is really not much else here other than hiking (tramping) trails. Tackle the mighty Tongariro Crossing (19.4km ouch!) and witness steam coming off the still-active volcano. Iff brave enough, follow in Frodo’s footsteps and climb Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe).
In summer definitely camp in the designated campsites and make sure to look up into the clear night sky. You will see countless stars. The stunning sky will take your breath away. Accommodation here is cheap and backpacker friendly, around $25-$30NZD per night.
While preparing for your hike the small town of Taupo offers many budget accommodation options. Here you can check out this article on the best hostels in Taupo.
Backpacking Mount Taranaki
The most picture-perfect volcano in New Zealand is Mount Taranaki. On a clear day, it can be seen hundreds of kilometers away. This area of the north island has some pretty amazing sights to explore and epic hikes. Climbing Mount Taranaki is one of the hardest hikes in New Zealand, but worth every view.
For an easier hike than the summit, check out the Pouakai Tarns for a stunning picture of Mount Taranaki. Nearby in New Plymouth, the area around the Paritutu Rock is beautiful. Just up the coastline are two incredible places to explore during low tide.
The Three Sisters Beach and Elephant Rock, as well as the White Cliffs walkway, are some of the most scenic coastlines the north island has to offer. Hostels around Mount Taranaki are located in New Plymouth with dorms starting from $25.
While backpacking New Zealand, my favourite city was Wellington. This funky place is great to spend a few nights resting your achy legs from the crossing. Set on the bottom tip of the North Island, you can take the ferry across the strait or fly to the South Island.
Spend your days in Wellington at the Te Papa Museum – free entry and free wifi – one of my favourite museums in the world.
Climb Mount Victoria and enjoy walking through pine forest, escaping the city and taking in the beautiful panoramic views from the top. Wellington is also BIG into LOTR and has plenty of day trips, so super fans, you will adore Wellington!
Read up on the best areas to stay in Wellington using our comprehensive guide.
Check out my 10 best hostels in Wellington post for an epic place to stay while exploring NZ!
Backpacking Franz Josef/Fox Glacier
These two small townships are set amongst incredible mountains on the West Coast, temperate rainforest, and of course, glaciers! The activities here aren’t cheap. Glacier Heli-Hiking attracts people from all over the world and I would say is definitely worth the money (around $400NZD).
This is where I planned to do my Skydive; I mean jumping from 19,000ft with a view of NZ’s highest mountains, glaciers and lakes are not bad, right? Skydiving here ranges from $250NZD – $550NZD depending on the height- go big or go home right?
Give CouchSurfing a try around here because the hostels are pretty pricey ($30-$35NZD per night). Plenty of seasonal staff working here offer couches. Otherwise, check out some of the designated campsites; they are a bit out of town but beautiful and cheap!
Wanaka is home to the most Instagrammed tree in the world – the Wanaka tree. This beautiful lakefront town will make you fall in love with New Zealand (if you aren’t already). Surrounded by unbelievable peaks, beautiful lakes, and forest, Wanaka is a favourite spot for those into photography, hiking or anything chill and creative.
Hike Rob Roys Peak; it is crazy beautiful once at the peak. To get here you will need to hitchhike or drive. Try and do this as early as possible. Hiking in the glaring midday sun is no fun in New Zealand.
Hostels here will be around $25-$30NZD per night but CouchSurfing is easy – often you may find yourself CouchSurfing in empty hostel beds! (But shhh that’s a secret…) Drinks here are pretty cheap and the popularity of food trucks here means that food is getting cheaper too! Save your money for the next stop… Queenstown.
Live like a local and know where the best places to stay in Wanaka are!
Want more options for places to stay? Check out my guide to the 10 best hostels in Wanaka!
Oh, the home of adrenaline! Queenstown is known around the world as adventure capital and it does not disappoint. The list of things to do is never-ending. With so many travel and tour companies operating here, there is always a deal to be found.
Bungee jumping was an activity I never thought I would try, but I was roped into (no pun intended) jumping the Nevis. It was terrifying but so worth it to say I’ve jumped off one of the world’s highest bungee jumping sites. Queenstown is a must do stop when touring the South Island!
