Kia ora, mate! I imagine you’re here because you’re on your way to a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the mystical land at the bottom of the planet. Otherwise known as New Zealand, Aotearoa, or the land of the long white cloud… 

Known for its sheep, majestic mountains, All Blacks, beaches, campervanning, Maori culture, and Kiwis (the people, the fruit and the birds). This little set of islands will blow your mind.

New Zealand welcomes the adventurous, the brave, the broke, and everyone in between. It won’t take long for New Zealand to fill you up with fish ‘n’ chips and ease you onto the long list of travellers who will tell you that “New Zealand’s the best country they’ve ever been to”. 

Once you get under the hood of this magical land, there’s no turning back. Literally, you’ll probably end up buying a campervan and living in New Zealand forever… 

I backpacked New Zealand with a year-long visa and felt a bit like Bilbo Baggins: it was to be a hobbit’s journey! I’ve spent more than six months exploring this INCREDIBLE land and I am completely and utterly in love with it. 

I’ve bundled up all of my knowledge into this neat little koha: a one-stop New Zealand travel guide. It’s brimming with budget tips and travel hacks to make your time in New Zealand mean as! From cheap places to stay and epic hiking spots to the less exciting (but very important bits) like visas and insurance. 

So, grab a pen and paper (you’ll want to remember this stuff) and let’s go backpacking New Zealand together.

Audy and Will at Hobbiton in New Zealand
We’re going – on an adventure!
Photo: @willhatton__

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Why 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. Travelling in New Zealand is every outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Made up of two islands, your adventures are infinite.

The two islands do stand in noticeable contrast to each other. It’s fair to say that everywhere in New Zealand is mindbogglingly beautiful (except Auckland – curse you Auckland). That said, travelling on New Zealand’s North and South Islands are two different experience. That’s what makes deciding where to stay in New Zealand a real struggle.

  • North Island is much more populated (by New Zealand standards). There are a lot more developments and urban areas and while there are still many of New Zealand’s beautiful places, it lacks the uncut, untamed, and unabashed glory we’ve come to expect from Aotearoa.
  • That’s what South Island is for. Near empty of people by comparison – and it only gets emptier the further south you go – South Island brings New Zealand’s best. Dramatic prehistoric scenery, endless oceans of sheep and cows, and the feeling of being outside of the world’s chaos: South Island is the tits.
Looking out over the glacier covered mountains with a small lake in the foreground outside of Queenstown, New Zealand.
Prepare for a lot of spectacular landscape shots.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

It doesn’t stop there. Before I left backpacking for New Zealand, my cousin equated the landscape to biomes in a video game (weird, yes, I know, but bear with me). He was right.

Travel 100 km in New Zealand and the whole landscape changes. A rugged coastline turns into glacier country turns into Colorado-esque boulder playgrounds. New Zealand is a playground of wonderment.

And that’s just one of many reasons to visit New Zealand

Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking New Zealand

Lots of New Zealand’s attractiveness builds from its plentiful and well-guarded national parks. There is so much variety, however, that whether you’re hitchhiking or planning a road trip, you’ll need an itinerary… Or two! One itinerary to highlight the North Island, and the other to highlight the South Island.

You can easily combine both itineraries if you have a month or more to travel in New Zealand. Many travellers backpack here on a year-long work visa. If that is the case, you have plenty of time to explore New Zealand’s beauty.

2-Week Itinerary for New Zealand: The North Island – Te Ika-a-Maui

Backpacking NZ Itinerary 1
1. Auckland, 2. Rotorua, 3. Tongariro National Park, 4. Wellington, 5. Mount Taranaki, 6. Waitomo Caves 7. Raglan

This itinerary will start in Auckland. If you’re a city person, you can definitely find plenty of things to do in Auckland – 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 used to film 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 bike and New Zealand’s great walks.

Next stop: a stay in Wellington, the cool, hipster capital of New Zealand known for its food, drink, and art. If you’re a wino, drive through Hawke’s Bay Wine Country on your way to Wellington.

After visiting 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, the hippy beachside slow-town of North Island.

Check Out Some of the Best Hostels on New Zealand’s North Island!

3-Week Itinerary New Zealand: The South Island – Te Waipounamu

Backpacking NZ Itinerary 2
1. Christchurch, 2. Kaikoura, 3. Picton, 4. Abel Tasman National Park, 5. Whaririki Beach, 6. Punakaiki, 7. Franz Josef Glacier, 8. Wanaka, 9. Queenstown 10. Milford Sound, 11. The Catlins

Get ready to be wowed. If you’re backpacking New Zealand for nature, this South Island itinerary for you. Find a cheap place to stay in Christchurch, but then move on – Christchurch isn’t worth a long visit.

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 on a wine tour in New Zealand. Picton is a naint 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-ri-ree-kee’) – squeezed between Abel Tasman and Kahurangi National Park – and will take you through wonderful hippy-haven 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.

The famous Wanaka tree - popular photo spot on South Island
Bless this tree.

Next is off to Franz Josef Glacier to witness the world’s steepest and fastest moving glacier. After that, continue on for a stay in bohemian Wanaka, also known for its famous tree in the middle of a lake.

Wanaka is close to senstown and it’s only a short trip between the two. When you’re ready to leave darling Wanaka (never), travel an hour down the road and stay in Queenstown. New Zealand’s adventure and backpacker capital there’s heaps to do in Queenstown: ski in winter, hike in summer, bungee jump or skydive all-year-round, and party every goddamn night!

Saving the best for last, get ready to make the Milford drive to Milford Sound. After being gobsmacked by Rudyard Kipling’s “Eighth Wonder of the World” over and over again, finish South Island in New Zealand’s own Deep South.

Travel to the Southern Scenic Route and the Caitlins to see some astounding forests and windswept coastline.

Best Places to Visit in New Zealand

Now that we’ve covered the travel itinerary ideas, we’re going to discuss some of the best places to go in New Zealand. Read on for more backpacking wonders!

Backpacking Auckland

Most backpackers start in Auckland – it’s the starting point for a lot of people travelling to New Zealand. This North Island 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. It’s busy and it’s certainly not the best New Zealand has to offer, but it is worth noting that there are some beautiful places to visit in Auckland in the surrounding area (away from the CBD).

A lot of tours kick off from Auckland, like the Hobbiton movie set tour. You’ll get to see Hobbiton holes first-hand, grab a drink from The Green Dragon Inn and drive through breath-taking natural scenery along the Waikato River. What would a trip to New Zealand be without taking a selfie in front of Bilbo Baggin’s green door anyway?

Visit the sky tower for some views over the city, or kickstart your adrenaline by jumping off the top! If you are willing to get out of the city, there is plenty to do. The forests to the west are way more inviting than the city vibes or head to the North Shore for some beach time!

Backpacking Rangitoto and Waiheke Island

There are a number of islands around Auckland to explore and it’s as simple as catching the ferry there! No need to book in advance; just pop down to the ferry terminal to buy your ticket. These two spots near Auckland are definitely worth the day trip:

thorne bay in auckland, new zealand at sunrise looking over to rangitoto island
Auckland? Whaaat?
Photo: @danielle_wyatt
  • Rangitoto Island ($36 NZD return) – A volcanic island off the coast of Auckland, Rangitoto is uninhabited by people and a reserve to some of New Zealand’s native birds and bush. There are multiple hiking loops and plenty of cool caves to explore. 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 though or you’ll be stranded.
  • Waiheke Island ($42 NZD return) – 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. It’s the perfect next place to go in New Zealand after Auckland to detox those concrete jungle feels!

Backpacking Northland

Before you completely bail on Auckland and start heading south, there’s a whole region north of Auckland. It’s kinda like Game of Thrones in reverse. Auckland is a big dumb wall (that ruins hitchhiker’s days) and north of it, you have the land of eternal summer.

cape brett hike in the bay of islands, new zealand
Cape Brett – Bay of Islands
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

Although not strictly off of New Zealand’s tourist spots, it is fair to say that it’s lesser explored. There are fewer people up here and more empty space of some rather striking nature. It’s kinda like the South Island of North Island. There’s also more ice – I guess it is like Game of Thrones!

