Looking to Tour New Zealand? A country made famous by Hobbits, the Haka and breathtaking scenery? Backpacking New Zealand is on the bucket list of many travellers for a reason... its diverse landscape, easy modes of travel, rich culture and history, an abundance of adventure activities and of course, the friendly locals. We had a chat to our local Kiwi staff here at Base to prepare for you the following 'Backpacking New Zealand Guide'. Enjoy!
New Zealand is an Instagrammers dream. The North and South Island are very different, each with a unique character and a variety of different landscapes The country is about the size of the United Kingdom - which means no part of New Zealand is more than 130km from the ocean!
The north island bubbles with volcanic activity, is swept with stunning black sandy beaches, is home to the greenery of Hobbiton and 100s of stunning islands we like to call paradise.
It's neighbouring south island is a little more rugged with Mt Cook, New Zealand's tallest mountain, the mirror like lakes of Doubtful and Milford Sound, the yellow, sandy bays and hiking trails of Abel Tasman and the ferocious glaciers of Franz Josef.
Quick Facts about New Zealand
- Maori name – Aotearoa
- Capital – Wellington
- Largest city – Auckland
- Official languages – English, Maori, NZ Sign Language
- Population – 4,433,000 (est June 2012)
- Area – 269,652 sq km
- Currency – New Zealand dollar
- Government – Parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
Ancestors of Maori arrived on canoes from the Pacific about 1300AD. They called the country Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud). They lived in tribal groups, had a rich culture of stories about the land, and strong traditions of warfare.
In 1840, 500 chiefs and representatives of Queen Victoria signed the Treaty of Waitangi to protect Maori lands and rights. Promises were not always upheld and in recent years the government has reached settlements with many tribes. Today there are over half a million Maori, mostly in cities. Recently there has been a major revival of the Maori language, art, and culture.
The first European to discover New Zealand was Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, in 1642. The English navigator James Cook mapped the coasts of the country from 1769. When New Zealand became a British colony in 1840, large-scale settlement began, mainly from the United Kingdom. In the 1890s, New Zealand became the first country to give women the vote, among other liberal reforms. The country lost many men in two world wars. Today New Zealand has moved from being a British colony to an independent multicultural nation of the Pacific.
What does this mean? Maori Culture is visible in all walks of Kiwi Life - the people, the language, the music, the Haka!
The climate of New Zealand is generally temperate, although weather in the far north is often subtropical during the warmer months (December to March) and there can be severe frosts in the inland areas of the South Island in winter (June to August). New Zealand if very close to the ozone layer - so make sure you pack sunscreen. Even the winter snowy months can seem like summer if the sun is out. This means that depending on what time of year you travel, you may just find yourself kicking around in shorts and flips flops on the north island, and rugged up in your thermal underwear 2 weeks later in Queenstown.
What to bring (Clothing)
Waterproof light jacket, thermal long sleeve top and underwear, leggings (great for layers for the girls) and ideal for underneath waterproof or snow gear (if you are planning on hitting the slopes of the glaciers), flip flops, trainers with good grip (these will be Ok if trekking Tongariro Crossing for the day, however if you are planning on taking one of New Zealand's multi-day "Great Walks" - take hiking boots), shorts, t shirt, warm jumper or jacket, warm pants, bathers.
It is very easy to travel both the North and South Island from New Zealand. There are companies such as Kiwi Experience and Stray Travel that offer flexible Hop On/ Hop Off Travel Passes throughout the entire country. They are fun and a great way to meet fellow travellers! Your Tour Leader will guide you from each major destination and stopping at the sights along the way, whilst informing you about New Zealand culture, history, way of life, geography and the best bars to visit in each location! As you travel your bus driver can book your accommodation and activities as you go... easy peasy! For information on Stray and Kiwi Experience Specials email email@example.com
There is also a public bus called NakedBus. Passes are cheap however they tend to bypass many of the major tourist attractions, dropping off mainly in major towns.
New Zealand is a "freedom camping" country. What does this mean you ask? This means that in most parts of New Zealand you are welcome to "park up" and sleep in your van for the night! As New Zealand is all about nature - travelling by campervan is a GREAT and affordable way to venture! We recommend Spaceships or Jucy Campervans! Base also have "Wash N Go" Packages available where you can park your van up at a Base for as little $5 per night! To get up to 5% off your Camper van Booking - email firstname.lastname@example.org with your Age, Pick Up Locations, Drop Off Location and Pick Up and Drop Off Dates.