To save a bit of money, try CouchSurfing or stay in Franklin outside of Queenstown and hitchhike in. Hitchhiking in and out of town is incredibly common here; you’ll see heaps of people doing it. Hostels here are expensive ($35-$45NZD per night).
Drinking and eating in Queenstown can be as cheap or as expensive as your taste makes it. The famous Ferg Burger is a must do while not breaking the bank! Or you could head to Searle Lane Bar and enjoy cheap drinks and Pizza at happy hour!
Queenstown is not just adrenaline and drunkenness. There are some great walks around here, which will cost nothing but your breath. Ben Lomond is one of highest peaks around Queenstown. It will take you around 7 hours to get up and down, but is so worth it. You could also head up to Queenstown Hill Lake for a beautiful sunset view over The Remarkables.
Backpacking Aoraki / Mount Cook
The tallest mountain in New Zealand is…Mount Cook! And no, you cannot hike it. This national park is center to the stunning Southern Alps mountain range that defines the South Island of New Zealand. Lake Pukaki is a beautiful blue lake with scenic views of the mountains in the background. The drive into Mount Cook National Park winds along the lake with several viewpoints.
Once in the park, there are two valleys to explore, the Hooker Valley and the Tasman Valley. Tasman Lake was once a massive glacier that has receded several kilometers in just the last decade. The Hooker Valley Track is a wonderful easy 3-hour walk to Hooker Lake. Glacier melt floats in the lake beneath the craggy peaks of Mount Cook.
For one of the best hikes in New Zealand, head up to Mueller Hut. This popular day hike takes around five hours, or plan and book a night stay in the hut. These are the best views of Mount Cook and staying for sunset to see the last light on the tallest mountain in New Zealand is truly something special. Staying the night in one of the most scenic (bright red!) huts costs $36.
It is cold, so come prepared, but staying the night in complete silence mixed with thunderous booms from nearby collapsing glaciers is incredible to experience. There are no hostels around Mount Cook. Camping is available in the park for $13 or head over to Lake Tekapo. Stop and check out the Church of Good Shephard, and grab a dorm for $30.
Backpacking Milford Sound
An absolute must do while backpacking New Zealand is visiting the stunning Milford Sound. Part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site, Milford Sound is the best known and most visited Fiord. Cruises are as cheap as $45NZD and well worth it.
Self-drive down and take in the incredible views, the drive is just as beautiful as the destination. I wouldn’t stay overnight in Milford Sound unless you have a campervan (or a lot more money).
If you are not into cruises, try one of the incredible Kayaking trips. Most will offer pick-ups from Te Anau, a small township before Milford Sound. Here you will be spending up to 5hrs (or overnight if your budget stretches) in the beautiful Milford Sound. Check out the guys at GoOrange Kayaks for great trips onto the Fiord.
Stay in the small town of Te Anau, there are plenty of campsites, freedom camping spots and camper parks here. The hostels are reasonably priced but again I would CouchSurf or camp to save money.
Backpacking the Catlins
The Catlins is a large area on the southern coastline of New Zealand. It is mostly uninhabited with coastal rainforest and rugged beaches. Several beaches are home to the rare yellow-eyed penguin among other wildlife. The Catlins are known for several great waterfalls including McLean Falls, Purakaunui Falls, and the Matai Falls.
Not too far up the road is one of the most scenic coastlines overlooks at Nugget Point. It is an easy 10-minute walk to the lighthouse with incredible views of all the rock formations protruding from the ocean floor. There are no hostels in the Catlins, but there are several free campsites near the Catlins for those with a campervan or tent.
Accommodation is not cheap in New Zealand; even hostels are expensive! In the ‘high season’ (summer and in some areas, winter) they will set you back by $35 NZD per night on average for a shared dorm. Only use hostels when absolutely necessary.
CouchSurfing is widely used in New Zealand and a great way to meet new people and locals while backpacking New Zealand. If you are one of the lucky ones with a car, it is possible to sleep in your car in registered campsites with facilities.
Campsites are clearly stated whether you can stay in a ‘non-contained unit’ i.e. no pooper. While there are some free campsites, most charge $6 – $18 NZD. While many people take the risk of ‘freedom camping’ it comes with a hearty fine if you are caught. A camping hammock is a subtle alternative & is far less conspicuous.