For a few of New Zealand’s top highlights in Northland (on and off the tourist trail):

  • Whangarei – The last city you’ll get heading north with a gorgeous surrounding area – beautiful beaches and a bunch of small but sexy mountains (it’s not the size that counts).
  • Bay of Islands – Easily the biggest tourist spot in the north of New Zealand but with good reason: it’s spectacularly beautiful with a lot of cool islands to explore.
  • Waipoua Kauri Forest – Did somebody say a 3000-year-old tree? The kauri trees here are magnificent and the giant snails ain’t bad either (though he dead ones stink worse than Rotorua). Do note though, the ancient forest here is dying of the kauri dieback disease so follow all the guidelines.
  • Far North – Pretty much anywhere you go this far north is going to be a much less touristic New Zealand backpacking experience.
  • Cape Reinga / Te Rerenga Wairua – The almost northernmost point of New Zealand, there’s like a whole section I could write on this magical place. It’s arguably the most sacred place in all of New Zealand for the Maori people the air feels palpably otherworldly. Y’know, no spoilers: go find out the rest for yourself!

Backpacking Raglan

If it wasn’t for an even more awesome hippy town coming up soon (in the south), this would be the top sticky place in New Zealand to visit for backpackers seeking those Byron-style vibes. This cute little hippie/surf town caters well to New Zealand backpackers.

It is touristy but it draws a good kind of tourist – the earthy backpacking joint-rolling kind. Raglan 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 definitely be surfing (probs playing backgammon too) and everyone is keen to teach you how.

A peeling wave of the beach in Raglan, North Island
There’s real magic in Raglan… is what a hippy-Krishna lady told me.

Surfboard rental is kinda expensive at about $20-$30 NZD for a half-day but if you stay at a hostel in Raglan, they will often have discounted lessons and board hire available. Definitely try meeting someone through Couchsurfing here; you will meet some wicked people who will probably have boards, boats, and kayaks that you can borrow!

Backpacking Coromandel

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.

dani and friends at new chums beach in the coromandel, new zealand
Chums at new chums.
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

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, however, there are several campsites on the peninsula itself for around $10.

Backpacking Rotorua

Rotorua – or the town that smells like farty-egg-feet as most people will refer to it –  is actually not as smelly as it is made out to be… Ok, that’s a lie. But it’s still definitely a must-visit place in New Zealand!

There is LOADS of geothermal activity here. This town is incredibly tourist orientated and backpacker-friendly – the main backpacker area of Rotura – the working side of town – is full of travellers! There are also heaps of New Zealand’s adventure activities in the area making it a rival to Queenstown… except Queenstown doesn’t smell like a fish’s butthole.

There are loads of places for you to stay, including hostels, hotels, Airbnbs and motels in Rotorua. However, as is often the case when backpacking New Zealand, they don’t always come cheap.

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.

A steaming geothermal pool in Rotorua - popular attraction on North Island
Still smells better than the dorm room!

While backpacking here, check out the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland for all things Geothermal. You can hire a mountain bike and take the trail to the park or pay for the shuttle service to take you there if you are in a less active mood. Entry to the park is around $33 NZD – 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 but hitchhiking is a snap in New Zealand.

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 a chance to experience being off New Zealand’s beaten track.

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 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 of New Zealand’s epic swell with your surfboard, and enjoy the view from horseback or a deckchair. 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. There are heaps of activities along New Zealand’s East Cape and the area is incredibly backpacker-friendly given its removal from the rest of the tourist trail; volunteering opportunities are high!

Backpacking Tongariro National Park

Skip ahead to see more of New Zealand’s wealth of national parks in a later section, but this one deserves special mention. This park is New Zealand’s oldest and is also a dual World Heritage site both for its geological significance as well as its spiritual significance to the Maori people.

Tongariro National Park on the North Island is one of New Zealand’s most famous Lord of the Rings filming spots. It is home to the famous ‘Mount Doom’ and of course, the Tongariro Crossing – a ‘Great Walk’ one of New Zealand’s best day hikes.

If you head to this area in winter, you’ll want to pack your ski boots as this area is home to Mount Ruapehu which is the top ski spot in the north island.

view over snowy mountains from mount ruapehu, tongariro national park, new zealand
Bluebird day up Mount Ruapehu.
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

There are many LOTR filming locations around here as well as many alternative walks but not much else other than hiking (tramping) trails.

Tackle the mighty Tongariro Crossing (19.4km ) and witness steam coming off the still-active volcano. If you’re brave enough, follow in Frodo’s footsteps and climb Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom).

Staying in Taupo offers an excellent base for exploring the park. It’s a super beautiful lake and as an added bonus there are free hot springs to melt the weariness away after the walk! Head to the Spa Thermal Park.

Backpacking Mount Taranaki

The most picture-perfect volcano in New Zealand is Mount Taranaki; on a clear day, it can be seen from hundreds of kilometres away. This area of the North Island has some pretty amazing sights to explore and epic hikes. Climbing Mount Taranaki is one of New Zealand’s harder hikes to do but the pay-off is well worth it.

dani climbing mount egmont, taraknai, new zealand
Hike your booty up Mt Egmont. It’s tough but incredible
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

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. As with most major attractions in New Zealand, there are plenty of hostels in New Plymouth as well as other accommodations.

Backpacking Wellington

Backpacking around Wellington was my absolute favourite city-adventure in New Zealand. 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 pretty cheap from Wellington.

The city is super warm and carries a real alternative-friendly vibe. Hippies, travellers, LGBTQ folks, lovable guttertrash… Welly carries a genuine feeling of acceptance that usually feels more like a pretend mask in a lot of other “progressive” cities elsewhere.

View of the harbour from Wellington's waterfront
I love this city.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

If you have the time or have that wonderful working holiday visa for New Zealand, Wellington is easily a place to stay for a while. The surrounding nature is dope, the city has a lot of cool happenings going on, offers many amazing hostels, and even in the central hub of the city there still manages to be a warm village feeling. Bumping into a friend randomly in the middle of the city is a given.

Any complaints? Yeah, the weather sucks in winter. Icy rains and 40km/h winds – fun!

Things to Do in Wellington

There are so many awesome things to see and do in Wellington. So much so, I just had to give it a little bonus section! Here are a few of my top 5 picks of what to do in Wellington:

Two girls walking towards Point Halswell Lighthouse
Get out and explore Welly!
Photo: @danielle_wyatt
  1. Freyburg Pool and Fitness Centre – Excercise? Boo!
    Na, this place is the best! It’s right next to Oriental Bay and beach and it’s $5 for sauna privileges. You know what that means? Hot-and-cold, baby!
  2. Cuba Street – Any walk down Cuba Street is a solid day; street merchants, buskers, Wellington’s night markets are there. There is a lot of BoHo(ish) shops along Wellington’s Cuba Street and it’s just something of a hub and focal point in the CBD.
  3. Op-Shopping – Speaking of shopping in Wellington! The second-hand shops in Welly are kickass (actually, in New Zealand as a whole). Go find something colourful!
  4. The Rogue and Vagabond – A neat little bar that has live music most nights of the week. The nightlife in Wellington is sweet with a bustling music scene but The Rogue and Vagabond gets some really eclectic and off-beat stuff!
  5. Rent a bicycle – Wellington has this whole mountain city thing going one and mountain city’s have the whole ‘bombing hills at 120km/h without a helmet‘ thing going on. Getting back up is a bitch though.

Backpacking Tasman and Golden Bay

Starting off South Island now and it’s a strong start!

The northernmost areas of the South Island of New Zealand where the smokeables are dank and plentiful and the sun is emotionally-available most of the year. This area of New Zealand is spectacular and easily one of the highlights for me.

Danielle hiking the abel tasman great walk in New Zealand
Tasman is home to one of New Zealand’s GREAT walks.
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

Tasman Bay begins with Nelson which is a pretty city but a bit ‘East Coast Australia’ feeling for me. It’s popular with travellers though meaning you’ll find some good choices of backpacker accommodation in Nelson. Once you get a bit further north up to Motueka though, it starts to get real nice.

There are some sweet places to stay in Richmond just a short 15-minute drive from Nelson. Perfect to crash without breaking the bank!

A top destination in New Zealand for Kiwis wanting to live the permaculture life (and travellers wanting to volunteer in it), with that comes the hippies and with that comes the endless swathes of smoke. Jokes aside, the area is gorgeous: gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and some stunning beaches. Kaiteriteri is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful beaches but touristy; check out Kina Beach for something quieter (with the $5 campsite next door).

Golden Bay just gets stickier. It’s a bubble and I mean that in the best way possible. There’s one road in and out over the mountains and it’s safe to say that some people haven’t crossed those mountains for a couple of decades.