There are hostels located in most tourist towns in New Zealand that offer both Private and Share accommodation. If travelling by a hop on hop off bus, your bus driver can arrange your accommodation as you go! You can save $$ by buying a flexible Multi Night Bed Hopper Accommodation Pass that you can use to book your hostels as you go. Book your Bed Hopper Pass here.
How much money you need to backpack around New Zealand depends on many factors: How long are you traveling for, how do you plan to travel around and how many activities do you intend to do? On a backpacker budget, prepare to spend $60-100 NZD per day. That will get you a hostel dorm room, bus transportation, happy hour drinks, plenty of free nature (a few expensive activities like bungee jumping or a scenic flight), and mostly self-cooked meals (around 70-80% of your meals). If you eat more or plan to do more activities, expect to spend more.
Things To Do
You will never be bored in New Zealand. If you like stunning scenery it's an amazing country to visit. If you enjoy adrenaline activities this is definitely the country to visit!
- Go skydiving
- Visit Abel Tasman National Park
- Hit the slopes
- Unwind in Rotorua
- Try bungee jumping
- Visit Wanaka
- Take one of the Great Walks
- Get outdoors in Kaikoura
- Explore Wellington Botanic Gardens
- Stay a while in Queenstown
- Visit Stewart Island
- Relax on a scenic rail journey
- Explore wine country
- Visit Mount Cook National Park
- Hang out in Wellington
- Go dolphin and whale watching
Where To Go and What To Do
Auckland is a popular 'gateway' to New Zealand and tends to be where most people begin their travels. Do not be fooled - this city has a lot to offer and we recommend at least 3 days here. A ferry ride to Waiheke Island to visit the wineries is a must, or Kayak out to Rangitoto Island. Piha Beach is just an hour drive from Auckland and a great place to try Canyoning.
Auckland Sky Tower offers amazing views of the city and neighbouring islands and the Auckland SkyJump or SkyWalk offers views with an adrenalin rush! The Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb is stunning, and if you've got enough guts... don't forget to try a Bungy Jump off the bridge! A walk to the top of Mt Eden is very popular or try a Bike Tour! Ponsonby is Auckland's alternative suburb with funky cafes, shops and nightlife!
- More tips on things to do in Auckland!
Bay of Islands
Both Stray and Kiwi Experience visit the Bay if Islands - located in Paihia a few hours north of Auckland. This is the ultimate sleepy beach town to chill out! Skydiving is amazing. So is Paragliding! A boat trip to the famous 'Hole in the Rock' is a must - as well as a Dolphin Swim! Bay of Islands is also a well known scuba diving destination! If you have enough time, a journey to the very top of New Zealand - Cape Reinga, is well worth a visit. You can go sandboarding on Ninety Mile Beach here!
- More tips on things to do in the Bay of Islands.
South East of Auckland is the stunning coromandel. Venture to Hahei - home to Cathedral Cove. You will have seen a photo of this place somewhere - a HUGE cave that leads to white sandy beach and turquoise waters. The best way to see it? Kayak! Tours can be booked from Hahei. En route - do not forget to visit Hot Water Beach - the waters get to over 60 degrees in temperature here!
Almost on the opposite side of the Coromandel south west of Auckland is Raglan - a hippy surf town that the locals refer to as "the Byron Bay of NZ" This is the best place to learn to surf and chill out in a hippy shack in the mountains.
Waitomo Caves are a huge underground cave system home to the Glow Worms! There are a few ways to explore this natural wonder - Tumu Tumu Toobing is a tour that can be booked from Waitomo that will have you floating through the underground rivers, jumping off rocks, climbing through cave crevices and spotting the glow worms.
The volcanic capital of NZ! Rotorua tends to be centre point of New Zealand's north island, welcoming travellers southbound from Auckland, Westbound from the Coromandel or Eastbound from Raglan and Waitomo. There is so much to do in Rotorua that you may even need 5 days here!
Firstly - HOBBITON. No explanation needed here! Secondly - Maori Culture. There are loads of historic villages and cultural shows on offer in Rotorua. Te Puia is one of our favourite cultural activities as you get to try the famous Hangi. Thirdly - Adventure... Bungy Jumping, Jet Boating, Luge and Gondola at Skyline Rotorua, White Water Rafting down the famous Kaituna River and Zorb! And finally - volcanic weirdness! As you walk down the main streets you will spot little clouds of steam lifting from under the surface. Oh, and the town smells like Eggs due to the sulphur (don't worry you get used to it).