Working for accommodation is another option in New Zealand. If you know you are going to be hanging around an area for a while, check with the local hostel/ homestay if they offer Work for Accommodation service. You may have to give up 2-3hrs of your time each day, but you’ll get your accommodation for free.
I worked on a farm in New Zealand for 10 weeks as an Au Pair and farm hand. Not only was my accommodation free but I also had free food thrown in. Plus, my boss gave me access to a car to use when I wanted, which meant I could explore so much more!
You’ll find Kiwi’s are incredibly generous when it comes to opening their doors to you. You could also rent a lovely Airbnb property and if you’re a couple without a campervan, this is often the best way to go. If you are open to exploring New Zealand in a van, check out this article by Beanies and Bikinis for inspiration.
|Location||Hostel||Why we like it?!|
|Auckland||Verandahs Backpacker Lodge||This cute 1900's hostel is nestled in the heart of the city. The verandahs is a great hangout spot & you have an incredible view of Auckland harbour!|
|Waiheke Island||Waiheke Backpackers Hostel||Amazing location right above Onetangi Beach with stunning sea views. BBQ deck overlooking the ocean.|
|Raglan||Solscape Eco Retreat||A nature lovers dream, nestled at the bottom of Mt Karioi & overlooking the Tasman Sea. Near surf at Ngaranui Beach & Manu Bay. This hostel is all about reducing your ecological footprint & living sustainability.|
|Rotorua||Funky Green Voyager||This hostel is environmentally friendly & has an awesome backpackers vibe. The social areas are great, it's got a beautiful big backyard with a BBQ. Plus if you want to save money on food, it's got a modern kitchen.|
|Gisborne (East Cape)||YHA Gisborne||Perfect location surrounded by stunning beaches, the harbour, cafes & nightclubs.|
|Tongariro||YHA National Park Backpackers||An outdoor junkies' paradise with its own indoor climbing wall. It's located on the doorstep of Tongariro National Park & even provides transport to & from Tongariro Alpine Crossing & surroundings.|
|Wellington||The Dwellington Hostel||Great social scene with half the area dedicated to common areas. There's a chef style kitchen, long dining table, TV, games room & chilled outdoor areas. WiFi is free & so is breakfast!|
|Fox Glacier||Ivory Towers Backpackers Lodge||You know it's a good hostel when it has a spa & sauna! If you're going to cook, the kitchen has free tea, sugar herbs and spices and oil. Chill by the wood fire on a cold night, get social & play some games or amuse yourself with the big TV & their hundreds of movies.|
|Wanaka||YHA Purple Cow||This hostel is located in the stunning alpine village of Lake Wanaka. They have a free pool table, sky TV, movies, BBQ & fireplace. You can book adventure activities like skydiving, canyoning, rock climbing etc here!|
|Queenstown||Adventure Q2 Hostel||Right in the heart of the city, close to the nightlife & across the road from The Village Green.|
Top Things to Do in New Zealand
1. Hike in the Mountains
You have so many options for hiking in New Zealand. Make sure to visit Mt Cook National Park if you want to go big!
2. Go Bungee Jumping
This is the country bungee jumping was invented in, after-all. With so many beautiful places to jump, you’d be a fool not to jump off a bridge! (Plus, this is New Zealand, so really you should feel safest here.)
3. Watch a Rugby Game
Rugby Union is NZ’s national game, and the All Blacks are infamous. If your schedule coincides with one of the games, do not miss New Zealand’s national sport!
4. Catch your Jaw Dropping at the Tongariro Crossing
This area of New Zealand is absolutely breathtaking, and an outdoor lover’s paradise.
5. Splurge on a Glacier Heli-Hiking Excursion
We’re not going to say this is cheap, but this is one of those once-and-a-lifetime experiences.
6. Wash Down your Dinner with a Beer or 12 in Wellington
This hip, cool and windy city is famous for its amazing food scene (more restaurants per head than NYC!) and emerging craft brew.
7. Cycle along Central Otago
All you bikers out there have to get to this area to cycle along the Otago Central Rail Trail through beautiful landscapes and old mining towns. Balance the fitness with numerous historic pub stops or vineyards!