Man in the markets in Motueka showing off his crystals to travellers
Now entering hippy country: good vibes only.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Head to Takaka, a timeless little town, if you’re looking to get embroiled in New Zealand’s doof scene (hippy festival) or just wanna connect with some travellers of the grungier variety. They generally congregate down by the river. Don’t worry: they’re easy to find.

Backpacking the West Coast

The West Coast region of South Island is full-fucking-power Aotearoa – there are no there words for it. It’s one of the most dramatic coastlines I’ve ever seen and I know that word is really overplayed but there simply are no other words I feel match it.

For me, it’s one of the best drives in New Zealand. It doesn’t actually feel like you’re in the 21st-century anymore. You legitimately feel like a moa – the OG kiwi bird – might step out in front of your car and kamikaze-roadkill itself at any time.

te henga walkway hike near auckland in new zealand
Rugged west vibes.
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

Giant ferns leap out over densely forested cliffs, the weather is harsh and unforgiving (it ain’t called ‘The Wild West Coast for nothing), and every bend on the highway opens up to some new “Ooohh“. Oh, and those sandflies will eat you alive – bring mosquito protection! Legend has it that the coasters of the sparsely-populated West Coast have developed a natural immunity to these foul devils…

If you can do the whole thing from Westport in the north through to Haast and beyond to Wanaka, you’ll get a true sense of how special travelling New Zealand is. West Coast – an unmissable place to visit in New Zealand, no questions.

Travellers can find an array of truly remarkable Airbnbs in Westport with breathtaking views of the Tasman Sea where you can immerse yourself in the natural beauty and tranquility of the West Coast region.

Must-Sees of the West Coast Region of New Zealand’s South Island

Some must-visit spots on New Zealand’s West Coast. There are heaps more than this… Hell, if you can handle the hormonally-moody rain complete with mood swings (a protective rain jacket is mandatory packing) and the blackened legions of flying itchy-bitchies, you could get lost in the West Coast’s jungles for a bit.

Looking up at a glacier on the top of a mountain with waterfalls coming down near Queenstown, New Zealand.
In complete awe.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

Failing that, however:

  • Karamea – Actually north of the West Coast proper and comparatively less-frequented. There are beaches, caves, hot pools, and a backdoor entry into the Kahurangi National Park.
  • Punakaiki – Not much going on here but it is home of the Pancake Rocks and blowholes – a famous New Zealand attraction.
  • Franz Josef and Fox Glacier – Ahh, now this is the true tourist spot on the West Coast of New Zealand and one of the busiest areas you’ll come across there (even comparatively to Greymouth – the largest town). I’m actually not a fan.
    The glaciers weren’t super impressive, and the prices in the area are all mega-jacked. HOWEVER, if you have the spare cash for a helicopter tour and hike on the glaciers, then you’re in for a treat. A glacier is way more impressive from on top of it rather than a few kilometres away…
  • Hokitika Gorge – Super beautiful in its own right but the river (and river mouth) is an excellent place to go in New Zealand to find pounamu – that type of jade every single bloody Kiwi wears around their neck like they’re in a secret club. (I want in!)
    Just remember how sacred pounamu is. If you find one, then your pounamu has chosen you and that’s your pounamu.
  • Blue Pools – Let’s just say that that’s no misnomer.

Backpacking Wanaka

Sweet darling Wanaka, oh how I adore you. If you were an Italian maiden, I’d serenade you from beneath your balcony (and then eat poison and die).

Consider Wanaka like a good Queenstown. Okkk, some people love Queenstown but it’s super touristy and just a bit… backpackery (I know, I know, but you know the vibe I mean).

However, half an hour drive away is Wanaka, full of eccentric loveables, surrounded by the same gorgeous mountains of Queenstown, and still with a twinkling lake (complete with that famous tree). I would say that for anyone that Queenstown just feels like a bit much, stay in Wanaka.

The Wanaka tree in Wanaka, New Zealand
Wanaka things.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

There’s no shortage of that uncut Otago region nature around Wanaka to explore Hiking Rob Roys Peak is a good start; it is crazy beautiful once at the peak.  There is also no shortage of lake activities in Wanaka: joints by the lake, joints on a cruise on the lake, joints while kayaking on the lake. Hell, joints while abseiling down a waterfall!

The backpacker hostels in Wanaka are pricey (welcome to accommodation in New Zealand), however, there are some campsites around town… that are also kinda pricey. If you need to save some cash, Couchsurfing or sneaky camping is the way to go.

Backpacking Queenstown

Backpacking Queenstown – 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 when planning a trip to Queenstown is never-ending. With so many travel and tour companies operating here, it’s certainly the place to go for adventure travel in New Zealand.

A snow destination in winter with delicious icing-sugar powdered slopes, or in summer, it’s the place in New Zealand for every other adventure activity you could think of: massive bungee jumps, hiking, white water rafting, climbing and mountaineering, and it’s a top spot to go skydiving too! It’s also a total backpacker hub.

The green-blue waters of the lake and the Remarkables mountain range beyond in Queenstown, New Zealand
Fancy a dip?
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

There’s heaps of nightlife in Queenstown, substance-galore, and no shortage of tourists of the ‘young, dumb, and full of red-hotted ideals‘ variety. If that’s what you’re seeking, Queenstown is the perfect destination in New Zealand for it. It’s also an easy place in New Zealand to find a backpacker job; a lot of people just spean a season of their working visa in Queenstown.

Even the cheap hostels in Queenstown are expensive, and the council has pretty rigidly clamped down on freedom camping of any description. A good alternative is staying out of town somewhere cheaper (Franklin, Arrowtown, or there’s a free campsite at Cromwell) and hitching in.

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! Oh, and for any nights out, pre-greasing the wheels is a must.

Backpacking Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park

The tallest mountain in New Zealand is…Mount Cook! And no, you cannot hike it. Well, you can, but you’ll need some heavy-duty adventure gear, a strong sense of stupid-bravery, experience (it’s a knife-edge point), and probably a parental permission slip too.

It doesn’t matter though because Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is another marvel when it comes to hiking in New Zealand, with some of the best tramping to be found. This national park is centre to the stunning Southern Alps mountain range that defines the South Island of New Zealand. The drive into Mount Cook National Park winds along the lake with several viewpoints and it’s a very sexy approach.

On a driving tour of New Zealand approaching Mount Cook by road
Is it weird to be aroused by a mountain?

Once in the park, there are two valleys to explore, the Hooker Valley and the Tasman Valley. The Tasman Lake was once a massive glacier that has receded several kilometres 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 watchful peak 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 ahead 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.

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, but many of New Zealand’s beautiful lodges in the village or paid camping is available in the park. Or head over to Lake Tekapo; stop and check out the Church of Good Shephard if you head that way!

Backpacking Milford Sound and the Fiordlands

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 and with good reason. As Rudyard Kipling called it, “the eighth Wonder of the World”.

The Fiordlands of New Zealand is one of the wettest places on earth so, again, that rain jacket is a must. Moody, serene, and devastating all at the same time, Milford Sound is something you gotta see to really feel the scope – no written word and captured image can do it justice…

danielle and friend at milford sounds new zealand
Tourin’ it up in Milford
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

There is a number of ways to see the sounds. You can stay in the small town of Te Anau as a base: there are plenty of campsites, freedom camping spots, and camper parks here plus some hostels. Self-drive down and take in the incredible views; the drive is just as beautiful as the destination.

For getting out on the sounds, booking a cruise is the tourist-standard but a kayaking adventure is going to be way more adventurous! Or shit, just book a dive in the inky waters and go see it from below: Milford Sound offers some of the best diving in New Zealand as a whole!

There are also a couple of other spectacular multi-day tramps (and more of New Zealand’s Great Walks).

The Milford Track (pre-booking the walk is almost a guarantee) is one of the most authentic ways to experience the sounds. Waterfalls, rainforests, and glacier-carved valleys are all there on this four-day hike.

Alternatively, the Kepler Track is another multi-day hike that will take you on a different journey to see a less-touristed side of the Fiordlands. One way or another, you gotta walk in this area. It’s too damn pretty!

Getting Off the Beaten Path in New Zealand

It’s totally possible – a few steps into New Zealand’s overwhelming natural wonder just about anywhere is going to give those adventure feels. At the same time, it’s New Zealand so you never quite get that feeling of being lost in an unknown and foreboding land – it’s a good mix!