There are loads of free bubbling mud pools and geysers to visit around the town centre - however we highly recommend Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland. This is where you will see the commonly photographed, bright blue, green and orange volcanic lakes! Oh and a visit to beauty mud pools is also a must.
If you've got enough time we highly recommend venturing East of Rotorua for a few days! The coastline along here is stunning and you won't see to many tourists around. Head to Gisborne and be the first people to see the sunrise.
Just a little south of Rotorua is Taupo - home to New Zealand's largest lake. Taupo is stunning with a few little beach areas to relax. Taupo is also the most popular destination for those keen to try a Skydive. We also recommend Bungy Jumping here - as it is a great warm up to the Nevis Bungy in Queenstown and super cheap! Jet Boating is also fun and a walk down to the free thermal springs is a must! Also don't forget to visit New Zealand's most photographed natural attraction - Huka Falls.
Tongariro Crossing is a must do when in New Zealand - one of New Zealand's 9 Great Walks. If you are travelling on the Kiwi Experience bus - day trips can be organised from Taupo. If you are on the Stray, you will stay at a hotel close by the beginning of the track. Tongariro is amazing and a 20KM walk that is must (even for those not too keen on hiking) As you venture through the mountain pass expect to see luminous bright green and blue lakes!
- Read our Free or Cheap Things to do in Taupo.
Mmm... the cultural capital of New Zealand! Head out on a Lord of the Rings Movie Tour, visit Weta Cave - a movie wonderland, visit Te Papa Museum - the southern hemisphere's largest free museum and home to all things NZ, head to a Rugby Game and don't forget to take a walk to the top of Mt Victoria.
- Check out 50 Free things to do in Wellington.
Ok so you've reached the south island by ferry. Considering that most travellers will travel the south island in a loop or through to Christchurch counter clockwise - you first stop will probably be Nelson. From Nelson you will travel through to Abel Tasman National Park - this is the ultimate mixture of beach and walking trails - located at the north west tip of New Zealand's south island. You could literally spend days here with the number of walks, kayaking or beach trips available here! Also a good skydiving location.
Heading south along the west coast there are a number of cool little towns great for surfing, horse riding, bike riding and jet boating. Greymouth is where you can catch the train through Arthurs Pass (fantastic in winter with the southern alps as your background. Finally you will reach Franz Josef. This town somehow never fails to host a huge party! Franz Josef can be seen one of 3 ways: a Half Day Hike, Full Day Hike or a Heli Hike. If you've got the cash a Heli Hike is a must! A Helicopter will drop you at the very top of the glacier! Alternatively, you will be given ice picks, ice shoes and waterproof clothing for a bit of an ice top walk. You've also got Fox Glacier a little further south.
Ahhh... pretty, peaceful Lake Wanaka! The calm before the storm (Queenstown). Wanaka is situated in the middle of huge mountains (snow capped in winter and close to some of NZ best snow fields). This drive into Wanaka is when the mouths of every travellers hit the ground - you will make your way through the stunning mountain passes by the luminous greeny, blue lakes.
Try Paddleboarding, Paddleboard Yoga, Kayaking, Biking in Wanaka - it is all super cheap! This is also a great place to try... drumroll... Aerobatic Flight Lessons! It's only about $250 and scary!!! You actually get to fly and flip and barrel roll these tiny aerobatic planes. Skydiving is also on offer here - and Puzzle World is not to be missed! Oh... and don't forget to visit the local cinema - chill on the couches and indulge in the best cookies in the country!
- Read our Guide to all things Wanaka.
Yewww! Queenstown! New Zealand's party and adventure capital. Ok so here is the list of things to do: Nevis Bungy Jump, Ledge Bungy Jump, Bridge Bungy Jump, Gondola & Luge, Jet Boat, Ziptrek, Canyoning, Shotover Canyon Swing, Skydive, Hang gliding, Race Car Driving, Fear Factory Haunted House, River Surfing... yeah, the list goes on!
- Read our guide on things to do in Queenstown!
85% of this Island is Rakiura National Park which should immediately tell you that there is something pretty spectacular to see. In short, Stewart Island may only be an hour's ferry ride away, but once you are on the Island you will feel like you have landed somewhere in the middle of the ocean and secretly hope you never get found.
For diver's, hiker's, wildlife buffs, and bird lovers, this place is unavoidable.