8. Kayak the Milford Sound
This part of New Zealand has waterfalls, staggering cliffs and peaks, and dark cobalt waters. It rains most of the year, so enjoy the moody vibes if you don’t get a sunny day. Keep your eyes peeled for seals and dolphins!
9. Drive around New Zealand in a Campervan
This actually isn’t as expensive as it sounds, and the best way to see New Zealand is by campervan! You will need to have at least $3,000 to buy a van, but after you’re done, you can hopefully sell the van close to the amount you paid for it. Plus, a van will allow you total freedom in New Zealand and the ability to camp versus stay in more expensive hostels and hotels.
10. Live in New Zealand
Many countries are able to get a year-long work visa for New Zealand. This means you can work for several months, and travel afterward with the money you saved up!
Below we have covered essential information on New Zealand, including when to travel to New Zealand, how to get around, and what costs you should expect, as well as how to backpack New Zealand on a budget.
Books to Read while Travelling New Zealand
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
Lonely Planet New Zealand – Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots. Get to the heart of New Zealand with the Lonely Planet.
Squashed Possums – Check out this cool little book and explore New Zealand’s off the beaten track backpacking gems.
Field Guide to the Wildlife of New Zealand – This glorious photographic field guide illustrates New Zealand’s glorious wildlife. A must read for a nature lover backpacking New Zealand.
The Penguin History of New Zealand – Did you know that New Zealand was the last country in the world to be discovered by man? Find out about the history of New Zealand.
Explore New Zealand – A great choice for someone who chooses a driving holiday to discover the stunning diversity of New Zealand. The book has 61 routes in total, and each contains a detailed map and full-colour photography that illustrates some of the highlights of that particular trip.
The Bone People – Winner of the Booker Prize in 1985, The Bone People is the story of Kerewin, a despairing part-Maori artist who is convinced that her solitary life is the only way to face the world. This novel speaks about New Zealand’s people, its heritage, and landscape with great perceptiveness. A great read to understand the culture from an insider’s perspective.
A Land of two Halves – After ten years in New Zealand, Joe Bennett asks himself what on earth he was doing there and begins to explore the reasons New Zealand is quietly seducing the rest of the world. An intriguing read.
The Changeover – An interesting supernatural romance, it’s great for a light read on a long haul trip.
Staying Safe in New Zealand
I almost feel silly writing about safety in New Zealand, considering New Zealand is consistently ranked as the most peaceful nation in the world. Crime rates are extremely low, and hitchhiking here is extremely safe!
Therefore, when we talk about staying safe in New Zealand, we are referring to the unpredictable weather in New Zealand while you’re out doing adventurous things like trekking, climbing, surfing, and diving. Don’t underestimate nature, and invest in proper footwear, camping gear, and a raincoat if you plan to be out in the National Parks a lot.
Secondly, the sun is strong. New Zealand’s clear, unpolluted atmosphere and relatively low latitudes produce sunlight stronger than much of Europe or North America. Always wear a hat and sunscreen.
Oh, and watch out for the sheep while driving.
Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking New Zealand and other destinations.
Also, I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp, especially if you’re camping in New Zealand – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.
Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll in New Zealand
Kiwi girls are some of the most beautiful, friendly & down to earth chicks you’ll meet when backpacking. Typically they love to have fun, drink & party, it goes the same with the lads. Word on the street is that girls love foreign accents & many backpacking babes love the look of the Maori men.
You can come across weed, ecstasy & MDMA if you look in the right places & ask the right people. The consequences are hefty if you’re caught! It’s not like South East Asia where you can bribe your way out of trouble, so be careful especially on public transport as they often do sniffer dog sweeps particularly before a big festival.
For tips on how to stay safe whilst getting fucked up, check out Blazed Backpackers 101.
Insurance for your New Zealand backpacking Adventure
Be sure to get travel insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking trip to New Zealand, especially with its high adrenaline activities and crazy adventure sports. I highly recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
What to Pack for New Zealand
On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
4. Headtorch: Every backpacker should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp – an awesome piece of kit! Because it’s USB chargeable I never have to buy earth polluting batteries.