If you’re looking to break away from New Zealand’s tourist spots, the aforementioned far north and New Zealand’s ‘Deep South’ are both excellent starts. I love that New Zealand has a deep south – it totally is too! Endless oceans of sheep, a slightly drawlier accent, and a lot of farmer life. That said, the people are still wonderful.

A car crossing a river on a dirt track with mountains in the distance near Queenstown, New Zealand
Feelin’ pretty remote about now.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

A few of the best spots in New Zealand’s deep south are the Catlins Region and the Southern Scenic Route along the souths’s coastline. It’s hard hitching but well worth it for the payoff in the feeling of beautiful desolation and wildlife spotting opportunities.

Once you hit Bluff (the almost-southernmost point of New Zealand) you can catch a ferry to Stewart Island/Rakiura – Aotearoa’s under-appreciated third island. There’s like one settlement here and then nothing but unabashed and untouched nature. It’s also the best place to go in New Zeland to see wild kiwis (of the actually feathered variety).

Dunedin is another city in the south that often gets overlooked by backpackers. It’s an interesting city with Scottish architecture, an odd mix of conservative people and best-brand-weirdos, and a bustling student life. There’s a whole local party scene with the students and a dope fire-dancing scene too – the best I found in New Zealand!

Arthur’s Pass on South Island is another must-visit in New Zealand. Not strictly tourist-free but such a wild piece of Jurassic mountainous nature that it doesn’t matter. Head to Castle Hill in the area for some of New Zealand’s best bouldering (it’s a goddamn proverbial playground)!

That, of course, is all the highlights of the South Island because that is the majesty of South Island – one giant rugged adventure! I’d say, however, if you’re more looking to get off the beaten path in New Zealand in a cultural sense, volunteering is the way to go.

Volunteering with Workaway, WWOOFing, and everything else is extremely common in New Zealand; honestly, there’s something around just about every corner. Any step into this life is not only a perfect way to backpack New Zealand on a budget, but it’s also a great way to see the local life. Even just talking to strangers and expressing interest will often find you a host.

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Aether Backpack

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10 Top Things to Do in New Zealand

When it comes to what to do in New Zealand, the options are endless. It’s not a large country but is absolutely bursting with wonder and amazement. These aren’t all of New Zealand’s must-dos by any stretch, but they are the pick of a few of my faves.

1. Tramp Like a Kiwi

You have so many options for hiking in New Zealand – legitimately endless. The wealth of huts to stay in on trails – both free and paid – make this only easier. Figure out what to take hiking, pack your pack, lace your boots, and go have an adventure!

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.) Queenstown is the go-to destination in New Zealand for yoyo-like fun but there are plenty of other jumps around.

3. Meet the Maori People…

Are truly spectacular. On a personal note, this isn’t like the Aboriginals of Australia where a wall of division is immediately obvious (rightfully so given their despicable persecution).

The Maori people are incredibly open to travellers: bigass smiles and endless flows of conversation. Generally, I found they were also delighted to teach people about their culture, and language, or just talk some shit so go meet them!

4. Find a Wild Kiwi: Gotta Catch ’em All!

Again with the Australia comparison, spotting a kiwi bird in the wild in New Zealand is the equivalent of a wild platypus in Australia. It’s the holy grail and a total rite of passage so you better get (non-violently) hunting! Stewart Island is the top point of interest to check out in New Zealand but there are other hotspots too.

Golden Bay Road, Stewart Island - where to go to see Kiwis in New Zealand
That’s a silhouette – anything more is spoilers.
Photo: [PEACE SIGN] (Flickr)

5. Splurge on a Glacier Heli-Hiking Excursion

Why nooot? I can’t say that this is cheap, but it is one of those once-and-a-lifetime experiences. Besides, maybe you’ll see a yeti!

6. Doof

Oh yes, the doof scene is cranking in New Zealand and the music is hella tight. From wobblin’ psy to breaking D’n’B to some real funky glitchy bangers, hippies are boogieing everywhere (and the scene is super open to travellers). The Golden Bay area is the prime hotspot but parties in New Zealand are everywhere. Twisted Frequency Festival over New Year’s Eve is the supreme cliff-jump into the rabbit hole.

Girl dancing at a party in New Zealand
Mmm, psy-hippies. I have only one type.
Photo: Richard Elzey (Flickr)

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! And just as a side-not. the Otago region just so mwah!

8. Kayak the Milford Sound

I’ve just gotta make a second shout-out to Milford Sound because it is one of the most spectacular things to see in New Zealand. This part of New Zealand has beautiful 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. Head out there on a kayak and your eyes peeled for seals and dolphins!

9. Drive around New Zealand in a Campervan

New Zealand and van travel lifestyle go together almost as well as New Zealand and an overwhelming sense of inner peace! 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 backpacking around New Zealand, 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 more versus staying in expensive hostels and hotels.

van parked up on a beach in New Zealand
Parked up
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

The other option is to rent a van, which in the long run (if you stay long enough) is actually the more expensive option. However, if you’re looking for a shorter-term van adventure, I’d recommend using the iconic JUCY rentals. (more on this to come!)

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 afterwards with the money you saved up! If the opportunity to live in New Zealand is there, it’s one of the best things to do; it’s a truly magical place and a new home to many expatriated travellers who finally felt they’d found the place to settle.

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Backpacker Accommodation in New Zealand

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 upwards of $35 NZD per night for a shared dorm. Only stay in backpacker hostels around New Zealand when absolutely necessary or your daily budget travelling in New Zealand is going to fall apart.

Freedom camping in New Zealand with an MSR tent
Plan B when the Couchsurfing host says “Na, sorry, cuz”.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

If you’re looking for a paid room, sadly hostels still remain the cheapest option. You may occasionally stumble across a cheap New Zealand Airbnb, but it’s still a limited selection. So how about saving money on accommodation in New Zealand?

Couchsurfing is widely used and a great way to meet new people and locals while backpacking in New Zealand. It does require some pre-planning though; the rock up in town and see what is around is not the best method for Couchsurfing.

Working for accommodation (and probably food too) is another excellent option in New Zealand. If you know you are going to be hanging around an area for a while, check with local hostels homestays if they offer some sort of bed and board thing. Workaway, again, is another great platform, as is WWOOF for farm-based work, or Facebook groups and even the local town notice board (legit).

Camping in New Zealand – free or otherwise – is the other cheap accommodation option. Tents, cars, and the vanlife is all a dream in New Zealand but it’s not a cut-and-dry though so I’ll cover camping in a different section coming up.

You’ll find Kiwi’s are incredibly generous when it comes to opening their doors to you and hitchhiking or meeting folks sometimes can end up in a bed or place to stay. Yeah, travelling costs in New Zealand are high but the country and people are also super kind to the homeless dirtbag. Generally, in New Zelaand, it always somehow works itself out.

Camping in New Zealand – Freedom or Otherwise

Ok, so here’s the deal: New Zealand is (sometimes) seen as a golden freedom camping destination and that’s becoming less and less true. A lot of campsites these days are not free or purely for self-contained vehicles i.e. has toilet, greywater, and sceptic waste functionality.

As a whole, travelling in a non-self-contained campervan in New Zealand is still possible, but you’ll either be paying or aiming for free campsites (apps are good for sifting through the campsites) or paying. So, is freedom camping dead in New Zealand?

Na, not by any stretch.  Even outside of just parking in a mate’s driveway, rules (formal or informal) do change by region so it’s still possible in many areas. For example, the Otago region cracks down hard on freedom campers courtesy of Queenstown’s popularity but up in Golden Bay, they tend to turn a blind eye… mostly.

What about sans-car? Well, it’s still illegal pretty much anywhere outside of designated areas, but that doesn’t mean it’s hard to get away with. Generally in a nice hidden spot, you’ll be fine; just be discreet, pack up early, and leave no fucking trace or I will Freddy Krueger your dreams.

It is worth noting that you’re always risking a heavy fine, but that’s the bureaucratic side of things. Most Kiwis I met were all guns-ho a’blazing about a vagrant hitchhiker enjoying Aoteroa’s land to the fullest. Hell, most of them would point me to the best local park to sleep in.

The long and the short? If you want to save on accommodation prices, pack some suitable camping equipment! It’s a total necessity.