- Check out these awesome Things To Do On Stewart Island
Journey towards the south island's east coast to Lake Tekapo. This beautiful lakeside town is home to some of the best hot pools on the planet! Sit in the open top, steaming pools as you gaze out over the lake. This is usually a chill out location for most, detoxing from the Queenstown madness the week before. There is also an ice skating rink, a hiking trail and an Observatory. This is also close to Twizel and the gateway to Mt cook - New Zealand largest mountain! The ultimate stopover for keen hikers.
Following the tragic earthquake that took place in Christchurch a few years ago - Christchurch is now booming with hope, colour, art, shipping tin pop up shops and locals determined to build the "Church" city back to it's original form. Although the aftermath of the earthquake is still visible as you stroll the streets - the city's gardens, night life and artwork puts a smile on your face.
Kaikoura is one of the best places to swim with dolphins! The south island's east coast is lined with black sandy beaches, and the Mouraki Boulders - weird sphere shaped boulders that sit in the ocean. You may also come across some yellow bearded penguins, sea lions and fur seals roaming the coastline!
New Zealand is also becoming very well known around the world for its excellent wine. You can join food and wine tours from Auckland to sample some of the island's best vineyards (and food). Visit the oldest wineries in Napier, a city with the most inner-city art deco buildings in the world, or Hastings for its orchards and landscaped gardens. For wine lovers, the South Island does not disappoint, there is a vineyard trail along the Farewell Spit and world-class Sauvignon Blanc at Marlborough Sounds.
Shopping in New Zealand
In towns and cities around New Zealand you'll find some excellent shopping. From boutique shops in the 'posher' parts of the big cities like Auckland and Wellington, to souvenir shops selling kiwiana. One thing you have to check out are the markets.
Some of the Best NZ Markets
Rotorua Night Market
There can be no better thing to do in a new region than to shop at night. This market is well-known for the market that sets up at night with multiple stalls of food, boutique shopping, art, and crafts, etc. Going through the shops, you can listen to live music.
Avondale Sunday Market
This interesting market is easy to find and go to. You can find products at affordable prices. With ample parking space, and effortless commute to this place you can enjoy shopping in this place. The best part of this market is that you can find a few second-hand items too.
Another place where you can buy some of unique New Zaland products is the Nelson market. This market runs mainly on weekends and there are many things you can shop for. It is very easy to see many types of products here from jewelry, clothing, pottery, and candles. If you are looking for a place to buy jade necklaces, come to the Nelson market. Nelson market is also regarded as a part of both the craft market as well as local art.
Wellington Harbourside Market
This is one of the oldest markets in New Zealand which opens on weekends. This market has been in existence since the 20th century. You can get many eye-catching products from this market. It is located close to a popular museum so it usually attracts tourists and visitors. The mood in this market is very cheerful and you will see many live performances and tasty food items to buy.
Kiwi Items to Buy
If you're looking for some classic New Zealand products then you should consider buying some of the following, either for yourself to enjoy, or as souvenirs.
This privately-owned chocolate company has been producing chocolate that Kiwis have been proud of for many years. It is the second-largest chocolate brand in New Zealand (behind UK-based Cadbury). Founder James Henry Whittaker and his sons started the business in Wellington in 1913. The business itself was founded in 1896. The business became a limited liability company in 1937. Whittakers is still family-owned with the fourth generation of the Whittaker family currently in-charge.
Pounamu is also known as ‘the God stone’ by the Māori people and the stone is traditionally seen as a talisman with spiritual powers that evoke strength and prosperity. The Tiki is the Māori name for carvings shaped like human figures, carved in greenstone, and worn around the neck (also known as hei-tiki). Specific carvings also have certain meanings and some stones are passed down from generation to generation.
A Kiwi icon and a crucial item for any farmer, the humble gumboot is worn to prevent your legs and feet from getting dirty. The rubber and canvas lining is designed to keep everything out, from loose stones to mud and even water. Gumboots leave your legs/feet bone-dry and your morale intact!
New Zealand Wine
With an abundance of quality wine in regions throughout the country and Kiwi grapes growing especially well in our autumn/winter cool-climates, it has many award-winning wines that are well worth your time to try/ take home.
It is known for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties which is why it is so famous around the world.
Author: Written with contributions from Harish Suyal who is a Travel Blogger who loves to write on various travel destinations. He also writes articles about domestic and international vacations for TrueHAB. He recently wrote about Backpacking in New Zealand for an incredible experience in these favorite destinations. Check out some New Zealand Tour Packages on TrueHAB.