5.Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
6. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Best Time to Travel to New Zealand
December to February marks high season (and summer) in New Zealand. These are the busiest months for the beaches, hiking, and outdoor exploration. There are plenty of festivals and events going on too. This is also the most expensive time to travel to New Zealand.
The ski towns also experience high season in winter (June to August).
Your best bet for backpacking New Zealand on a budget is to visit during shoulder season, so March to May, and September to November. The weather is still great, and you’re going to get less crowds and better deals. Outside of the ski towns, winter in New Zealand is a cheap time to visit as well, though the beach towns will be cold and sleepy.
Apps to Download Before Travelling to New Zealand
Download the following apps as you go backpacking through New Zealand.
Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favourite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking New Zealand, especially out on the trail.
XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking New Zealand. It is a great help while calculating expenses.
HIDE.ME – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
CamperMate – This amazing app is a must for anyone camping or with a campervan in New Zealand. It has information on every campsite, costs, and user comments. There is also heaps of additional information such as public restrooms, free showers, supermarkets, and petrol stations. The app is free for IOS and Android users.
New Zealand Travel Guide to Getting Around
The two easiest airports to fly into are Auckland on the north island and Christchurch on the south island. Since New Zealand is an island (well two) you will have to fly here!
Auckland will most likely have the cheapest flights, and it’s easy to catch a domestic flight from here.
Visa Requirements for Backpacking New Zealand
I told you New Zealand was easy right? Well, a Visitor Visa (for most nationalities) is obtained on arrival. Entering as a visitor, you must have proof of onward travel exiting the country and you may even be asked for proof of funds to support yourself while you are here – the good thing is credit cards count as proof of sufficient funds!
The cost of a Visitor Visa you ask? If you are a UK citizen absolutely nothing! And you can stay for up to 6 months.
Want to stay longer? Many nationalities have access to a Working Holiday Visa. For UK Citizens under 31 years old, this is around £115 and you can stay for up to a year. It’s free for Americans. Best of all, you can legally find work, which is very handy if you find yourself needing to replenish your backpacking funds.
How to Travel in New Zealand
Whilst backpacking New Zealand you will basically be using one main highway road on both islands. Along this are all the ‘main points of interests’. The best way to get around New Zealand is definitely by car. There are multiple rental companies within New Zealand. Depending on your budget, there are endless options in regards to the type of vehicle you can rent.
A lot of the places you will want to visit are not accessible by bus: national parks, starting points for hiking, small surf towns etc.
You can book a rental car before you arrive so that it is waiting for you at the airport. Easy as! Often, car rentals are actually cheaper when you pick up/ drop off at the airport in Auckland (or Queenstown). Booking ahead is crucial to ensuring you get the lowest price and your choice of vehicle.
Make sure you also purchase a RentalCover.com policy to cover your vehicle against any common damages such as tires, windscreens, theft, and more at a fraction of the price you would pay at the rental desk.
A campervan is even more convenient than a car, but this comes with a higher upfront price tag. Buying a car or campervan in New Zealand has its benefits, but also comes with risks. If you are backpacking in New Zealand for a while, it makes sense to buy a vehicle. There are several important steps to take to make sure you do not get ripped off. The last thing you want is a hunk of crap and several thousands of dollars down the toilet bowl!
If you are planning to use buses, Intercity often have the best prices for point-to-point journeys and super friendly bus drivers!
Uber is hands down the best way to get around cities.
How to Buy a Campervan in New Zealand
Backpacker cars and vans are seasonal. When a rush of backpackers arrives in early and mid-summer, the buying frenzy is on and prices go up. Likewise, just before winter, backpackers are trying to offload their vehicles, sometimes finding themselves without a buyer, and begging for a quarter of the price they purchased it for.
When you are buying a car or campervan, your best option is finding a car on TradeMe. Facebook groups and backpacker forums have tons of cars, but finding a good one is like finding a needle in a haystack. Prices can range from $2,000 NZD for a station wagon, $4,000 NZD for a whiz banger campervan, or up to $8,000 NZD for a high-end self-contained campervan.
While a campervan is more comfortable for sleeping, a station wagon is a great alternative. They are fuel efficient and have a much higher resale value (because Kiwis want them too!).