The Best Places to Stay in New Zealand

DestinationWhy Visit?Best HostelBest Private Stay
AucklandAuckland is a great starting point for those backpacking in New Zealand. If you love the hustle and bustle of cities, you’ll love Auckland.Verandahs Parkside LodgeSuite7
Waiheke IslandFor idyllic island vibes with beautiful vineyards, beaches, crazily blue water and some awesome hikes. Oh, and a laid-back atmosphere.Waiheke Backpackers HostelCable Bay Views
NorthlandExplore off the beaten track in style. I LOVED Waipoua Kauri Forest and the Maori culture is super duper rich up here it’s truly otherworldly.Peppertree LodgeMukies Apartments
RaglanRaglan is a surfer’s paradise with gr8 waves, a relaxed beach-town kinda vibe and hippies galore. The people you’ll meet here are so cool.Raglan BackpackersLong St Studio
RotoruaTo experience the geothermal wonders – let the geysers and mud pools and rejuvenate your soul. Maori culture is exquisite here too.Rock Solid BackpackersPukaki Holiday Apartments
TongariroTongariro is surrounded by epic volcanic landscapes and features New Zealand’s oldest National Park. The Tongariro Crossing is legendary.National Park BackpackersTiny House in the Bush
WellingtonWindy Welly is the capital city of New Zealand and is known for it’s artsy culture, amazing restaurants, nightlife and picturesque waterfront.The Marion HostelThe Hidden Gem
Tasman and Golden BayThis is where you’ll meet some awesome hippie backpacker buddies and get to smoke some dank weed. The beaches are gorgeous too!The Barn BackpackersBeech Hill
Hokitika, WestlandThis quiet old mining town once famous for its Jade has some of the most spectacular coastline and Hokitika Gorge is a must-visit.Blackhouse Cottage
Franz Josef GlacierFor one of the most breathtaking views in the southern hemisphere – which is even better in a helicopter! This glacier is magnificent.Glow WormRainforest Retreat
WanakaWanaka is a serene lakeside town which is perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and a bunch of others. AND THE VIEWZ… omg.YHA WanakaAlto-on-Hedditch
QueenstownQueenstown is the adrenaline and adventure capital of NZ, and maybe even the world. If you want to bungee jump, do it here!Adventure Q2The Love Shack

New Zealand Backpacking Costs

I made no solid plans for New Zealand. In fact, my research of the country pretty much consisted of binge-watching The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit films. And then the reality of the cost of travel in New Zealand hit me.

New Zealand is booming as a backpacking destination, courtesy of those famous setpieces for Lord of the Rings. Despite the backpacker boom, New Zealand is expensive. There are no two ways about it; Kiwis say it, Saudi Arabian princes would say it, Indians definitely say it!

That doesn’t mean you can’t travel cheap in New Zealand because you definitely can. I was able to travel on less than $10 a day, but you gotta get dirty!

Sleeping out while WWOOFing in New Zealand and saving on hostel prices
Case in point.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

A more realistic daily budget in New Zealand (for those that prefer their meals not to be harvested from the trash can) is about $20-$30 a day with the appropriate budget backpacking tools-of-the-trade. This is going to mean a mix of skipping accommodation, volunteering, hitchhiking, cooking, and going easy on the goodies – drink, drugs and activities. With those tricks loosely applied, you’ll still have some budget-leeway for the good stuff.

Instead, at a more New Zealand backpacker holiday level (hostels, meals out, shopping, and whatevs else you crazy cats get up to), $60-$80 is more realistic. Yikes!

Looking at individual costs:

  • Food prices in New Zealand are expensive. You can cook budget meals definitely, but eating out always hurts and there’s no cheap and local everyman street food (except arguably fish ‘n’ chips). Aiming for less than $10 a meal when eating out is a necessity for budget backpackers.
  • Accommodation prices in New Zealand suck smelly Rotorua egg-farts. You’ll find cheaper hostels in New Zealand, but you’ll never find a cheap one. You really never want to be paying more than $20/night for a dorm.
  • Transport costs between New Zealand’s cities are not wholly unforgivable, but they’re still expensive. Inside the cities is ok though. As a point of reference, the three-hour bus ride from Auckland to Rotorua will cost you between $20-$35.
  • Living the vanlife will help the costs, but the fuel prices in New Zealand are super yukky so it only goes so far. Usually, petrol prices hover around $1.30-$1,50/litre.

The good news is that, while there are a lot of expensive activities in New Zealand, there are also plenty of free ones. Hiking, going to the beach, bathing in hot springs, and visiting amazing scenery is just the tip of the glacier.

A Daily Budget in New Zealand

ExpenseBroke BackpackerFrugal TravellerCreature of Comfort
Nightlife Delights$5-$12$12-$20$25+
Total per day:$13-$56$56-$120$145+

Money in New Zealand

Find out how much your money is worth today by using the up-to-date converter below.

The money in New Zealand is super colourful and uncomplicated to manage. It’s covered with enough pretty birds and vibrant colours that holding a stack of New Zealand dollars makes you feel like you’re attending a rainbow parade!

Busking in New Zealand and making money
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Credit cards are widely accepted, and ATMs in New Zealand are pretty much everywhere: just watch out for international fees. Travel with a travel-specific debit or credit card to avoid these! If you’re working in New Zealand, you’ll be getting an NZ bank account regardless.

Travel Tips – New Zealand on a Budget

I said that backpacking New Zealand on a budget was totally doable, right? Well, it is! But you’ll have to be creative. After a pretty long stint in New Zealand travelling with no money, I’ve put together these kickass tips for travelling New Zealand. It’s the simple life.

Backpacker in Queenstown posing for a photo in front of the waterfront
A broke backpacker in Queenstown shows off his op-shop score (between bouts of dumpster diving).
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar
  • Camping – A dire necessity but see the next section.
  • Couchsurfing – Although you can get by with a tent, Couchsurfing is a wonderful safety net for budget travellers in New Zealand and a lot of fun too!
  • Volunteering in New Zealand – Always a strong recommendation, especially in New Zealand. Days spent with dirty hands and full bellies are my spiritual Nirvana.
  • Hitchhike – You already know how I feel about hitching, however, it’s also a brilliant way to save on transportation costs in Australia. I couldn’t have travelled New Zealand without it.
  • Cook your own food – Carry a top-quality backpacker stove on your backpacking trip to New Zealand, especially if you’re camping. When you do have a kitchen available, cook up a storm!
  • Busking – Much like hitchhiking and volunteering, New Zealand is where the busking madness began for me. Knowing how to busk and then a solid day’s can definitely cover a decent chunk of your daily cost of travel in New Zealand.
  • Food giveaways – Are around and quite open to travellers (eg. The Free Store in Wellington). Alternatively, the Krishnas are bloody everywhere in New Zealand – haribol! From Auckland to Wellington to Dunedin they are always doing cheap meals, food giveaways, and probably yoga classes too.
  • Dumpster Diving – it ain’t the fanciest, but it really does the job. You’d be surprised how many people throw away perfectly eatable food or trendy clothes.

Why You Should Travel to New Zealand with a Water Bottle?

Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… so do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful

You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realise the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller.

Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.

Save $$$ • Save the Planet • Save Your Stomach!
backpacker drinking using grayl geopress filter bottle

Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the worlds leading filtered water bottle protecting you from all manner of waterborne nasties.

Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!

We’ve tested the Geopress rigorously from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Bali, and can confirm: it’s the best water bottle you’ll ever buy!

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Best Time to Travel to New Zealand

December to February marks the 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 visit New Zealand.

The ski towns (Wanaka and Queenstown in particular) also experience high season in winter (June to August).

dani and friends up the top of mount eden in auckland at sunset, new zealand
Pack a jumper, it can get chilly sometimes
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

The best to visit New Zealand is during shoulder season, so March to May, and September to November. The weather is still great (although noticeably less great the further south you are), and you’re going to get fewer 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. Northland and the Tasman/Golden Bay area stay pretty damn nice all year round though.

What to Pack for New Zealand

Make sure to pack right for New Zealand! On every adventure, there are six things to never go travelling without:

Don’t Let Snorers Keep You Awake!
Don’t Let Snorers Keep You Awake!

Ear Plugs

Snoring dorm-mates can ruin your nights rest and seriously damage the hostel experience. This is why I always travel with a pack of decent ear plugs.

Keep your laundry organized and stink free
Keep your laundry organized and stink free

Hanging Laundry Bag

Trust us, this is an absolute game changer. Super compact, a hanging mesh laundry bag stops your dirty clothes from stinking, you don’t know how much you need one of these… so just get it, thank us later.