Make sure to get a vehicle pre-inspection, ensure it has a valid WOF, and run a vehicle history report to make sure it is not stolen or money is owed.
Lastly, unless you plan to relocate to New Zealand and live in your car forever, you will need to sell it one day. Take good pictures when the car is clean, and before you show the vehicle to someone, clean it again. You would be surprised by what a good cleaning can do to help sell your car.
A huge part of the attraction of backpacking New Zealand is exploring the truly gorgeous roads and making spontaneous stops. Sadly on a bus you can’t just ask the driver to stop, so you might miss incredible photo ops and jaw-dropping scenery.
An alternative to buying a car is to sign up to TransferCarNZ, here you can get free one-way car/camper rentals. How? The companies need the cars transferred back to the busiest hubs and why pay someone when backpackers will do it for free!
Campervan Hire in New Zealand
If you are short on time or just want to make an epic few week road trip around New Zealand, you can hire a campervan.
A New Zealand road trip in a campervan is bound to be one of the best experiences of your life! Trust me! I strongly recommend going with Wicked Campers. They have the reputation of being one of the lowest-price campervan rental companies in NZ. Check them out!
Take a look at my ultimate guide to campervanning in New Zealand here.
Hitchhiking in New Zealand
Kiwis are some of the nicest people on the planet, and hitchhiking in New Zealand is safe and easy!
You may have trouble, however, in very remote areas or around the National Parks.
Onwards Travel From New Zealand
Since New Zealand is surrounded by water, there aren’t any common places to travel next. That being said, when I research flights from New Zealand many South Pacific Islands have pretty cheap flights, such as the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Tahiti, especially when you compare them to the USA or Europe when a round trip flight is upwards of $1,500 plus!
Many long-term travellers will hop over to Australia for travel and work. You can also get to South East Asia by flight, where all that money you saved working in New Zealand will stretch much farther.
In some cases, you can actually make reservations online for transport in and out of New Zealand. By using an online resource, like 12Go, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and maybe even some cash. Check it out!
I made no solid plans for New Zealand. In fact, my research of the country pretty much consisted of binge watching Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit films. New Zealand is beginning to boom as a backpacking destination. With easy entry requirements, generous visa lengths, and some of the best hiking and scenery in the world, combined with adrenaline fuelled activities, backpacking New Zealand is an experience with something for everybody.
Despite the backpacker boom, New Zealand, in general, is a pretty pricey country to travel in. Kiwi reputation and hospitality, however, never fails to disappoint. With some of the nicest people in the world, hitchhiking, home stays, CouchSurfing and WOOFing are a backpacker’s best friend when trying to travel the country on the cheap.
Basically you can backpack New Zealand for less than $50 a day if you hitchhike, couchsurf and participate in WOOFing, and don’t participate in adraneline activities, like skydiving, bungee jumping, and helicopter rides!
Food and drinks are expensive in New Zealand due to their geographical location, and high demand for New Zealand grown food in Asia. Plan to cook on your own a lot to save some cash, but keep in mind even groceries cost more here than back home.
As for transportation, we’ve already touched on hithchiking throughout the post. It’s the cheapest way to go, and easy too. Buses are the next cheapest way to get around, though they’re less convenient. Renting a car will cost you signifanctly more, but it’s worth doing so if you only have a couple weeks and want to see a lot of the country. If you have a couple months or more, I highly suggest paying for a car or van upfront and selling it after your journey. You may end up breaking even! (Though don’t depend on it).
The good news is that, while there are pretty expensive activities in New Zealand, there are also plenty of free ones, like hiking, going to the beach, bathing in hot springs, and visiting waterfalls and other beautiful scenery.
Money in New Zealand
At the moment, 1 NZD = .73 USD / .59 EUR / .95 AUD (April 2018)
Credit cards are widely accepted, and ATMs are widely available in New Zealand; just watch out for international fees. Travel with a travel specific debit or credit card to avoid these!
Top Tips for Broke Backpackers
To keep your spending to an absolute minimum whilst backpacking New Zealand I recommend sticking to these three rules of budget adventuring….
Camp/ CouchSurf: With plenty of gorgeous natural places to camp at as well as numerous campsites, New Zealand is an excellent place to carry a tent – Check out this post for a breakdown of the best tents to take backpacking. If you’re craving some company or local experience, jump on CouchSurfing or Airbnb. You could also give organic farming a hand and try WOOFing your way around New Zealand.
Cook your own food: Carry a pocket rocket stove on your backpacking trip. If you’re not too keen on trying the local food, whip up some quick meals and save a fortune! Check out this post for a full breakdown of the best stoves to take backpacking.
Pack your bible: Learn how to travel the world on $10 a day whilst you get your shit sorted, discover the secrets to longterm travel and build an online income. Check it out here.
Hitchhike: Hitchhike your way around. Kiwis are known for their amazing hospitality. It would be a shame not to give it a shot. Hitchhiking in New Zealand is the best way to keep your transport costs down so you can spend more on adventure activities.
Pack a travel water bottle and save money every day!
Joining an Organized Tour in New Zealand
For most countries, New Zealand included, solo travel is the name of the game. That said, if you are short on time, energy, or just want to be part of an awesome group of travelers you can opt to join an organized tour. Joining a tour is a great way to see a majority of the country quickly and without the effort that goes into planning a backpacking trip. However—not all tour operators are created equal—that is for sure.
G Adventures is a solid down-to-earth tour company catering to backpackers just like you, and their prices and itineraries reflect the interests of the backpacker crowd. You can score some pretty sweet deals on epic trips in New Zealand for a fraction of the price of what other tour operators charge.
Check out some of their awesome itineraries for New Zealand here…
Volunteering in New Zealand
Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in New Zealand whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.
In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.
Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.
Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves – check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.
If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $20. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $29.
Travel New Zealand for Free
Are you a native English speaker looking to earn cash whilst traveling the world? Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know tostart teaching English online.
In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online,TEFL coursesopen up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report onteaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses withMyTEFL(simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Internet in New Zealand
New Zealand allows you to be as connected or disconnected as you want. In the main towns, you’ll find no problem to grab four bars of signal. But wander a little off the beaten track and you’ll find yourself without any signal at all. The cheapest and easiest way to stay connected in New Zealand is with a local Sim Card. Grab a free 2degrees travellers SIM at the airport and top it up with $20NZD and choose the best pre-paid plan for you.
WiFi is pretty common throughout New Zealand, and most hostels and home stays will offer WiFi; however, it often comes at a price and is not cheap (or fast). Free WiFi is offered at certain hotspots around cities, on buses, and in some cafes/bars, but you will often have a limit in time or download usage, so don’t expect to Skype for long! The best signal is found on the North Island of New Zealand around Auckland.
Must Try Experiences in New Zealand
People in New Zealand
As Peter Jackson once described, “New Zealand is not a small country, but a large village.” Kiwis are always ready to help you out wherever possible, whether it is telling you about the best place to sit and watch the sunset while you devour fish ’n’ chips, or driving you out of their way to get you where you need to go.
On my travels in New Zealand, I have been consistently amazed at just how kind and fun the Kiwis can be – strangers will open up their homes so you don’t get fined for sleeping in your car or will invite you out for a drink. Kiwis are a huge blessing to anyone backpacking New Zealand and known for being some the friendliest people in the world.
Food in New Zealand
Maybe food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of backpacking New Zealand, but actually prepare to be amazed (at both the taste and your empty wallet).
New Zealand has fresh seafood and farmers market fruits and veggies, over 50 markets throughout the country to get your produce on. You can find all sorts of dining experiences and great coffee, craft beer, and wine straight from the local vineyards.
New Zealand Regional Dishes and Foods
Maori hangi: This is involves meat and vegetables slow-cooked in an underground oven.
Boil-Ups: A popular dish in Maori communities, these are cooked by boiling different ingredients together like a soup.
Seafood: From lobster and fish, to sea urchin, New Zealanders consume a lot of seafood!
Paua: A large sea snail seafood delicacy.
Whitebait Fritter: A delicacy in New Zealand and currently demands the highest price of any fish in the country.
Fish ‘N Chips: See, I told you the Kiwis love seafood! Though originally from England, this is a popular dish in New Zealand.