Stay Dry With a Micro Towel
Stay Dry With a Micro Towel

Sea To Summit Micro 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.

Make Some New Buddies…
Make Some New Buddies…

Monopoly Deal

Forget about Poker! Monopoly Deal is the single best travel card game that we have ever played. Works with 2-5 players and guarantees happy days.

Reduce Plastic – Bring a Water Bottle!
Reduce Plastic – Bring a Water Bottle!

Grayl Geopress Water Bottle

Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator. Boom!

Oh, and bonus entry: pack sandfly protection and lots of it.

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 country in the world. Crime rates are extremely low and everything from sleeping in parks to hitchhiking is extremely safe!

Therefore, when we talk about how to stay safe in New Zealand while backpacking there, we are instead referring to the unpredictable weather that can hit when you’re out doing adventurous things. Don’t underestimate nature, keep updated about the weather (that shit turns quick), and invest in proper hiking footwear, relevant attire, and camping gear if you plan to be out in the National Parks a lot.

Secondly, the sun is strong in New Zealand – it turned my bloody hair blonde! The clear, unpolluted atmosphere and relatively low latitudes produce sunlight stronger than much of Europe or North America. Always stay sun-protected.

Thirdly, crime is low but dicks be dicks – I got my phone stolen in Raglan… two days after returning someone else’s lost phone – Karma is a lie! Stay smart, especially on beaches, and travel with a money belt to protect yo’ cash and goodies!

Oh, and watch out for the sheepies while driving.

Sheep on Papamoa Hills at sunset, Tauranga, New Zealand
There are five times more sheep than Kiwis (the humans, not the birds)
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

Past that, there’s nothing much outside of the standard safety advice for travelling anywhere. New Zealand ain’t Oz: there are no snakes, like one spider, and even the derros waiting to roll you at the dodgy train stations are friendlier about it!

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in New Zealand

Sex? Well, yeah, duh.

Kiwi girls are some of the most beautiful, friendly, and down-to-earth chicks you’ll ever meet when backpacking. Typically they love to have fun, drink, and party, and it goes the same with the lads. If you be looking, you’ll find a date no sweat.

As for drugs?

It’s all there too, from deliciously dank bud to knockin’ psychedelics to catapulting stimulants. It’s all illegal, so be smart where and when you buy and take it, but everything is available (if expensive). New Zealand even has a pretty major crystal meth problem so that’s fun! Bonus safety tip: stay away from meth (‘duh, no shit sherlock‘ moment of the century).

A man after a big night partying in New Zealand
Taking a trip in New Zealand.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Booze and cigarettes are expensive as you would expect in New Zealand. Cigarettes, however, are shockingly expensive: bring as many pouches of tobacco as customs will let you. And when it comes to a night out, you gotta pre-drink.

As a general rule though, there is a kickass party scene in New Zealand and holy shit the boogies are tight! Outdoors, indoors, club, pub, festival, or hippy throwdown, the music just ALWAYS seems to be bangin’. That’s not something Kiwis half-ass.

Getting Insured BEFORE Visiting New Zealand

There may be no spiders, but there are still coastline-shattering earthquakes. Travelling without insurance is risky: do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! Take a guess at how cripplingly pricey a medical bill In New Zealand will cost?

Much of The Broke Backpacker team travels with World Nomads and have been for some time now. They’re easy to use, professional, and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

How to Get Into New Zealand

The two easiest airports to fly into are Auckland on the north island and Christchurch on the south island. Wellington also gets some international flights but not as many as Auckland. Since New Zealand is an island (well multiple) you will have to fly here!

Auckland will most likely have the cheapest flights, and it’s easy to catch a domestic flight from there to most any other airports in New Zealand. It’s also worth noting that a domestic flight from Wellington to Nelson can cost as much – or sometimes less – than the ferry crossing.

Entry Requirements for New Zealand

The rules change a lot depending on where you’re from but luckily the official site for visa information for New Zealand is magnificently designed. Suck it, India: that’s a proper user experience!

I told you New Zealand was easy right? Well, a Visitor Visa is applied for online (for most nationalities) and is to be obtained before arrival. Entering as a visitor, you must have sufficient funds to cover your stay in New Zealand and onwards travel and you may be asked to present proof of said funds and onwards travel. Those things are always a ‘potential scenario’ though.

A man backpacking New Zealand sitting in a forest in Wellington
Man thinks about visas circa December 2017.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Alternatively, you can apply for a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority and then once you arrive at Auckland’s International Airport (it has to be Auckland for the NZeTA), you can apply for a proper visa.

A New Zealand Visitor Visa can last up to as long as nine months, but it is highly contingent on the variables, especially where you’re from. After the allowed term, you can apply for another visa or even move to a student or working visa if you’re looking at living in New Zealand.

So, what’s the cost of a visa for New Zealand? Again, it’s extremely nationality-dependent so you’ll have to do your own research. It is worth mentioning though that a number of countries get visa waiver in New Zealand so also check when you’re working through that oh-so-elegant UI.

Have you sorted your accommodation yet?
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How to Get Around New Zealand

Ok, so here’s the deal. Travelling around New Zealand kinda sucks… or does it? (Foreshadowing.)

The best way to get around New Zealand is definitely by car… sorry! There are multiple rental companies within New Zealand and depending on your budget, there are endless options in regards to the type of vehicle you can rent. You can also buy a vehicle and then sell it at a later date (probably to another hapless New Zealand backpacker).

There are buses in New Zealand, but they’re kinda hopeless (outside of public transport in cities which is more than serviceable). The intercity buses (conveniently named InterCity) are expensive: for example, $38 NZD, or the price of an expensive hostel, is the average cost to travel from Auckland to Wellington. Furthermore, for getting to the breathtaking points of interest in New Zealand (i.e. the reason you presumably came), you’re shit outta luck!

You can generally find shuttles and other transport in New Zealand for the major attractions, however, as you probably guessed, they’re expensive. So, about that car…

Random funny street sign found while backpacking New Zealnd's south
Oh, the oddities you miss on the bus!
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

You can book a rental car for your trip to New Zealand before you even arrive so that it is waiting for you at the airport. Easy as! Booking ahead is crucial to ensuring you get the lowest price and your choice of vehicle.

Make sure you also purchase a policy to cover your vehicle against any common damages such as tires, windscreens, theft, and more. It’ll come out cheaper than you’ll pay at the rental desk.

So, about that foreshadowing, hey?

Travelling by Campervan in New Zealand

It’s the best way to travel New Zealand! This also extends to car camping to a lesser degree, but travelling by campervan in New Zealand is just the dream. I met more van-nomads in there than anywhere else in my travels. Paired with a longer stay or a working holiday in New Zealand, buying a van is just da best.

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 – off-season travel wins again!

When you’re 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.

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. When the time comes, say goodbye to your baby and sell her on (maybe even with a little profit).

A huge part of the attraction of backpacking New Zealand is exploring the truly gorgeous landscapes and making spontaneous stops.  There is so much freedom in a vehicle and the portable home – and skipping on accommodation – is going to make for much cheaper travel in New Zealand.

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 simply hire a campervan! Budget allowing, it’s the best way to get around New Zealand – no contest.

So who to book with then? There are tonnes of van rental companies in New Zealand, however, I recommend JUCY rentals. They operate in a lot of places but their van game in Australia and New Zealand is strong. Plus, they’ve been around for yonks!

Check em’ out and enjoy the shenanigans.

Hitchhiking in New Zealand

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This is where it all began for me. What started out as hitchhiking in New Zealand filled me with adventurous fire and led to many other journeys hitching (Japan, India, Israel, to name few).

You know who else hitchhiked in New Zealand too? My dead grandma! (…When she was alive, of course.) This is back in the bloody 1940s or something so, man, hitching across Aotearoa’s magnificence is a two-thumbs-up recommendation and a blessed land for the beginner.

A man hitchhiking on the South Island of New Zealand
My grandma circa 1940-something.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

It’s easy – developed Western country rules – and people are ridiculously kind. Kiwis that you never in a million years thought would pick you up will, sometimes accompanied by an offer of a bed or dinner. Better yet, they’ll be heartwarming meetings and lead to the weirdest of most wonderful adventures.

There’s not much country-specific knowledge required for New Zealand: I’ll just point you to our Hitchhiking 101 Beginner’s Guide as a crash course for the newbies or a refresher course for the vets. Cities like Auckland (the fucking wall) or Wellington can be a total pain but still manageable and even in the south-of-the-south, someone will eventually pick you up (though wait times can drag).