Kiwi Burger: Beetroot and fried egg along with your standard burger patties
Pavlova: A desert in New Zealand made with meringue, whipped cream and fruit.
Manuka Honey: Highly sought-after honey internationally due to acclaimed medicinal purposes.
Hiking in New Zealand
If hiking is your thing, you will quickly realize why Kiwis throw on their gators and massive hiking boots to hit the mountains whenever they can.
The most popular hikes in New Zealand are the Nine Great Walks. These hikes have world-class infrastructure, comfortable huts, and are all good hikes for beginners. Hut reservations are required in advance, and bunks cost between $32 and $70 NZD per night depending on the hike. Of the nine walks, the best ones are the Milford Sound Track, the Routeburn Track, the Kepler Track, and the Tongariro Northern Circuit.
Check out this post for a comprehensive guide on the Nine Great Walks of New Zealand.
While these are the most popular, don’t be worried if you didn’t score a reservation. There are even better hikes in New Zealand! Getting into the backcountry, or tramping as the Kiwis call it, has advantages of smaller crowds and more serious hiking. For experienced hikers, you cannot go wrong with your pick of the Travers-Sabine circuit to Blue Lake, the Copeland Track, Mount Brewster, Gillespie’s Pass, or the best hike in New Zealand, the Cascade Saddle.
If venturing into the mountains is not your thing, it is still worth checking out some of the incredible day hikes in New Zealand. These are easily accessible, which means they are also popular and will likely be busy, especially during the peak summer tourist season. The best day hikes in New Zealand for beginners are Diamond Lake, Key Summit, Roy’s Peak, Isthmus Peak and Lake Marian. For a more advanced hike, check out Mount Taranaki, Mueller Hut, Ben Lomond, Gertrude’s Saddle, and Avalanche Peak.
Brief History of New Zealand
While the Dutch explored New Zealand first, the British were the ones to colonize New Zealand in the 1800s.
M?ori came under increasing pressure to sell their land for settlement. This led to conflict and in the 1860s, and war broke out in the North Island. While the North Island experienced a series of wars, the less-populous South Island remained relatively peaceful with only one Treaty-related armed conflict.
Around the same time, many aspects of life on the south island allowed New Zealand to flourish early. The Otago region was experiencing a major gold rush, and Dunedin became the country’s wealthiest city. Sheep farming was established on extensive grasslands. Railways were built and towns sprang up or expanded.
In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women the vote. State pensions and state housing for workers were also offered first in New Zealand.
New Zealand became independent in 1907.
Being a Responsible Backpacker in New Zealand
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.
Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.
Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.
Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.
Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.
Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
You are most likely backpacking New Zealand for the beautiful scenery. Do your effort to keep it that way! Don’t use one-time use plastic, including straws, plastic bottles and bags. Use a Grayl Geopress. Refill at your hostel! Bring a reusable bag. Say no to straws. There are plenty of ways to reduce plastic!!!
Final Thoughts on Backpacking New Zealand
If this budget guide hasn’t convinced you to get off your ass and go backpacking in New Zealand, you gotta be nuts! New Zealand is home to some of the most spectacular and dramatic scenery in the world, as well as some of the friendliest people in the world!
Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible for FREE!
Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.
Need More Inspiration?
- The Best Hostels in Auckland
- Best Hostels in New Zealand
- Where to Stay in Auckland: No Nonsense Neighborhood Guide
- Campervanning in New Zealand
- Honest Review of Hostels in Queenstown
- Backpacking East Coast Australia Travel Guide
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Janey Mae is an avid thrill seeker, mountain lover and adventure addict. She frequently gets lost in concrete jungles but successfully navigates underwater or the ‘real life’ jungle. She is the Master of truth or dare and slightly obsessed with David Attenborough. She’ll never politely decline food; offer it up at your own peril. A spontaneous vagabond, she has temporary homes but permanent friends all over the world. She is ridiculously laid back, makes friends with anyone, has endless energy and a permanent smile. Having posed with more strangers in photos than family, she may excitedly combust over wildlife (in the wild), adrenaline activities, wilderness, off the grid hikes and crazy scary mountains.