In summary? Do it.

Onwards Travel From New Zealand

Since New Zealand is surrounded by water, you’ll be catching a plane onwards, and the choices are pretty straightforward.

Travelling to Australia is a no-brainer (unless you just came from there). It’s another backpacker dream destination PLUS it’s right next door (and usually so far away)!

Australia is another superb working holiday destination as well. Bless that obscenely high minimum wage!

Vegemite - what to eat in New Zealand and Australia
New Zealand’s rougher, fouler-mouthed, and slightly uglier cousin that still pulls because of his rugged charm.
Photo: Vintuitive (Flickr)

Heading off backpacking to Southeast Asia is the other likely candidate. It’s close by and it’s way cheaper. If you’re getting sick of paying a small fortune for a bowl of porridge for breakfast, consider Southeast Asia.

Any other suggestions? Yeah, one more and it’s a cool one.

Since you’re in the area, consider travelling to any of the Pacific Islands and continue exploring Oceania/Australasia/still-kinda-Asia. Though still touristy – especially with lads and laddettes from Down Under – they aren’t so heavily backpacked. Plus, after backpacking New Zealand, you may just have a strong affinity for Polynesian cultures,

There are a lot of Pacific Island nations but as some brainfood:

  • Fiji
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Vanuatu
  • Tahiti (French Polynesia)
  • Papua New Guinea

Working in New Zealand

I’ve already made reference to this numerous times but oh, man, most definitely. New Zealand is a land built for volunteering and backpacker work. Much like its sister country Australia, travellers from all over the world view New Zealand as a dream working holiday destination.

Expected localist crap and employers taking advantage of backpackers aside (which is minimal, to be fair), travelling and working in New Zealand is spectacular. The minimum wage is high – albeit slightly lower than Australia (but you can just consider that paying a premium to be in a better country) – and there are plenty of employment opportunities right around the country. And usually somewhere ridiculously gorgeous!

A lavendar farm in Wanaka, New Zealand
Workin’ hard or hardly workin’?

In fact, when I meet travellers on the road who are planning on visiting Australia for work, I generally just tell them to go to New Zealand instead. I haven’t heard a complaint yet!

The most common types of backpacker work in New Zealand tend to be agricultural; following the picking trail with the seasons is very common. Hospitality gigs (cafes, bars, hostels) are also easy to get as is work in the tourism industry.

Most backpackers in New Zealand tend to find seasonal work in the tourist hubs – Queenstown and Rotorua, in particular – or major cities like Auckland or Wellington. That said, farms are everywhere as are orchards, and there always seems to be some work floating around. Even in the beach towns of Raglan and Takaka (which tend to be extremely localist as anyone from a beach town will tell you), I met plenty of travellers with a job.

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A new country, a new contract, a new piece of plastic – booooring. Instead, buy an eSIM!

An eSIM works just like an app: you buy it, you download it, and BOOM! You’re connected the minute you land. It’s that easy.

Is your phone eSIM ready? Read about how e-Sims work or click below to see one of the top eSIM providers on the market and ditch the plastic.

Grab an eSIM!

Volunteering in New Zealand

A backpacker working as an apple picker and thinner in New Zealand
The simple life.

But why work for cash when you get work for free! Yay for indentured servitude!

If you’re going without a work visa and aren’t a fan of pulling the sneaky, volunteering is a classic choice in New Zealand. A free bed and meal(s) is pretty much always a guarantee, and if your host isn’t offering that, you’ll generally find someone within a 30 km radius who is.

Of course, it’s not just about the bed. The experience of volunteering while on the road is rather rewarding. All these years later and I STILL remain friends with some of the hosts I volunteered for plus I got some cool experiences to boot (like milking a goat!).

I already mention Workaway and WWOOF as the gold standards in New Zealand (as are more old-school means), however, a few Workaway alternatives rear their head including our bonafide favourite: Worldpackers!

Worldpackers is another volunteering platform we’ve reviewed and adore. They don’t always have as many volunteering gigs in sheer number, but they do offer very substantial and authentic experiences plus a hold host of nifty community features that the fiercely impersonal Workaway lacks.

Hell, join the Worldpackers community as a Broke Backpacker reader (with the code BROKEBACKPACKER) to get a sweet discount on the signup fee – 20% off the annual subscription price. Churr, bro!

Work Visas in New Zealand

So, about how to actually work in New Zealand? Many nationalities have access to a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand. This will allow for a stay of up to 12-months, and you can work! (Legally.)

There are a few extra stipulations over a normal tourist visa, however:

  1. Full medical insurance for the length of your stay.
  2. For people ages 18-30 only.
  3. Have at least $4200 NZ in funds available.

Again, the New Zealand Working Holiday visa fees and fine print vary by your passport’s nationality. There’s a lot of extra details to research, so some adulting will be required.

Y’know… Before you go to New Zealand and forget your adult responsibilities.

If you’re finding all of this a bit complicated, Global Work and Travel may be able to alleviate some of the VISA complications for you. They offer working holidays and internship opportunities in many locations throughout New Zealand, both of which require the working holiday VISA.

In fact, they’ll support you throughout the entire process; from VISA guidance to finding you the perfect placement. You’ve got to be between the ages of 18 to 35 though…apologies if this isn’t you!

Global Work and Travel Promo Code

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. However, wander out in the sticks and your signal will disappear pretty quick.

The cheapest and easiest way to stay connected in New Zealand is with a local SIM card. You can buy one at the airport or just wait until you’re in town. You can expect good coverage in any built-up areas but don’t expect too much consistency outside of that, particularly in rural areas and particularly on South Island.

will hatton working on the laptop with mountain backdrop
‘Be a digital nomad’, they said. ‘It’ll be fun, they said.

The major providers of SIM cards in New Zealand are:

  • Spark
  • Vodaphone
  • 2Degrees

Honestly, they’re all pretty comparable price and coverage-wise. I do recommend Spark though because they have a crapton of public phone boxes around the country which act as WiFi hotspots for Spark customers. You get a 1 GB allowance per day, they’re seriously everywhere (like tuk-tuks in Asia), and one time while downloading Spotify playlists at a booth, I met some random legend and he offered me a ride.

WiFi is pretty common throughout New Zealand, and most hostels and homestays will offer WiFi. Free WiFi is offered at certain hotspots around cities, on buses, and in some cafes and bars, but you will often have a limit on time or download usage, so don’t expect to Skype for long! Outside of busy urban areas, free WiFi becomes harder to find.

What to Eat in New Zealand

Maybe food isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of travel in New Zealand, but actually prepare to be amazed (at both the taste and your empty wallet).

dani and friend having fish and chips by the beach north of auckland, new zealand
Did you really go to NZ if you didn’t eat fish’n’chips on the beach?
Photo: @danielle_wyatt

New Zealand has both fresh seafood and produce markets throughout the country to get your breakfast on. You can find all sorts of dining experiences from simple yet hearty traditional Maori food, to a thriving coffee and craft beer scene (not to mention the world-famous New Zealand wine), to just the many damn delicious places to eat around New Zealand.

  • Maori hangi – This involves meat and vegetables slow-cooked in an underground oven.
  • Fry bread – It’s bread that’s fried. Is it good? Do the 3 extra kilos I put on from fried bread alone give you a clue?
  • 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 – So, the Kiwis didn’t exactly create fish ‘n’ chips but man they know how to cook ’em! Find yourself some kumara chips (sweet potato) for some extra awesomeness.
  • 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. The cause of WWIII will be the ongoing dispute between Australia and New Zealand as to baked the first pavlova.
  • Manuka Honey: Highly sought-after honey internationally due to its acclaimed medicinal purposes.
  • Vegemite – It’s Australian but if you’ve come this far, you need to try it. If anyone tells you Marmite is better, punch them in the dick.

New Zealand Culture

As Peter Jackson once described, “New Zealand is not a small country, but a large village.” It’s so true. 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 to where you need to go (often with a parting gift of something dank).

Saxophone playing traveller Kiwi busking in Queen Street, Auckland
Damn Kiwis – they just know how to.

New Zealander’s pride themselves on their laid-back camaraderie for life and collective openness to strangers. It’s fair to say that it’s just a Kiwi thing. When travelling in New Zealand, I rarely, if ever, felt the cynicism towards tourists that I’ve felt in so many other places in the world; only a sincere desire to share their home

On my travels in New Zealand, I have been consistently amazed at just how kind the Kiwis can be – strangers will open up their homes to you or just check to see if you need some help. Sometimes, I didn’t even have to hitch; people would just pull over and offer me a ride as I was walking out of town.

The Maori people, though obviously Kiwi and very much fitting in with the above statements, still retain their cultural identity, and it is a beautiful one. Family comes first but family is more than just your blood.

The Maori culture stands as something truly amazing to explore and learn about. If the opportunity arises to spend some time with them and make some Maori friends, take it. It”s 100% worth the experience.

New Zealand and all of its many peoples – from the colonial-heritage Kiwis to the Maori descendants to the many migrants that now call it home – feel harmonious. Things are not perfect, and neither is their history, but when put in comparison to nearby ex-colony neighbours, New Zealand’s history is one much-less stained with blood and decrepit behaviour.

A Maori person and a soldier performing the hongi
Hongi – The traditional Maori greeting.
Photo: USAF Photographic Archives (WikiCommons)

Non-Maori Kiwis on average possess a much higher level of respect for the indigenous people of their home. They want to share it, and it is heartwarming to behold. Put it this way:

Once while hitchhiking through the far north of New Zealand hitchhiking, a middle-aged woman driving her Down Syndrome child back to Auckland picked us up – two shoe-less, smelly, dirtbag-hippies. In her car, she was playing an educational CD teaching the Maori language.

That would never happen in Australia.

Useful Travel Phrases for New Zealand

So, English is the spoken language in New Zealand (officially) If you’re reading this, you’re presumably golden. That said, the Maori do very much have their own spoken language (on top of English) and it’s not uncommon for a white Kiwi to know a few words… usually about three.

The left side is a few Maori words; the right side is some choice New Zealand slang:

  • Kia Ora – Have life (Maori greeting and commonly used everywhere)
  • Whanau (far-noe) – Extended family (cultural significance)
  • Kai – Food (it’s been adopted as Kiwi slang)
  • Koha – Donation/a gift of what you can provide
  • Aotearoa – New Zealand, ya dumb-bum!
  • Mean – Awesome/sick
  • Choice – Mean
  • Jandals – Flip-flops/thongs
  • Churr/Churr, bro – Right on/cheers/thanks
  • She’ll be right – It’ll be fine
  • Beached asThis.

A Brief History of New Zealand

While the Dutch explored New Zealand first, the British were the ones to colonise New Zealand in the 1800s. Prior to that, New Zealand – or Aotearoa- was only inhabited by the Maori people, a Polynesian people who settled sometime between 1320 and 1350.

The Maori culture is rich, vibrant, and fairly unique having developed isolated from other Polynesian cultures over many years. For many years, the Maori tribes engaged in regular warfare and combat was a vital part of their culture along with a deeply-ingrained mythology, dance, art, and numerous other things (shout-out to the poi spinners).

The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was supposed to lead to coexistence between the two peoples – indigenous and colonisers. Unfortunately, Maori came under increasing pressure to sell their land for settlement.

The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi - a crucial moment in New Zealand's history
A reconstruction of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Photo: Archives New Zealand (Flickr)

This led to conflict and in the 1860s, war broke out on 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. The Otago region was experiencing a major gold rush, and Dunedin became the country’s wealthiest city. Sheep farming was established on extensive grasslands and railways were built with towns springing up or expanding.

In 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women the right to vote. State pensions and state housing for workers were also offered first in New Zealand and in 1907, New Zealand became independent.

New Zealand in Modern Times

In modern times, New Zealand has borne the brunt of conflicts similarly to much of the rest of the world, namely WWI, WWII, and the Great Depression. Despite this, New Zealand stands as an incredibly prosperous country and, rather pridefully, is considered one of the most peaceful on the planet.

Although Maori relations have struggled periodically over the years, noticeably throughout the 1970s and latter half of the century when protest movements began to arise among Maori people over land rights and recognition of the culture, many of these grievances have been settled.

A tram rolls down a street with old pastel coloured buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand
Things are pretty chill these days.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

There are ongoing concerns and nothing is perfect, but in the greater scope of the world’s history, the largely positive relationship between New Zealand and it’s first people is not only heartwarming but also worthy of respect.

Some Unique Experiences in New Zealand

There is a lot of beauty in New Zealand and a lot of things to see. Even more, there is a lot to experience. From the Maori culture to the Kiwi smile, there is a lot to pay attention to while backpacking around New Zealand more than just sunsets and touring Hobbiton.

Don’t let New Zealand pass you by.

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Things go wrong on the road ALL THE TIME. Be prepared for what life throws at you.

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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 any chance they get.

The most popular hikes in New Zealand are the Ten 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 $140 NZ per night depending on the hike.

Check out this post for a comprehensive guide on Nine of the Ten Great Walks of New Zealand.

backpacker will hiking trekking through the milford pass in new zealand while carrying a huge backpack with a rain cover
Magestic Milford.
Photo: Will Hatton

While these are the most popular, don’t be worried if you didn’t score a reservation. There are even better treks 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:

  • Travers-Sabine circuit to Blue Lake
  • The Copeland Track
  • Or potentially one of the absolute best hikes 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 around New Zealand.  The best day hikes in New Zealand for beginners are:

  • Diamond Lake
  • Key Summit
  • Roy’s Peak

For a more advanced hike, check out:

  • Mount Taranaki
  • Mueller Hut
  • Avalanche Peak

One way or another, everywhere you go in New Zealand, there’s a walk worth doing. It’s safe to say that some of the best hikes in the world are in New Zealand. Make sure you spend at least a little time getting lost in New Zealand’s spectacular national parks.

Joining an Organised Tour in New Zealand

Solo travel in New Zealand 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 travellers, 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.

A person stood by a wall with graffiti showing different imagery related to New Zealand in Christchurch, New Zealand
Solo? Or, not to solo?
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

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.

FAQs About Backpacking in New Zealand

You’re almost ready to go soak in the natural beauty of amazing scenery, snow-covered mountains, active volcanoes, strangely friendly people, and maybe a few major cities. If you’ve still got some questions, here are some answers about the New Zealand backpacking experience.

Final Advice Before Visiting New Zealand

We’re almost at the end, ready to hit the road, hoist that backpack, and go to New Zealand – the adventure capital. Before you do, any last thoughts for the New Zealand travel guide?

Yeah, one more important thing.

Be Good to New Zealand

Travelling gives us a lot of opportunities. Sometimes, it’s for the betterment of ourselves and the world. At other times, it’s to just act like a twat.

Too many drugs, drinks, or just plain ego, we all mess up. I’ve messed up.

Some days we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Other days we just miss home.

However, it’s still important to remember to take responsibility for yourself and your actions on any backpacking trip, and New Zealand is no different. It’s a privileged, rich, and Western country, sure, but it’s still important to treat the land and the people that belong to it with kindness.

Smile, be kind, show an interest in the culture: no one forced you to be there. You’ve chosen to enter someone else’s home as a visitor – be respectful.

Take off your shoes, don’t use up all their toilet paper, and be good. Nothing says it better.

Now You’re Ready to Go To New Zealand!

That’s it, all the info you may need… more or less. Truly, backpacking in New Zealand is an unforgettable experience.

This outro is an update for our New Zealand budget travel guide written by me, two-and-a-half years since I travelled in New Zealand. I still miss it.

New Zealand taught me a lot of things. It taught me how to travel and how to travel well. I now believe in the goodness of people and the beauty of life. New Zealand taught me to love life.

A lot has changed since those simple dirtbaggin’ days in Aotearoa. I’ve changed, the world has changed, and travel changes, but New Zealand hasn’t – not so much. It’s still one of the most gorgeous places on this beautiful and complicated planet.

I don’t go so much in for the hippy-dippy spiritual stuff anymore, but New Zealand deserves it. It’s a truly special home, and I genuinely believe there is healing in that land. There is magic there.

If you’re going Backpacking New Zealand, budget travel or a holiday, I bid you the very best time. Keep this travel guide handy and see the best of New Zealand. If you choose to settle, you wouldn’t be the first.

Hell, maybe I’ll see you there one day. Love and light to you. Did I really just say that?

Dammit, New Zealand.

Two backpacking dirtbags enjoying a sunset in New Zealand
Life is beautiful.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Updated: February 2020 by Ziggy Samuels at

Updated May 2023 by Laura Hall.

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